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Ripon, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Gary Dolman was born in the industrial north east of England in the 1960s, but grew up in Harrogate in Yorkshire, where he now lives with his wife, three children and dogs. His writing reflects his fascination by the dark places of the human mind.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cometh the Hour

I recall the demise of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) very well. It was in March 1997 and I remember feeling outraged that such an abomination as a price-fixing agreement could have existed in the first place. I felt as if I had been ripped-off for years and I celebrated the decision to declare it unlawful. Spokesmen for independent booksellers bleated at the time that not only did the NBA help to ensure that new writing talent was nurtured by the big publishing houses, it also kept their own sector buoyant. I regarded their words as just that – the pitiful bleating of those afraid of fair competition.

I fear now that they were entirely correct.

The removal of the NBA allowed the large multiple retailers, both specialist chains and especially supermarkets to dominate the market. They were interested only in pounds, shillings and pence, and not at all in the health of literature per se. A narrow offering of best-selling titles and celebrity memoirs increasingly dominated the market with volumes driven by deep discounting and strong point-of-purchase marketing. Multiple buyers looked only for proven names and formats and the large but increasingly dependent publishers and their literary agents slavishly pandered to them. The independent booksellers, unable to compete on best-seller sales were decimated. There was less and less shelf space available for new authors and as a result, fewer were taken on. Literature suffered.

Cometh the hour, cometh the independent presses. The vacuum created by the implosion of the offerings of the big publishing houses began to be filled by small presses and latterly, ebook publishers. They now drive the new blood in writing and as often as not, dominate the literary prize shortlists. The traditional gatekeepers of publication, the literary agents, have been either overwhelmed, or by-passed by the tide of competent new writers being adopted by the small presses.

Unfortunately, that tide also contains very many poor writers who generate correspondingly poor and barely-edited work, which is self-published, (and yes of course, on occasion, good work is self-published too.) With the exceptions perhaps of erotica and some fantasy fiction, consumers learn to buy books from traditional publishers who will both proof-read and substantively edit their offerings.

But small presses are not equipped to supply the big retailers and the demise of the independent sector means that the shelf space to offer their books on is often not there, leaving only the electronic route to market.

Be careful what you wish for.  

1 comment:

  1. yeah I think one of the biggest things that turns people off indy authors is the fact that there is so much crap out there that in the old days would never have seen the light of day. The quality indy published books get lost under a mound of rubbish (yikes that sounds a bit harsh lol)