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

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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 #4

Continuing our monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.

This is one of my personal favourites! When I studied in Edinburgh last year I was fortunate enough to be based in the Merchiston campus – a mere 3 minute walk from this intimate, friendly bookshop. The bookshop boasts a regular programme of events including ‘big name authors as well as writer’s workshops and story-time for the under 5’s’. They also have a children’s bookgroup, and provide support for adult bookgroups.

The Edinburgh Bookshop has also won quite a few accolades, including The Scottish Independent Retail Award for “Best Independent Bookshop” in 2012. It was also featured in the The Independent’s “50 Best Bookshops”. On their website, they say that their emphasis is on ‘unusual, intelligent and topical selections of titles to offer the customer a clever and refreshing choice’. They certainly do that!

121602-premises-photograph-for-the-edinburgh-bookshop-eh10-4dh1Bookshop: The Edinburgh Bookshop

Owner: Marie Moser

Location: 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4DH

Open Since: 2007

How did you get into bookselling in the first place?

I have briefly worked for The Edinburgh International Book Festival and James Thin in the past, but really I am just a booklover, who lived locally and jumped at the chance to take over the shop.

What sort of books do you sell?

A wide range for both Adults and Children. We try to edit our choices to include a selection of great classics and the best of new titles – as well as quite a few books which make it in just because they sound really interesting!

What’s popular at the moment?

Adult titles: Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century” and Andrew Greig’s Fair Helen.

Children’s titles: Jonny Duddle’s Giagantosaurus, Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm and William Sutcliffe’s Circus of Thieves.

Have you got your eye on a book at the moment?

Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn. A cracking page turner – I read it in one delightful sitting.

What makes an Indy bookshop better than an online or chain retailer?

The personal touch and the Booksellers’ knowledge and advice. We can help you find the perfect book for you or the person you are buying for. We’re also on your doorstep (if you live in Edinburgh), and can get you almost any book within 48 hours.

Aside from selling books, what else goes on in the bookshop?

  • Storytime for the under-5’s twice a week – a riotous start to the day!
  • A monthly Book Club for Children aged 7-16 where they can talk about what they’ve been reading and find out about new titles.
  • Two or three author events every month across a range of Adult fiction and biography.
  • We also like to dress up and join in for World Book Day, Red Nose Day etc. I’ve already been a pirate with underpants over my trousers and come to work in my pyjamas, and I’ve only had the shop for 18 months!

EDBS_Inside4Do you have any weird and wonderful bookshop stories to share?

Most of our weird ones are featured in “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” – Jen Campbell used to work for us !

For me, dealing with our younger customers is very rewarding– and I am very touched to realise that, for some of them, coming to the Bookshop is a big part of their lives. At Christmas, one five-year-old insisted on coming in to show me his letter to Santa before he sent it – I was welling up! Another has called his dog after a character in his favourite picture book.

Do you have any interesting events coming up?

We are very excited to be doing an event with Ruth Thomas in May – as she is one of our favourite hand-sells. Her book, The Home Corner, is wry and witty – so the event should be a real joy.

What does the next year hold for the Edinburgh Bookshop?

Continuing to try and offer the best customer experience and service we can. Building on what we already do in-store, and improving our events programme – especially for children and schools.

You should get yourself down there and have a browse at what’s on offer! They are open Monday – Friday 10-6pm, Saturday 9-6pm and Sunday 11-4pm.

Follow The Edinburgh Bookshop on Twitter @EdinBookshop or on Facebook.

On eBooks and pBooks

First off, I’d like to apologise for my use of pBook in the title. I could take it away, but I won’t, because it is an experiment on whether it works as a term. I heard it last month at the Publishing Scotland conference, where it fell from the mouth of Faber CEO Stephen Page—

 

pBook

.

And there it lay, quivering as if with a silent mocking laughter. And we took it, folks. We just nodded our heads as if to say, ‘Oh of course, everyone says pBooks these days, we know exactly what you are on about.’ And then, if the rest of the delegates were anything like me, we all felt rather ashamed. Because it is pretty awful, isn’t it? Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

An Atlas of Remote Islands (and Pocket version, right), by Judith Schalansky and translated by Christine Lo (Particular Books, Penguin).

