A lot of ink has been spilt, and even more keys have been bashed, on the topic of the changing publishing industry. A good starting point for those less familiar with the movements would be my review of the “From Hardbacks to Hot Bytes” event, with talks from Gerd Leonhard and Dominic Pride.
It is clear the internet has led to a greater democratisation of the book industry, with new economies and a changing role of publishers.
But it is also interesting to note how people are using the internet to leverage traditional book deals.
This isn’t a new phenomena – Dickens serialised his work before it was published in a single volume, and many a newspaper columnist or cartoonist has subsequently earned a book deal.
The newspaper analogy is pertinent as there are erudite and thoughtful bloggers who use their blogs as a platform to showcase their writing abilities or specialist knowledge, in order to publish a related book. Think Chris Brogan or Cory Doctorow to give but two examples. Similarly, there are comics such as Freakangels and xkcd that have been converted into trade format. (Note all links take to blogs, which in turn have links to the books)
But the nature of the topics mined for the paperbacks appears to have shifted. Simpler, more immediate books. Effectively, web content transferred to paper format.
Again, these types of books aren’t new. Think of books such as “The little book of complete bollocks” – the sort of titles you’d find next the counter at HMV for £2.99. The sort of books that are always bought as gifts for others, never for oneself.
But the balance of power in this genre appears to be shifting to the web. And Tumblr appears to be at the centre of this.
Not all of these books originate on Tumblr (Stuff White People Like didn’t), but the directory of Tumblr books is continuing to expand. Think Garfield Minus Garfield, Look At This Fucking Hipster or This Is Why You’re Fat. Slaughterhouse 90210 can’t be far off.
Why is this? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it is because the barriers of entry are now so low.
- Tumblr is one of the easiest blogging platforms to use (It is effectively an online scrapbook)
- The content is fairly low involvement – after the initial moment of inspiration, adding content is pretty easy. No long and thought-out blogs; just a picture and a pithy comment
- While high quality will hopefully, eventually, rise to the top, the nature of distribution is to an extent random. Being reblogged, retweeted or even getting a mainstream media mention is largely uncontrollable – two identical pieces of content could have very different audiences depending on the serendipity of who happened to check their feeds at a certain point in time
I think this randomness is quite important. There is a huge number of blogs of this nature, and thus the quality is of course highly variable. Over the past month, I’ve seen Hungover Owls, Sad Don Draper, Rosa DeLauro is a fucking hipster and Fuck Yeah Prancing Cera. Clearly, not all of these (if any) are aspiring to book deals but the rules of the game appear to be set.
I wonder whether this will be a passing trend, or something that will continue. Good ideas will always come along – whether on Tumblr or in a literary agent’s office – but the economies are changing substantially. For instance, I have no idea how the copyright works on this type of blog; it’s highly unlikely that all images used have received clearance or licence under creative commons
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyi/2369617357