Monday, 5 October 2009

Lemmings

I have heard readers boast that they never buy books from bookshops, and never spend more than fifty pence buying from amazon or charity shops. I have nothing against shopping in charity shops – I do so myself – or against online suppliers who are efficient and cheap. But for every book that is sold for 50 pence or less, a publisher loses their profit. There’s nothing wrong with publishers making a profit. There is a great deal wrong if they don’t.
3 for 2, buy one get one free, brand new books half price . . . we all love a bargain, but our gain is someone else’s loss. If publishers lose too much, there will be no publishers. Already the market is swamped with self published books. I don’t claim that all self published books are poor quality, or that all traditionally published books are superior. But, like the proliferation of television channels, more quantity inevitably dilutes quality. And publishers do set some standards. At the very least, they are hoping to make back the money they’ve spent producing the book.
We are moving towards a world where everyone can produce their own books, downloadable free. As for professional authors, they won’t have time to write, they’ll be busy working to pay their bills. There’s precious little money to be made from writing now. With no advances or royalties, the cupboard will be completely bare.
If you never spend more than 50 pence on a book – or even one penny as a reader boasted recently – bear in mind that you may be approaching the point of no return. Like lemmings, many readers are rushing over the precipice to a Brave New World where the book as we know it will cease to exist, lost in a morass of blog-like semi-autobiographical works of flaccid fiction whose prose has never heard the scissor snap of an editor’s keys . . .
We all like to feel we are getting something for nothing. Let's hope we don't end up paying a higher price than any of us bargained for.

45 comments:

Petty Witter said...

Thanks for sharing your views with us. To be honest I've never thought of it in this way before - certainly something to think about.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Petty - this doesn't only apply to books. The music industry has completely changed. Musicians now earn more from live performances than from sales of CDs etc. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing - live music is fantastic and we should all hear more of it - but it won't be quite the same for poor authors. I can't see a venue selling thousands or even hundreds tickets to hear me talk!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've always had to work full time while I've tried to write. That won't be much of a change. I see a lot of variability in quality across the board. I think most of the really poorly done books are not earning much even if they are published or selfpublished.

Leigh Russell said...

Ain't that the truth, Charles, most writers have to work in other jobs to pay them old bills. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I find my 'inspiration' in the life I see going on around me. Also, I find I don't write any more when I'm not working. In some ways, the pressure of lack of time can be quite stimulating. As for earning money . . . I think very few books earn any serious money - unless they're filmed or televised.

Leigh Russell said...

ps, Charles, if by 'poorly done' you mean poorly written, I could name a few books earning huge amounts of money which are really not well written, in my humble opinion . . . Would I compromise my reputation by producing a badly written book to make shedloads of money? . . .
I'm not prepared to answer that question!

Petty Witter said...

Hi Leigh, I've done an awful lot of thinking about this article and hope you don't mind but I've talked about it a little on my blog - I've put link so people can read it for themselves and, if they want, comment.

Leigh Russell said...

Of course I don't mind, Petty Witter. On the contrary, I'm really pleased that you took so much trouble over this, Petty Witter. I have to admit, it's not a point of view I considered until I began book signing and talking to staff in the bookshops. This isn't just a book issue. We all love a bargain, but when goods are too cheap, someone must be producing them for very little benefit. There have already been scandals about slave labour in the clothing industry. It's a huge and a complicated issue. Profit has become a dirty word, as though anyone who makes any money is a super rich fat cat, but for most people in business, making a profit means they can pay their bills.

Rick said...

Ouch! What a depressing scenario you present. Too bad I agree with you.

Leigh Russell said...

Let's fight back, Rick! I have already embarked on my own small totally insignificant and ultimately futile campaign to Save Our Bookshops, well at least to support them. Either way, the acronym turns out to be SOB . . . Oh dear!

Petty Witter said...

Thanks for opening this debate Leigh. Quite a few comments have been left on my blog about this topic if you want to call and see them.

Middle Ditch said...

Another one here, Leigh, who works and writes.

It's awful but so true. I personally hate it when publishers, to get some cash, publish trash from celebrities, written by ghost writers, who may be paid well but never see their name in print.

Leigh Russell said...

I could spill a few beans about that, Monique. Now that I've had a very tiny peep through a crack in the publishing industry's facade, I suspect anyone in that world could reveal a few shockers. I've no doubt it's the same in any other business - even schools and hospitals no doubt hide a few truths of which the public are oblivious. Do you ever go in the kitchen when you eat in a restaurant? There are some things it's better not to know!

Kelly said...

Thought I'd bring my response back here (rather than my blog or Pen and Paper) since this is where the discussion began.

