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It’s Only a Delivery System!

KindleKindle, iPad, Note, Nook, SmartPhone – who would have thought that these e-readers would bring down the publishing industry? Or are they just a convenient reason for publishers to navel gaze and cry out woe is me? Frankly, you’ve only yourselves to blame. Take Val Grove’s recent article in The Oldie magazine where she laments that film sets no longer show books. Right on, Val! But I can do one better. How about the Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue and Forty-Fifth Street store all decked out for Christmas 2012 shopping with only one book in it? (I’m sure you’re curious – it was the history of Levi Strauss or something like that.) The ground floor was filled with Nooks, cards, chocolates, gift certificates and – oh yes – in the far corner there were books gathering dust. Upstairs Starbucks was full, toys were selling, as were videos – but there were no books. No wonder B&N are tottering. They might like to blame publishers for not making the books they can sell, but their lack of success is in not understanding e-readers are only a delivery system. I could wax on about B&N, but to the point now:

Fact is – publishers for all their intellect and general smarts have lost the plot. They are struggling with the new technologies rather than looking to their own products. E-readers are nothing but a new delivery system. Video tape players did not ruin the film industry in the 1970s any more than the myriad delivery systems for film will do in the 2010s. What matters is that you give the punters what they want and adjust your costs in delivering it accordingly. The pharmaceutical industry changed how they formulate and then deliver their drugs dependent on the technology that best suited the patient in the 1990s. (Can’t tell I’m an historian, huh?) That should be the way publishers think of e-readers.

Instead of struggling with new technologies, deliver your drugs – our books – in whatever format the patient (us readers) need. The only thing publishers need to consider is something called costs of delivery, quality and content – something that you understand, that is if you don’t have a twelve year old marketing executive telling you that old people (over 40s) don’t read, don’t have money and don’t count. The twenty-one to thirty-four-year old market is broke. Baby Boomers have the dosh – as Hollywood has already discovered. So, buy your books in intelligently – at the right price to allow your profits to remain healthy. Diversify your reading list. Offer contracts at first for e-books only if you’re unsure of the market but the book is good. No author wants to see you go under. But whatever you do, don’t stop publishing the books we want to read as you’ve done since 2008. And don’t pretend that you’re unhappy that Amazon is limiting profits to authors who self-publish through them, just because you’ve slowed down (or in your words ‘have become highly selective’) at what you do best. It’s a business model that is doomed to failure.

Everyone in the UK recalls the late Michael Winner’s TV advertisement strap line: It’s Only a Commercial! though most of us wish we didn’t – much less recall that we’ve repeated it ourselves. I am not asking that the publishing world repeat the mantra in the title of this blog – only that publishers recognise it, and adjust their USP accordingly. Buy books for content, please – well-written and at the right price – so that you can treat the plethora of e-readers with the disdain they deserve. Or to put it another way, why do you think IBM (short for International Business Machines) got out of hardware and developed software systems solutions? THINK about it! PUBLISH SMART! (and excuse, please, the rant.)


History is our baggage. It is packed away in each of us whether it is our mothers reading to us or telling us to comb our hair – or our fathers playing football or taking us to the cinema. It is our grandparents being grey-surfers on the internet or Face Time or Skype or the memory of them baking us birthday cakes or taking us on day trips to the seaside.

Baggage is also a smell or a taste that brings on memories. Memories are essential to the baggage we pack in our personal histories. They are the freight we haul around with us – for good or ill – to keep or change – for the rest of our lives. That baggage – packed with memories – is something we pass along to our children, and everyone’s lives we touch.

For most of us, baggage is merely something you take when you go somewhere – some future. I say to know where you’re going you must know where you’ve been. When you pack a bag to go on holiday or a trip or away for business meetings you usually think – ‘ah, I should bring a jumper or boots or swimsuit or suit or whatever. Maybe a good book or make sure my phone has enough music too.’ You prepare for the immediate future by packing your baggage. To take with you.

But, in life, how will you know where that is – if you don’t have memories packed in your baggage to know where you’ve been? How many of us know anything about our great-grandparents or their world? They are the people who shaped our grandparents, who helped shape us. So why not pack your bags and travel somewhere new and exciting – pioneer a new country. Take a holiday and discover yourselves through your past.

Rant about “The British” Sky Atlantic

I’m not given easily to ranting – but sometimes – there’s an absolute need. As someone with one fresh foot in film and the other deeply rooted in writing history I tend to marry together anything on the big or little screen to the written word, and vice versa.

For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying “The British” on Sky Atlantic – that epic non-British co-pro that charts the history of these isles. I profess ignorance about the first two episodes – Treasure Islands and People Power – but do fancy myself expert on the Elizabethan Age glanced over in Revolution 1541-1641. Chocked to overflowing with Tele-Dons – that new breed of historian seeking to popularise history and usually doing a great job – - then tossing in a few actors for ratings – - the episode should have been a recipe for accuracy and popularity. Instead – thanks to the producers’ bewildering choice of a single “historical consultant” (who also happens to be the most prolific writer alive today) – it was riddled with inaccuracies. I blame the producers for getting it wrong – no academic is allowed to span 2,000 years of history and be credible. It was crass for the producers to believe otherwise.

Claiming that the Puritan revolution really began in 1634 – ouch – it went on to compound its errors. It dumbed down Elizabethan piracy to Sir Francis Drake’s voyage of circumnavigation and the looting of the Cacafuego (literally meaning the ‘shitfire’). Do we get a Tele-Don to tell us the verdict of this escapade? No. We get that all-seeing comedian Russell Brand. DOUBLE OUCH.

For the record – if anyone is reading this rant – the first time the term Puritan was used was in 1563 in London. The Puritans were the bane of Queen Elizabeth’s existence, one of the main causes of the undeclared war between Spain and the Vatican against Britain. Elizabethan piracy started out as a means to secure the realm. If you want to know more, read my books. If not, then enjoy Russell Brand teaching you all about the lessons of history.

Danny Boyle Beats Robert Dudley Hands Down

History repeats itself but never in the same way. In the summer of 1575, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, put on an 18 day extravaganza to impress Queen Elizabeth I on her royal progress to Warwickshire. He thought of everything from jugglers and tumblers to fire-breathers and seven tons of ale for the crowds. He even hired his brother Ambrose’s nearby castle at Warwick for the servants and 10,000 horses. In those 18 days, Leicester’s castle became the third largest city after London and Norwich. Leicester spoke to the masses with tales of mythical knights and Greek gods and his festivities were talked about as the most stupendous thing anyone had seen for the next hundred years. Amongst the crowd was an eleven-year-old boy with brown curly locks who found his true inspiration: William Shakespeare.

Danny Boyle and his team’s opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics repeated Leicester’s history. From the get-go he enthralled us – no matter what walk of life, colour or creed. Simply put, there was something for everyone on a grand awe-inspiring scale – the likes of which I doubt we will ever see again. And just when you thought he couldn’t pull anything else out of his bags and bags of magic – something else came along to blow you away. To boot – his performers were amateurs. What a perfect beginning to the 2012 Olympics – inspiring the nation with a medley of Britain’s accomplishments in music, dance, literature, industry and a tribute to the web and Sir Tim.

Followed by stunning performances by the British team – putting us comfortably in third place behind the giants of sport – I am in utter admiration for everyone – from Danny to the Olympic performers to their back up teams and even – (never thought I’d say it) – the organisers.

I’d lay good money on more than 1 William Shakespeare being inspired by Danny and our Olympians, or I’ll stop writing and take up knitting professionally instead.