Books don’t just happen, someone has to take a risk | Herald Scotland

I came across a fascinating piece by Ian Bell in yesterday’s Herald Scotland. Bell bids a farewell to Mainstream Publishing, a Scottish publishing house founded by Bill Campbell and Peter Mackenzie in 1978.

Their lives have gone into the imprint, good times and bad. Now and then the triumph was just to survive in a Scotland with a glorious publishing past and, it seemed, precious little of a future. As Marion Sinclair, chief executive of Publishing Scotland, put it, Peter and Bill have been “stalwarts of the Scottish publishing scene”, often enough seen internationally as “the face of Scottish publishing”. While others came and went, Mainstream endured.
~ Ian Bell

Like many traditional publishing houses, Mainstream Publishing has been under the same grave pressures as many publishers; the pressures price discounting by online retailers like Amazon and the diminishing amount of independent bookshops in the UK and USA.
Bell continues:

Across the western world, the digital prophets proclaim “the traditional model” finished. Some adventurers in the world of on-line piracy will tell you that “knowledge”, meaning books, should always be “free”. […] In 2012, sales of physical books fell by 1%; digital, 12% of the total, increased by 66%.[…] Huge numbers of those titles were self-produced by people who say there is no longer a need for traditional houses. They can do it all themselves. […] That’s far from obvious. The idea that “everyone has a book in them” is, for one thing, a cruel hoax. Someone has to say so. Someone has to edit a book, design it, market it, deal with retailers and persuade reviewers that the title is worth attention. The self-published authors who have managed all of this are vastly outnumbered by legions of the disappointed.
~ Ian Bell

Indeed, books don’t just happen, someone has to take a risk, but as a counterpoint to Bell’s lament of traditional publishing, I’d add that it is less to do with retailers named after South American rivers, and a great deal more to do with not actually taking enough risks in quickly adapting to a vastly changing market. The seismic shift in the industry is that ‘someone’ taking the risk is now the author, not the publisher, and that means publishers have to work so much harder to create real value in the author-publisher relationship.
You can read the rest of Ian Bell’s article in Herald Scotland here.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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