Paul Kilfoil's World of Travel, Technology & Sport

Posted on  by Paul Kilfoil.
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The explosive growth of the internet has had some odd and unforseeable side effects. One of the predictions made by several tech-savvy gurus a number of years ago was that the world wide web would destroy the publishing industry - books, magazines and newspapers. But from what I've observed, quite the reverse is true - more books and magazines than ever before are now being published, both in print and digital form. And because it has become so easy (and relatively cheap) to have your own book published, more and more aspiring authors are self-publishing their work.

I've watched this explosion of printed publications through six years of attendance at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, from 2012 to 2017 [Aside : The Franschhoek Literary Festival is South Africa's premier showcase of books, authors, publishers and critics, and takes place every year in the small but charming town of Franschhoek, not far from Cape Town. I wrote a blog about the literary festival some years ago; you can read it here].

However, the same cannot be said for newspapers. In years past printed newspapers were the primary source of news for billions of people round the world, but that is most definitely not the case any more - these days people read the news on the internet, at home, at work or even on the way to work via their laptops, tablets or smartphones. Every modern restaurant and coffee shop has free wifi (if they don't they'll simply have no customers), so people are connected all the time and can access up-to-the-minute information instantly wherever they are. In fact, free wifi in public open spaces is even becoming common.

A typical modern bookstore ...
A bewildering number of books to choose from

The result of this is that people are simply not buying newspapers any more. Less sales means less income and less advertising, so in order to survive newspapers employ less journalists who are nonetheless expected to churn out enough stories to fill the pages - a vicious cycle which leads to overworked, underpaid employees and badly-written articles that are full of grammatical and factual mistakes because nobody has time to check the facts or do proper editing. I routinely find basic errors in newspaper articles all the time.

A consequence of this explosion of new books being published is that the average number of copies being sold is very small. Many books only sell a few hundred copies, ever! This is staggeringly few, and hardly enough to sustain publishing houses let alone authors. So not many authors can afford to write full time - only very, very successful writers who manage to produce a best-seller earn enough from book sales to support themselves. The rest have day jobs and fit in some writing whenever they can (evenings, weekends, holidays). British literary agent Jonny Geller has described this situation as "either a sign of cultural vitality or publishing suicide". He goes on to say "it is utter madness to publish so many books when the average person reads between one and five books a year".

If you're an aspiring writer this makes for depressing reading ... but to put this into perspective, ask yourself this question: Would you prefer to have tens of thosuands of books to choose from, or tens of thousands of different brands of shoes? I know what my answer would be, and it wouldn't be footwear.

  © Paul Kilfoil, Cape Town, South Africa