We didn’t go to the Book Fair this year. Too busy, and we (or certainly I) always end up blotto in this pub, wondering why I bothered going (to the fair). So I saved £250 (not just on beer, there are train fares and hotel rooms) and shunned it. The news doesn’t seem to have been a) surprising or b) good.
Also in the Guardian, Robert McCrum says everyone thought hardbacks were finished, but that it’s suddenly become clear that they were wrong and, in fact, there’ll always be a place for beautifully-made books. Perhaps he meant ‘everyone-who’s-anyone’ – I assume he’s one of the 60 million people in the UK who don’t read this blog! (I don’t claim our books are all beautifully-made; that costs a lot of dosh.)
Meanwhile, on the economics of publishing, The Observer gets it a bit wrong. I think I know what the author (James Bridle, who also writes interestingly here) is trying to say, but I also think he probably dashed this off quite quickly – not least because it contains several factual errors. Here are two:
1. ‘(P’)ublishers know that the actual production cost of a single hardback, in printing and binding, is around £1…
If your print run is 100,000, you use see-through paper maybe. Realistically, it’s at least 50% higher than that; a reasonable run on a 500pp book with good paper and a great jacket could easily be £2 a copy.
2. …and that the true value of a book is in the years spent writing it and the months of preparation for publication.
No, this might be (part of) the true cost but the ‘value’ is only in what a reader is prepared to pay in exchange. I could easily spend the next year writing a novel, something I’ve been threatening to do for years, but I’m not a very good writer so I doubt it would be very good; thus it would have very little value. This would probably hold true if I spent 10 years writing it, and then a publisher spent a further year trying to turn my turgid and unimaginative prose into something readable.
To that true cost, at least in the sense of a cost-of-sale, you need, of course, to factor in that 50% (or so) of the jacket price will go to the retailer. Oh, and each title should, in theory, make a contribution to general overheads; Penguin has rents and salaries to pay all year round, not just on the days it publishes a new book.
Ten middle-class jobs (it’s American) that will vanish by 2018. Printers and (desktop) publishers are in there.
Finally, a good friend of mine texted me the other day crowing that he’d just bought this record for £2,000 (he’s a champagne socialist, naturally, albeit one who drug himself up from the valleys; Brigitte Bardot not included):