Tuesday 31 January 2012

Writing Books is Tennis for the Brain

So, Jonathan Franzen fears printed books are going to disappear and Ewan Morrison predicts an e-publishing bubble that’s going to end somewhere between sub-prime mortgages and tulip fever, ruining lives and crashing banks – I exaggerate, but then so do they.

Let’s think of writing books as being more like tennis for the brain, or maybe even golf for the brain. Millions of people join golf clubs and take tennis lessons in order to enjoy the sport, get fit, amuse themselves or socialise. Some of these enthusiasts are able to hire personal coaches, others join expensive clubs, maybe even build their own private tennis courts. Many fantasise about winning Wimbledon or the British Open, others are lucky enough to become coaches themselves or work in sports shops.But just because these enthusiasts sometimes dream of becoming Rafa or Tiger doesn't mean they actually expect it to happen. They know in their hearts that these champions are born with something special and then dedicate their lives to improving themselves in ways that most people cannot possibly hope to achieve, and would not wish to do.

Where once the manuscripts that people wrote for a variety of personal reasons ended up languishing in their bottom drawers, they are now able to languish as e-books, a little bit further along the publishing food chain, a little bit more visible, a tiny bit more likely to be spotted by someone who might be able to lift them to another level. One or two of them might even make it all the way to championship level, up there with the works of Franzen and Morrison. The fact that most of them will get no further at all hardly turns e-publishing into a confidence trick, a bubble or a pyramid selling scam. Some people who fail to reach the giddy heights of a Franzen or Morrison will still be able to take pleasure from the act of writing, from seeing their words coming into existence on a page or a screen. They might even continue to hold onto dreams of one day “breaking through” into the big time. Or they might decide to teach writing instead, or dabble in journalism or blogging or just get on with something else, (tennis or golf perhaps, painting or child rearing).

Very few of the crowds who start out with hopes of becoming successfully published writers get as far as they first dreamed they might, but isn’t that the same in any walk of life? And is it a reason to make doom-laden predictions about bursting bubbles and the death of the book? As long as there are people wanting to buy printed books there will be publishers and authors wanting to supply them and the cyberstore of e-books can grow as wide as the blogosphere without causing anyone any terrible financial pain. I think Messrs Franzen and Morrison can relax a little

Monday 30 January 2012

An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street

Despite the fact that millions of us love to avail ourselves of its services, Amazon has taken over from the supermarkets as the “number one hate figure” of the publishing and bookselling worlds, apparently responsible for the genteel but inevitable decline of the traditional book shop that we all profess to love but not enough of us support.

Maybe Amazon should make themselves more cuddly by expanding into bricks and mortar themselves. (I know there has been talk of them creating “Argos-style” pick up points for their products, but I am suggesting something with a little more vision).
If they want to become more loved by the public – and if they are sitting on piles of cash which I assume they are or so many people wouldn’t hate them as much as they do - why not open Amazon stores that are as cool and beautiful as the Apple Stores?

As well as being able to see and handle, sample and sniff the books before ordering them, customers could be immersed in the whole publishing experience. There could be authors talking from big screens or available via headphones like in the record shops some of us remember so fondly. There could be live talks going on by anyone from Jonathan Franzen to Dan Brown if the “footfall” was large enough to attract them. There could be coffee houses that Samuel Johnson would have been happy to hang out in, and reading areas where new models of Kindles can be tried out and newspapers read like in the public libraries we all want to save, (and in the more up-market coffee shops where book group denizens already meet and chat). There could be editors, designers and printers available to turn self-published e-books into beautifully printed and bound limited editions for customers to carry proudly away with them - imagine the christmas gift potential of elegantly published family histories!

The underlying elephant in the room of publishing and traditional bookselling is that there simply isn’t enough money in the business to make it viable and buzzy enough to attract the crowds, but is that true now that people buy kindles and iPads and download at the press of a button?

We need to re-invigorate the nation’s town centres and high streets and if Amazon are the people with the money should we not be looking to them to fill the empty spaces with imagination and flair? If they are moving into traditional publishing, why shouldn’t they move into traditional bookselling as well – only with some 21st century style?

Many will hate the idea of course because it is potentially brash and vulgar and might prove popular with the sort of people who do not usually grace the older style of bookshops – but aren’t they exactly the people most authors want to reach? If the concept is fantastically successful then of course that will lead to Amazon becoming even more all-powerful and rich – but who else in the words business is currently rich enough to take the chance of the whole thing being an absolute disaster?

Friday 20 January 2012

Most Glamorous Ghostwriter

As if Ewan McGregor, (in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost”), wasn’t enough, we now have a new contestant for “most glamorous ghostwriter” in Charlize Theron, (huge movie star and also the golden lady who strides out and sheds her golden clothes and golden jewels on television every Christmas in order to sell us J’adore perfume). In “Young Adult”, a new film just out in America, she plays the anonymous writer of “Young Adult” fantasies who is also, co-incidentally, devoid of any “moral compass”. Oh well, at least she looks good. Any other nominations for "Most Glamorous Ghostwriter"?