On a flight to Ireland this morning, I got caught in airplane hell: trapped in a window seat beside an angry writer.

Boy, was he riled.  The suffering he’d endured in order to write… the idiocy of celebrity books… the insensitivity of editors… the indignity of his publisher asking him to participate in the selling of his product… the indignity, indeed, of his hardwon,  literary endeavours  being referred to as product.

But the worst of his spittle-laced ire was reserved for
the Internet, which was going to so impoverish writers that nobody would bother anymore.  We were presiding over nothing less than the death of writing, forever!

Eventually I managed to excuse myself and return to my book, regretting a lost opportunity.  Even at 7.30 am I would have enjoyed an exploratory conversation with a fellow writer about all those subjects — especially how our industry is being fundamentally altered by the digital revolution.

Those who know tell us that by 2020, 90% of all retail sales will be either on the Internet or influenced by it (for example, by researching online before going shopping). The growth in online sales of books is now at 20 to 25% per annum.

And that’s not even factoring in the emergence of the e-book, print on demand, self-publishing, downloads and all the other connections fostered by the Internet.

These developments mean the writing world is in the midst of a revolution.  Not just a little different, not just email enabled, or website marketed — but permanently transformed.  (Note the tense: it’s already a done deal.)

Which means we have to transform ourselves too.

Getting angry – or disillusioned, overwhelmed or confused – are luxuries we can’t afford.

Times of change, by definition, encompass destruction and creation.   And we’re supposed to be creatives, right? So can we have some creative thinking, not just on the content of our creations — but around  the marketing and distribution of them too.

  • What are you doing to profit from the changes enabled by the Internet and digital publishing?
  • How are you going to bring your creations to those you want to reach?
  • How are you going to get paid?
  • If you were starting out again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

A  hundred and fifty years ago, publishers in the US and UK carved up the copyright world between them and dealt writers a very poor deal.   The real question for us now is: how do we use the new developments to redress the balance in our favour?

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