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Weirdness Rodeo


Self-publishing [Blue] vs Kindle publishing [Orange] vs Indie publishing [Red]

Has self-publishing peaked? I was initially surprised to see the slow decline on Google Trends, but then I realised that it may just be a matter of terminology. It isn't that self-publishing is in decline, it is that 'self-publishing' is.

My first guess was the rise of 'indie publishing', but despite the phrase's advocates, it doesn't seem to be taking off to any great extent. ('Independent publishing' has been in use for years, and has a different meaning.)

In fact, 'kindle publishing' seems to be the culprit - that term established itself only a few years ago, yet is already threatens to overtake 'self-publishing'. Which is one of the scariest signs of Amazon's industry dominance I've ever seen: the actual verb of publishing is becoming Amazon branded.

Lessons learned from other media

Kotaku looks into the value of (or how much people value)  Metacritic. How the game industry increasingly takes reviews into consideration, from deliberations on funding to seedy PR junkets:

Inevitably, at some point, someone will jump into the fray and say something like “lol review scores mean nothing anyway.” To some people, maybe that’s true. But to the people who make and sell video games, review scores are more important than many casual fans realize. Mostly because of Metacritic.

An ICM survey reveals that over a quarter of 18-24s buy records they never listen to. And the sales figures for vinyl just keep growing, with survey respondents citing the 'sound quality' but also 'the sleeve artwork' and just plain old 'collecting' as the reasons for purchase. Although vinyl is still a small fraction of the market, it has been growing steadily since 2007, especially in the key demographic of younger shoppers. 

Although - like books - the major sales channels for vinyl are all online (and led by Amazon), the survey also outlines some possible opportunities for stores - including the notion that music lovers are more likely spend 'more than they intended' in a shop. As well as, of course, events and the idea of being a destination.


A study shows that reading is good for you - improving 'empathy and wellbeing'. These studies give me a warm fuzzy feeling, but overall - who are they for? Is it is surprise that reading is good for you, or that books are educational? My suspicion is, studies like this are grist for proving value when it comes to, say, appealing for library funding. In which case, the Government won't really care about 'empathy', but if you can, say, calculate the cost-saving in 'wellbeing', and somehow how that readers use fewer medical resources and there's an ROI involved... that'd be an interesting case.

But in the world of consumer publishing, a study that says 'reading is good for you' isn't new news. The valuable market of youth readers know reading is 'good for you' (just like, you know, vegetables and homework) - they need it to be fun. And cool. 

Or... what about the other way around? Does that increased empathy mean increased action? Does making readers make the world a better place - not just for the readers - but for other people?

Off the back of Patrick Ness'  incredible Save the Children campaign, we had nice anecdotal evidence that readers are indeed 'good people'. But I figured I'd look for more evidence - does that 'improved empathy and wellbeing' translate into action? Double gasp! According to YouGov, it does.

I compared an audience of those that said that they enjoyed no genre of fiction with the reverse - those that enjoyed any genre of fiction. The fiction-readers were substantially more charitable across several metrics. These included both likelihood of giving over the next 3 months (likely or very likely) and whether or not they give to charity on a regular (e.g. direct debit) or ad hoc basis. In every case there was a statistically significant gap between those that didn't like fiction and those that did. (In the case of 'very likely to give in the next three months', this translated to a 4.5% difference (29.5% - 34%), which might not seem like much, but in groups this size, and with a sample this large, that's a big deal. 

Obviously there's the huge chance of a false correlation here - there are other demographic and socio-economic differences between fiction-likers and fiction-not-likers that are probably the cause of this difference. But, hell, readers are currently raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for a great cause, so I think a little smugness is forgivable.

Intangible heritage

The RSA are teaming up with the Heritage Lottery to create a Heritage Index. Which, of course, leads to questions about what heritage actually is. The knee-jerk response is to consider physical spaces - pretty buildings, pretty nature. But there's an argument for 'intangible heritage' as well:

Intangible heritage is not bound to places, but embedded in individuals and can therefore be shared across cultural boundaries and between places. Just as tangible heritage can be commercialised intangible heritage lends itself to generating economic value as well. The choice of international cuisine in British cities and the success story of curry dishes in particular is a prime example of how intangible cultural heritage from other regions can shape our own identity and generate economic benefits alike.

The article goes on to think about the value of intangible heritage - economic and culturally speaking - and the difficulties that come with archiving and preserving something that's always in flux. Neat stuff.

In regards to books, there's also a great deal of relevance, as we're in a transitional period where virtual and physical formats are battling for supremacy. As the RSA notes:

The internet allows us to visit places with our eyes before our bodies and therefore tangible heritage might receive more attention and is considered as being of higher value. The experience of something intangible like the smell of a market or the taste of unfamiliar food is lost online.

It isn't a perfect correlation. If anything, books seem to be in the reverse situation. Where, by preserving/sharing/archiving/using a book, we're largely talking about the content ('visiting with our eyes' = reading the book's content). It is the tangible heritage - the packaging (and the feel, smell, craft, origin) - that is in greater danger of going 'unappreciated' and therefore lost. Or is it?

Pornokitsch people elsewhere

Mahvesh discussing The Apex Book of World SF:

There is sometimes this idea that speculative fiction or even SF/F exists only in certain parts of the world, or that genre writing has to be a certain way because that way is what is best known.

SciFiNow liked Becky's The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet:

It’s a joy to read sci-fi this big-hearted and progressive, as Chambers explores the connections, both sexual and emotional, between the different species. From the family structure of Sissix’s people to the hateful humans who believe that Earth was made for them and no one else, it’s refreshing to see familiar social issues addressed with such wit and heart in this context.

Rumour has it that Molly Tanzer's The Pleasure Merchant is on its way...


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