Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cutting off their nose to spite their face

It has been such a busy week one way or another that I have not had the time to write this blog at all. It seems that everyone seems to be wanting a piece of me right now, and as a result there has not been much peace and quiet for me. Much as I enjoy my job (and I have had a very good week with some outstanding sales and a very interesting visit to trade fair on Wednesday) life was so much easier when I did not need to work. It was not so much that I did not need to anyway, for I should have returned a long time before I did, but it was a conscious choice. The choice to continue working four days a week is then as much of a choice as any other, but still it seems in many ways when I earn so little for my writing efforts, that there is no real choice at all.

I am despite this, old enough and wise enough to realise that despite my musings above, that it is a choice like any other, borne from my need to maintain a certain lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves a little more than just paying my bills and keeping a roof over my head. If I was prepared to make certain sacrifices such as not eating out, driving a lot less (difficult when you live four miles from the nearest town and there is only one bus every other hour), not enjoy holidays to Lundy, buy second hand clothes and just sit at home staring at the walls, then maybe I could afford to work three days a week instead, but this for me is not an option, as I believe, quite rightly, that I am entitled to enjoy my life, and recognise that this involves a certain degree of compromise. Unfortunately for me this has resulted in a big pile of books on the living room table, but that is par for the course and no matter how much I whitter on about this it does not change the fact that they are there.

I had hoped that the pile would start to diminish this week, as the local paper were to run a piece about me in this weeks issue, but it did not materialise. I am not too worried about this though, as I am sure it will be in this weeks one instead. After all, they did go to the trouble of sending a photographer to my home to record the evidence, and they would not have done this unless they were going to use those pictures. The reporter with whom I have been conversing rang Coran at home on Thursday after failing to get hold of me at work. He has decided that he needs to get Gardners side of the story before he goes ahead with the story and get some more background info from my website, which I suppose is fair enough. Rather than talk to Gardners direct though (I wouldn't have a clue who he needs to talk to anyway, seeing as they won't talk to me) I have referred him to Richard. If he hasn't already done so, then I expect he will give him a call next week. I buy the Advertiser every week anyway, as I need to keep in touch with what is going on in my capacity as editor of my village newsletter, so I will see it as soon as it goes in and send a copy to Richard and Paul in due course.

In the meantime my copy of the Booksellers Association Members Directory has arrived, and I have made a start by emailing at least some of their members. I tried to call some of them this morning to follow up, but most of them do not open until 10am on Saturdays. I did though get through to Wesley Owen in Aberdeen, who agreed to buy two books direct from me on a firm sale basis. It is only two copies, but it is a start, and it shows that if one branch is prepared to do this, then perhaps others would too. This is quite exciting for me, as Wesley Owen are one of the largest Christian book chains in the country, with several branches in nearby towns that I could deliver direct to perhaps, saving the cost of transportation.

I also sent a review copy out to Kindred Spirit magazine earlier in the week, to which I have subscribed now for a number of years. This is the leading new age magazine with a huge circulation, and so could do great things for me. They have only recently started to do book reviews again after a long hiatus, and a least of a quarter of those they have published have been of self published books, so I should be in with a very good chance, although it may mean waiting for a few months, since they have a bit of a backlog.

In the book world the debate re firm sale continues to rumble on. Waterstones have now decided that when their distribution warehouse opens at the end of May they will ask publishers for an extra 5 percent discount. This is not too bad actually, since they will be saving money by not having to go through wholesalers. The publishers will then end up better off, as going through a wholesaler means that they will have to sell at 55 percent discount, but Waterstones will buy direct for just 45 percent discount. I could at a push afford to supply them direct on those terms if I could buy books all the time for print cost plus 1o percent instead of the usual 25 percent.

Both Borders and Waterstones are also preparing to start selling e-books, in Borders case via their new website (must check to see if those guidelines re getting stocked by them are on the new site), and Waterstones from July in stores. The Bookseller states that Sony are preparing to launch e-readers onto the UK market sometime during 2o08, yet there were none in evidence at their trade show on Wednesday, and when I asked about them, the staff there knew nothing about it at all.

Borders I see are also changing strategy regarding how books are displayed in their stores, following the example of their American cousins, and displaying them face on rather than just showing the spines. This is a risky strategy for them to take since it will mean that less books will fit on their shelves, but I suppose if it helps to increase sales, as they seem to think it will, then it could pay dividends for both the retailer and author alike.

Julian Rivers, who was a founding director and deputy c.e.o. of the Bertram Group and now runs his own consultancy, as well as being chairman of Waterside Books and director of Meet The Author, has an interesting article re fair trade on his blog site, linked to The Bookseller, where he bemoans the abolition of the net book price agreement and what this has meant to libraries. I find this interesting at a time when I too have been writing about fair trade practises, albeit for a different purpose. It shows me though that I am not the only one to have such thoughts on my mind.

Graeme Neil reports that for the first time last year, the volume of books bought at a discount was greater than the volume bought at full price. The practise of discounting has steadily increased since 2004, when it represented 44 percent of book purchases. In 2007 the volume of discounted titles reached 51 percent of the market.

According to the survey, conducted by BML, consumers aged 12-79 years bought 6 percent more books in 2007 than the previous year, up from 322 million to 342 million. The value also increased but at a lower rate, up 4 percent to £2.454 billion. This is then both good and bad news.

The growth in consumer book purchases between 2006 and 2007 seems to have been driven mainly by supermarkets and the Internet, with both volume and value of sales in both sectors doubling since 2004. Internet sales topped £400 million last year, accounting for 17 percent of consumer spending, up from just 9 percent in 2004.

A third of book purchases still go through chain stores such as the aforementioned Borders and Waterstones, but while volume through these stores has grown year-on-year by 1%, the actual value fell by 1%. The chains however still have far greater buying power than the supermarkets and the Internet combined.

Sales of adult books grew 13 percent in volume in the years 2004-2007, with sales of children's books increasing by 18 percent in volume and 29 percent in value over the same period (perhaps I will become a children's writer then). The lower growth in value compared with volume reflects the decrease in average selling price paid by consumers, and shows to me just how much this agressive attitude impacts on the industry. It seems to me that they are cutting off their noses to spite their face in an effort to be what they think is competitive. During that same four year period, the survey found that average book prices paid for adult books fell by 5 percent with a 3 percent decrease in 2007 alone. One cannot help but wonder where this will all end.

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