We’ve just published ‘One For The Trouble – Book Slam Vol.1’, the first in an annual series of new writing from Book Slam alumni. It includes exclusive short stories and poetry from the likes of William Boyd, John McGregor, Simon Armitage, Irvine Welsh, Bernardine Evaristo and many more. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and, frankly, quite a thing – a limited edition, individually numbered hardback signed by all the authors, an eBook and an Audiobook (mostly voiced by the writers themselves, though some by fabulous actors – Mark Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott). Have you heard of Book Slam? If not, we bill ourselves, modestly, as ‘London’s leading literary club night’. And that’s what we are. Three or four hundred people come every month to listen to the finest storytellers across genres – novelists, poets, songwriters and comedians. You should come. It’s fun. But why did we decide to get into publishing?
The pat answer is because we thought we could do it. The less pat answer is because we believe we have spied an opportunity granted to us by a favourable alignment of the literary planets. 1/ New technology has thrown publishing and bookselling into tumult. 2/ Thus thrown, mainstream publishing (in particular) appears to be stumbling over its shoelaces. 3/ We have a loyal and considerable following who like and trust what we do.
This alignment has, in turn, led us to draw certain conclusions …
Physical books are currently too cheap and too numerous. Publishers seem to churn out paperbacks like battery hens laying eggs. But who’s going to buy a paperback when you’ve got a Kindle, Kobo or iPad? The airport bookshop is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet. But that doesn’t mean that physical books are dead too. A bibliophile’s bookshelves speak of who they are more clearly than any collection of CDs, records or DVDs. However, finding space on those bookshelves is ever more tricky. ‘The Da Vinci Code’? On your Kindle. ‘Bridget Jones’? Kindle. These days, shelves are reserved for unusual, beautiful books – books, we hope, like ours. ‘One For The Trouble’ costs £30 – a premium price for a premium book that just begs to be taken down, weighed in your hand and thumbed through.
The other side of this is that digital books (eBooks, Audiobooks, Apps) are just too expensive. Publishers seem to be scared of their digital editions and you can still come across that absurd scenario in which an eBook will be priced the same as its hardback equivalent – this despite the fact a digital file costs little to create and more or less nothing to store and distribute. The eBook of ‘One For The Trouble’ costs £1.99, the Audiobook £2.99 and you can buy the whole digital bundle for £3.99. We want as many people as possible to enjoy this excellent writing and we don’t believe pricing it this low will impact our physical sales – some people like to go to an art gallery and pick up a postcard, some people like to buy art, some like to do both.
Clearly enough our venture into publishing places us somewhere along the length of the Long Tail. The premise of Long Tail theory, of course, is that new forms of retail, marketing and distribution enable the profitability of all sorts of niche products – ‘if you sell it, they will come’. We’re not totally convinced by this. The internet is a barrage of information that leaves us all bewildered, so how can you filter the ‘noise’ to get your message across? It’s tricky. Nonetheless, we do believe that we have already established a ‘niche’ audience and hope to generate enough interest by virtue of the sheer quality of what we do to extend that reach … if not immediately then for the second or third edition, as the uptake of new technology grows exponentially and we continue to find the very best contributors.
So what do we expect from this? Are we in it for the money? Sure. But, let’s be honest about this: if you want to be rich, you don’t start publishing literary fiction and poetry! The Book Slam event has always been about supporting writers and diverse, interesting work. The first Book Slam annual is the same. It doesn’t just feature household names like William and Irvine, but new talent like Sophie Woolley, Luke Wright and Kate Tempest. Without meaning to sound pompous, we believe our plural culture is built on a diversity of narratives and, at a time when mainstream publishing and bookselling seem to become ever more stolid and monolithic, it is important for someone to champion that diversity. So that’s what we aim to do.