The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the highest-profile fairs on the calendar. But now it’s been a few years since the meteorite of self-publishing hit the world of books, just how well are the mainstream dinosaurs coping with avoiding extinction?
Finally, they appear to be accepting that Indie Authors are here to stay. Writing for paidcontent, the interestingly-named Laura Hazard Owen began her report with the book-with-the-unmentionable-title, which, somewhat worryingly, is being held up as the perfect example of the self-published goldmines that potentially await the mainstreams. Of course, now that E. L. James’s trilogy is rumoured to have sold over 50 million copies, big-hitting mainstream people are lining up to point out that she couldn’t have done it without them, and that thanks to Random House, her “relatively modest success” was turned into a “maelstrom of money”.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that mainstreams care most about the bottom line, but nowhere does anyone mention literary quality or artistic value. If “self-published” now means a place where the mainstreams can look for the next lowest-common-denominator bestseller, I’m not convinced that’s such a great improvement on the general public’s current opinion. But on the plus side, Indie Authors are certainly pulling more interest towards them. The same report mentions Penguin paying a six-figure sum for a self-published novel, whose author first managed to shift “hundreds of thousands” of copies, and then got himself a literary agent to set up a bidding war among the mainstreams. Some things never change.
Of more relevance to Indie Authors and readers, further on the article mentioned the three most talked about new start-ups at Frankfurt. First off, we have Ganxy, which calls itself, “An elegant product showcase to promote your work, connect with your audience, and sell to your buyers”. There might be something more here than simply another hideous waste of time, but when I read this, my first thought was that if I knew where my buyers were, I wouldn’t need Ganxy to showcase my books (and that name looks a bit iffy, too – a lazy rhyme with “Banksy”?).
Of more interest to readers is Bookshout!, which allows users to upload their purchased ebooks to one place, presumably because it is just too much of a drag to have to carry one’s Kindle absolutely everywhere. The article mentions the obvious security risks, and the founder’s comments trying to diffuse the obvious risks, and how the necessary safeguards will mean a lot more work for readers who do decide to use it.
Thirdly, there is a new attempted challenger to Amazon, this time called ZolaBooks, founded by a former literary agent, which aims “to carry every ebook by every publisher” and to compete with Amazon by not competing with it. “Amazon is purely price-driven”, claims the founder, not editorially driven. Something tells me that ZolaBooks’s publicity angle will be along the lines of “quality mainstream ebooks” without having to wade through the “poor quality Indie ebooks”, so with luck it will swiftly disappear in a puff of hypocrisy.
Finally, a few numbers to make any author sigh in wonder. There was talk at Frankfurt of the future of digital reading, and how in poorer countries, people are reading books on their mobile phones. In the biggest emerging market of them all – China – there are now one billion mobile phone users, and 300 million smartphone users. China Mobile, one of that country’s two telecoms providers, also has the largest ebook platform. Blimey, I wonder how many of those Chinese speak English?