Posts Tagged ‘The economics of publishing’

The Intrigant praises Chris Grayling for his bold plan to increase illiteracy among prisoners by banning them from reading books:

Tough on literacy, tough on the causes of literacy: congratulations on your ban on sending books into prison under the newly written rules. You and I don’t need to read books so why should people who have committed a crime be allowed to receive them?

I know that books can be sent to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay and that books were sent to British POWs imprisoned in Nazi Germany and Dostoevsky received books in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress during his incarceration in 1850. Remember: the George W. Bush-era USA, the German High Command of the 1940s and an autocratic Tsar have no lessons to teach you. They are all a bunch of pinko-lefties.

It does seem a remarkably stupid and vindictive decision. Grayling is obviously not a student of Dostoevsky.

(It’s a little-known fact that Wasting Police Time was the most popular book in English prisons from 2007 to 2011.)

The New York Times says rent increases are forcing bookshops out of Manhattan.

When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

“They were unsustainable,” Ms. McNally said. “Small spaces for $40,000 or more each month. It was so disheartening.”

Passive Aggression in libraries.

And an interesting book about a subject close to our hearts, northern soul.

As ever, the Amazon reviews are very interesting. I particularly enjoyed this three-star review from ‘Rian Arren':

This review is from: Northern Soul: An Illustrated History (Hardcover)

The book was purchased as a gift and has not been read by me. However, I am sure the recipient will be extremely pleased with it.
In case you’re wondering what this ‘northern soul’ is, allow Mr Lou Pride to explain:

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The New York Times reports that James Patterson is giving $1 million of his personal fortune to dozens of bookstores.

Alberto Mingardi, of Italy’s Istituto Bruno Leoni (their version of the Adam Smith Institute), believes ‘Patterson is doing something admirable. He has preferences – for the paper book versus the ebook, for the small bookseller vs the large chain – and he is putting his money where his mouth is.’

Though he is interested in the economics:

[C]urrently, he’s given away $267,000 to 54 bookstores. This means that he has donated, on average, a bit less than $5,000 to each bookseller. It is rather unlikely that such a small amount of money helps independent bookstores to thrive in an increasingly difficult market. It’d be more interested to know something on the criteria Patterson is following to give away money to bookstore X instead of bookstore Y. He can do whatever he wants with his money – but I do not really understand how he could have an impact.

$5,000 is obviously better than $0,000. I’ve never read a James Patterson book, perhaps I’ll try one. Maybe (as a cynic points out in the comments below) this is the idea. Personally, I can’t believe that a man as wealthy as Patterson needs any more cash. I’m sure his heart is in the right place. Whether it will achieve anything in the long term, who can say.

After all, even best-selling authors are struggling to make any cash, says The Guardian.

Thomson is not yet broke, but he’s up against it. The story of his garret is a parable of literary life in Britain today. Ever since the credit crunch of 2008 writers have been tightening belts, cutting back and, in extreme cases, staring into an abyss of penury. “Last year,” said novelist Paul Bailey, speaking to the Observer in 2010, “was sheer hell”. Off the record, other writers will freely confide their fears for the future, wondering aloud about how they will make ends meet. Hanif Kureishi, for instance, recently swindled out of his life savings, told me how difficult his life had become.

I went to see 12 Years a Slave the other day, and that does engender a little perspective. I didn’t really enjoy the film, actually, but the book is very good indeed, and at 49p for this e-version is highly recommended. Wish we had thought to stick it out as an eBook!


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The average author earns less than £600 per year, according to The Guardian.

This has long been a topic of interest for writers, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Dorothy Parker (asked which kind of writing pays best): ‘Ransom notes.’

Johnson: ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’

Mark Twain: ‘Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.’

Meanwhile, Sylvia Day (whose work I’ve not read – perhaps I should) is being paid at least ten million dollars as an advance for some romance books. I would put a fiver on the publisher not making that back. Mind you, it’s not an overnight success story. ‘Ms. Day, 40, has been a professional novelist for the last decade, writing more than 20 books that were released by a handful of publishers,’ says the NYT.

In other news, Batman’s greatest boner, the 15 most depressing books ever written, and economics professor Don Boudreaux on growth (he’s making an interesting case that we’re all much better off than we were, using an old Sears catalogue and 2014 smartphones vs ‘a telephone, a calculator, an alarm clock, a Walk-Man or boom box, a compass, a set of road maps, and a Rolodex’).

