Needless to say, last week was a bit of a shock to the system. I went from being on the Isle of Lewis last Saturday:
to here on Monday:
With only a very minor stop in Inverness (hardly a sprawling metropolis), it's safe to say I was experiencing quite a culture difference. After three days spent in London for the London Book Fair, I am now back in full swing (almost) and just about caught-up on life. So here is a very-edited round-up of what occurred on Monday at the fair. Sadly this was the day I missed, so this is mostly based on stuff that I've read about! I had to miss the most interesting day...

Man Sends Tweet!

One of the stranger tie-in events with London Book Fair, was a man sending a tweet. Beamed live to London from Waterstones in Inverness... Ok, that man was Ian Rankin, and yes he may have been announcing the title of his forthcoming book – but I still find the concept of the announcement a bit odd... It effectively boiled down to a man standing in a shop, being filmed posting something to Twitter.
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For those of you that are interested, the new book is to be titled 'Saints of the Shadow Bible' and again sees the return of Mr Rebus. This book is set back in Edinburgh, following on from 'Standing in Another Man's Grave' which was mostly set in the Highlands. The new book sees Rebus re-join the force, after a change in the police retirement age. I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to the new book!

Books Are My Bag

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A brand new campaign devised by M&C Saatchi was launched at the fair, in conjunction with the Booksellers Association, Publishers Association and The Society of Authors. The 'Books are my Bag' campaign has received significant support from a number of publishers and booksellers, and is an unprecedented cross-trade promotion of books and bookshops. The campaign claims to be the biggest ever promotional campaign for bookshops, and I am looking forward to seeing it in action when it launches to consumers in September.

The worst part about not getting to London until late on the Monday, was not making it to the fair in time for the launch. This meant I never managed to 'bag' myself one of the bags for myself. Now I might need to go to a bookshop and buy something, just to get one...

Amazon: Friend or Foe?

Foe. According to those questioned as part of the Great Debate at London Book Fair, when given the statement 'Amazon is a positive influence on today's book industry'. At the start of the debate the results were Friend: 61, Foe: 85. By the end of the debate it was Friend: 59, Foe: 117. In percentage terms it went from 41% to just 33% that thought Amazon was a positive influence. Interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I missed the Great Debate, being stuck on a plane from Inverness to London...

Round-up

So there are just three things that happened on the Monday at London Book Fair. All of which happened whilst I was at 34,000 feet. I timed that well.

You may be lucky enough to see a few more holiday snaps from the Isle of Lewis. One of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I've only got 400 pictures to choose from...
 
The short story has been the focus of many start-ups recently. eBooks and digital delivery have made the form-factor easier and more economical to deliver than ever before. Is publishing about to go through a transformation similar to that of the music industry, where consumers have moved from buying albums to singles? Is long-form fiction about to be ditched in favour of the short story?

I'll make my case straight away - I don't think the short story will have as big an impact as people believe. I believe that there is a developing 'niche' in short story fiction, which may serve a number of new entrants well. But, personally, I feel that this area will remain relatively small - and is already beginning to become slightly crowded with enthusiastic start-ups and established players.

The reason I believe this is that short stories are not what generally attracts people (like me anyway) to reading. Reading for me is split into two categories: 
  1. Times when I am bored and want something quick to read, which requires minimal attention.
  2. Times when I have significant time to devote to reading, and want to indulge myself in a book, its characters and its plot.

Category 1 tends to be filled with reading news articles, features, or Twitter. I can read these while half watching TV, and this time allows me the opportunity to catch up on the stuff that is happening in the world (something which I tend not to do enough of).

Category 2 tends to be when I am going to bed or travelling. I generally have ample time to kill, and have set the time aside for reading. The main thing I tend to struggle with is starting a book - so once I have started a book, I like it to hold my attention for as long as possible. I enjoy exploring the world of the characters, getting deeply involved in their world. And once I start to get intrigued and attached to the story - it makes me go to bed earlier every night, to fit in more reading and immerse myself in the world of the story even more.

My argument is that short stories just wouldn't provide me with enough 'meat' to get into a book and enjoy it as much. I don't think that the detail is there and I would enjoy it as much. One other crucial point is that I don't feel the same value is there - if I did get really into the book, it would be over really quickly. I personally would feel that I was constantly forking out more money for books, and this would start to curb my spending.

Perhaps a way round this would be the subscription model, like that announced yesterday by Tim Waterstone, the founder of Waterstones (amongst other influential industry figures), in the form of Read Petite - a subscription model of publisher-submitted short-story content. Read Petite will also offer long-form journalism, and I can genuinely see it performing well within the short story/quick r niche. But would I subscribe? I'm not so sure.

Maybe I just haven't found the right short story yet? I also realise I'm only one person - and many probably prefer being able to dip into a short book. But, at present, I can't see a reason why I would ditch long-form fiction in favour of a short story.

What do you think of the recent rise of short stories? Do you prefer a quick read, or something that holds your attention for days/weeks? Let us know! Comment below, or tweet us!
 
