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Whose Book Is it Anyway?

Janis Jefferies
Sarah Kember

Appendix: CREATe Position Papers

1. Publishing Industry

Janis Jefferies

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1Current debates on the publishing industry tend to focus on digitization and on the transformation of products (books to ereaders, paper to screen) and this paper explores some of these debates. Certainly, in recent decades, the creative potential that stems from society has proven to be a key resource for innovation and for a more sustainable type of development. These new processes, which have been called ‘social creativity’, are turning out to be an unlimited source of innovation for social and economic aims. New cooperative and participatory practices have led to the emergence of new economic models that challenge the boundaries between what we have traditionally considered to be the public, private and common realms.

2There are many small presses in the UK for example that are bridging the gap between writers, new writing and industry, seeking experimentation and innovation where the question of nurturing relationships and collaboration is the primary concern. Smaller presses like SALT, INFLUX or Gallery Beggar Press in the UK (‘high-class boutique’ presses) who publish up to twelve title a year (SALT) or four (INFLUX) face the same challenges: large or small, risk versus money, good editors as good readers and no book sells itself, authors are always key. Interestingly, some do delve into the dead zone of previously published books; for example Simon Crump’s, ‘My Elvis Blackout’ (first published by Bloomsbury in 1998) was republished as an ebook by Gallery Beggar Press in 2012. Digital classics (Denton Welch) are built out of Twitter fan bases to provide a groundswell for reissue. This may not be the future as digital rights are now tied in with contracts from the very outset. The impact of Amazon and the promotion of the 99p sell (Cheaper than Chips is what it has been called) has a huge impact on the book world, writers and publishers alike.


3It is of some interest to the Nesta workshop in September 2014 and this paper that the feature in The Guardian newspaper (Saturday 23 August 2014), written in the light of a survey by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society undertaken in 2013, reported that among professional authors (defined as those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing) the median income was £11,000.

4‘What Are Words Worth Now?’, a survey of almost 2,500 working writers, commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) and carried out by Queen Mary, University of London has found that increasingly few professional authors are able to earn a living from their writing.

5In contrast to the sharp decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase. Statistics produced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 2014 show that the creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy (over £8 million per hour) and the UK is reported as having ‘the largest creative sector of the European Union’, and being ‘the most successful exporter of cultural good and services in the world’, according to UNESCO.

6Commenting on the findings of the survey, Owen Atkinson, Chief Executive of ALCS said:

  • 1 ‘What Are Words Worth Now? Not Enough’, 27 July 2014, (...)

These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK. If writers are to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to be paid fairly for their work. This means ensuring clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that support creators and their ability to earn a living from their creations.1

7Nonetheless, one Irish writer, Julian Gough, is funding his new novel by offering backers the opportunity to receive postcards from Las Vegas bearing whiskey stains, lipstick and bullet holes. Gough, according to The Guardian feature, has dubbed his ‘economic-slash-literary experiments’ Litcoin. The idea came about when he found that he did not have enough money to make one final research trip to Las Vegas, where the novel is set. A Kickstarter campaign was set up for $25. So far the campaign has raised $7,300.

  • 2 Alison Flood, ‘Julian Gough Launches “Litcoin” Kickstarter to “Remodel the Economics of Reading”’,(...)

8Also in The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that Gough has been contacted by a Swiss think-tank: ‘charity is at a dead end. I want to create a model that benefits writer and reader. So if I can help invent some kind of […] new asset, new currency, that funds the writers I love, and that also gives their readers an interesting, very personal, physical asset that might even be worth something one day, so everybody wins, then I’ d be pretty happy.’2

9British authors and larger UK publishers have further condemned as ‘deeply worrying’ reports that Amazon is now pressing for improved terms from publishers in the UK, as its showdown with Hachette in the US continues to be played out in public.

  • 3 Benedicte Page, ‘Amazon pressing for new terms in UK’, The Bookseller, 23 June 2014, (...)

10According to Benedicte Page3 Amazon is putting publishers under ‘heavy pressure’ to introduce new terms. In the same article, it is reported that these include the proviso that ‘should a book be out of stock from the publisher, Amazon would be entitled to supply its own copies to customers via its print-on-demand facilities’, and that ‘books cannot be sold for a lower price than Amazon’ s anywhere, including on a publisher’s own website. For many writers and publishers, this is a form of assisted suicide for the book business, driven by the idea that publishers are unable to run even the most basic operations efficiently’.

