Saturday, 24 March 2012

Publishing the future, in Leicester

The grass may not always be greener, but Leicester is fortunate to have Leicester Writers Club - which is, I believe, the second oldest such club in the country. The format has been the same throughout the decades - a weekly manuscript meeting where people can read out their work, for comment; regular speakers; an annual dinner; presentation of prizes (some annual cups are a bit battered these days); a residential weekend. If I was a writer living in Leicester, with £50 to spare I'd join it. The crime novelist Rod Duncan said that he would have been a writer without LWC, but definitely not a published writer. But at a time when many writing groups have bit the dust, in part overtaken by the spread of university creative writing courses, LWC continues to flourish, drawing in new writers all the time.
Earlier this week I attended a packed session on E-publishing, which both inspired and worried me. At the start Chris Meade of the Institute for the Future of the Book (If: Book) said that the publisher was dead, that there was no need for them (hang on - that's me he's talking about!), that the future was the direct relationship between the author and the reader, filtered only through the hands of new technology. He was big on apps. Chris was followed by Amanda Grange, a successful writer who has become much more successful by moving to self publishing. Her biggest criticism of the outgoing publishing model was the time element - any "new" book takes at least a year to come out, while ebooks enable the same book to hit the computer screens the same day. Editing? Proof-reading? Typesetting? Design? Buy it in. Stephen Baker, who runs a company dedicated to conversion of the written word to ebooks concurred. John Martin from Leicester Libraries outlined his authority policy on loaning ebooks, pointing out some difficulties in that Kindle ie Amazon in the UK will not sign up to have their formats loanable, so you need a tablet to read a borrowed ebook from Leicester Libraries. By this time some members of the audience were reaching for their medical tablets, others had been noting down every word. I got the feeling Amazon was about to be hit by many previously unpublished or out of print backlist books, uploaded by the morning.
Save for John Martin, the whole panel was evangelical about the new future we are marching towards. Bookshops? Never mentioned. I'm pleased that LWC ran the session, an indication of their confidence, though I'd have preferred to have seen someone (not me) on the panel from the traditional publishing industry.

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