- April 16, 2013
Author’s speech to London Book Fair calls for an experimental approach to a changing ‘digital frontier’
“Anyone who tells you they know what’s coming, what things will be like in 10 years’ time, is simply lying to you,” according to the author Neil Gaiman, fresh from a provocative speech at this week’s London Book Fair where he urged major figures in the book business to “try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago.”
Gaiman, the award-winning author of the Sandman comics, American Gods and the children’s novel The Graveyard Book, was the keynote speaker at the book fair’s fifth Digital Minds Conference, where the international publishing world’s leaders gathered to debate “the future of publishing”. But with 1.8m Twitter followers to his name, and as one of the first author bloggers, Gaiman told delegates that his “only real prediction is that is it’s all changing”.
Going against a column yesterday in which Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray argued that Amazon was the “foe”, and has “the ability to destroy the book trade as we know it”, Gaiman believes that “Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing”.
The novelist went on to urge the assembled publishers to be more like dandelions – an analogy he stole, he said, from Cory Doctorow.
“Mammals spend an awful lot of energy on infants, on children, they spend nine months of our lives gestating, and then they get two decades of attention from us, because we’re putting all of our attention into this one thing we want to grow. Dandelions on the other hand will have thousands of seeds and they let them go where they like, they don’t really care. They will let go of 1,000 seeds, and 100 of them will sprout,” Gaiman told the Guardian.
“And I was really using that analogy for today, saying the whole point of a digital frontier right now is that it’s a frontier, all the old rules are falling apart. Anyone who tells you they know what’s coming, what things will be like in 10 years’ time, is simply lying to you. None of the experts know – nobody knows, which is great.
“When the rules are gone you can make up your own rules. You can fail, you can fail more interestingly, you can try things, and you can succeed in ways nobody would have thought of, because you’re pushing through a door marked no entrance, you’re walking in through it. You can do all of that stuff but you just have to become a dandelion, be wiling for things to fail, throw things out there, try things, and see what sticks. That was the thrust of my speech,” said the author.
Gaiman said he didn’t “ever recall giving a speech and walking off stage and thinking that went down like a lead balloon quite as much” – but then he picked up his phone, and saw the positive Twitter feed about his talk. “Instead of applause … what I got was a tweet feed which went ‘oh, they loved it’,” he said.
Neil GaimanPublishingEbooksAlison Floodguardian.co.uk