Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Not many working days go by without seeing another article regurgitating another survey offering another statistic saying that people don’t read anymore. Adults don’t read, children don’t read, teenagers don’t read, even their pets will bury books rather than bother to flick a paw at a cover.
The only comfort to these usually poorly representative surveys is the knowledge that no one will be reading them. Except those in the book industry, of course.
And what is the response? Ardent debate over whether we should change the colours, the labels, or even — deep intake of maverick breath — remove the recommended retail price. Maybe we should even slightly differentiate the different formats. Revolutionary stuff.
This is before we even start on the playground game of which circle you are going to join, the self-publishers or the traditional publishers.
The truth is simple: the answer in the short-, medium- and long-terms is quality. And this isn’t some groundless utopian rant; it is a straightforward, old-fashioned fact. When the industry stops the internal debate and looks out of the window, it will realise who will make or break them: the customer.
Was the Harry Potter series such a monstrous success after being the most backed and anticipated first book in publishing history? No, readers chose it. Did 50 Shades of Grey sell zillions of copies after a huge whip-themed international launch? No, readers chose it. (And before the writing snobs come alive, the quality for this particular book is in its attachment for so many millions of readers around the world.)
Why has U.S. contemporary fiction been stronger than UK contemporary fiction over the last century? Because each reading generation has claimed books, rarely the most backed, as their own, as meaning something to and representing their generation.
The other point is if we spent less time bothered about the wrapping paper, we would have more resource and focus on finding and nurturing the best new work. In publishing, we fill slots. In the other creative industries, fashion for instance, buyers look to create new trends themselves, often creating from scratch, rather than trying to follow them. First is everything.
And when it comes to finding the best quality new work, we are far too limited in where we search. Same territories, same agents, same old story. There are brilliant books, so diverse it’s impossible to even find an analogy, being published all over the world, infused with the culture they are written in but also ready to be embraced by an enraptured worldwide audience.
Take Haruki Murakami for instance: he was a small-city man living in southern Japan and now is read all over the globe, regularly described as the world’s greatest living writer. Let’s widen our search, as we are now technically capable of doing, and find many more writers of Murakami’s brilliance.
So, my point is made. Let’s not scour the colour swatch to find the best blue for boys. Let’s scour the globe and find the world’s best new work. Price differentials don’t excite me, but which contemporary books will be taught and revered in 100 years’ time does. And make no mistake — it will be the billions of readers around the world that will choose those books.
Would be very happy to hear your thoughts — @Tom_Chalmers