Autumn 2019

Talking of attention...

By James McConnachie, Editor

The big new thing, apparently, is the audiobook. Publishers are very excited about them. Chiefly because sales of consumer audiobooks rose by nearly half, in 2018, to £69m. This is significant enough to make audio appear to be a whole new channel to market, rather than a modest branch line leading off print.

Publishers have long been distracted by whatever seems new or on the up but there are good reasons for authors to feel excited too. As Ann Morgan describes in this Autumn issue, there are new opportunities for audio-only deals. New money on the table. That said, many publishers are trying to tie authors into contracts that might stop them picking it up – by insisting on taking audio and print rights together.

Audiobooks are to be welcomed, then, but there are reasons to be cautious. For one thing, print books continue to earn billions rather than millions – and that is surely where our attention should be focused. And, talking of attention, it is perhaps no accident that audiobooks are so often delivered via smartphones. Are we becoming so captivated and indeed captured by these devices – which is precisely what their manufacturers intend – that we are starting to perceive them as the only source of our entertainment, the only master of our attention, the only channel to the marketplace of our minds?

Of course, there is nothing really new about audio. Before we wrote stories, we told them. Before we learned to read, we learned to listen. Poets, and most readers of poetry, have never forgotten this; other authors and readers – sorry, consumers of content – are perhaps now relearning it. All books are audiobooks, at heart.

Except the ones that celebrate the book’s physical form, that is, not least illustrated books. In this issue, Tree Abraham looks at the resurgence of innovative book design, which she believes is in part the happy side-effect of the growth of the ebook. We also have another in our series of one-page interviews, this time with Hilary Mantel. And we offer no fewer than three rather serious, professional, glasses-on kind of articles. I do not apologise for them. You need to know about your moral rights, the EU Copyright Directive, and international PLR.

You do not need to know about the shrink wrapper in which your copy of The Author is now posted – but you might be curious about it, and why it has changed. The new one is made from potatoes. It costs a few pence more than the plastic alternative, and we continue to research alternatives, but I hope you agree it is worth it. As there are now nearly 11,000 members of the SoA – numbers are still rising, encouragingly – even the thinnest of plastic wrappers bulks up. Please note that you can compost the new wrapper, but a domestic compost bin may not be hot enough. If your council collects food waste, better to pop it in there.

James McConnachie | @j_mcconnachie

Cover image by Luke Bird, a designer based in London and the North York Moors. He specialises in books, branding and limited edition packaging for publishing and music, in the UK, the US and beyond. | Instagram: @lookbird

In this issue


  • Sonic boom by Alison Flood
  • Can you hear me? by Ann Morgan
  • A book club by Anna Ganley


  • Taking PLR international by Jim Parker
  • Copyright: a step in the right direction by Tim Gallagher
  • Moral rights by Andreas Rahmatian


  • Summoning the ancestors by Caroline Brothers
  • The future of the book as art by Tree Abraham
  • Hidden lives, hidden wives by Karen Christensen
  • The monstrous regiment of women by Maggie Gee
  • You are not alone by Annabel Venning


  • Need to know
  • The SoA’s awards
  • Ask an author with Hilary Mantel
  • To the Editor
  • Industry news
  • Notices
  • What’s on
  • Grub Street by Andrew Taylor