1 There’s a system (sort of) in place for getting books from me (publisher) to you (reader), and it’s in everyone’s interest – mine, yours, the author’s, plus all those along the way who take their cut – that the system works well. For CBe – and, I guess, a number of other presses – it is not working well.
2 The players. The publisher (me). The distributor (Central Books), who fields trade orders. The sales agent (Inpress), who stimulates trade orders on behalf of CBe and a number of other presses: by employing reps who visit bookshops, by meeting regularly with a Waterstones buyer, etc. Also: booksellers (big, small, fat, thin) and wholesalers. And Amazon.
3 Some bookshops (bless you, Foyles Charing X Rd and others) order direct from Central, the distributor: they set up an account, negotiate a discount that will apply to that account, and all flows smoothy. Many bookshops (most?) do not. Typically, a smaller bookshop will order only from Gardners and/or Bertrams, the wholesalers – thus avoiding having to open multiple accounts with multiple distributors, often just for very occasional orders. It makes sense.
4 It helps, of course, if the book the bookseller wants is in stock at the wholesaler. If it isn’t, the bookseller can still usually order it, but the wholesaler will have to source the book from the distributor, and this adds time; the bookseller or customer may well decide not to bother.
5 There are 51 CBe titles in print. Number of titles in stock at Gardners (checked today): 9 (most just single copies; maximum number of copies per title, 3). Number of titles in stock at Bertrams: 1 (4 copies of this). There is misinformation: Will Eaves’s The Inevitable Gift Shop, for example, is NOT “out of stock at publisher”. There’s a hole here, maybe a black one. How big is the hole? How many sales are being, and have been, lost? I don’t know. Tens? Hundreds?
6 Amazon. I’ll try to keep this clean. Of CBe’s 51 titles in print, 9 are listed as “currently unavailable”. This is not true: all these titles are in stock at Central. At least 10 titles are available only through third-party sellers (i.e., the sellers you get through to by clicking the “used and new” link); Amazon itself doesn’t stock or sell them. A surprising number – 17 – appear to be in stock but “only 1 copy left, order soon” – which I suspect is code, perhaps meaning “I’m sure we’ve got a copy somewhere, but where?” Some titles appear to be in stock but will be dispatched “in 10 to 14 days” or “in 1 to 2 months” - which suggests that they are not actually in stock. It’s hard to give precise figures because for a number of titles Amazon itself doesn’t seem to know: look up “collard about a girl”, for example, and you’ll find the book is both “currently unavailable” and in stock (“Only 5 left in stock, order soon”).
7 Another thing about Amazon. Look up “kristof notebook” and you find the US omnibus edition (which is not legally for sale in the UK) not just available, but you can even “get it by tomorrow”; the CBe UK edition is “not in stock; order now and we’ll deliver when available”. Or Suite for Barbara Loden, published by Les Fugitives: the US and French editions are in stock, the UK edition is available only through third-party sellers. Or Ananda Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins (co-published by Les Fugitives and CBe): the US edition is in stock, for the UK edition “order now and we’ll deliver when available”.
8 I’m writing this post because of the three CBe autumn titles – Lara Pawson, This Is the Place to Be; Diane Williams, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine; Ananda Devi, Eve out Her Ruins (co-published with Les Fugitives). All are in stock with the distributor and have been released. The Guardian has already carried reviews of the Pawson (“brilliant and uncompromsing”) and the Devi (“this stunning short novel”), reviews that might even prompt a few sales. Except that … Amazon: Williams and Devi not in stock, Pawson “usually dispatched within 1 to 2 months”. Both Bertrams and Gardners, as of today, have no stock of any of the three. Waterstones online have two of the three titles available. Blackwells online: for all three titles, “Sorry, this title is not available for sale at the moment.”
9 I happen to be reading The Alienist by Machado de Assis today. A doctor opens an asylum in a small town in Brazil. “Till now, madness has been thought a small island in an ocean of sanity. I am beginning to suspect that it is not an island at all but a continent.”