Independent Bath Literature Festival: The book has a future – but what will it look like?

Authors ask what happens next for publishing as figures reveal print sales are down 18 per cent

"Is the book doomed?" was the blunt question addressed in the Independent Voices debate yesterday. After a blizzard of glum statistics, the surprising and heartening answer turned out to be "No".

Nicola Solomon, general secretary of the Society of Authors, most of whose members earn less than £10,000 a year, told the audience that, in digital circles, actual books with pages and dust jackets are now known as "legacy media". She gave the figures like a depressing health bulletin. Print sales are down 18 per cent on last year, one third of undergraduates confess they're "not interested in print books," and 20 per cent of school leavers claim they've never read a book at all. On the other hand, she said, Kindle sales (1 million at Christmas) are slowing and may have plateaued – and more people are now interested in books than ever before. It's just that the market has become increasingly fragmented.

Flanking Ms Solomon on the panel were two impresarios of the new book market, Neil Blair, JK Rowling's agent, and Charlie Redmayne, CEO of Pottermore, her extra-bits website. Mr Blair and Mr Redmayne alarmed the audience by speaking in high-tech gobbledegook ("It's a web-based proposition", "a content-selling vehicle," "an e-commerce platform") but it was fascinating to hear their prognoses.

In future, books will be "just a vehicle for carrying content," will be as long or short as you like ("print books are now on average 300-400 pages for commercial reasons – they don't have to be") paperbacks will disappear, ebooks will be as popular as mobile phones, "enhanced with a new functionality, with apps and web propositions."

Hardback books will be things of beauty, read at home. And authors will be "branded" and expected to sell 10 or a dozen books in a "branded" form – like thrillers, in which the readers knows just what they're getting.

Mr Redmayne suggested that publishers should learn from the fate of the music world. Just as record companies make money only by sending artists out to play live, book publishers will expect authors to promote themselves more – to have a media "presence," acquire followers on Facebook and Twitter, interface with current readers and fans and establish a "community" to buy their books on Day One.

And spend a lot of time at literary festivals. It was not, all agreed, a good life for anyone who has a day-job. By the end, though, all were in agreement that, in 10 years, there will still be print books and e-books – and shops to "hand-sell" books – just a lot fewer authors.

The uneasy relationship between camera and audience put into focus

Francine Stock, presenter of Radio 4's "The Film Programme", commandeered the stage of Bath's Little Theatre Cinema to present a tour d'horizon of 20th-century cinema. Beginning with the 1910 silent, "Afgrunden" (The Abyss) whose female lead, the tempestuous Asta Nielsen, became the first international film star, to Michael Powell's universally reviled "Peeping Tom" in 1960, about a killer who films his victim's death throes, she teased out the relation between the camera lens and the audience whose attention is being drawn by it.

And she produced a significant fact: "I've talked to neuroscientists who say the amount of time we spend in REM [ie dreaming] sleep is about 90 minutes..."

John Walsh

What's on: Today's highlights

10am 100 Women. To celebrate the 100th International Women's Day, members of the public are invited to read from the works of 100 admired women writers. Dame Harriet Walter kicks off this epic eight-hour read at 10am. At St Michael's Without church.

1pm Samuel Palmer. The Times's art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston discusses the life and work of the eccentric, mystic, Blake-inspired painter Samuel Palmer.

6.15pm Joanna Briscoe and Esther Freud. Two of the nation's most brilliant novelists discuss truth and fictions.

8pm Stella Rimington. The bestselling author of spy thrillers, and incidentally former head of MI5, talks about her life.

Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore