TWO more industries are on their way out, neither of which I regret. As the last typewriters are manufactured, publishing houses and literary agents become a thing of the past too. I can be as nostalgic as the rest but in both cases good riddance. Typewriters underperformed; they were messy and problematic.
Publishing houses and literary agents excluded the nation’s talent; they ring-fenced their trade; penetrating it was like getting your daughter on the debutantes ball list. Only 1 per cent of submitted MSS were published. It is a business notorious for sending rejection slips to wonderful writers, who, through their own efforts, later thrilled millions with their story telling abilities.
Many of the world’s greatest novelists were forced to self-publish. It was their readers who discovered them, not publishers. If talent spotting was left to literary houses, Ernest Hemingway, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Mark Twain and hundreds like them would be unknown to us.
Now under threat publishing critics accuse Amazon of wrecking the book trade. They say the online retailer’s plans to produce and market its own titles will give it a stranglehold on the industry. Touché! This is precisely what publishing houses have been doing for generations. Now they get the rejection slips.
Advances are such that everyone can now publish their own novels and biographies for a global readership. Rejection slips are a thing of the past, the outlay is recoverable and failing that affordable.
Readers today have a far greater choice and can literally carry a library-sized stock of books on devices that take up less room than a paperback. These can be read wherever they find themselves thanks to Amazon’s Kindle; a handheld screen reader. It is the fastest selling product of its kind in the world. As a direct consequence book readership and sales are soaring again.
I know there are reader critics too; it is part of the human psyche to resist change even when it is for the better. When I bought my first car, petrol pump attendants were the norm. I swore I would never degrade myself by filling my own car. My brother hung on to the belief that the Morris Minor would never be bettered, and I had to be dragged screaming to my first PC.
You read it here first; you’re seeing the last bookcases in people’s homes. Don’t concern yourself with the demise of bookshops; a publisher concedes that only 1% of books are sold through them; the rest are purchased by alternative means.
Then there was the traditional publishing houses penchant for price fixing; a cosy cartel that meant the buying public shelled out twenty-times the book’s publishing cost. I wouldn’t pay €30 for a shirt to wear on one occasion; why do so for a book I would read only once?
Amazon, bless them, have launched four new publishing businesses: Encore for first-time writers; Crossing, which sells English language translations of foreign books. Montlake Romance and non-fiction range Domino. Though early days several new authors have already made it on to the bestseller lists.
As an avid bookworm and ghost-writer the news has me salivating. I am like an eight-year old child on Christmas morning. Try getting that kind of service from your traditional book publishers.