The Evolution of Books

At the beginning there were papyrus scrolls. Later came handwritten bound books. With the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century books became accessible to the masses for the first time, changing the course of history.

Today ebooks and online retailers are revolutionising the publishing industry once again.  The low costs associated with creating and distributing ebooks has seen a proliferation in the number of books being published.

1960 – 8,100 ISBNs issued.

2013 – 1.4m ISBNs issued.

This is largely due to the number of self-published authors entering a marketplace that was traditionally reserved for authors signed with publishing houses.

Printer(courtesy of gallery hip)

There has also been a marked increase in the number of book genres. Yesterday’s readers would no doubt be surprised to find genres such as Amish Fiction, Steam Punk, and an infestation of Romance sub-genres, including Nascar, Amish (again) and Centaurs. So frequently when online am I accosted by book front covers depicting half-dressed cowboys and period clothed cavorting couples in various states of undress that I am seriously considering having a sick bag dispenser installed at my desk. My reading tastes aside, genre fiction, particularly Romance, are performing well in this new era of publishing. Evidence of this is the fact that female Romance authors have been dominating recent Smashwords self-published bestseller lists.

Amazon has been at the forefront of this publishing revolution. Jeff Bezos, a man who was once described as a ‘hyper-intelligent alien with a tangential interest in human affairs’ founded the company in 1994.

Pile of Books

Amazon’s war with publishing is well documented. Most recently its battles with publishing behemoth Hachette has seen Amazon accused of aggressive tactics, including delaying deliveries of Hachette books, halting the sale of others, and displaying banners on their website alongside their books with the words, ‘Similar items at a lower price’, in what could be described as the modern equivalent of the medieval siege. Back in the 15th Century the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Guttenberg, died near penniless due to legal battles over his printer.  What will be the fate of today’s publishers? Perhaps they will be forced to flee their plush offices and seek refuge in the ruins of closed bookshops, as Amazon drones darken the skies above. A more likely scenario is that they will find ways to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace.

Although some major authors have been vociferous in their criticism of Amazon, many less famous authors, including myself (Charles Middleworth & Necropolis), have welcomed the high profits Amazon offer, in addition to their advanced recommendation systems that have proved invaluable in assisting authors to find new readers.



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  • A great post Guy. I agree wholeheartedly with you about Amazon. Although there are some poor quality Indie books out there, there are a profusion of talented writers who weren’t previously given a chance. For years we have had to sit by while 20 something celebrities publish their stories of a life only half lived just because they are a well known name. Long live the Indie revolution, that’s what I say. 🙂

    • There seem to be a lot of those celebrity autobiographies in the supermarkets, especially now in the build up to Christmas. The Indie Revolution/Ebook Revolution appears to be here to stay Diane. It is great that some previously unknown self published authors are now making a living from their writing. Have a good weekend.

  • A funny and informative post. I get that you don’t like romance, me neither. Amazon’s got an awesome interface, recommendations and customer service, and that’s enough for me.

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