Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Running to keep up

Dammit, there is so much good stuff coming out these days that it is a struggle to keep up, and it's tempting to abandon the attempt.

However, a moment's thought reminds us that the past ten years have seen absolutely massive changes in the way books are published and sold, and there is a lot more to come yet. So as Michael Cader said recently, if you don't like change, you'll like irrelevance even less.

Most of us feel, I suspect, that we have more than a full-time job to do, and we really don't have time to read all these speculative articles about the way things are developing. Fine. But if you don't keep an eye on the way things are going, then pretty soon you may not have a job to go to.

Those are the thoughts which prompt me to point you to an article by R J Nagle (which I found via This is a piece about the way in which Amazon is developing, and the effects that this might have on the relatively unknown author -- which is to say virtually all of us.

Amazon, Nagle suggests, 'is retooling itself to offer a complete publishing solution to authors disenchanted with the current state of publishing.' His article is therefore essential reading for any writer who is not yet favoured with a big contract -- and even they may need to read it soon, when they get their Dear John letter. Publishers might also have a think about the challenges which the Amazon strategy creates for them.

Nagle's article carries a link to an even better essay by Tim O'Reilly, of O'Reilly publishing. This deals with copyright, online file sharing, and the lessons for book publishing in general. It is an essay which is full of good sense.

O'Reilly begins, for instance, by making the point that I have made a good few times on this blog, namely that it is absurd for the average writer or musician to get worked up about their wonderful art being ripped off for free on the internet. 'Obscurity,' says O'Reilly, 'is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.' Being well-enough known to be pirated, he points out, would be a crowning achievement for most people.

O'Reilly himself has found what others have found before him, namely that while pirated copies are annoying, they do not destroy his business.

Which is why, when I come across an amateur's web site which tells me that unauthorised copying will be met with the full force of the law, I am forced to smile. Or, more likely, snigger. Only an ignorant fool could write such a thing. In the first place, enforcing the law is well nigh impossible unless you are a billionaire with five years to spare, and for another, most of those who slap such warnings on their stuff would be lucky to have it downloaded even once.

O'Reilly is not the first commentator to point out that the music business has been well nigh clueless in its handling of the file-sharing 'crisis', and he raises, implicitly, the question as to whether book publishers are going to be any smarter.

Oh dear, he really shouldn't. It hurts me where I had my last operation when I laugh that much.

R J Nagle also gives us a link to another piece by O'Reilly, this time specifically about self-publishing, and although I haven't yet had time to read it I rather think I should. And Nagle also reminds us that Cory Doctorow is the author of the definitive statement as to why digital-rights management systems don't work and are counter-productive. Now that I have read, and a brilliant, brilliant piece of work it is too.

Well, it's all out there if you look. And if you're smart enough to make sense of it all, and work out a strategy, you could become a very big wheel indeed.

No comments: