By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)
First, something of an apology, as real life has been rather ganging up on me of late. Getting an Internet connection on board a ship is never an easy thing to achieve and, because the link is provided by a satellite, the download and upload speed is usually little better than dial-up, which means there’s no real incentive to spend much time on the Web. So while I was on board the Queen Mary 2, cruising from Southampton to Hamburg, and then up to Honningsvaag on the northern tip of Norway, I just gave lectures and wrote stuff for the next book, and didn’t bother with much else.
Back on dry land, we’ve had a few problems as well, trying to sort out various houses for reasons I won’t bore you with, because they’re really not very interesting, and then, when I finally got to France and should have had time to write an entry, I discovered that I had helpfully left the power cable for my laptop in Andorra, a hot and sweaty six hour drive south, so I’ve been out of e-mail contact for almost two weeks while I found one on eBay, using my wife’s netbook, and could get it sent out to my address here. Anyway, it arrived today, just in time for me to write this, so thank you to all_mobilecompaccessories2010 for such a prompt and efficient service.
Leigh Russell has already touched on this topic in her contribution to this blog, but I thought I’d expand on it somewhat.
About a week ago, to coincide with the second anniversary of the launch of the Kindle in the United Kingdom, Amazon UK announced that it was now selling more ebooks than paperback and hardback books combined. The figure the company came up with is that for every 100 printed books sold, Amazon sells 114 ebooks. This statistic is specific to Amazon in Britain, and does not necessarily reflect the balance between printed and electronic books bought from any other outlet.
The Kindle became the bestselling product on Amazon within just a few months of its launch, and is still selling extremely well, because it’s very good at what it does, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before. It’s not the only electronic reader, of course, but it is far and away the most popular. One reason for the success of these devices is the huge number of sales of novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, some 2 million of which were apparently sold by Amazon in under four months.
I’ve read elsewhere that this book is a contender for both the title of ‘fastest selling novel of all time’ and ‘worst novel of all time’, though because I haven’t read it – and have no intention of doing so – I’m not qualified to comment on the latter opinion. One reason for the success of this book and its kin is arguably the fact that women – and it is aimed squarely at this section of the market – can read it on the Kindle without anybody knowing that they’re immersed in a racy and semi-pornographic novel. Interestingly, this is exactly the opposite to one reason given for the success of The Da Vinci Code, which was undeniably a dreadful book, and which was supposed to be popular precisely because it had the words ‘Da Vinci’ on its cover.
Another reason for the success of the electronic side of Amazon is self-publishing, and the company states that it has seen a 400% increase in the use of Kindle Direct Publishing over the past year.
But perhaps one of the most important – and encouraging – pieces of data released by Amazon is that, according to the company’s figures, the average Kindle owner buys four times more books than people who only buy printed versions. I’d agree with that, because it’s certainly true for me. Precisely because I can buy between three and four cheap Kindle downloads for the price of one paperback, and have them delivered in a matter of seconds, I tend to cruise the bestseller lists and buy books in clumps, or whatever the correct mass noun is for more than one book.
And, because each of them costs less than a cup of coffee, even if I decide they’re complete rubbish it really doesn’t matter. And while it’s true that most self-published books have been turned into Kindle downloads precisely because they’re nowhere near good enough for any commercial publisher to even consider, most of the ones I have bought are quite readable. I reckon that out of every 10 Kindle books I buy, one or two will be unreadably bad, one will probably be of publishable standard, and the rest will fall somewhere between these two extremes.
So although the publishing world is in something of a crisis at the moment, not really knowing what to do for the best and how to cope with the rise of the ebook, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the future of reading looks as bright as it ever did, even if the medium which is used to display the type on the page has changed dramatically.
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