Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Devaluing of the Written Word

Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris: A dying breed?
"... the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third."

That comes from a New York Times story today by Dan Streitfeld (here) on the massive increase in the number of published books in the United States. The upside is that writers are getting their works circulated. The underbelly is that those same writers are seeing their earnings potential for their written work crash. Writers who have quit day jobs to assume full-time writing careers are hurrying back to the classroom or the office or the food stamp facility.

At the center of the story--as usual--is This time it's Kindle Unlimited, which has dramatically increased the number of books available, while decreasing author royalties in an equally dramatic fashion. E-book revenue "leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012." But writers' checks got smaller along the way.

We come away from this confusion with the distinct impression that Amazon has very little regard or respect for the people who earn their profits: the writers. And the writers are taking notice. If Amazon loses its stock of books, it will be hard-pressed to ... well, sell books.

The explanation we get from the prime offender in the book world is this: "An Amazon spokesman declined to answer questions about Kindle Unlimited." Writer Kathryn Meyer Griffith explains it this way, according to the NYTimes: "They’re doing a good job of recreating that whole unfair bogus system where they make the money and we authors survive on the pennies that are left."

The landscape is changing almost daily in publishing and we'll have to wait and see what shakes out of the blanket. A couple of big-time writers from our region will talk about "The Future of the Book" Jan. 23 at the opening session of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell have had bestsellers in the past year and Roland has been at the center of a huge row with Amazon. They know what's going on.  You can register for the conference here.

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