Saturday, 7 April 2012


As an ex-Fleet Street hack, I hate it when statements of so-called fact are not substantiated - particularly, of course, those with which I don't agree!

For instance, in this morning's Times, Emma Duncan, the Deputy Editor of The Economist, states unequivocally that reading is on the decline. Well, it almost certainly ain't. At least not according to the Society of Authors, of which I am
a humble member, working at the mine face.

The Society tells me that more and more books are being published in the UK, viz 150,000 titles in 2010, a considerable increase on the 110,000 that came onto the nation's bookshelves in 2001. In terms of books sold, the respective figures were 229 million compared to 110 million. A think it's a fair assumption that that means reading is increasing overall, not declining.

As I say, Emma doesn't give her sources. But perhaps she is misled by the fact that the sale of printed books in this country - and probably in all developed markets - is falling. But what is happening is that, according to Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK, one of our largest book publishers, most readers are swapping the purchase of a print book for an e-book.

Is this good news? This is the key question for authors. I guess we don't know yet. What is certain is that the market is undergoing a sea change. According to the Society, Amazon has become overwhelmingly the world's largest retailer, with a market capitalisation of $80billion - and that makes me, at least, distinctly uneasy.

The prices that Amazon charges for its books are heart-warmingly low for the consumer. For the author, they chill the knee caps. Book shops will charge round about £8 for my paperback novels - presuming that savage discounting does not take place, which it invariably does. This means that I receive something like 56pence per book, less agent's commission of, in my case, 15%. That's if the published price is not discounted. Not much, you might agree for the original manufacturer of the product. But this is reduced to about 28 pence at Amazon.

Amazon will have to sell a hell of a lot of my novels to make that return viable for a year's creative work.

Am I moaning. Too right, I am sport. I think I might take up flower arranging....


  1. Some intersting figures here. How does the money you get for e-books compare with papar versions? Presumably the production/ distribution cost on a 'real' book take a large chunk of the profit. Amazon often seem to charge similar prices (I just looked and an e-copy of one of your books is about £1 less than for paperback).
    I've seen many discussions from authors on both the cut pricing of books and e books and there seems to be no consensus.
    Personally I now shop at amazon because all my local bookshops have sadly shut over the last few years. Price is a huge factor but they also have an excellent selection. I actually discovered your books on amazon and had never seen them in bookshops.
    I love books and mostly buy hardback and while a good price is nice I hope this doesn't backfire on authors the same way it has on small local bookshops.

  2. Dear John,
    I have just finished reading Road to Kandahar, and I must say it was an excellent read. I had a book published five years ago (Publish America) and they made a complete arse of the whole thing, So far I have written eight manuscripts, but have been unsuccessful in getting an agent to take me on, so the lot are going down the road of E-books.
    I was very pleased that your book was so factual and historically correct, albeit, the book was fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and could barely put the book down to feed and water.
    I am bound for Glasgow city centre tomorrow, and will pay a visit to Waterstone's in the hope that I can continue reading about Fonthill and Jenkins.
    Keep up the good work
    Errol McClelland