“Who wants to pay for a bunch of electrons?” asked technology guru Bill Thompson at the TLC Big Publishing Debate in September. In one corner, flexing their muscles, are the advocates of the Word, the value of Words and the notion that only Words that have passed under the discerning eyes of an editor have what it takes to be published. Warming up in the opposite corner are Google, the technology pundits, the developers, the pirates and all those who claim to have abandoned Mammon and joined the Free Access roller-coaster.
But where is all the money for paying authors, translators and other creative professionals going to come from? The question goes unanswered. In fact, publishers should be jolly pleased about the pirates, continues Bill Thompson. Who says no to free advertising? He may or may not have been thinking of the French designer Ora-Ito who posted false ads featuring his own designs for giants like Apple and Nike on his web site. They became so popular that a factory in China began to manufacture illegal copies of the non-existent products. No one sued Ora-Ito, and the “digital artwork” was purchased by the French state art collection. This is something that has been discussed among agents, according to Karolina Sutton of Curtis & Brown who spoke at a Society of Authors debate earlier the same week, but, she says, there is no evidence that pirate activities boost sales.
Faber & Faber’s Stephen Page and most of the audience want to hold on to their editors, but, he explained, because the trade is now driven by forces out of the publishers’ control, they will have deploy all the creative forces they can muster in order to make their products as widely accessible as possible.
Accessibility is Google’s Santiago de la Mora’s mantra too. Their task, he says, is to help books find their readers, not only online, but also in high street bookshops. Google maps can see one near you from its place in space.
So, writers who value the privacy of their own cosy writing den need to start looking elsewhere to make a living, unless they are happy to deliver extra content for tablets, mobiles and e-books, to lead workshops, and who knows what other channels will come on the scene in the future.
By Katarina Sjöwall Trodden