Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Always Look on the B Side of Life

As everyone who writes or loves reading knows by now, Borders and A&R are on the way out. One of the biggest book retailing chains around has gone south and I can’t help but wonder what that will mean for book selling in the future.

Years ago, when I was very young and disposable income burned a hole in my pocket, I used to spend many a Saturday morning trawling the records stores, carefully planning my music purchases. Decisions were based on the album’s artwork, the longevity of the band (I’d been burned by one hit wonders enough to place importance on that), the intensity of my love for the hit or hits that drew me toward the record in the first place and, of course, how much money I had to spend at the time. It was a painstaking process that I loved, that I never considered a waste of time no matter how often I left the store empty handed.

Then vs Now: The other day I bought an i tunes voucher and downloaded $30 worth of assorted songs from the comfort of my living room in the space of an hour—well, an hour and a half because I tunes' check out system blows harder than a north Qld hurricane. I rarely buy whole CDs anymore. This seems like a great thing--all the songs I want without any of the trash that sometimes clogs up a band's LP, the songs that just aren't as good as the hits. But I can't help but miss the thrill of discovering that song you'd never hear on the radio, the one that becomes a favourite. The experience that was lying on the floor of my bedroom, listening to an artist’s record from first song to last (always in order, this was pre shuffle function). That experience is gone. The purchase process has changed and it’s had a direct influence not only on how we buy music, but on what we buy and how we listen to it.

I have to wonder if there will be such a thing as a ‘B’ side in the future. That classic break up song ‘I Will Survive’ was originally a B side, as was the Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’, and one of my all time fave cheesy but still great songs, ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart. These were all tunes not considered hits, not good enough to be on the label. Would they even be recorded today? Doubtful. Imagine a world without Rod's husky voice growling Wake up Maggie I think I've got something to say to you? No thanks!

What does all this have to do with books? Well, isn't it also probable that we'll one day be purchasing all our books chapter by chapter, much like we now pick and choose the songs we want to purchase from an album? What will that mean for authors? Contracts based only on how many times the first three chapters are downloaded, sort of like sending queries to the masses?

Not sure if this would be a good or bad thing. After all, if the first three chapters don't grab anyone's attention, perhaps you haven't done your job as an author and don't deserve to sell the rest of your book. But then again, I sometimes enjoy books that start slow and build toward something big--in fact I prefer them. Will the readers of the future have the patience to stick with a book that doesn't have a car explosion or sex scene in the first fifty pages? Are human beings growing so horribly impatient? What will this do to us as a people--will we develop species-wide ADHD? Are the rumours true that Amazon are making plans to insert advertising in their kindle books?

Advertising, in a book. Annoying pop ups that interrupt my sacred, quiet reading experience in order to try and sell me viagra. I think someone just walked over my grave.

Now I'm in the mood to drag out my collection of obscure B sides and have a listen.



  1. As a reader I dont know that I could stand downloading one chapter at a time. I'd want to know the ending of the story so the author's I'd buy are assured of a full book sale. :o)

    Although I usually read kindle books on my ipad with the internet connection switched off, I think the program does feature advertising. A lot of the apps do, which is why my ipad is online only about 5% of the time. LOL

  2. I'm with you Heather, what if you get into the book but no one else does, so the rest doesn't get published? Disaster! I've been burned by a few TV shows that way.

    As to the i pad, I guess every great new product has a downside :(

  3. I haven't braved the ebook reader, yet. In the 80's (ahhhh the freedom!)I couldn't wait for the song list to come out with the song words on the back. I would buy an album just for one song. Luckily, most of the time I liked the entire album. I think I could buy the first three chapters of a book and then decide whether or not to buy it. Most of the time, if I'm not captured by the end of the first chapter, I don't give the book another glance. If that process comes along, I think the process of writing a book will change, just as the process of publishers choosing who to publish will change. Jeez this is turning out as a blog post of its own! I'll stopped ranting, now. Good post, Sami

  4. Ah yes, the entire album for one song. It didn't always work out for the best though!