Discounted Till We Die

We can't carry on lifing in a Bargain BasementI’m just on the train back from a very interesting (if you are a publisher) Q&A session with James Daunt of Daunt Books and Waterstones (I really miss that apostrophe) fame. In it I learnt three things that got me thinking about the way that we, as publishers, approach publishing, and have come to the conclusion that we may be doing it Poorly.

What follows is a short summary of those three points, followed swiftly by my horribly utopian vision of a better way of doing things (perhaps). I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this, so please do give them to me through comments below, or via Twitter (@robbieguillory). Continue reading

Ciao!

So, you haven’t heard from me (Robbie) in a while, because I’ve been on holiday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking out interesting gobbets of information to feed you with, one of which to follow. I’ve also got reviews up my sleeve for a whole plethora of books, including Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck, and the 1180 page epic tome by Michael Schmidt, The Novel, A Biography (I admit, I haven’t read it all yet, but I will make that clear) and many others that I can’t bring to mind at this moment. For now, though, let me tell you about an Italian publisher who is doing something rather special.

Beautiful sea urchin

There are a lot of sea urchins in Italy (I think this is a different species, however)

Whilst I was on my version of the Italian Grand Tour (going to as few places as possible, and only if they are very quiet) I came across a bookshop, and being of a mothlike bookish persuasion I was drawn inescapably in, even though I struggle to find enough Italian to ask for a glass of white wine. Inside I saw a lot of books, some of which I liked the look of and some that I didn’t, but one particular imprint caught my eye for three reasons: they were brightly-coloured enough for my sun befuddled eyes to be able to see them clearly, they were by ‘canonical’ authors I could recognise easily, and they were cheap. Seriously cheap, and for reasons I will go into in the following paragraph-but-one I will tell you why this is praiseworthy, and why it should be held up as an example to the publishers of so-called classic literature in this country. But before I do that I should give you a picture of one of these books, because so far all I’ve given you is a sea urchin, and tell you a bit about the publisher (I only know a bit).

Dante's Divine ComedyNewton Compton Editori may not seem like the most Italian of names (without the helpful Editori, anyway) but it is Italian through and through, having been started by a Vittorio Avanzini in Rome in the 60s. NC is primarily interested in publishing classic fiction, but have recently moved into contemporary translations, which we thoroughly approve of. They produce two forms of Classic – their paperback, which sells at 1.90€ (about £1.50) and a hardback (3.90€ // £3.10). They have only just put up the prices on their paperbacks, so if you fly out quick you can still swipe copies for only 99 cents (like I did).

Oscar Wilde's the Importance of Being ErnestThe reason I feel like this is noteworthy is that these books are not poorly made, are not going to discolour in a week (I’m looking at you, £2 Penguin Popular Classics). I tested my paperback copy of Bulgakov’s Cuore di Cane in Italy by leaving it in the baking sun whilst taking my siesta, holding it in my armpit whilst walking along the sea wall of the port, and it also spent quite some time lightly folded over in the bottom of my bag on the flight home, where it came out looking pretty healthy. What I am alluding to here is that Classic can be cheap (more on this in a moment) and well made, because you will sell hunners of them so they can be printed in bulk, which reduces the cost of production massively. Flaubet's Madame BovaryRight, cost. I have talked about this in passing before, but this gives me the opportunity to have a good rant. For many of the cannonical classics there is no living author, and often no rights either. Thus, if I wanted to, I could typeset, print, bind and sell a copy of Great Expectations tomorrow and wouldn’t have to pay anyone (If I did all the production). So how is it that companies (Cambridge Modern Classics and Penguin Classics being the big players here) can rationalise a £9.99 price tag (going all the way up to around £17 in some cases) for a book where there is no advance or royalty needing covered?

Bulgakov's Master and MargheritaNow of course, occasionally you will change the cover, or order a new translation, or even deign to actually pay an academic to write a forward, but largely these texts haven’t changes for decades. Just imagine the money being taken, and (in my opinion) taken unfairly.

978-88-541-6972-2I would like to hear any defense of the extortionate prices involved for out of copyright text, so if you have one please let me hear it. I have heard it said that a cheap classic will put people off buying modern fiction, but it just doesn’t wash with me, because what is on offer is a completely different experience.

The Bookseller’s Dozen #3

Continuing our monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.

The Watermill Bookshop is found in a beautiful converted oatmeal mill in Aberfeldy. They were awarded UK Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009. As well as books they also  sell music, food and drink in the café, and next door is an affiliated homewear shop. What more could you want? An exhibition to have a look around? They also have an art gallery. The Watermill’s latest venture is Film of the Book, where they host the screening of adaptations at the local cinema. On the 20th of May it will be Brighton Rock.

The Watermill Bookshop 2Bookshop: The Watermill Bookshop, Café & Gallery

Owner: Kevin Ramage

Location: Aberfeldy – a lovely place just 90 minutes from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Open Since: 1995

How did you get into bookselling?

It’s a long story. Let’s say gamekeeper turned poacher. Continue reading

The Bookseller’s Dozen #1

We’re proud to introduce a new monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.

Looking Glass Books is a new bookshop in Edinburgh, which opened in May 2012. The shop is bright and airy, with floor to ceiling windows all the way down one side of the shop, and at both ends. Perfectly furnished to sit with friends for a coffee and a chat (their coffee is delicious) or to curl up and have a read of what you are browsing – their sofas are delightfully comfortable. The owner, Gillian Robertson, has stocked the bookshop with a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, and a superb children’s section, all of which has the effect of feeling carefully curated. One added feature which we love for obvious reasons is a Featured Publisher case, which pays great attention to Scotland’s plethora of indy publishers.

A photo of Looking Glass Books

Bookshop: Looking Glass Books

Owner: Gillian Robertson

Location: Edinburgh

Open Since: May 2013

How did you get into bookselling?

I got into bookselling by opening a bookshop! My professional life before was in law – human rights law in healthcare and medical ethics. I have an LLB [Bachelor of Laws] and an LLM [Master of Laws] but credit a lifetime of being a voracious reader as my preparation for bookselling. I used to hide in cupboards to read as a child & lived in the library – it was books and reading that opened the world to me and led me to travel; I spent 13 years traveling and living in the Middle East, Far East and Australia. Continue reading