Thursday, January 29, 2009

Self-publishing and Chinese bookstores

Our local  bookstore, Chengdu ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

This is the opening line of a recent article in the New York Times (by Motoko Rich, Jan 27, 2009). Rich goes on to talk about print-on-demand companies and the self-publishing market, which is expanding at a rapid pace at the same time as the traditional publishing industry is experiencing difficulties and is responding by down-sizing. An interesting statistic in the article states that 480,000 books were published in the Unites States in 2008. No wonder it's difficult getting a book sold, let alone making a royalty penny. But of course profit alone is not the sole purpose of the self-publishing business.

British author Patrick Gale lamented at last year's Literary Festival at the Chengdu Bookworm that editors no longer exist and that you've really "made it" if your book gets edited at all. (I have the privilege of having a very good editor, tack Gunilla! Doesn’t mean ”I’ve made it” though). Already in 2005 Blake Morrison wrote about this in The Guardian (link here). 

The publishing world is, as ever, in turbulence and it is all very interesting to follow. I sit on both sides of the fence, both as supplier and recipient (writer, photographer and picture researcher) so can appreciate many angles to the story. It's also extremely interesting to witness the explosion of the publishing market in China. Newspaper kiosks are bursting with glossy mags and newspaper publications. Bookstores are gigantic here, several stories high, with coffee shops and all, just like the American bookstores. People sit in the aisles, reading a book from cover to cover, treating the bookstore like a library. I've even seen people photographing pages of books so they won't have to pay. The staff of these mostly state-run bookstores don't seem to mind. They read the books too. Somehow this all doesn't bother me, as long as people are interested in reading!

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