Skip to main content

A future of free books would come at too high a price

Chris Anderson, author and editor of Wired, the computing industry 'bible' recently implied the future of reading and book-buying when he said his next book, The Long Tail, is to be issued by publisher's Disney in a range of editions. Nothing new there. But wait. One edition will come at most people's favourite price: free. But it will include a range of adverts. On the other hand an advert free edition will cost the standard price. This is not only borrowing what is now a well used Internet business model, where freebies are given in return for lots of pop-up ads and spam, but also from supermarket chains who sell loss-leaders such as bread for 10p (or there abouts) in return to get you into the store and buy other full-priced items. It is also not too dissimilar from the slew of free newspapers that one is bombarded with outside any bus/tube station, giving yesterday's news tomorrow. In music too we have seen the adoption of this business model by artists such as Coldplay and Prince who have either given music away or let fans pay what they want. But do not be fooled, this is no attempt at bringing music to the grateful masses, it is no different from the supermarkets' and is only theirs (and their record companies') own version of loss-leaders, serving to build and retain a loyal fan-base and in the process drive people onto purchasing the money-spinning concert tickets and other paraphernalia.
It does not take much imagination, then, to look in the not too distant future and see big name publishers wanting to adopt the model for their fiction titles. Imagine. A re-issue of Amis' Money, for no money, but lots of adverts on every other page from independent financial advisors,
banks, stock-brokers and rehab clinics. Or Dickens' Oliver Twist with adverts for paternity tests and porridge oats (organic, of course). Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses could sell Norwegian log cabins in the middle of nowhere for the rat-race disillusioned and disaffected, and J.G. Ballard's Cocaine Nights could do well selling a different side to Spain than most tour operators.
Joking aside, however, whereas supermarkets and the likes of Coldplay
and even Wired's Chris Anderson, still benefit from the drive to other revenue streams, it is also not too difficult to see how the publishers could benefit. But how would authors gain? Would there be a steady stream of authors happy just to see their work in print in return for a slice (or a nibble) of the advertising pie, which would be contingent upon number of units sold, or, instead of 'opportunities to see', the new ad term would no doubt be 'opportunities to read'? It is, in my opinion, a vision of apocalypse in which not only would the vast majority of authors lose out, but it would also serve to devalue literature altogether. And yet it cannot be far away with technology and reading mediums 'advancing' at an alarming rate. Fiction read on mobile phones has already taken off in Japan where it would be more than easy to provide free mobile-lit in return for a bombardment of ads into your text in-box. Whilst flash fiction no doubt has its place there is nothing flash about fiction that cannot afford to contain words longer than a syllable or two, lest they take up too much room on your mobile's screen. Whatever the scenario any prospect of free reading including adverts would come at far too high a price and would, as usual, only benefit those at the very top. And the vast majority of authors would be on a hiding to nothing.

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

My PhD critical paper

I thought I'd upload the critical element of my PhD thesis. Hopefully, for those who are interested enough to read it, it will make sense despite the references to my creative work, which I can't upload as I'm seeking publication. And besides, at 68,000 words...

I'm also going to tweak section one of this three section critical paper with a view to journal publication because of the academic interest in the claims I make of Mary.

-Dedicated with love and respect to Dr Bruce Lloyd-

And in memory of my parents:
Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
Good people who taught me so much more than they realised


The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston Universi…

Midwinter Break - Bernard McLaverty

The only other book that I've read of Bernard MacLaverty was the sublime Grace Notes, published in 1997, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize of the same year. That prize was awarded to an author of another similar hiatus recently broken, Arundhati Roy, of the widely acclaimed The God of Small Things. I was certain, when buying the kindle version of Midwinter Break, that MacLaverty's first book in seventeen years (Cal, 2001, was his most recent) had made both the Booker Longlist and Shortlist - but having just double-checked - am disappointed and confused to find it had made neither. MacLaverty's prose style feels Yatesian, after the late Richard Yates, US author of Revolutionary Road, and TheEaster Parade
Midwinter Break, set in Amsterdam, is written in the same deliciously clear and poignant prose that so widely marked out Grace Notes. The husby and I have not long returned from a late summer break in that same fabulous city. With the visit to the Rijksmuseum still fre…