Coinciding brilliantly with our post yesterday on the nagging uncertainty of making a career in future media, world-renowned best selling author Neil Gaiman said pretty much exactly the same thing in a keynote address at the London Book Fair which urged everyone to just try new shit (we’re paraphrasing) to find what works:

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.

“Try everything,” Gaiman continued. “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.”

So yeah. To quote my cousin Angus, “I feel old, wise and free.”


  1. It’s nice to know that Neil Gaiman thinks that monopolies are not harmful to the markets in which they operate, but perhaps we all might consider heeding the opinions of people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about.

  2. peter: what monopoly? amazon? harmful to their competitors, yes of course. harmful to the industry or consumers? quite the opposite.

  3. Guys like Gaiman are the wrong people to listen to in regards to future business models, piracy, or anything else related to making money in the “digital future.”

    They can spout off vague nonsense that sounds like advice or say piracy somehow makes you more money and other stuff that sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie. Why? Because they already got theirs before any of this mattered. They’re safe.

  4. Gestating? Is he sitting on an egg? The problem is that the Internet has taken margins out of any system that used to rely on artificial scarcity. Gatekeepers (publishers, distributors, stores, etc) used to add artificial scarcity into the system and there was some profit to be made. Now everyone can publish everything, and there’s no margin left. The average e-book author makes under $500 a year, because there is more supply than demand and no gatekeepers to limit the number of books. (Or music, or whatever.) Manufacturing a physical product alone introduced some artificial scarcity, but it was really the distribution channels that enforced it.

    What Amazon, Apple, Google, and others are trying to do is create a new method of artificial scarcity, with DRM schemes and “selling” your “used files”. This isn’t going to work, because digital distribution is frictionless (i.e. if one person has a copy of a file, everyone who wants it can have an identical copy) and there’s no artificial scarcity.

    The question is how to make enough money in the new world to make it worth doing anything. Patronage (Kickstarter, etc) is one of the few models that has worked so far. People pay up front, then you give them the work, which depreciates like driving a car off the dealer’s lot – as soon as the work exists, it’s frictionlessly spread everywhere.

  5. Mr. Mnemonic (and everyone else):

    Go read Cory Doctorow’s “Content”. It’s free, available at:
    (Almost every format possible, except for maybe comics.)

    He was giving it away for free after it was published, but before he became a bestselling author. He proved to himself that people will read a free digital copy then go and buy a paper edition. Gaiman proved the same point when he had free copies available for a limited time via Harper Collins. Monty Python proved it when they opened their YouTube channel and sales via their online store skyrocketed (as did their DVD sales on Amazon).

  6. @jaroslave: Amazon’s monopolistic practice of selling books at a loss is destructive to the bookselling business. Amazon’s use of its dominant market position to set a standard that is impossible for other booksellers to compete with and should by all rights have the Justice Department breathing down its neck. Amazon’s attempt to constrict consumer choice is in the long-term harmful to the consumer, no matter how keen you may be on the immediate benefit of cheaper stuff.

    On the topic of Gaiman’s soft-headed nonsense, Melville House has an excellent rebuttal on its blog to Gaiman’s half-baked notions:

    “[B]ut to say “try anything, fail better” is a brutal dismissal of the repercussions of failure for the people who work in the industry. It’s essentially a dilettante’s point of view.”

  7. Peter – while i agree that Amazon’s business strategy is destructive to the current bookselling industry, i disagree that they will in anyway be able to maintain any kind of monopoly in the long run or permanently restrict consumer choice in any meaningful way. Amazon and their competitors are merely best companies at the moment at taking advantage of new technology to provide a superior value to consumers. They are great for the creators and the end users and bad news only for the middle men.

    i hope the DoJ stays far away from them, and any other tech savvy company. in 10 years it most likely be some new company disrupting the whatever business model the industry has settled on.

Comments are closed.