I don’t want you to free Iris. I haven’t imprisoned her, and nor, to the best of my knowledge, has anybody else (at least not today). But you can have some free Iris Wildthyme if you like. More at the end of the post.
The post is really about the above photograph. On the left, my hand-bound copy of Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow. It’s bound in kangaroo and goat hide, a gift from Shroud Publishing’s unfairly-talented Danny Evarts, and became one of my favourite things the instant I saw it. A limited edition, as far as I know, of one. Thanks Danny, it’s lovely.
On the right, my new Amazon Kindle with nifty leather cover and in-built reading light. Electronic ink, the ability to download vast swathes of published literature instantly, the second I decide I want to read it, and one of the several devices that are remodelling the arena of mass market publishing so quickly that the great powers of traditional paper publishing can’t adapt fast enough. Some are jumping in wholeheartedly, abandoning the former mass market for the new, while others are holding back, waiting to be pushed.
I know many writers and readers, those who love books, who have despaired at this remarkable shift in publishing. The Kindle has no pages to fondle and sniff. If you drop it in the bath, you’re down over a hundred quid. It’s somehow, indefinably, less real than a proper book. I sympathise in part, because I’ve grown up loving books, and it all started with those mass market paperbacks currently under risk.
And they are under risk. Mass market paperbacks are pricing themselves to death. They’re increasingly expensive to produce, so the prices creep up. The retailers with the biggest reach take a massive cut of the cover price, sometimes half or greater, meaning even less for the publisher, less for the author. The economics of the industry are killing it. The mass market paperback, as the standard unit in publishing, has been dying for years, kept on life support only by the lack of a successor for it. Electronic books fill that niche. The devices will come down in price, there will be more and more ways to use them (witness the iPad and iPhone), and the base price of the books themselves can stay reasonably low. That doesn’t mean books will vanish. My guess is that, when the dust settles, they’ll still be around, especially those more expensive trade paperbacks and hardbacks, with their better profit margin, and those unique limited editions I love. The readers have already gone past the early adopter point and edged into the mainstream. They’re here to stay. Just don’t drop them in the bath.
And I’m glad. As a reader, my shelves thank me. I have over a thousand books in storage at home. The chance of my ever owning property with shelf space to bring them all out of their boxes is negligible, but I can’t bring myself to sell them on. I’ll still buy those books in hardback that I always would have, because I want something to hold, or love the author and want a copy on my shelf. My mass market buying days though, where there’s a Kindle alternative, are mostly gone. All those books, on one device, where I can delete them and re-download them from the backup whenever I want, is too tempting, especially when it’s such a pleasure to use. It does the job you want it to do (after a couple of uses), which is get out of the way and leave you with the story.
As a writer, I’m okay with it. I write stories. I don’t construct paperback books. For the most part, I don’t even write the stories on paper, but use this computer I’m typing on right here. Seems silly to get worked up about how the consumer should get the end product, when ultimately it should be the consumer’s choice. I certainly hope that one day I’ll have books both in hardback and on your ebook, the more the merrier, but mostly I just want to be writing things that people, somehow, read. It’s a brave new world for the writer, full of scary new business models, but not one that can be run away from.
Okay, all that said, here are today’s public service announcements:
Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow – still available at Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk, as well as Shroud Publishing. However, if you’ve bought none of the books in the series yet, run along to the publisher’s website and you can also grab all five books that make up Hiram’s debut season for ten bucks off the total cover price. Not to be sniffed at, and probably the most unusual pulp ride you’ll experience for a long time (at least, until we get round to writing the second season…).
Iris: Abroad – Iris Wildthyme’s new anthology of transtemporal adventures is available next month from Obverse Books. You may not have met the often inebriated time traveller yet, so by way of introduction Obverse have kindly posted a free short story from the pen (erm, keyboard, probably) of Lawrence Conquest. Go and say hello…