As this week's column heads to press, I find myself in a somewhat strange position. I have spent the best part of a decade campaigning for prizes to be more open to indie authors. And I will continue to do so. But I sit here with bated breath as a very dear writing friend is on the shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize. A timely reminder that there is plenty of room for writers who take many different paths to bring wonderful words to readers.
How Many Indies?
This feels like a week to talk about numbers. Large numbers. Let’s start with a really large number. A million. That’s how many books were self-published in 2017, according to Bowker. This figure is, they say, made up of 870,000 print and 130,000 digital titles. If you think those figures sound peculiar, you’d be right. Bowker, the company that sells ISBNs in the US, has, it seems, absolutely no knowledge of how ISBNs relate to actual books. Nate Hofelder has spent years meticulously debunking figures based on ISBNs. He does a spectacular job with these new figures.
Subscription Services: The story of Frankfurt
A slightly smaller figure is a quarter of a million. That’s roughly the number of people who attended each of two major events recently. But those figures tell very different stories that we would do well to consider. 285,000 attended this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. That’s pretty much the same as last year, although reports suggest a quieter feel this year. Charlie Redmayne’s keynote speech was, like the rest of what I’ve seen coming out of Frankfurt, notable for its “business as usual tone.” The headlines – print books never went away, and watch for development in subscription services – did not feel earth shattering.
I get the sense publishers don’t quite know where they stand at the moment. Which means that the time is perfect for indies to step into the vacuum with some of the energy from the previous week’s DigitalBookWorld.
Subscription continues to be a major story elsewhere in the world. In Germany, for example, Skoobe has attracted more investment, and Bonnier's Storytel continues to grow apace.
Increasing Attention for Graphic Novels
250,000 was the number of people who, over the same length of time, attended New York Comic Con. Unlike Frankfurt, this was a barnstorming record attendance. Those numbers mean it is no longer possible for indies to think of this format as material for small die-hard fandoms. And this year saw the inclusion of Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel Sabrina on the Man Booker Prize longlist. This was a breakthrough moment. And another opportunity for us to step to the fore.
Amazon’s Woes & The Future of Bookselling
It feels like I haven’t reported on Amazon for a while. And I am sure Jeff Bezos wishes I had no reason to report on them now. It has been a bad week for the retail giant. The company’s delivery costs with the US Postal Service are set to rise by more than 12%. The rise of Amazon's bricks and mortar stores has given booksellers something to think about, but there is no sign that bricks-and-mortar book retailing is dead yet. As well as the events mentioned above, last week also saw this year's SmartWired conference, and some fascinating insights into what the future of retailing might look like. We would do well, as writers, to think how we are going to fit into that ecosystem. And as if to cap things off for Amazon, it seems as though even Barnes & Noble had a better week than they did, with B & N Press announcing a host of new features for indies including pre-ordering.
Upcoming Conferences and Events
Urban Writers’ Retreat, 18 Oct [Newcastle] (ALLi discount)
Helsinki Book Fair, 25-28 Oct [Helsinki] Writers Digest Novel Writing Contest, 26-28 Oct [Pasadena] Croydon Litfest, 27 October [Croydon, UK]
London Book Fair, 12-14 Mar [London]
Book expo, 29-31 May [London]