I don't know that I think publishers actually encourage people to buy second hand books, but I do think they know realistically that most people are never going to pay that price you see listed on the dust cover! The only time I ever pay "full" price is when I'm shopping at our local "mom & pop" book store. We don't have a big chain store in our small town (other than WalMart, but their selection is limited at times) and there are times you want to physically peruse a book before buying it (unlike looking at snippets on Amazon, etc.).

I guess what I'm saying is that I think they probably put suggested retail prices on the cover that they know, in reality, they'll seldom get.

Hopefully it all works out in the long run!

Now music is a different story. Thanks to bootlegs, internet downloads, etc. I feel the CD industry has to fear for its future!

Leigh Russell said...

I know what you mean, Kelly. You see brand new hardback books released and sold at half price as soon as they launch, which has clearly been planned by the publishers to boost sales figures. That said, Cut Short retails at the full price of £6.99 which I think is a fair enough price for a new book. It's roughly the price of a packet of cigarettes, or two pints of beer, and less than the cost of a ticket in many cinemas. When you consider the work that goes into producing a book - apart from the author there's the work of the publisher, editor, proof readers, designer, production team, publicity, distributor, bookseller . . . I'd say that was a very reasonable price.

Akasha Savage said...

Excellent post Leigh. I agree with every word. I try my hardest never to buy bargain books. I nearly always go to Waterstones and pay the proper price for the novels I read. Support Our Writers and our Publishers...that's what I say!!

Leigh Russell said...

Good to have your comment, akasha. If publishers don't make any money, they won't survive. Likewise bookshops. Authors will carry on writing, of course - can't stop! - but there won't be any books, just lots of downloadable writing. Lots and lots of it. Will anyone read it?

Kelly said...

I placed an order for your book at Amazon this afternoon.

Looking forward to reading it!

Leigh Russell said...

Thank you, Kelly. I hope you enjoy it. Please come back and let me know what you think. In the meantime, please keep in touch.

Candy said...

I could not agree with you more. This writing thing sure is competitive and full of phonies. Thanks for addressing this stressful subject that is taking so many good things from those who are working hard at their creation. No matter what it is.

fizzycat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fizzycat said...

Hmm, I buy books new , most relatives know I am the one happiest with a gift of a book voucher.Cut short arrived from Waterstones as quickly as possible- I had to read it quickly.
The books I read on the cheap tend to be old say twenty, thirty year old books, some I may have bought new before, rehomed, then wanted them back or old novels or sci fi I have heard about and wanted to read myself.If I kept all my books I would now be living in a mansion, probably built up from them!
But I am also a libary fan and am happy to join sob if I may.
I love bookshops, especially the ones where you know the owner is just really letting you in for a look and would prefer it if you left their books alone, to stay.

08 October 2009 15:12

Randy Johnson said...

I tend to buy my books new, with the exception of some older ones I learn about. I used to love spending hours lounging in book stores just looking.

I was incapable of passing a book store without stopping in and looking around. I could be stone broke, mind you, but I'd stop and look anyway.

Unfortunately these days, I order everything from the internet. The one book store in town closed several years ago and my health precludes me leaving the house very often.

I miss those trips out of town to several other stores(in towns thirty + miles away) and finding that unexpected treasure, the book you didn't even know you wanted 'til you found it.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Candy - writing is "competitive and full of phonies" - so true. I don't think writing differs from many other areas of life - our whole society is competitive and full of phonies. It's a sad comment on a society where money dominates - music, sport, business, advertising, drugs (controlled and legal) - you name it. Of course there are still a lot of genuinely unselfish people but they tend not to be the ones to forge 'ahead' wherever that is.

Leigh Russell said...

yay fizzy! Libraries do their best to attract people, especially children, but most children would choose to watch a video (sorry, dvd - or is it something else now?) or play a computer game rather than read a book.
I've visited several local libraries to talk to book groups. You can't get that kind of social interaction online. Obviously online communication is great - here we are having a meaningful discussion - but we need interaction in the real world too.

Leigh Russell said...

I know exactly what you mean, Randy. You can't beat browsing round a bookstore. I'm sorry to hear you're almost housebound. The internet is fantastic when you're stuck at home.
We had a really wonderful local bookshop which closed down a few years ago. Now a Starbucks. Sign of the times.

Melissa (My World) said...

I have been on the Barnes & Nobles website and there was an author whos book was not as huge of a hit as the publishers where hoping. But what had happened is his publisher got laid off and his books got put on hold, (no more books).

After his post I had started to hear the publishers where starting to have a harder time and that they where no printing as many books(depending on the popularity) now.

There was also thoughts thrown out there by other people wondering if these ebooks will cause the decrease in printed books.

Listening to the others and such, started to make me think on it. I really had never thought about the publishers before they where talking about it. They were kind of the middle person you really don't see or hear about.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Melissa, e-books must be a threat to publishers, as amazon and supermarkets are to bookshops. Waterstones new system seems to be favouring blockbusters from big publishers. As with everything else, the big players - i.e. those with big money - are pushieng out the small and middle sized authors and publishers. Again, it's the way of the world these days. Supermarkets, big chains and blockbusters.

curzon group said...

