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'More authors than nurses, soldiers and miners combined'

2 January 2006

As we enter 2006 we can look back on a real rollercoaster of a year in 2005. Trends in the book world include the relentless growth of the big companies in bookselling and publishing, with the ongoing threat to independent bookshops and to the continued independence of small publishers. In the UK there's been the as yet still unresolved battle for Ottakar's, but other English-speaking markets such as the US, Canada and Australia have also seen the same trends. The book trade has become more efficient at delivering bestsellers to as many people as possible. But many who are involved in books feel that we are in danger of losing what makes books special, and of neglecting their powerful cultural role.

Attention has also focused on the way in which the rise of the Internet giants has shifted the ground beneath our feet. Amazon's Christmas sales are not yet known, but the message from the high street as a whole is clear, that this was the year when the long romance with traditional retail was over. Many more people went direct to buy online, across a wide range of goods from groceries to books.

It's still not clear what the final effect for authors will be of the inexorable rise of sales in secondhand books on the Internet. It looks like it can't be stopped and will affect writers across a broad spectrum, as well as closing down that part of the antiquarian and used book trade which does not embrace the web.

For publishers who focus on the student market there's a catastrophic decline in new book sales. Why would students, already beset by rising fees and living costs, want to spend the money on new books, if they can get low cost recycled ones?

The Google wars continue, with Amazon also launching their Search Inside the Book more widely. An interesting illustration of the power of words is shown by the upsurge in sales Google have achieved by renaming Google Print 'Google Book Search' - a name which clearly explains much more effectively what the service offers. Authors, agents and publishers will continue to worry about the possible erosion of copyright this poses, but publishers are beginning to embrace the digital future by digitising the books they control.

The other fundamental change is the way self-publishing using print on demand is sweeping the world. The American figures are astonishing (new poetry titles increased by 60% last year), but the UK is not far behind, with a figure for 2005 which will probably exceed 200,000 new books, whilst five years ago it was only 94,000. The Bookseller estimated that by 2020 there will be at least one million new titles a year, as many writers go direct using self-publishing and the Internet to find a market. Many writers will be part-time, but in the UK this will by then give us more authors than nurses, soldiers and miners combined.

For writers the future really is going to look very different from the past.