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IT WAS THE trial of the century… an English aristocrat, haughty and proud, stood in the shadow of the noose – brought low by a terrible act of vengeance.
In the dock: Earl Ferrers, a violent, eccentric but hugely-rich landowner, with vast estates, a noble pedigree going back centuries, and an eye for the ladies.
The charge: murder.
Ferrers had had a troubled marriage to his wife, the beautiful Countess Mary. He kept a mistress, by whom he fathered four children, and was a rabble-rousing drunk, much given to violence and cruelty when in his cups.
Some years earlier, Mary had left him, after succeeding in a scandalous suit of separation at the church court in London.
The Earl believed – wrongly – that a servant called John Johnson had helped his wife to escape his clutches.
He had held a simmering grudge against Johnson ever since; on January 18, 1760, this well of resentment overflowed.
He lured the unfortunate man to the study in his grand Hall under a pretext… and then locked the door, forced the terrified man to his knees and shot him.
Johnson died early the next day, despite the best efforts of one of the country’s leading surgeons.
The aristocratic killer was caught by an angry mob of his own tenants, who held him as he fled, half-dressed, for his horse.
Now he was on trial for his life, before the House of Lords.
The cream of London High Society packed the House to watch the case unfold.
Outside, thousands of commoners waited near Tyburn, where a special gallows was being built.
The question on their minds: was Ferrers about to become the last English nobleman to be executed?

InTheShadowOfTheNoose_cover-ebookIn other news, Apple’s eBook pricing court case and some reaction.

And – in the wake of the Lions, and then an Ashes opener that actually left me feeling ill – why does anyone pay to read newspaper sports pages any more, when there are better-written blogs like these out there, f-o-c?

Cricinfo, of course. ‘The stats suggest sloppiness is increasing. As Andy Zaltzman pointed out, the first innings of this Test at Trent Bridge was the third time in the past 18 months that all the England top six had got into double figures but failed to get to 50; it had happened three times in the previous half-century.’

King Cricket: ‘Australia bat all the way down to number 11… Their problem is that they don’t bat all the way up to number one.’

The Old Batsman: ‘Are fast bowlers getting slower?’

And, from the enemy camp, After Grog Blog Cricket.

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After Iain Banks’ sad and early death from cancer, his novel, The Quarry, is being published on June 20 as a hardback, rrp £18.99.

Sainsbury’s and Amazon were each offering it to pre-ordering customers at £3.99 (though these prices have now risen considerably).

Independent booksellers ‘reacted with shock and anger’ to the low pricing, says The Bookseller.

Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, …criticised the dramatic price reduction as a “brazen” move. He said: “I think that is just cynical. I… think if Amazon gets some bad press from it, it might encourage more customers to buy it from us because of how it looks. It is cashing in on a recently deceased, well-loved author and I think there some customers who would be put off that.”

Sheila O’Reilly, owner of Dulwich Books in London, …said: “There is just no way anyone can compete with that price. They have got to be selling them as a loss-leader.”

Keith Smith, owner of Warwick and Kenilworth bookshops, said supermarkets and Amazon sell books for less than the price they buy them for to encourage people to shop at their stores. He said: “If I could sell it at £3.99 I would do very well with it. Amazon can afford to sell it at a loss because they don’t pay enough tax in the UK. It is scandalous.”

However, the booksellers all said they would still stock and sell copies of The Quarry for full rrp.

I love small indie bookshops as much as, and probably more than, the next man, but I just don’t get this. I can see the existential problem for bookshops, and I share their concern, but bookshops exist for customers, not the other way around. If the old model doesn’t work, it may just be that there’s not much you can do about it. After all, it’s not a crime to price stuff low so as to get people into your shops.

And I’m not sure how you define ‘enough tax’ other than ‘all the tax due under the law’? It seems Amazon has been paying all the tax due, not least because it doesn’t make much of a profit. (Matt Yglesias is hardly a neoliberal right-wing economics writer, and even he thinks ‘Amazon is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers‘.)

I’m also not really sure how it is ‘cashing in’ on a dead author’s memory to sell a book at a huge loss. (It might be argued that selling it at full rrp is cashing in?) You don’t have to buy anything else from Sainsbury’s, after all. You could just buy your £3.99 bargain, leaving you with £15 to spend on other books (or other stuff) elsewhere.

I don’t like Iain Banks’ books – at least, I didn’t enjoy the two I have read, The Crow Road and The Wasp Factory – so I won’t be buying The Quarry. But if I owned a bookshop, I’d have been ordering my stock of the book from Sainsbury’s and Amazon.

