Wednesday 9 February 2011

World Book Night

“It's very easy to take more than nothing.” (Alice in Wonderland)

How much disposable income do you have? If your post office was about to charge you for a dozen stamps then offered them to you free, which offer would you accept?
Since the net book agreement was scrapped just over ten years ago, there has been an insane rush to reduce the price of books. Supermarkets sell them for less than the price of a glossy magazine (crammed with advertisements), online suppliers are constantly reducing prices, and offers are now standard in bookshops which display tables stacked with offers to buy 3 for 2, or buy one get one half price.
World Book Night is the logical conclusion of this trend, with publishers giving away a million books. Do they think recipients will respond by putting their hands in their pockets? Of course they won’t! If they aren't already book buyers, those given free books will simply wait for the next free book. It won’t be far behind. Why buy something you can get for free? As for those who already buy books - well, that will be one less sale to them. A double whammy.
World Book Night devalues the concept of books as something authors, editors, publishers, designers, proofreaders, have spent months, in some cases years, planning, researching, writing, revising, discussing and editing. Time and money has been spent producing books and publicity for World Book Night, a “celebration of adult fiction” which will sadly further undermine the industry.
Why wasn’t that time and effort devoted to promoting book sales to inject urgently needed funding into the industry? The books donated to World Book Night are wonderful works of literature. If each recipient of these million free books had been persuaded to part with the price of a couple of cups of coffee in exchange for their book, it would have injected millions pounds into the struggling book industry.
The concern over the future of books masks a deeper issue. Shakespeare only invented one plot but the 20th century placed a premium on originality. A generation ago children writing stories at school would often accuse their classmates of copying a plot from a book. That never happens now. Today, children take their stories from films or, increasingly, from computer games.
But one thing children today appreciate is the value of money. They could teach the publishing industry a thing or two.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

The Beginning of the End?

Eleven Waterstone's stores will close by the end of this week across the UK and altogether twenty sites are earmarked for closure.
Current stock at all eleven outlets will be removed and "where possible" recycled.
Waterstones have not disclosed how many staff will be affected.
Store Closures:
Slough, Maidenhead, Edinburgh East End, Dublin Dawson Street, Dublin Jervis Street, Colchester Culver Square, Worcester High Street, Guildford North Street, Stafford Guildhall, Hemel Hempstead Marlowes Centre, Coventry Cathedral Lanes, Tiverton, Luton, Chelmsford, Meadows
It's a sad day for book lovers when Waterstones start to close branches. Remember how quickly Borders disappeared? Anyone interested in books should be seriously worried that this is just the beginning of Waterstones closures. Do we want the only outlets to be cut price supermarkets, charity shops and online suppliers? It's not rocket science that without revenue from book buyers, publishers and authors won't survive. New books won't be subject to the rigorous selection, editing and proofreading currently offered (most of the time) by publishers and the whole book industry will disappear very quickly.
The reading public is diminishing so perhaps this is an inevitable decline, but if we care about the survival of bookshops and the future of books, we need to support and value the industry that produces them.
So before rushing to collect your free book on World Book Night on March 5th, why not support World Book Day on March 3rd by buying a book from your local Waterstones - while you still can.
And you might want to take a photo while you're there, because unless more people buy books in bookshops we may soon no longer have that opportunity.
It's up to all of us to make bookshops sustainable - if we want them to survive.
And before you go look again at the image on this post (above left).