Friday, January 27, 2012
Down And Out In Padstow And London Pt 2
Whenever the subject of eBooks comes up in the media, it inevitably leads to another drawn-out, weary discussion about the future of the traditional publishing industry, and whether the rise of Kindles, iPads and other eReaders will lead to the death of printed books.
The short and long answer is, of course, no. But it's amazing how many people are paid to write 2,000 words to say it. There will always be folk who prefer the feel, smell, and tea cup stains of printed books. The dog-eared pages, the scribbles in the margin, the ability to store it in the bookcase and return to it like a lost friend at a later date. Or just the ability to store it in the bookcase with hundreds of other weighty tomes to make visitors think you're far better read than you really are.
You will hear statistics quoted about how four million Kindle Fires were sold in the US over Christmas, and how some indie authors are now selling 1,000 eBooks for every printed book they sell, and how many big name writers are turning their backs on publishing houses and all their middle men to take the far more profitable route of self-publishing.
Look on Twitter, and there's always some celebrity twatting about how they've just got themselves a Kindle, or why does it only want to connect with the US store, and is this normal? And fans are like sheep after all, so for every sleb that buys one, there are probably a hundred people who'll rush out and do the same.
But you don't hear so much about the underlying reasons for this change. Just a lot of hand-rubbing, gloating, and stat-quoting from geeks who seem to be allergic to paper for some reason. I used to work for a boss at an online news service who was the same about newspapers.
"This isn't a newspaper!" he would snap whenever his editorial judgement was questioned. We used to wonder whether his Dad had beaten him with rolled-up newspapers when he was a kid.
A friend of mine came to visit me in Cambodia before Christmas - before I began grappling with the formatting gremlins of publishing my own eBook, Down And Out In Padstow And London. He left me with a paperback, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, he'd bought to read on the plane.
It was a fantastic read, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a road trip-style novel featuring two hired killers set in cowboy times, somewhere between the California Gold Rush and the introduction of toothpaste.
But the thing that struck me most was the price - £12.99 for a paperback! I'd only been away for a year, what had happened? Surely they were £8 or £9 at most when I went away? Thirteen quid for a novel is a hell of a luxury for many people in these belt-tightening times.
The author's making little on it, so is the publishing house - which is why so many are haemorrhaging cash these days. It's all down to the increasing scarcity of the world's precious resources. It costs a small fortune to produce and distribute a paperback these days - the electricity, the diesel, the paper, the ink - not to mention paying off everyone else in the supply chain suffering similar rising costs.
EBooks on the other hand cost virtually nothing to produce and deliver, and are so ecologically friendly (if you forget about the puppies that have been drowned in hydroelectric dams to create them) they make you feel wonderful and saintly when you buy one.
If you consider that the whole point of books is to spread knowledge and entertain, then the rise of eBooks can only be a good thing - however much you miss the dusty, fusty, library smell of a 'real' book. Because you can get two or three for the same price, and in some cases with all the 'Indian curry secrets' and diet books selling for pennies on Amazon, should you ever want them - about 20.
Knowing that most regular authors get a quid or two for each paperback they sell, I priced my Kindle book accordingly, which means after Amazon have taken their generous cut, I can sell mine for the price of half a lager to make the same return, whereas I'll have to sell the printed version for £7 or £8, or the price of half a lager in Reykjavik.
As I say, the relative cheapness of eBooks can only be a good thing. If you looked at the news yesterday and saw Nick Clegg jumping up and down like mop-haired, cheese-botherer Alex James at a KFC processing plant about how great it was that McDonald's was creating 2,500 new jobs for young people in the UK, then you can see where the new jobs and wages are coming from.
Not skilled, well-paid sectors, but burger flipping and being forced to say "welcome to McDonald's" every few seconds. And as they'll be on a salary little more than minimum wage, how many of the next generation will be prepared to spend two hours' pay and more on a paperback?
But it's not just the price of eBooks - it's their transportability. I've been travelling around SE Asia for the past year or so hauling around a small collection of books - five at most is usually all I can cram into my laptop bag, and there's never any room in my rucksack.
I always keep my Far Flung Floyd book for old times, I can't bear to part with that. But when I've read them all, I trade them in for a fraction of the price I bought them for at the many second hand book shops they've got out here in Cambodia, and then buy several more.
But I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to return to an old book now filling the shelves in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. But using a Kindle or other eReader means you can carry around half the British Library for the weight of, well, a Kindle. I just wish they sold them here.
Anyway, as I was finally getting round to saying, I'm very pleased with the feedback and sales of my eBook so far. But I was surprised just how many people said they would rather wait for the printed version.
So I realise you need to do both, and hopefully it should be available on Amazon et al in a couple of weeks. (Other people said they hadn't got a Kindle and wanted to know how else they could read it. There is a free Kindle reader app you can download for your computer, CLICK HERE - it was very quick and easy, and worked pretty well on my knackered laptop.)
The recommendations I've had for my book on Twitter and the online reviews on Amazon have been far better than I ever hoped. One of the most entertaining things has been checking the hourly-updated sales figures on Amazon's Kindle bestseller charts. After a flurry of good reviews last week, my book hit number nine in the Food and Drink chart. Number nine! Way above Nigella, Delia, and the two hairy bastards, and even higher than the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook.
But counting chickens and all that, when I just checked it had slipped out of the top 40 to number 43. Anyway, I know it's a shameless plug, but without a marketing or PR budget, I need every bit of help and luck I can get. So below are the reviews and Twitter recommendations I've had so far in case you're flirting with the idea of reading it. And if you have read it, and liked it, please leave a review on its Amazon page.
"Reading 'Down and Out in Padstow and London' is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar, author of two food/travel memoirs, Eat My Globe and Eating For Britain.
"Two chapters in to Alex Watts' book & bloody LOVING it. Engaging, laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly readable. & TWO QUID!" - @chrispople
"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop
"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy
"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns
"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam
"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic
"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach
"Great read." - @rankamateur
"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet
"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki
"Really enjoyed your book. Thanks and good luck! As a closet wannabe chef it really hit the mark :) Good on you for taking the plunge!" - @el-duder
"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens
There are also nine reviews here on its Amazon page...
In the fairness of balance, it is only right for me to mention the negatives as well. I've had two so far. The first being that the book is quite short (70,000 words), and the second was a tweet from Glasgow-born award-winning journalist and screenwriter Audrey Gillan, who described Rick Stein's executive chef's Glaswegian accent as "pure murdurr - nae Glaswegians speak like that - evur".
I've just checked again, and it's now number 47 - one place behind Farting The Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright, but nine above Stein's My Kitchen Table: 100 Fish And Seafood Recipes.
Oh well, small acorns and all that, but if the book does ever get anywhere, they could always use Brad Pitt for the Scotch part.
MORE: Down And Out In Padstow And London Pt 1
Pitching Confidential: How Not To Get A Food Book Published
To buy my book, CLICK HERE.