E-books threaten livelihoods of aspiring writers
Graham Swift, who won the Booker Prize in 1996 for his novel Last Orders, has warned that new writers face earning lower royalties for their work as e-books than for traditional hard- and paperbacks.
If aspiring authors see that they are unable to make a living from their work, it may cause them to give up and leave potentially great stories unwritten, he said.
Mr Swift told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme: “I wouldn't envy a young aspiring writer now.
“The e-book does seem at the moment to threaten the livelihood of writers, because the way in which writers are paid for their work in the form of e-books is very much up in the air.
“I think the tendency will be that writers will get even less than they get now for their work and sadly that could mean that some potential writers will see that they can't make a living, they will give up and the world would be poorer for the books they might have written, so in that way it is quite a serious prospect.”
Describing the arrival of e-books as the greatest change for authors since the mid-19th century and mass production, Mr Swift accused e-book sellers of using digitalisation as an excuse to pay writers less.
He said: “When anything goes digital, let alone something as immaterial as a book, there is a tendency to see it as just in the air to be taken, and to lose the sense that somebody once made it.
“I think the purveyors of e-books are only too happy for this atmosphere of ‘everything belongs to everybody’ to increase because it means they don’t have to think so much about the original maker of the thing, or they can get away with paying them less.
“Unfortunately writers take a very small part of the profit on their books, and I think in the e-book world there is a real danger they will take even less, unless they are vigilant and robust about protecting their own interests.”
Despite the concerns over royalties some independent authors have made a fortune from the e-book revolution, which allows them to sell vast numbers of copies without the need for an agent or a publishing deal.
In June John Locke, an independent American author, made history by becoming the first person to sell a million e-books without a publishing deal, putting his sales on a par with established writers like Stieg Larsson and James Patterson.
By selling his book for 99 cents (69c) per copy, compared with many successful authors who charge up to $10 he was able to break a million sales in just five months.
Another self-published author, Amanda Hocking, was given a six-figure deal from a publishing house this year after rising to fame by selling her work digitally.
Earlier this year Amazon’s US site announced that sales for its Kindle e-reader had overtaken paperbacks for the first time, and in March Nigel Newton, chief executive of the London-based Bloomsbury publishing house predicted that 2011 would be “the year of the e-book”.
Fans of e-readers claim the devices have encouraged them to read more often because they always have their entire digital library to hand, but critics say they miss the feel and appearance of a printed book.
Amazon announced last year it would offer authors and publishers 70pc of profits from their work sold on the Kindle, but without a publishing house to market their work many new writers could still struggle to sell enough copies to earn learn a living.
Independent News Service