Saturday, 6 February 2010

Spinal deformities

The above is Middlemarch after being left out overnight. Severe curvature of the spine, but still perfectly readable. E-books, and their plus-factor that you can take 200 books on holiday without paying excess baggage: quite apart from the whole holiday thing, I would really like to know what happens to them if you leave them out overnight, or spill wine over them. Will they even still be there?

Actually, that can wait. More immediate is this. There should be some pick-up, shouldn’t there?, for Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch (CBe) following his Costa Book-of-the-Year triumph with A Scattering (Areté)? I’ve just been on Amazon: A Scattering is sales-ranked way below 100, The Song of Lunch at some abstract six-figure number, with ‘2 new’ available from £48.95 from ‘other sellers’.

Godsake. Stronger than that. I am not going to sign up with Amazon’s deal with small publishers (they buy at 60% discount, they pay me only after they’ve sold, months after, and I pay delivery plus an annual fee for the privilege). Because the work of writing and publishing these books is worth more than that. They can get the books from the CBe distributor, Central, as they’ve done for the other books and for this book too, previously. But right now they are choosing not to bother. Amazon, the chainstores too, are geared to deal in volume, in mass; small publishers are an irritation. You can buy from the website – and if you send me a nice email, we can talk a discount – or from your local bookseller, preferably an independent, at a fraction of the current Amazon price. I may, I do, need some help here; advice welcome.


Carly said...

Some years ago, in Scotland, I was caught out by a thunderstorm reading a second-edition Victorian novel. It was a long walk home and my rubber-lined pockets turned out to have serious leaks in them. The sodden vellum-bound book was placed above a warm storage heater and by the next day there was no sign it had even been wet. The pages turned freely, the ink stayed where it was, and I continued reading. The second-generation Elizabethan traveling telephone I carried in my other non-waterproof pocket was given the same gentle restorative care. It never worked again.

Also, some days ago, in England, a friend of mine ordered a CBe book from Amazon, and despite their claims of not-in-stock received it through the post just 3 days later. She only used Amazon because it was convenient, as she wasn't registered with anywhere else. Fair enough. But I think you're right, Charles: don't give in to the South American River Bullies; people can still order books from them if need be, and if they really want a book, they will get it, somehow.

I think it's all to do with convenience, or, in another word, laziness. Internet is easy, and just using one site for everything: even easier. Oh, and postage. Everybody hates having to pay postage. It doesn't matter that to get in a car (or equivalent paid transportation) and go into town or city centre and buy a book from an actual bookshop will cost as much if not more than p&p. Irrelevant. No postal costs seems to be the clincher. Which isn't really helpful for small presses, who do need them.

But none of that matters. If people want the book, they'll get the book - somehow.

Beverley said...

Here's how it looks from California:

Late last summer I tried to buy a copy of "The Scattering" (I already had "Song"). Couldn't find Arete online. Couldn't find "The Scattering" at either or Amazon UK. Local bookstore--the university bookstore, which also sells T-shirts, mugs and computers--no help. Finally a friend in England sent me a copy, which I treasure.

Whenever I need bibliographical information my first port of call is Amazon, backed up by the university (see above) catalogue.

On 29-1 The TLS reviewed a book I wanted to buy: John Forfar's "From Gold to Omaha," (my dad was the medical officer with a Canadian company that debarked in Normandy not many days later) published by a small press (I guess) called Les Gens du Phare in, I think, France. I searched the internet, including Amazon US, UK and France, and the press itself without success. I'm hoping I won't forget to try again in a few weeks when other people may add to the numbers trying to buy this book, in which case it may come out from under the radar.

Bucking Amazon is like standing in front of a tank?

Dr Pauline Kiernan said...

My latest FURY at Amazon is the deal they've just made with The British Library to make more than 65,000 rare first editions of 19th Century fiction available for the public to download for free:
Before you shout Great! You won't be able to read one of them unless... you've guessed it - you've got a Kindle. And if you've got a Kindle the only books you can read on it are ones you buy on ...Amazon.

So, if you haven't got one, the only way you can access this magnficent resource is to buy a Kindle.

But here's the slime - printed paperback copies of the first editions, will also be available for the public at £15-20 a pop, but only, of course, from... Amazon.

Actually I think I'm more enraged by the British Library...

I'm exploring the self-publishing route myself but Amazon's 60% is nothing less than obscene. I'm afraid I don't have any advice, Charles. I wish we could all band together and solve the problem.
By the way, I went all soppy inside at your picture of one of the world's greatest novels. It has a curious look of being at once tender and robust. I like to think of it sitting there as a potent reminder of its creator's imperishable spirit - intellectual rigour and deep humanness.

Dr Pauline Kiernan said...

Forgot to say: good luck with your venture. It's perhaps emboldened me to spurn mainstream publishers even more and just plunge in.

charles said...

I've no intention of standing in front of a tank (Beverley, above), which seems to me a far more foolish than heroic thing to do. Hitch a ride? Big publishers, with all their financial investment, need to sell in mass; for CBe, ideally I'd like enough regular word-of-mouth regular sales to friends and followers and the curious to stay afloat, so that Amazon sales would be a bonus rather than something I depend on. Different marketplaces.

Pauline: 'banding together' to solve the problem, yes, but I'm not sure that writers and small publishers are very good at this. There's been one or two recent attempts to get small (but bigger than CBe) publishers to work together to sell more efficiently; I don't know how successful. At this scale, the enthusiasm of individual booksellers or reviewers can count for a lot. This is a bit like depending on the kindness of strangers; there are worse things to do.

John Self said...

Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't the answer to getting your books readily available on Amazon, but while using a long spoon, simply to sell them yourself as an Amazon Marketplace seller? I used to do this for a while with books I was getting rid of (now I just give them to the charity shop). You set your own price. They take a chunk of your sale price but you would still be getting much more than the 40% of the cover price you're getting through the small publisher deal.

When I did it, which is a few years ago now so it might have changed, I made about £4 per book (mostly new or as-new paperbacks) after postage and Amazon deductions etc. You get an allowance of £2.75 for postage, which rarely costs that much, and helps offset the amount that Amazon takes from the sale.