McDermid backs value of publishers

Little, Brown author Val McDermid has backed the role of publishers, as children's laureate Julia Donaldson spoke of her concern over the future of high street bookshops.

Speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group and All Party Parliamentary Publishers Group Author Dialogues Evening last night (6th March), organised by the Publishers Association and chaired by MP Tristam Hunt, crime writer McDermid argued publishers were needed to make an author's efforts "the best they can be".

She also stressed the value of publishers' sales, marketing and creative teams in "putting the books in the hands of the people who will most enjoy reading it". She added: "A quite scary part of the digital economy is that another role for publishers is to protect me [from piracy]. There's a serious danger in not taking this seriously. We have to make sure there are writers in future, adding to the gaiety of nations."

McDermid also stressed the importance of copyright and royalties: "We don't ask to be paid because we're greedy, we're paid because it's a career. If you can't write your next book because you're on your 53rd march to save the libraries, that stops you writing and diminishes culture as a whole."

Little, Brown c.e.o. Ursula McKenzie, who was in conversation with McDermid, said self-publishing through the internet was "wonderful in many ways", but said: "If you want to reach the widest possible audience, if you're ambitious for your writing, you need to be able to get your book out through multiple channels, and that is where I have anxiety on all our behalfs, the pressure on high street bookshops, as they are so important to getting books to readers . . . you can't rootle around [in an internet shop]."

The Bodley Head author Robert Levine agreed on the importance of multiple channels and of publishers, adding: "I need a good editor and a ticking clock. Publishers aggregate risk. Our [authors and publishers'] interests run in the same direction. With Amazon, they want to sell Kindles, so they need to sell anything with letters, so I'm relying on their goodwill. I would rather rely on a business partnership."

Meanwhile, Donaldson, when asked how she felt about the survival of high street book retail, said: "I'm pretty worried about bookshops. I think it's a shame that the Net Book Agreement went. Initially it was indies being killed by chains, and now the chains are going, so it's Amazon and Tesco, and that is a big worry. It does seem obvious to me that if a publisher is publishing two versions of a book [print and digital], I don't imagine that will increase the market two-fold. I do worry."

However, she also said that her only element of "optimism" was that any bookshops opening up at this time must be "pretty gritty" and likely to survive.  

McDermid added: "I think there is a niche for strong indie bookshops. [But] the existence of chain stores as we knew it in the '90s is dead in the water."

McDermid and Donaldson also said there would be something to be gained by authors "bandying together more" to speak out about the value of copyright. McDermid said: "Will there be a cultural landscape of any kind for our grandchildren if [the enfringment of copyright] continues?"