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The eBook archive
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been just over 40 years now. Sometime around 1974, I sat on a culvert at Trinity College in Moka waiting for the school bus to arrive and opened my school bag to turn the first page of a weathered copy of a new action hero series. The Destroyer was written by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy in the midst of a new surge of manly man paperbacks, led by Don Pendleton’s The Executioner series.
But where most of these books were dour, vengeance-filled outings clotted with spilled blood and largely illuminated by explosive gunfire discharged by guns described with almost pornographic detail, The Destroyer was something else entirely. Its reluctant heroes didn’t use guns, their villains were colourful lampoons of real world naughtiness and the books were an undeniable page turner, something that couldn’t always be said of their remorseless rivals on the bookshelf.
Last week I read Destroyer No 150, written by Murphy who outlived Sapir by a good three decades, continuing the series with other officially uncredited but widely acknowledged ghost writers and writing partners. The books have had their ups and downs, and the 150th outing didn’t have the spark of the 20th or even the 100th, but it was a serviceable and entertaining read and it’s the first that I’ve read as an electrons-only option.
Half of the back-catalog of the series is now available for Amazon’s Kindle, and all of the more recent instalments are as well. Surprisingly, the medium has sparked fresh development on the series, with Murphy teaming with Gerald Welch to create a new generation of Destroyers facing down evil and rank stupidity with grace and murderous martial arts skill.
This is an aspect of the eBook that gets far less buzz than it should. Publishing isn’t really a business of creating books, it’s all about managing inventory. In a perfect world, you would publish 10,000 books, reach 10,000 buyers and keep repeating the process until you saturated the market. But the printing process doesn’t contribute anything to that idyllic dream. Getting a press started on a printing project is a staggeringly expensive proposition and buyers come in surges.
In the reading community of T&T, a good book with solid buzz is guaranteed sales of between 1,000 and 1,500 within a couple of months of its release. After that, it crawls along, with surges when anything from a particularly good review or entirely unforeseen circumstances make it something that people want to have a look at.
This is pretty much how the whole publishing industry works globally. While the numbers are larger in first world markets, the cycle remains the same.
That’s how last year’s bestseller ends up in the one dollar remainder bin of the few remaining bookstores left in the US. Digital distribution flips that script, though not entirely in favour of authors or publishers. Getting an eBook system up and running can be a challenge. For older books, the cost of digitising the book will add to the cost, but a running system prepares a new book or one with a manuscript in electronic format for an embarrassingly small fraction of the cost of traditional printing.
That math has led to new paths to publication. I discovered Andy Weir’s The Martian as an audiobook last year, and by then, it was already in its third edition and still to see print. After Weir couldn’t get a literary agent interested in his work, he put The Martian online as a serial, one chapter at a time on his website.
Fans called for an eBook, so he made a Kindle version available for the minimum price Amazon allows, US$0.99. After it hit the top of the list of best-selling science fiction titles there, Podium Publishing bought it to create an audiobook. The book was sold to Crown publishing for a print edition soon after. The Martian, starring Matt Damon, is scheduled for release in October.
Not every eBook is destined to become a major motion picture. The Punisher, a rather pallid clone of The Executioner series, has had three movies while the original is almost forgotten. The Destroyer series has contributed so much to the filmed and televised action hero genre that it remains an iffy proposition for cinema. A 1985 film and later TV pilot went nowhere, and another effort is in current development.
But there are at least a hundred local books that deserve to be introduced to a new audience via digital distribution. That’s reader and development potential that’s still waiting to be tapped.
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