Akala: 'My books out-sell CDs at gigs'

Akala: 'My books out-sell CDs at gigs'

Publishers should be doing “everything they can" to “collaborate with new technology” in order to reach new audiences and cater for existing ones, rapper and poet Akala has said.

Speaking today at the FutureBook conference held at The Mermaid Theatre in London today (4th December), Akala said publishers should not become complacent in thinking they have “survived” the ‘digital revolution’, emphasising the importance of innovation and collaboration within the industry.

“My perception is that now that the e-book market is a multi-billion pound a year market, it’s almost like [publishers are saying:] ‘we’ve survived, we’re not going to go the way of the music industry’,” he said. “But I don’t feel that that is the right approach. Really the question should be – ‘are we doing everything we can to collaborate with this new technology to reach new audiences in an innovative and interesting way and to enhance the experience for existing audiences?”

He said it was an “interesting time” for the publishing industry with “whole audiences approaching reading in a new way.” Before the advent of the internet, publishing was the most “revolutionary [industry] in the history of humanity in terms of spreading ideas”, Akala said, but with new digital technology, the aim of publishers should be to explore multiple “routes into reading”.

“It’s a new time, it’s a new generation. I see three year-olds now able to use tablets. What will their normality be in terms of reading? If they’ve started off reading on a tablet, will they continue on that trajectory or will they develop some profound respect for the physical form? I don’t know,” he said.

Akala has self-published two books, Doublethink and Rise of the Empires. He's currently working on an "audiobook EP" titled A Conversation with Freedom, a series of short stories around "concepts and ideas about freedom throughout history".

Akala said he found it "fascinating" that his books regularly out-sell his CDs at gigs he performs.

"We do sometimes 150 – 200 live events a year, from touring… when you do so many live events a year it becomes very easy to sell a couple thousand copies of your books directly to your fanbase with very little marketing spend," Akala said.

"What I’ve found fascinating is even at music gigs people have been more willing to pay for the illustrated poem than they are for the CDs. Every gig I do we sell more copies of the book than of the physical CD of the music people have just heard being performed… and I’m wondering what that says about the psychology of today’s music consumer… [maybe] people don’t see the physical CD as a valuable product. I find it fascinating that a book can outsell a CD at a music gig," he added.

A Conversation with Freedom is a book, audiobook and performance piece. Akala has been thinking about the potential of enhanced e-books and the ways in which digital media and social media, computer games, narratives and story telling can be blended with traditional publishing to create an innovative experience that engages new audiences but also gives existence audiences a new and creative experience. "So we’re really interested in blurring those lines and crossing those boundaries to reach new people," he said.

He concluded: “It’s an interesting, dynamic time and those who seize the opportunity to collaborate in the most innovative and interesting ways will be the ones who succeed and become pioneers in the industry.”