The Big Squeeze

I’m often asked what I think of e-books. It’s difficult to give a simple answer. As a reader, I’m all in favour because I travel a lot and I don’t always know what I’m going to fancy reading while I’m on the road. This week, for instance, much as I’ve been looking forward to Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor, it will have to stay home. It’s too heavy for my luggage. Instead I’ll read Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heights which I loaded onto my Kindle a while ago.

Books are a major item of expenditure for me these days. I don’t run a car. I only drink when I have either a very good reason or company. And since my hairdresser decided to go stratospheric with his prices I’m down to five cuts a year. But books…. can’t resist them. Hardback, mass market, secondhand and electronic. I buy them all.

For a writer, e-books have now become bad news. When they first appeared we still earned a decent royalty rate because publishers thought e-books probably wouldn’t catch on. Then they woke up. They screwed the royalty rate down to an iniquitous 25% and we authors rolled over and accepted our fate. Amazon piled on the agony (and yes, I too buy stuff from them, notably, recently, a catnip banana and a lefthanded pen) by demanding big discounts. So Amazon squeezes publishers and no prizes for guessing who the publishers squeeze.

The only way I can see this changing is if best-selling authors make a stand on behalf of us also-rans. They are the ones with enough clout to demand a perfectly fair 50% royalty rate on electronic books, for all of us. How can publishers possibly justify pocketing 75% of earnings on something delivered to buyers wirelessly? Anyone listening? J K Rowling? Ian Rankin? Sophie Kinsella? Failing that, full-time writing is going to disappear as a profession. We’ll be like lamplighters and milkmen. Fondly remembered ghosts from Ye Olden Days.

I’m now going to disappear but only for a few weeks. I’ll be back after Easter with, who knows, perhaps some good publishing news.  Oh, low-flying pig overhead.


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