There’s been an interesting debate in The Guardian this week about the future of books. Ewan Morrison kicked things off by declaring that the printed book is moribund, and authors have had it, too.
As a lover of books, I really hope Shepherd is right, but I fear Morrison might be closer to the mark; I certainly can’t see a long-term future for mass market paperbacks, though I think there’ll always be demand for beautiful niche products with limited print runs and great design. (This means that, ironically, I think the hardback will outlast the paperback.)
Both are well worth reading, though. I would just make the point (on Shepherd) that where he talks about ‘discounting’ he’s only (I think) looking at the consumer side of things.
Haven’t publishers been forced by avaricious retail giants into a fearsome downward spiral? Discounting has sharpened, but not as much as you’d think. The standard discount on the recommended retail price of a book in 2001 was already at 17.6%. In 2010 it was 26.7%. We’ll return to this later.’
I suppose it depends how much you’d think, and maths isn’t my strong point, but I think that’s an increase of more than 50% inside a decade? Seems quite a lot to me.
But anyway, that’s ‘discounting’ as in the price you the customer pay the bookseller for a given book. The discounting that concerns publishers more is the price off the RRP we give to the bookseller. This has increased dramatically, as is essentially straight off the bottom line. If I publish a book at £10, and the retailer wants a 40% discount, I recoup £6.
From that I must pay the cost of editing, designing, typesetting, proofreading, printing, warehousing, selling-in and distributing the book, plus the author and the cost of stock which eventually remains unsold, plus a share of general office overheads.
Still, you can make a small but acceptable profit on those kinds of figures, particularly once a title gets into 10,000+ sales territory (given that the unit cost is also lower with a bigger print run).
Once a retailer decides – and it’s really not all that negotiable – to increase his discount to 50% or even 60%, the economic picture changes slightly.
(There are slight kickbacks, in that most authors see their own royalties reduced by 30% – ie to 70% of the prevailing royalty – on sales of books at a discount of 50% or more.)