As far as the book trade is concerned, I think most people would agree that it was the year of the Kindle, with over a million sold per week in December. HarperCollins alone sold 100,000 ebooks on Christmas Day.
This time last year I was firmly in the anti-Kindle camp and wrote several posts extolling the virtues of the printed page over the soulless, grey world of ebooks. But I protested too much and one blogger very astutely commented that I was actually "on the verge of Kindledom".
I finally gave in during March, swayed by the comments made by fellow bloggers and I have to say, I love my Kindle. It's convenient (my nearest proper bookshop is eight miles away), doesn't clutter up my shelves with books I'll never read again and gives me the chance the try sample chapters before I commit to buying the books.
But there's a dark side to all of this. The Kindle also threatens many booksellers with extinction and could make it harder for authors to earn a living wage from their writing, so I'm in the process of rethinking how I buy books. Particularly after this Facebook discussion that took place a couple of days ago (I won't name the author, as she hasn't given me permission to quote):
Reader 1 -Also love my Kindle and am a sucker for an amazon bargain (sorry). Can't beat the personal service of the 7s bookshop though... Is the publishing world doing anything to support authors? Surely no incentive to write (and I'm aware noone is in it for the money) means no wares to sell?
Author - @Reader 1 - 'Is the publishing world doing anything to support authors?' There is a short answer to this. No. Having been an author for ten years and knowing that my books have been appreciated by thousands I am now forced to consider writing a hobby as I could earn more working on a supermarket check out or sweeping the streets. x
Reader 2 - I'm buying ebooks for an average of £5 each. How much of this is going to the author?
Author - @Reader 2 - this is a good question. For the two of my books that have earned out the advance - if you buy it for £5 I believe I may get as much as about 0.20p (but I have to check this) For the two that have not earned out the advance I get nothing. For the 0.99p purchace of Steve's above the author may - if they are lucky and have earned out - get about 0.5p. But I may be exaggerating the payment to the author wildly here. I always encourage my readers to buy their books from bookshops to keep the bookshops open.
Reader 2 - I'm really shocked. I was always under the impression that authors received 10% of the rrp, with the burden of any discounts shouldered by the publisher and retailer. What's the best thing we can do to support writers?
Author - @Reader 2 - no the author gets 10% of whatever the book is sold at... after (and if) the advance is earned out (and it's only earned out by a payment at 10 % of whatever the book is sold at) and then after that the agent takes 15% so if people like Steve buy books at 0.99p ... The best thing you can do to support an author is to buy the book from a bookshop at the price that is on the cover. Likewise on Kindle if you pay full price for the download then the author may eventually get a small payment.
The controversy over the 'agency model' (and you can read a full explanation here if you're interested) will continue to rage in 2012. Like a lot of readers, I like cheap books, but not at the authors' expense.
The other big event of 2011 was the rescue of Waterstone's from the edge of oblivion. For people outside the UK, I should explain that it's Britain's largest specialist chain bookseller and for ten years, was run by a succession of 'retailers' (i.e. people who thought that selling books was no different from selling shoes or CDs) who almost destroyed the business. Waterstone's is now in private ownership, freed from the tyranny of short-termism, with a real bookseller at the helm for the first time in years.
However, although things are now looking more positive, I can't help feeling that it's still too late for Waterstone's and that MD James Daunt is merely a Alexander Kerensky/Shapour Bakhtiar figure, unable to stop the tide of history. I may be wrong. Perhaps James Daunt can cure Waterstone's, but I suspect that palliative care is the most he can provide.
As for the literary highlights of 2011, I'll leave that to the many other bloggers - John Self, Gaskella and company - who are highly accomplished book reviewers. However, I will mention one first novel which, I felt, didn't receive the press attention it deserved - 'Wall of Days' by Alastair Bruce -in spite of being picked by Amazon in its 'Rising Stars' promotion.
If I try to explain the plot I might put you off, so it's probably better to simply include this link to the first few pages. If you like bald, understated prose, like Cormac McCarthy or M. J. Hyland, where devastating truths are hidden beneath mundane recollections, then I can highly recommend this magical novel.
Another reason why Wall of Days struck a chord is that for several years, I'd had a novel brewing in my head that had a very similar beginning. As soon as I began reading the first page, I felt a huge sense of relief that someone had written the novel for me and done a much better job of it. I can now hit the pillow without any more recurring images of grey skies and tussock grass.
Finally, I must mention one other book: Vasily Grossman's 'Life and Fate', which is belatedly being acknowledged as one of the great novels of the 20th century, comparable to War and Peace in its scope and ambition. Although the English translation appeared a few years ago, it wasn't until 2011 that Grossman's epic began to receive the recognition it deserved.
It took me over a month to read Life and Fate, but I would happily read it all over again tomorrow.
Finally, I'd like to wish anyone who reads 'the Age of Uncertainty' a Happy New Year. After a number of challenges and upheavals last year, the blog began to run out of steam towards the end of the year, as I was exhausted by family difficulties and preoccupied with setting up my own bookselling business.
Perhaps, after five years, this blog has reached a natural end. But it's possible that once I have new sources of stock, there will be other stories to tell. I really enjoy sharing the strange fragments of lost lives that seem to come my way and hope that there will be more to come.
We shall see.