11The Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon called the print-on-demand clause ‘deeply worrying’, and said that Amazon was ‘already far too dominant in dictating ebook prices’. ‘No one company should have such dominance or be the principal commercial driver of an entire industry’, she said.

12Although it is publishers who are currently feeling squeezed by Amazon, Solomon said the negotiations also ‘threaten’ published authors. ‘Despite increasing profits, publishers are increasingly under pressure: they say, rightly, that even bestsellers tend to sell fewer copies than in the past (now readers have such a wide range of choice); their budgets will be under further pressure if they have to concede larger discounts to Amazon and pay for “services”. Authors will suffer as publishers claim that paying large advances is increasingly risky and, of course, authors are traditionally paid less on print books if publishers concede high discounts. On ebooks they are paid a proportion of net receipts so higher terms for Amazon will result in less money going to authors’, said Solomon.

13The changes, she said, ‘highlight one wider, and growing, trend across all publishing and bookselling. Namely, that the author is the only 100% essential component in the creation of a book. But retailers are taking a larger chunk of any income, and publishers are taking a larger chunk of any income, so the share of income which makes its way to the author is forever shrinking.’

  • 4 Rowena Mason, ‘George Osborne Closes Tax Loophole on Music and Book Downloads’, The Guardian, 23 M (...)

14In the UK a number of publishers spoken to as part of The Bookseller’s investigations into the Hachette dispute said Amazon was also now putting them under ‘heavy pressure’. According to the sources, new demands include adjusting terms so that ebooks and physical book terms have parity; the adjustment is said to be in the direction of ‘p’, which traditionally attracts a higher percentage for the retailer compared with ‘e’. Amazon is also understood to be targeting academic terms, which have historically been more favourable to the publisher. The retailer also wants to impose a ceiling on the digital list price of ebooks in preparation for 2015 when the retailer will have to begin imposing the standard 20% rate of VAT on digital titles. The UK chancellor George Osborne has confirmed that ebooks will be taxed from the consumer’s European member state from 1st January 2015. A little-noticed section of last week’s budget announcement confirmed that from the start of next year, ebooks and other e-services including broadcasting and telecommunications will be taxed in the European member state in which the consumer is located, as opposed to where the book is sold from. The move is set to ensure that ebooks are taxed ‘fairly and helping to protect revenue,’ the chancellor said. The decision was originally announced in 2013’s budget and means a loophole that allows companies like Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble to sell ebooks to the UK from Luxembourg will be closed. In the UK, ebooks attract a 20% VAT whereas Luxembourg charges a much lower 3% VAT. Official estimates suggest the move could raise an extra £300m for the Treasury, according to The Guardian.4 However, consumers are also concerned the new rule will mean rising costs of downloads of music, DVDs and ebooks.

15UK-based retailers that sell ebooks such as Waterstones, The Book People and E-books by Sainsbury’s are likely to welcome the decision because it levels the playing field between them and larger multi-nationals such as Amazon and Kobo. Between January 2013 and January 2014, twenty new ebook readers have been introduced into the marketplace. In addition to these, the number of other mobile devices with ebook reading capabilities, such as tablets, laptops, and game consoles, have grown twenty-fold. These readers, along with the breakneck million-a-month pace being set by Apple’s iPad, are driving the ubiquity of digital reader access for every possible piece of written material that becomes available.

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16Within five years, some will reach prices as low as fifteen pounds, maybe less. They will become as commonplace as calculators and virtually everyone will have one, or so it has been predicted.5


17Readers, while welcoming the new generation of electronic reading devices, still buy predominantly paper copies of books. Time and again the conversation leads to blanket statements about ‘the end of books’ while little attention is paid to the vast potential for new hybrid forms of text, and the fundamental shifts in the writing-reader axis that the new technologies are enabling. Attributing too much agency to technology is often tantamount to the abdication of responsibility, and we are concerned with broadening the discussion toward notions of ethics, collaboration, property and creativity. It is interesting to note then that high-street book chain Waterstones saw a jump of five per cent in sales of paper books — and said that demand for Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader, which it sells, had ‘disappeared, to all intents and purposes’. Reports of the death of the paper-and-ink book may have been greatly exaggerated after ebook readers slumped and paper books made a strong return in Christmas 2014. Waterstones now plans to open more bookshops in the coming year.

