The year is 2020. It costs £5 to buy a paperback novel. £3 if it is one of the few hundred titles being stocked on the shelves of your local supermarket. Most of that money is needed to cover the direct costs of producing the physical book. Ink, paper, printing and binding. Some is needed to cover transport. The shop takes a chunk to cover its overheads and to keep its shareholders happy. How much goes to the author? A few pence per copy.
Alternatively you can buy your novel as a download and read it on your shiny new book reader. How much for? There is no printing, no transport and no shelf stacking. Shall we say, fifty pence for the author and fifty pence to cover the website design and management?
What about a third possibility – read the book online courtesy of Google and see a few adverts along the way. The author gets a few fractions of a penny from the advertising revenue. You pay nothing.
What do publishers do in this crisp new digital world? They have already out-sourced the job of selecting the best novels. Literary agents do that. As for editing – literary agents increasingly take a hand in that too. Cover design is usually subcontracted. Publishers rarely spend money on advertising for authors who are not already famous. All that is left is the sales team who work so hard going bookshop to bookshop. But with digital distribution, the bookshops are not needed.
A world without publishers?
It is a world in which anyone and everyone can publish by themselves. Digital distribution – costing so little it is basically free – makes this easy. I am lucky enough to have seen many as yet unpublished but wonderful books in manuscript form. But I have seen a far larger number of badly written manuscripts. In 2020 are all of them being published?