Author Margaret Atwood, creator of fictional dystopias, speaks on the plight of the author in the face of changes to the publishing industry today. She takes it down to first principles, in a partly historic, partly autobiographical way, how the "publishing pie" is divided. She warns the publishing industry against eliminating the author’s piece of the pie in their mad rush to an electronic publishing future.
Author Margaret Atwood is not as "hopped up" as some people may be about digital publishing. "If everything will be available on the internet, and everything on the internet is potentially free, who is going to pay for the cheese sandwiches?" she asks. In her delightfully wry presentation, Atwood reminds us that only ten percent of authors make a living on their writing, and traditionally an entire industry of printers, publishers, and booksellers , not to mention others, do make a living from book handling. "Helpful industry hint: Never eliminate your primary source," she says.
"Every tool has three sides. the sharp side, the dull side, and the stupid side, the side you did not intend," Atwood says about the changes wrought by the digital age. On the one hand, she says, we are overwhelmed by the number of things we could read. But eBooks are increasing readership, but not author’s pay.
According to an analysis by the Author’s Guild, author’s royalties on ebooks is shrinking the author’s piece of the book revenue pie. Yet the new freedom in self-publishing is turning the publishing model on its head. Atwood cites the case of her friend, YA author Mark Jeffrey, who gave away 2.4 million ebooks, then continued to raise his profile on Lulu and iTunes before winning a traditional publishing deal.
Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, including The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000; and Oryx and Crake, 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in 2009