18Bookshop chains such as Borders in the US closed in the face of commercial pressures including rivalry from ebook readers such as Kindle — and tech sites predicted that ebooks would spell an end to the paper-and-ink version. However, commercial decisions by Waterstones UK chief executive James Daunt have shown how bookshops can flourish in the electronic age.

  • 6 Financial Times, 6 January 2015.

19Speaking to the Financial Times, Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis outlined how ‘The rapid growth of ebook sales has quite dramatically slowed and there is some evidence it has gone into reverse.’6Daunt has credited the recent sales figures to the ability of local stores to respond to local tastes. This confirms the publishing strategy of Influx Press, an independent publisher formed in London by editors Gary Budden and Kit Caless, starting life in 2012 with the publication of Acquired for Development By… A Hackney Anthology. Since then they have published a number of titles, such as Life in Transit by poet Sam Berkson, Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London by Gareth E. Rees and Above Sugar Hill by Linda Mannheim.

20All their books explore in some way the idea of ‘place’: ‘we are committed to publishing innovative and challenging site-specific fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.’

A Meeting of Text and Technology

21Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publishing house, is exploring new ways to tell stories through technology. Wanting to take this to the next level they have invited creative individuals, developers, entrepreneurs and designers, as well as global tech hubs, innovation labs, and universities to explore the technological and creative possibilities around one of their best known authors, Stephen Fry. This is YourFry — a collaborative global project to reinterpret the words and narrative of Stephen’s brand new memoir, More Fool Me. As a technology enthusiast with over seven million followers, Stephen Fry is following on from the success of his prestigious Guardian-Media-Innovation-Award-winning MyFry app to push the tech boundaries even further for his latest autobiography. Stephen Fry himself set out the creative objectives of YourFry globally on 25 September 2014, streamed via a WeTransfer video message.

22Stephen Fry and Penguin’s YourFry project has been created to ask questions about the nature of how we create and publish autobiography in the digital environment. The web is responsive, interactive and chaotic — what if the conventional autobiography is thrown open to the web? What might the results look like, what form might they take?

23The digital revolution is transforming the ways that people create and distribute art. Inexpensive, professional-quality technologies of creation, like digital cameras and camcorders, photo-and video-editing software, MP3 and digital music recording and manipulation, and even word-processing, make it possible for many people to create art with high production quality. The Internet gives creators a means of low-cost distribution. This combination of digital creation and online distribution is extremely powerful. Online artistic production, supported by digital technologies, enables artists to create works and distribute them to diverse audiences, and to receive feedback. A potential effect of online distribution is the blurring of artistic boundaries, in some cases, between producer and consumer; in others, between amateur and professional. Moreover, the relative ease of digital creation and online distribution and feedback may lead to production by the masses that rival production for the masses. User-generated-content practices encapsulated in Web 2.0 are changing businesses (Anderson 2006, Kelly 1999) and consumption patterns (Abercrombie 1998, Jenkins 2006). The concept of the ‘prosumer’ was foreshadowed by Toffler (1980), who suggested that, as technology advances, the distinction between the producer of culture and the consumer of it would blur or merge. Rose (2011) discusses the way today’s consumers expect to see their favourite stories interlinked across ‘platforms’ (television, film, Internet). Jenkins (2007) goes further and argues that consumers are no longer consumers.

24They, or at least certain more advanced consumers, are ‘loyals’, ‘media-actives’ or ‘prosumers’ or, in Jenkins’ favourite term, ‘fans’ (Jenkins 2007). These active consumers play an important role, both culturally and economically. Indeed, Jenkins (2007) argues that ‘fandom is the future’: ‘fandom represents the experimental prototype, the testing ground for the way media and cultural industries are going to operate in the future.’ Jenkins emphasises an active consumer, in contrast to a ‘passive’ one, but he still focuses on the consumer side of the prosumer. The producer aspect of the prosumer is less well understood. Internet-based distribution and feedback channels (‘creative hubs’) are often funded largely or completely by creators themselves. But for more expensive projects, such as making a film or a web series (web-based television series, with multiple ‘webisodes’), the Internet provides alternative funding mechanisms, including crowd-funding via ‘peer-to-peer’ finance with ‘small contributions from a large number of sources, rather than large amounts from a few’ (Baeck 2012: 3).

25Creativity and innovation are supposed and proposed to be key drivers of the economy, particularly when subsumed under the ‘creative industries’: the transformation of the publishing industry, the writer/reader move to prosumer and the merging of text and technology (as in YourFry) are no exceptions.

