World Book Night, launched in London’s Trafalgar Square last Saturday, brainchild of Cannongate’s Jamie Byng, in alliance with the BBC, and the wonderful idea to give away one Million free books to readers has certainly created a buzz, and hopefully will do so in future. For the culture of reading it is tremendous, despite the carping about affecting the perceived price and value of books, for the culture of authors though it seemed dominated by the heavy weights, from Yan Martel to Philip Pulman. It would have been nice to see more independents taking a role, more indy voices, and a bigger voice for those who think that publishing is in crisis, in part because some big publishers have been so ruthless in following lead titles and lead authors.Today’s publishing challenge though is as much about changing technologies and the disappearance of traditional ‘gate-keepers’ in the best sense. It is the eternal paradox of the publishing industry, that financial need and desire to forge forward with success stories, but also to try to promote the unheard, the original, and the off-the-wall literary challengers. Still, when Phoenix Ark began, and called on Independents to join together to create some kind of wider cultural debate, there was hardly a stampede, and this has got people talking, and reading too, always a good thing.
To find out more about World Book Night and perhaps prepare for next year, just click
People have asked if they will need to get a Kindle to get Phoenix books, and it’s brought up the question again of what books are. Books are many things, done in many beautiful and important ways, and I’ve no intention of being an enemy of printed books. One factor alone means Phoenix will go first to Kindle, and that is we hold the electronic rights to Fire Bringer and The Sight. But the internet is also as significant a revolution as Guttenberg, and ‘publishing’ now has very different meanings. Kindle is just one ‘platform’, among many, that becomes like an instant bookshop. The reader friendly quality of such devices, the bookish feel, except that you can have thousands of titles, is advancing in leaps and bounds. So to me, especially with fiction and journalism – although physical books are like old friends and will never disappear, or let you down – it does not matter so much in what form people are reading. But the fact that they are reading, and what they are reading. That is crucial, and why a core belief has to be in the power of great story, and the storytellers that make them. Of course, since so much is dominated by the power of money, and product placement, which always seems to take over inside big publishers, it still remains to be seen how the ‘self-publisher’, or the little publisher, can get the works they believe in to the fore. It is why independents, authors and publishers alike, so need to hook up, to provide mutual quality control, and so create a voice and prominence in the market place. Then the challenge will be whether they can hold to certain principles of protecting writers and artists, and balancing money with other talent. DCD