Digital rates could dissuade authors from writing - Swift

Digital rates could dissuade authors from writing - Swift

Man Booker-winning author Graham Swift has said there is a danger aspiring writers may be put off from writing if the rates they are paid decrease in the digital age.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's "The World at One" yesterday [17th August], Swift said that, though a reader choosing an e-book over a paper book "doesn't matter" for them, "that happy and balanced picture changes rather when you think about the other end of that process and the author". He said: "Unfortunately, writers take a very small part of the profit on their books and I think that in the e-book world there is a danger that they will take even less, unless they are vigilant and robust about protecting their interests."

He said the situation with digital earnings could lead writers to abandon their works: "I wouldn't envy a young aspiring writer now, and I have to say that the e-book does seem at the moment to threaten the livelihood  of writers because the way in which writers are paid for their work in the form of an e-book is very much up in the air.

"I think the tendency will be that writers will get even less than they do now for their work, and sadly that could mean that some potential writers will see that they can't make a living, they will give up, and then the world will be poorer for the books that they might have written, and in that way it is quite a serious prospect."

Swift also said it was even harder to sustain the idea of the value of a book in the digital age, as the whole experience of reading a book is "immaterial" and cannot be seen. He said: "I think the purveyors of e-books are only too happy to let this atmosphere of everything belongs to everyone increase because it means that they don't have to think so much themselves about the original maker of the thing, or they can get away with paying them less. I think that's the danger."

He also raised concerns over authors having to earn a living through readings and events, rather than writing. He said: "I would hate to think if that were the case. The main thing is the book itself, the essence of the thing is this entity that is produced in a writer's mind and then translates into an experience in a reader's mind and you can't really reproduce that experience in any other way, you can't perform a book."

He recounted a story about Lewis Carroll taking Alice in Wonderland to Macmillan and saying he would give them a 10% royalty for its sales if they published it. He said: "In my view, that is the correct arrangement, but of course it would be sheer wonderland now to go to a publisher and say: 'I can give you a royalty'."