Friday, 7 September 2012

Free Verse 2012: why?

IF independent bookshops were thriving up and down the land; and if Amazon et el – rather than mashing smaller presses in their systems and charging them the earth for the privilege – had some fine-toothed gears to help get their books to readers; and if the internet had an add-on that enabled you browse books in your hands before committing; and if the Net Book Agreement was still in force; and if everyone who sent poems to a press actually bought a book from that press . . .

THEN the book fair might not be needed at all and we could all have a long lie-in tomorrow.

Candid Arts, EC1V 1NQ, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free, the readings too.

Did I mention that there’ll be Spanish ham, and clothespegs, and that Brooke Sharkey, the busker who stepped into last year’s fair and onto the stage, will be back again? And cards too, of drawings including the one above, by Nick Wadley.

They organise these matters better in France and Germany, where laws limiting the discounting of books both restrict the power of companies that deal in mass volumes of sales to overwhelm the smaller fry and also help sustain a wide variety of independent bookshops. In America, doles out grants every year to a large number of small presses and literary groups. In the UK we had Jeremy Hunt, and now we have Maria Miller.

Other things that might help the smaller presses survive:
- book tokens valid for buying from a range of small presses (probably an online venture: you have an account into which money is gifted and from which you buy from the websites of the participating presses);
- local bookshops hosting small presses on a couple of tables on occasional Saturdays, with all sales through the bookshop’s till;
- partner bookshops, which commit to ordering all a press’s new titles, and probably some backlist too, in return for a negotiated discount.

At tomorrow’s book fair there’ll be a book on the welcome desk in which you can write comments and add your name to the mailing list. Do feel free to go on a bit. Should the book fair last longer than one day? Is London the right place for it? Should it include all publishers, irrespective of size? Should it include fiction as well as poetry? Etc.

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