Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Time for a Firm Commitment

This morning I spoke to a very strange woman in Borders, Birmingham who even though you can now get my book on sale or return, still demanded a 60 percent discount. 60 percent to them equals 75 percent to the publisher, since the distributor will also want their cut ! So I told her I could not do business on those terms, since it would leave me with nothing. She then got very upset with me (obviously not used to having authors tell her what terms they are prepared to sell on and not the other way around) and told me that the book was listed on their database as local interest anyway, and they would therefore have to put it in that section, where it would not sell ! What a load of rubbish - other stores have been perfectly happy to buy copies and put them in the MBS section.

Got straight on to Paul anyway, who is speaking to their head office to try and get the book sent out to all their stores anyway, and he got them to change it to MBS. He also gave me the number for Waterstones Buying Department, where I spoke to a very nice man called Justin Hutchinson, who is apparently the small publisher coodinator. After checking that my book was in fact available for sale through them, he asked me to email him asking for a list of all their stores, which I did, and back it came within 5 minutes. What wonderful service !

Have done some more ringing round then today and managed to secure some more orders. So far then six Waterstones have definately placed orders - Godalming, Epsom, Redhill, Aviemore, Barnstaple and Kingston. I also have possible book signings at Guildford and Staines. Several Borders have also ordered copies -Whiteleys in London, Fleet Street in London, Wimbledon, Kingston and Lakeside. Newbury have put me on the list to do a talk at their theology group, and Brighton and Oxford Street are also considering the book. All in all then a very good days work.

On another note, Neil Denny, editor in chief of the Bookseller has an interesting piece on this blog today, discussing the pros and cons of firm sale versus sale or return. I posted my own somewhat watered down take on it, at the time riding high on my successes of the past week. Then I rang that strange woman in Birmingham though and changed my mind.

It seems to me that the publishing industry is all topsy turvy, it is to the best of my knowledge, the only industry where the buyer rather than the seller dictates terms. It is a non win situation for all round - especially for us self published authors who already face huge prejudice in some circles from those who resolutely refuse to label us as anything other than vanity press. If this were not bad enough, we then find that because our books are, for the most part not available on sale or return, we cannot eveb get through the door. Because only sales through tills count towards totting up the sales of each book, no matter how enterprising you are then in selling through other outlets your book will never get noticed, and never get the publicity that it deserves. All because of this 'closed shop attitude'.

I for one do not think that it is right or ethical than stores such as the aforementioned Borders demand they we supply to them on those terms, as what it basically then means is that they get all the money. They in fact end of making in some cases, twice as much profit as the author and publisher put together - an absurd situation, which by any stretch of the imagination cannot be right. This is why then I would applaud the end of this practise, since it would mean that slowly, but surely, the playing field would be levelled, leaving us to compete on much more equal terms. It seems to me that the real problem with the publishing industry is nothing to do with too many books, or even a lack of marketing expertise on behalf of the sellers - although these are issues that need to be addressed - no the real problem is too many middle men wanting their cut, and thus undermining the writers right to earn a proper living from doing what they love !

Don't get me wrong, I realise how fortunate I am to be able to offer my books on these terms, and it has opened many doors - but I should not have been forced to take this step in the first place, and neither should Richard. I look forward to the day then when this practise stops for good.


Anonymous said...

I so relate to this. We have a small press established in 2005 and have just launched our first wave of titles. Many authors think it is the publishers which are the enemy but it really is not. The amount of discount that the big retailers want is so high that they expect both authors and publishers to run at a loss. We work very hard on our books and we know the author has dedicated hours, weeks and even years to bring a story to the page. We, as publishers work on all the editorial input and then pay for the printing, solicitors for contracts, layout, proofing, phone lines, paperwork etc. It's a really long process and then the larger retailers turn around and tell you that they want a larger discount, so you think well maybe I can put the price of the book up to compensate but then you get told the RRP is too high (and that's without the net book agreement). It's totally wrong. Other industries do determine their prices based on giving everyone along the way a fair share but it seems that people expect to pay next to nothing for books! This means that authors earn nothing and small presses earn nothing either. I do have to eat and I do want to ensure that our authors are covered and that they can afford to eat too and are compensated for the amount of energy they put into writing their stories. We also print all our books in the UK to ensure that they come from sustainable resources and have ethical work conditions in place. However, the big retailers seem to undermine everyone's efforts and insist that the public are not interested. Maybe it is time that the public knew the truth about the real cost of cheap/discounted books ... I'm not putting my name down because I know our publishing company will be boycotted by Waterstones, Amazon etc

Fair Trade for Books is what is required. I say authors, small presses, small retailers unite and get the word out there to the public that the attitude to books as cheap fodder results in poverty, bankruptcy and 'sheep reading' (whereby the big companies get to dictate what we read).

June said...

Through this blog site I hope to do just that by bringing some of these issue to the public's attention. I am though just one small voice in the wilderness. But as Chairman Mao famously said (words to that effect) 'the longest journey begins with just a single step'.