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26So what do you do if you have a novel to write? Go to Twitter, and tweet about the work you’re not doing, of course. Artist Cory Arcangel’s new book is a compilation of those who couldn’t resist tweeting the words ‘working on my novel’. Working On My Novel7 is a compilation of tweets, found on twitter by searching for the phrase ‘working on my novel’, and retweeted by Archangel’s account of the same name. On the other hand, taking Publication Studio as a starting point, an open discussion about print-on-demand, sustainable publishing methods and alternative networks for independent and artist-led publishing, held at Raven Row (London) with Louisa Bailey, Ami Clarke, Arnaud Desjardin, Louise O’Hare and Eva Weinmayr revealed the thriving creative industries that independent publishers are pursuing.8 The social life of books is as important as the ideas of producing publics who attend events and participate in the ways in which books are made in different formats and on different sites. In February 2015, for example, the launch of Publication Studio, London opens with the live production of a Plastic Words publication, sampling the contents and output of its events. Printing (using the contemporary craft of laser printing) and binding will occur simultaneously at Raven Row and in the original Publication Studio in Portland, Oregon. Here there is convergence between independent galleries and project-based activities that are forming a strategic alliance with new forms of publishers, distribution and dissemination that even the art magazines like Frieze (see ‘The Map is the Territory’, issue 148, 2012) are getting excited about. Three Letter Words, run by Kate Phillimore and Louise O’Hare of Publish and Be Damned, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the discussion and support of artist-led publishing through an annual fair, artists’ dissemination projects and an online magazine. Working with the London Bookshop Map, there are plans to develop a user-generated distribution channel for publishers to be able to share content, link to on-the-ground distributors such as independent bookshops and galleries, reach a much bigger audience of collectors and enthusiasts, and connect to each other — effectively creating a global, 24/7, artist-led book fair. They have started the task of digitising the Publish and Be Damned Public Library/archive, which contains over 2,000 publications, uploading and tagging images from them to be freely accessible and searched online.

27The point here that on the one hand the debates in the commercial publishing industries are fraught with corporate competition and anxiety over profit margins whereas the flourishing independent small-scale artist-based publishers and small presses are showing how other models of production and distribution can challenge the standard languages of conventional financial models. Most impressive of all is how new reading publics are generated. A favourite example is Banner Repeater, which is an artist-led reading room and project space, founded by Ami Clarke in 2009, situated on Platform 1, Hackney Downs railway station, London E8 1LA.

28The reading room holds an archive dedicated to artists’ printed material and is home to Publish and be Damned’s public library. It provides an important bibliographic resource that all visitors to BR can browse. The bookshop holds a selection of artists’ publications for sale.

29The project is driven by its location, like a number of initiatives with a local sensibility, dedicated to developing critical art in the natural interstice the platform and incidental footfall of over 4,000 passengers a day provides. This is achieved by rush-hour opening times that attract commuters, and an open door policy maintained six days a week.

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30The emphasis on multiple points of dissemination, via pamphlets and posters published from the site and the other free material distributed, online activities, and the siting of the archive of artists’ printed material as a public library; a resource that can be utilised by both local community and visitors in a working station environment, remain vital to Banner repeater’s success.9

3118 January 2015


1 ‘What Are Words Worth Now? Not Enough’, 27 July 2014,

2 Alison Flood, ‘Julian Gough Launches “Litcoin” Kickstarter to “Remodel the Economics of Reading”’, The Guardian, 19 August 2014,

3 Benedicte Page, ‘Amazon pressing for new terms in UK’, The Bookseller, 23 June 2014,

4 Rowena Mason, ‘George Osborne Closes Tax Loophole on Music and Book Downloads’, The Guardian, 23 March 2014,


6 Financial Times, 6 January 2015.



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Professor emerita of Visual Arts, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. She has edited numerous books and chapter contributions on textiles, technology, performance and practice research, most recently TECHSTYLE Series 2.0: Ariadne’s Thread (2017) and A Reader TEXTYLE 2.0 FabPublic, Talking about Textiles, Community and Public Space both for CHAT/MILL6 Foundation. Hong Kong (2018). The Enchantment of Textiles research project with Professor Barbara Layne, Concordia University documents twenty years of their collaborative, textile and technology based research. The exhibition will be shown at the ASM Expression Gallery. Art Science Museum, Singapore in 2019. She is contributing ‘Art, Craft & Design technologies’ to Charlie Gere and Francesca Franco’s three-volume Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of New Media Art, to be published in 2022.


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