Booksellers

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Here’s some stuff I’ve harvested from around the web of late:

The Nerdist Podcast put out a couple of interesting/fun interviews that caught my ear: Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, talking about the comics and the movies; David J. Peterson, language guy, talking about inventing languages (including for Game of Thrones) and various real-language stuff.

Rio 2 has been all over cinema screens around the world lately. Here’s the real parrot it’s based on, Spix’s macaw:

Very pretty, no? Really quite beautiful in fact, if you ask me. But not as widespread as Rio 2, that parrot. In fact, it’s extinct in the wild as far as anyone can tell. Has been for some time. Good job, humanity. (And yes, I know the whole extinct in the wild thing is kind of a central plot point in the movies, but I still find the whole ‘let’s make fun movies and a bajillion dollars based on this’ thing a bit weird, even if it’s sort of well-intentioned.)

Amazon took over Comixology, the biggest purveyor of digital comics, to absolutely nobody’s surprise. I can’t begin to tell you how despondent the big river’s acquisition avalanche makes me. They’re a fine and clever company, I know; I use their excellent services now and again. But it’s in precisely no-one‘s long-term interest (except their own, of course) the way they’re hoovering up competitors and add-ons that incrementally turn them into a leviathan of truly leviathanic proportions. If you want to buy books online, take a look at Wordery. Good prices, good service, free delivery worldwide.

Talking of comics, I thought I’d take a moment to point out my favourite comic produced by IDW Publishing, the good folks who put out the Rogue Trooper comic what I have been writting. Locke & Key is an inspired, beautifully crafted and beautifully illustrated dark fantasy/horror comic from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Complex and intriguing, it’s loaded with terrific character writing, clever world-building and eye-popping set-piece action. Give it a try (at Wordery, of course).

And here’s one of my favourite blogs, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here before: Abandoned Scotland. An exploration of ruined, forgotten, derelict Scotland that’s kind of hynoptically fascinating if you ask me. Stuff that’s hidden in plain sight, overlooked and disregarded, comes alive when you pay close attention to it. Investigate it. The most grungy and crumbly places and buildings become kind of beautiful. The Abandoned Scotland YouTube channel is a goldmine of strange discoveries. Don’t suppose this is exactly how the Scottish Tourist Board wants the world to see Scotland, but as a resident it’s all simultaneously familiar and surprising. Great stuff.

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A few miscellaneous bits. Starting with by far the most important thing, the minor frustrations of my life. Because that’s what really matters, right?

So, I’m going to talk to some students on the MLitt course at Stirling University today. Enthuse or dispirit them on the subject of the life of a published author; could go either way, I suspect. Naturally, given that appointment, today’s the day I wake up with a sore throat, cough and general feeling of mild grottiness. Typical. Harrumph. Does it affect the odds of the enthuse or dispirit outcome? Time will tell.

Raising my eyes (reluctantly) from my own travails, I see B&N is heading into turbulent waters. Looks like those hoping the Nook might save them from a slow fade into history might be disappointed. And for reasons that are mysterious to me, it seems the founder wants to break up the company, taking over the the bookselling bit and cutting adrift the digital/Nook bit. It all looks very much like decline to me, terminal or otherwise. Given they’ve already said they’re going to be closing stores, it’s the slow-motion chewing up of a formerly strong but now very definitely fragile company. I’m kind of sceptical, to put it extremely mildly, much of it’s going to be left intact by the time the mastication is over.

Creative destruction’s all very well, but the future of writing, publishing, selling and reading books does not look a hugely appealing place to me these days. Quasi-monopolistic dictatorships are rarely pretty. We’re all going to have to live there, though, so might as well try to make the best of it.  Enjoy your nearest bricks and mortar bookstore while you can.

And here’s The Miniature Earth. What the world would look like, numbers-wise, if it was a village of 100 souls. Not a great deal that’s hugely surprising, but it’s kind of interesting, and elegantly done.

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With the publication of The Edinburgh Dead now looming, it seems a sensible moment to mention that, as with my previous books, those who want to get their hands on a signed (and optionally dedicated etc.) copy of the tome can do so through Edinburgh’s finest emporium of booky speculative fiction, Transreal Fiction.

At the modest cost of cover price plus shipping, anyone can obtain my elegant signature upon a copy of the UK paperback or, I believe with slightly more limited availability, the US trade paperback.  The details of how it all works are right here for your perusal, so if you’re interested, don’t delay, get your order in today!

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I was going to call this post ‘signposts’ on the journey into the future, but honestly: nobody needs signposts any more, right?  We all know roughly where this is heading, even if nobody knows the precise destination.  Now, it’s really just a question of ticking off the landmarks along the journey.

Borders finally bites the dust in the US (Borders UK, a separate company, expired a year or two ago).  No one was sufficiently insensitive to the way the wind is blowing to make a plausible offer for the company and its business.  Dedicated, generalist, large scale physical bookstores on the high street are going the way of the dinosaurs.  I guess the only question of any substance remaining is whether strategies of diversification (into fields other than hard copy books) or, conversely, specialization (as niche sellers of obscure, hardback and/or genre-specific books) will produce a viable future for some portion of the herd.  We’ll know in a few years, no doubt.

Amazon gobbles up The Book Depository.  This makes me downright despondent.  There goes by far the most credible competitor to Amazon in the field of online bookselling in the UK (and arguably anywhere, since one of The Book Depository’s most appealing offers was that of free shipping to almost anywhere in the world, and evidently three-quarters of its sales were outside the UK).  I suppose it’s possible regulators may still intervene to try to stifle this latest stage of Amazon’s incremental conquest of the entire world, but I won’t be holding my breath.

In the long run, it’s rarely healthy for any industry to see power and control consolidated into too few corporate hands, and Amazon’s position astride the entire business of publishing and selling books – in both e- and hard copy form – just makes me instinctively glum, even as I greatly admire the effectiveness and ambition with which they’ve constructed their behemoth.  There may not be much money left in selling physical books on the high street, but there’s undoubtedly a bit more in selling them online (for now, at least).

So there’s a possible outline of our future: radically fewer bricks and mortar bookstores, and Amazon dominating the sale (maybe the publishing, too) of both paper and e-books.  We can hope for stronger competition to emerge in the e-book field as time goes on, since the ecology of that area is still in flux, but Amazon’s proved itself an incredibly resourceful and assertive operator so far, so I don’t suppose they’ll concede any ground too easily.

Many folk celebrate the e-book revolution as a cathartic destruction of old-fashioned, restrictive practices and businesses, which is freeing up established and aspiring writers, small-scale publishers and even readers, and opening up huge new vistas of choice.  Which is at least partly true, and worth celebrating.  Choice is a fragile and sometimes illusory thing, though.  At the moment, we’re seeing the destruction pretty clearly, but the compensatory creation of diverse, viable and sustainable mechanisms for the production, distribution and sale of a healthy variety of high quality writing doesn’t seem to be proceeding with quite the same vigour (unless you’re Amazon, and in their case diversity – by which in this context I specifically mean competition – is very much not something they’re looking to foster).

That’s inevitable, and hopefully we’ll end up somewhere positive in the end, but there does seem to be a risk that here, in the middle of the messy process, good stuff might get torn down along with the bad and some new bad stuff might get built on the wreckage.  Such is life, and watching it all certainly makes for an interesting spectator sport.

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