Go Web Young Man: Why Books Are Dying August 9, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback
***Dedicated to L***
Beach has been having a tortured year thinking about books and the books he’s written and would like to write. For many years he wrote non-fiction books for money or with the hope of making money and lived as a writer. Now he has the luck to write but to make his money elsewhere. However, let’s say for the sake of argument that it was now necessary to become a money-making non-fiction writer again. How do you make sure that you have enough clover in the soup every month? Broadly speaking there are three possibilities for a non-fiction writer: (i) publish a book; (ii) publish articles; and (iii) publish web material. In scenario (i) a publisher gives you an advance or you earn on books sold; in scenario (ii) newspapers or magazines or perhaps a website pays you a few hundred dollars per piece; and in scenario (iii) you set up your own website and sell teeshirts and advertising around your writing. (i) could work, publishers still give advances for non-fiction, but the rates have dropped dramatically. Unless you really make it in the top ten or fifteen percent – and Beach was not in that league – then you are going to go hungry. (An amazing conversation with a publisher about a classic work of folklore, last week, Beach’s fave in fact: publisher said ‘if I’d published that in 2013 it would have sold 250 copies tops). (ii) newspapers and magazines still pay for articles (obviously) but the collapse in newspaper sales is extraordinary. The Washington Post was sold for 160 million last week, the price that the little Scotsman was sold for in 2005! Then, (iii), there is the internet with all its uncertainties.
Even now Beach has the idea that books are what matter. It is hardwired into him and even now he is arguing one thing he still doesn’t really believe it. But let’s say you are going to write 80,000 words on vampires. You might get really lucky (0.5% chance?) and spawn an international best-seller: best-seller here is a modest term, let’s say over 100,000 copies sold. Alternatively, you might put up a website with 80,000 words of content on vampires and blow all opposition out of the water and move to the top of google’s Vampire rankings. Within a year you could get between 200 and 500 dollars of advertising a month and this income should last for years. If you sell your book and it doesn’t become a best seller you might make 2,000 or 4,000 or even 20,000 dollars on advances and sales. But the money ends very quickly. The website keeps giving and giving with minimum maintenance and, with little effort, you can repackage the site as a book and sell it for 10 dollars a time online and Weidenfeld and Nicolson can go hang and sod ISBN too. Then there are the themed tooth-brushes… Of course, if you want to write a book on vampires because you love them and you feel that you have something to say, knock yourself out. You’ll appear in a few copyright libraries and perhaps even on an academic reading list or two. That feels good: it is the reason that this blogger publishes ‘scholarly’ articles in peer-reviewed journals. But the website will outsell you every time and be read by many more people.
Beach has also started to wonder whether, to be honest, websites (the present one is a notable exception) might not just be a better way to gather information, period. Most people concentrate on the whole paper-books-are-dead-but-electronic-books-are-here-to-stay thing. But is that true? Aren’t we just like those monks in the sixteenth century copying out printed books with their goose quills to make ‘modern’ manuscripts? If you have two hours to spend on vampires a website makes much more sense than a book: it is really a series of interlocking mini essays. A correspondent wrote yesterday that the internet is so right-brain. But actually all that jumping around seems more left brain. It is certainly less constraining than a book and gives more space to intuition. Beach should finish this by saying that he is writing in a study surrounded by 5000 books. He loves the touch, the smell and the feel of these books to almost sexual levels of intensity. Many of these books and many new books will be around for generations: not least because university libraries will pay obscene amounts for titles that few people read. (Beach came across an academic book for over 500 dollars, yesterday. Only the taxpayer or universities will pay for that.) But, make no mistake, the Gutenberg revolution is winding down before our very eyes. Any book defenders out there? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
Note that fiction is a different matter… At least for now…
31 Aug 2013: Norm writes: the last line in todays post is where the money is today, popular fiction still can be the lottery. Harry Potter is proof of that. The hard copy at the beach is still alive and well; I was reading Salt a few years ago at the beach, a nonfiction history of salt and got nothing but ridicule from the rest of the beach book crowd, they were all reading fiction. All fiction is plagiarized from something, we just recycle the plots with different bling and that is the key. Pick up a Walter Scott or DeFoe, pick out the parts that fit and insert your bogarts, fieries or what ever part of your research that fits, cut and past so to speak and you have a book. Michener had a formula that worked well enough to make him a wealthy man, the Clan of the Caveman books were similar. My point is you can still be a serious historian and make money off your writing. Asamov did both, he wrote textbooks and sent us to the future, you can do the same but a trip into the paranormal or the past. A bit of spice, a bit of blood, human relationships, they are what people want in their leisure reading, and they are willing to pay. The path to the lottery type payout is a book that is written so it can be made into a film, writing the screenplay while cut and pasting the book together will enable you to sell both as an off the shelf type product. I repeat, all fiction is stolen from people who came before; how many versions of Ivanhoe have you seen in your life? As to the Sea Peoples or Phoenicians, they got around, London for sure, I suspect the Americas but that is based on art found in the Americas. Gotland would be a good bet, even odds or better just because it is in the way when puttering about the northern inland sea. Africa, a trip around the cape was within their capacity, proof? none. Jari then chips in: Your Reader here. You might be interested in my experiences. Why books are not dying. Once upon a time I had in my mind an updated and elaborated book of silly history with all the usual suspects, beginning with McGonagall and ending with failed predictions of significant men of letters and authority. There are myriads of books like that, and I call them entertainment, nothing more, nothing less. It bothered me that most of those books only pick up some juicy parts and leave the whole story, the tragedy and comedy of life, untold. I wanted to correct that and so I made a manuscript. The best response came from a big established publisher who praised my style (I intentionally made an (pitiful) exercise in imitating British humour), but refused to publish it, simply because they didn’t believe it would sell. So what, I thought, and made a blog. There I posted the stories I had compiled for the book. Years passed. Meanwhile I had published a couple of books on other topics, and my publisher asked whether I was interested to edit the best of my blog into a book. Funny that you mentioned that… A Sensible History Of World (ISBN 9789517924658), containing the stories I had previously published in a blog, was out in 2010. Some previously published chapters were expanded and partly rewritten. Biography of Nikola Tesla became two times longer as old version. New illustrations were picked from old magazines and archives. The book went into 2nd printing. As you can guess, it’s not a real moneymaker. Language is Finnish. Market area is Finland. Usual 1st printing is 1000 copies. Anyway, this is one possible model that can be followed. Free web version is a marketing tool for the book, and people seem to be willing to buy the web content as a book that has new and expanded material mixed with old stuff. Thanks Jari and Norm!