It's now more important than ever to support bookshops.

Alexia561 said...

Interesting topic. While I agree that we need to support authors so that they can continue to write, I think part of the problem was brought on by the publishers themselves. The list price of books keeps rising higher and higher so that I'm left with the choice of either using coupons and B2G1F offers or not buying the book at all.

I simply can't afford to spend close to $30US on a hardcover. And $7.99 is a little expensive for a paperback IMHO.

Saw a breakdown of what it actually costs to produce a book and the publisher was making a 40-50% profit. That may have changed, as I read the article several years back.

As a dedicated reader, I have to take advantage of coupons and promos wherever I can find them or I wouldn't be able to support my reading habit. At least the publisher is getting something when I use a coupon, as opposed to nothing when I use the library.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Alexia - I agree with much of what you say, and the main point is for people to keep reading. What is overlooked is that the publishers' "profit" is actually needed to cover their running costs, pay their bills, their staff, and to lay out on new books that often fail to cover costs. Unless publishers can afford to take a risk on new authors there won't be any new authors, and any new author must be a risk because no one can predict with certainty that anyone will buy their books.

Kelly said...

When ordering your book from Amazon(US) the other day, I failed to note that the expected shipping time was 1 to 2 months!! I just checked my order confirmation and, sure enough, the delivery estimate is listed as October 28 - December 9!!

So.... it may be awhile, but I'll let you know once it's arrived and I've read it.

Leigh Russell said...

I don't know why they've put it back, Kelly - probably happened when the book was reprinted. Let's hope you dont' have to wait that long now the reprints are out...
Keep in touch anyway.

Star said...

I've bought your book, Leigh, and I can't wait to start reading it. In fact, I did read the first page! Looks good. The book arrived this morning and it's my birthday on Monday. I bought it as a birthday present for myself. How indulgent is that! All I need now is for the day to arrive, a cup of tea and a large cream cake and I'm all set.
Blessings, Star

Leigh Russell said...

Star - please email me on leighrussell2009@live.co.uk so I can send you a signed Happy Birthday inscription to stick in your copy of Cut Short!

Middle Ditch said...

So true Leigh. I did use the loo once after eating a delicious meal in a Turkish restaurant. I should not have done so and have never been since.

And the school I'm working in? Yes I know all about that kitchen. And other little secrets the almighty up there think you should not know.

fizzycat said...

http://www.aetw.org/
Above is a very good link to find out about Reiki.
Was in Waterstones today, found Cut Short, drew it slightly out of the bookcase so it stood out against the thousand Ruth Rendall books nearbye lol.Free publicity!
Do not like the e reader machines in the shop. It's a book shop not a ereader shop.Don't think they will catch on.

fizzycat said...

Just spotted your previous comment here, when popping back for a comment. Hear hear we do not want to be mindles automotons walking round with ebooks. Mobile phones are quite enough.
Perhaps it is a generational thing, yes kids and dvds whereas I think I was a libary member at the age of two.
Still felt positively luddite when viewing those ereaders!

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks for making Cut Short visible, fizzy. Let's hope someone buys it! I hope you're right about e-readers.

Leigh Russell said...

And thanks for the link, fizzy.

Melissa (My World) said...

I really don't know what to say of the prices going up. It seems this is happening for everything these days. Even on the darn groceries. It just seems to be the way of the world today, all prices go up because bills are going up and to pay their employees. It is just harder money wise everywhere. It is just aweful

B. C. Bell said...

Yeah, I think about this kind of stuff (stuff to feel guilty about) all the time, and don't really know how to approach the issue. It's not just that I love old books, it's also that I'm one of those literal almost starving artists. I have friends in books and comics that seem to be able to afford everything new. I don't see how they do it.

B. C. Bell said...

Oh, and thanks for being the first to comment on my blog NOIR IS HELL. Very kind of you.

Leigh Russell said...

You're right there, Melissa. I keep saying I need to win the lottery - but now I'm not kidding. I need to win the lottery. Not that I ever buy a lottery ticket... times is hard.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi there, BC Bell. There are plenty of people who have money (where do they get it? It's a mystery to me). I also think a lot of people are spending too much borrowed money, living in debt up to their eyeballs. Sometimes people aren't really as well off as they appear. And then there's the likes of you and me. Just plain broke.

Marion said...

Thank you for this post, Leigh...I've often thought about this very issue. It's time it was brought up, just the way you did. Your comments are very eye-opening!

At the moment, I'm trying to order your book, Cut Short.My computer is not letting me at the moment...I'll try again later.

You are the hardest working writer I know!