Sadly, in the long term indie bookshops have much bigger problems, anyway.

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Chris Grayling is planning big changes to the English (and Welsh) legal system, among them further cuts to legal aid, and allowing competition for legal aid contracts.

It seems to me that if the State takes upon itself the right to prosecute individuals, and ultimately to remove their liberty, it ought to at least allow a level playing field – that is, it ought to fund the defence, properly.

My sister, a barrister, is up in arms about it all – as are most of her colleagues, including Toby Potts: so much so that she’s written to The Graun about it.

The upshot, she says, is that outside firms like Serco and, oddly, Eddie Stobart will end up running defence work – and that they will be under commercial pressure to get defendants to plead guilty, as the employed lawyers involved will earn the same fee for the firm for a quick guilty plea hearing as they would for a two-day trial.

The Bar does have an image problem. Everyone thinks that barristers are pompous, overpaid, bewigged windbags, and in the case of my sister they are certainly correct*.

Chris Grayling also blames them for a lot of the delays in court. This idea, says my sis, is

breathtaking, particularly from a Minister who bears ultimate responsibility for the delays occasioned to justice daily. I regularly work until 2am or later when in a trial, to ensure that admissions, legal arguments, and editing of statements and interviews, as well as my preparation for witnesses and speeches are ready. I do not ask judges (nor would expect to receive) time for this at Court. I also am regularly left sitting for hours at court mid-trial, case delayed, if not completely adjourned, or jury dismissed. Why? Because the interpreter has again not turned up, on time or at all, or has been discovered, part way through a four-week trial, not to have been interpreting correctly. Or the defendant has not been put on the prison van, or, if he has, he has been brought to X Crown Court from Y prison fifty miles away, via Z, forty miles in the opposite direction. These are not exaggerations. Last year I defended the rape of a five-year-old child, who was made to wait at court for several days whilst an interpreter was persuaded to attend. No one was held to account for this. I could give example after example from personal experience.

It’s almost like there’s a book in it!

Anyway, if you’re interested in stopping this devastation of a legal system copied around the world, you can sign a petition here.

Meanwhile, The Bookseller is still worried about the future of publishing, and eBooks – the future is all about piracy, self-publishing and library lending, apparently.

*Joke. She’s not pompous, or overpaid. As she says, she regularly works through the night on cases – I’ve been at her house while she’s doing so, and it’s quite boring for visitors. On some cases, depending on how they progress, she can earn a per hour rate not far off the minimum wage, out of which she must pay VAT, chambers rent and tax. She is a windbag, though.

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Our regular reader will have noticed that there haven’t been many posts of late. This is because life has intervened in work a little, as I suppose it is wont to do as you get older.

My brother-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer, at the age of 45, and we’ve spent a lot of time visiting him and my sister, having my niece and nephew to stay, and just thinking and talking about him.

Having been ill for some time, he started chemotherapy the day after he was made a QC in the recent bar elevations.

We had a great day down at the RCJ watching him and all the other new silks bowing and scraping to the Lord Chief Justice; in days gone by, matters would then have disintegrated into a very messy celebration, but he was far too poorly for any of that.

He’s showing early signs of responding to the chemo, but he has embarked on a long and uncertain road. I hadn’t been aware of just how dangerous the treatment is in itself. I knew it made your hair fall out, and caused nausea; I didn’t realise (or at least hadn’t thought much about the obvious fact) that it damages your immune system to the point where you can die from a simple infection.

It all does make you think a bit. It also puts books, publishing and most of the rest of life into some perspective.

Anyway, here’s an interesting piece on publishing and the internet. And here’s a piece in The Bookseller that says ‘Amazon’s quest for industry domination is “scary”‘:

Booksellers Association c.e.o. Tim Godfray (writes) in an exclusive column for today’s London Book Fair Bookseller Daily: ‘Amazon has achieved its phenomenal growth and influence because consumers like what it does, but, in my view, if they continue to threaten large parts of the book trade, this will not only be bad for the industry, but also, in the long run, for the consumer too.’

Amazon owns 18 separate companies that cover book printing and publishing, marketplaces, audio and digital reading, Godfray writes. ‘So the writer goes straight to Amazon. Amazon publishes the author’s work and can then promote the book to targeted users . . . Scary. With such a set-up, they really do have the ability to destroy the book trade as we know it.’

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