For a bit of lunchtime fun, I tried journalism in response to today’s press release from the Publishers’ Association, which has been widely reported in the UK press, emphasizing the story that eBook sales are in a ‘slump’.
Here’s my first ever attempt at journalism:
The Publishers Association today reported a slump in eBook fiction sales across their members after a change in strategy in which they increased eBook prices in an attempt to drive consumers back to printed books.
Commenting on the 16% sales drop, Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said, “There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness from so many devices being used… [Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”
However, the change in pricing strategy, and the relentless traditional publishing press briefings over the past year on the alleged consumer shift back to print, is interpreted by others as a tacit admission that the members of the Publishers Association, who dominated UK publishing until only a few years ago, have now lost control of digital book publishing, where new entrants thrive in the form of micro-publishers, self-publishers and Amazon’s own imprints.
With the Publishers Association now representing only a tiny fraction of UK publishers (although most of the largest ones are members), and the dominant eBook retailer, Amazon, refusing to disclose sales figures, it is impossible to be sure of the true state of digital book publishing in the UK. Perhaps most telling is the line in Amazon’s recently released annual report in which the retail giant stated that Kindle eBook sales rose last year, as they have every year since the Kindle’s launch. Subscription services are also booming, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service which reports 3 ½ billion page reads per month.
I actually found this very hard because to my mind journalists need to check facts and attempt a balanced point of view. In this case, the key fact (are eBook sales up or down) is impossible to know for sure. What is certain is that the Publishers Association does not represent the publishing industry, and neither do their statistics, but that doesn’t stop them issuing self-serving spin (which is understandable, for that is their purpose).
How could I phrase my report and stay neutral? Every phrasing I considered added nuance and tacit spin. Neutrality and balance is not easy! I came away with enhanced respect for genuine journalists.
However, genuine journalists seem to be a rarity in this era of ever-faker news.
For an example of a once-great newspaper that often seems to have abandoned journalism altogether, compare my attempt with the equivalent in the Guardian. Bonus points if you spot the Guardian’s spelling mistake. A million extra points if you can spot where the Guardian writer attempts to qualify the accuracy of the data reported by the Publisher’s Association (ie it isn’t at all meaningful when used to consider the industry), or to provide a balanced point of view (by considering the vast legion of publishers who are not in this trade body).