In his keynote at the fifth Digital Minds Conference, bestselling author and Twitter superstar Neil Gaiman kicked off the London Book Fair by likening the digital transition to being on an unruly, but exciting new frontier. "People ask me what my predictions are for publishing and how digital is changing things and I tell them my only real prediction is that is it’s all changing," Gaiman said. "Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing."
Over his 30 minute talk Gaiman entertained and challenged his audience to think creatively about the future, conceding that he himself was “perfectly willing to acknowledge the possibility that the novelist may have been a blip” in our cultural history. “The model for tomorrow, and this is the model I’ve been using with enormous enthusiasm since I started blogging back in 2001,” Gaiman said, “is to try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago.”
The AAP has been tracking ebooks since 2002. That year, ebooks represented 0.05% of all trade publishing revenues. To get to the current 23% number, the biggest gains were made in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the years immediately following the 2007 launch of the Kindle. In 2008, ebooks were 1% of publisher revenue. In 2011, they were 17%. Those were the years of triple-digit growth numbers, a trend publishers thought would continue until ebooks were at 50% of revenue or more. But in 2012, according to these new numbers, growth in ebooks has hit an inflection point in the U.S.
as reported by John Harris in The Guardian (worth reading in full):
[Tim Waterstone] is also about to return to bookselling as non-executive chairman of a new venture called Read Petite. This will be launched to the trade at next week’s London Book Fair, and to the public in the autumn. An online outlet for short-form ebooks (fiction and non-fiction), its users will pay a monthly subscription – “a few pounds” – and have unlimited access to texts of around 9,000 words or under.
But this is no literary Spotify, offering hundreds of thousands of items with little quality control: Waterstone is insistent the service will be “curated” to ensure a high standard. Authors will have appeared in traditional print, and have been brought to Read Petite by a publisher. “The individual short story, or whatever it is, may not have been published, but the author will be an established, published writer,” he says, drumming his fingers on the table to emphasis those last three words. “The whole point is to avoid a slush-pile of material. What we’ll guarantee is quality writing.”
Read Petite’s name was inspired by Reet Petite, Jackie Wilson’s 1957 rhythm and blues classic. One of its key players, former Bookseller editor Neill Denny, has come along to further explain what it is all about. The pair are particularly excited about the chance to serialise new fiction à la Charles Dickens, reintroducing readers to the long-forgotten art of the cliffhanger. They enthuse about how e-readers seem to have increased people’s appetite for short-form writing. In the US, the New York Times has reported on a resurgence of the short story, benefiting new and established writers. We talk about such short-story masters as Somerset Maugham, Stephen King and Annie Proulx, and why the publishing industry has never quite managed to market the form.
“A lot of the best short fiction has never been properly exposed, because publishers don’t find it commercially comfortable,” says Waterstone. His bookselling business did have success with Graham Greene’s short stories, but such successes were rare. “Even with a collection, how do you package it? It’s difficult in print: traditionally, money was used up on production and distribution, and not enough was left for promotion. In the digital world, production costs are virtually nil, and distribution costs don’t exist, so you’re left with a much cleaner sheet.”