One of the biggest complaints from publishers (and indeed the wider media) when it comes to digitisation of the media, is how their industry is being ruined by piracy. The general attitude within the media is that piracy is always a negative, must be shut down, and must be slowed down by archaic Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. But there are many ways of looking at this, and I would argue (as would an increasing number), that although bad in principle – piracy is not completely terrible.

Neil Gaiman has been one of the most high profile authors to take this approach. In the video below, which was recorded in 2011, Gaiman discusses how he was initially fearful of his work becoming available online, that his copyright was being stolen from him. But then he started to realise that places around the world where he was being pirated the most, he also began to see an increase in sales. Intrigued, Gaiman persuaded his publisher to make one of his books available online for free for a month – which resulted in sales going up by 300% the following month through independent bookshops.

Gaiman goes on to describe why he is no longer afraid of piracy, by explaining that he used to ask people in talks to raise their hands if they had a favourite author – to which most people responded 'yes'. Then he would ask them if they discovered this author by being lent a book, or by discovering it in a bookshop. He suggests that only around 5-10% discovered it in a bookshop. These are the people that now avidly follow the author, are the biggest fans, buy all his books, look after all of his books. But yet, they never discovered the author by buying one of his books in the first place. They were lent it. That is how they found their favourite author.
The point Gaiman is making is that the pirating of books is simply equivalent to the lending of books. These people would probably not have bought the book in the first place. But they have now discovered a new author, they have been recommended an author, they may even discover their favourite author for the first time. And they are considerably more likely to buy one of your books in the future – something which they probably wouldn't have done otherwise. Therefore, is it really a lost sale? No.

Many in the industry may consider this too simplistic a view. They argue that digital files are different to physical books, in that an infinite number of perfect copies can be created, whereas a physical book will wear down over time. This much is true, and there are some people that will probably always turn to piracy, no matter how much they like your books – but would these people ever really have bought your book? If the files are taken down, the sites shut down, the people sharing the files are brought to justice – will that person really go out and buy the book instead? No.

The main reason I can see that they wouldn't go out and buy it, is that someone else will upload the file not long after. It might be more tricky to get hold of, but they will still find a way of getting it for free, and are unlikely to pay for it. Meanwhile, publishers are spending millions finding people that infringe copyright, rather than taking the time to realise why these people 'steal' their content, and taking the time to work out how to make the most of their 'terrible' situation.

So let's turn this terrible situation around. Let's look at what piracy could actually mean for the industry:

  • The mean nasty pirate, Mr Pirate McStealerson, is bored one day. Browsing Twitter, he notices a friend has posted a tweet – "Check out @CaptainHook's book 'Piracy and the Internet' – a little tricky to get into, but really thought provoking stuff!"
  • Mr McStealerson normally really trusts his friend and the books he likes. But his Kindle just broke, and he has just received a new Kobo reader. While he has a Kindle Fire for movies and music, he doesn't like reading on it all that much, and because it is made by Amazon he can't get the Kobo app. Besides, the publisher has only made the book available via Amazon for £15, so he couldn't buy it for his Kobo anyway. And £15 is just too much for something he can't read on his eReader.
  • Mr McStealerson goes to Google and searches for 'Piracy and the Internet by Captain Hook ePUB'. The first result gives him a link to the torrent of the file, and he has downloaded it in less than a couple of minutes, for free. He opens up Calibre, and converts the file to a MOBI as well – this means he can read it on his tablet too when he is going to work. He has both files, on both devices in less than five minutes.
  • Over the next week, Pirate reads the book. His friend was right, it totally transforms his views on the subject matter. He rushes straight out to the shop and buys a physical book for his best friend, Dave, who loves reading this sort of thing – his birthday is coming up anyway. Pirate also decides to start a blog discussing the topic at length, and shares posts with his friends regularly. Five of them go out and buy the book, either in physical or digital form.
  • Captain Hook advertises a follow up to his book on Twitter. This time he has persuaded his publisher to make it available in all formats online, and for a bit less. Mr McStealerson buys the book straight away – actually, he had it pre-ordered a month before it came out! He also saw a limited edition print version advertised, and bought that before it came out too. He has also been involved in Twitter discussions with the author, and re-tweeted a lot of stuff about the book.
  • During the month following the launch, the book sells twice as many copies as the first book ever did. The first book was heavily pirated, and so is the second one. The authors' third book does even better again though. 
In this situation, is piracy really harming the author, the publisher, or anyone at all? Was Mr McStealerson ever going to buy the book? Have there been any lost sales? More people have bought the subsequent books. These people might never discovered the author, had they not discovered that first book through piracy.

The real result of piracy, is that the book has reached a much wider audience. One of the biggest battles in publishing is discoverability – anything that helps improve that situation, cannot surely be bad? Yes, piracy is bad in principle, in the fact that it is theft – and if too widespread would be detrimental to the industry – but piracy is a fact of the digital age. Piracy is pretty much proven to be unstoppable – so why should publishers spend so much time, money and effort trying to fight it. Wouldn't they be better off trying to make the most of it? Shouldn't the industry learn to use piracy to its advantage? I know which I would rather spend my time on.