When I woke up this morning I was worried, because I had no translation to review today. Indeed, I had nothing to review (I’m halfway through three books, which is a situation I hate being in, and other options for review are awaiting a blog post I will be writing tomorrow) whatsoever. Then our extremely cheerful postman arrived with the book on the left, and a feature that I had been planning for next week suddenly became possible. Hey, it is even a translation – perfection is a chance discovery. Continue reading

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

Something about Elitism, probably

An article on my RSS feed recently caught my attention, a post by Swapna Krishna on the Book Riot blog entitled On the Perils of Feeling Dumb While Reading. This has now been latched on to by the Guardian, who are doing an open comment feed about Which books make you feel stupid. I think that to some extent Swapna is conflating the issue of not being ‘clever’ enough with not enjoying a book that everyone else seems to rave about, but the main thrust of her argument rings very true with me – for many people the act of reading is not just a pleasurable activity, it is an intellectual exercise. Last week my colleague wrote about the comments of Lynn Shepherd, who among other things said that people shouldn’t read Harry Potter because they should be reading something ‘more stimulating for grown-up minds’. Now, I am in the camp of people who don’t like the wizarding series, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing that this is simply rubbish. Reading is an intellectual act, yes, but it is an intellectual act no matter what is read – the intellectual bit is in the translating of squiggles on a page into brain pictures. This rang small bells inside my head about something I’d read earlier in the year, about people lying about the books they have read. I searched onwards.

Searching for why people read books

In September 2013, the Guardian conducted a poll of 2000 people to discover the books people claim to have read but actually haven’t, with 1984, War and Peace and Great Expectations at the top of the rankings. This in turn seems to be copying (ALLEGEDLY) a poll conducted on Book Riot in July of last year of 828 readers, where Pride and PrejudiceUlysses and Moby Dick triumphed as being the most unread books listed. The one that I find particularly odd is the listing for Ulysees, as I’m pretty sure having pretending to have read that requires you to also pretend to have a solid grasp of about seven European languages, as well as a firm footing in ancient Greek and Latin, and to know your myths like the back of your hand. That would take a whole lifetime of blag. But why do people feel like they have to lie about these things? What is it that we are supposed to think about a person who has read 1984, and what should we think about them if they haven’t? Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, by Dubravka UgresicThe Museum of Unconditional Surrender, by Dubravka Ugrešic (my copy is by Pheonix), translated by Celia Hawkesworth. This book is hard to come by if you want a new copy, it seems. I think it is only being published in America at the moment, and this is something that needs to be rectified as soon as possible!

I think we’ll kick this off with a quote from a section that comes between the acknowledgements and Chapter 1, but which is very much what the book is about. I hope the author won’t mind me typing out this swathe. First, though, we need this picture:

Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

Zoo City by Lauren BeukesZoo City, by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot). This is a bit old now, but deserves reviewing because it is different, and has stuck with me for over a year, much like the animals in the novel (more of which soon). I came across a review for this on the fantastic blog Pechorin’s Journal, which deserves a mention simply because I think the author, Max Cairnduff, has exactly the same taste in books as me. For a good book suggestion, come here, but for a suggestion from my bookshelf, go see Max.

So, Zoo City. This is a novel set in contemporary Johannesburg, but in an alternate reality where people who commit crimes get magically attached to an animal. Continue reading

Under the Covers

Love is strange. Love is beautiful. Love is dangerous. Love is never what you expect it to be. Here PENGUIN brings you the most seductive, inspiring and surprising writing on love in all its infinite variety.

This week is the third week of our Under the Covers feature, and I suppose sort of tying in with the whole bedroom suggestion of the feature, I’m going to pick on the Penguin Great Loves collection. These covers are absolutely stunning, and I struggle to actually read the books from fear of inflicting any damage to the aesthetic package. Penguin Great Loves CollageThe collection focuses mostly on classical, romantic/erotic literature, and offsets the passion and emotion of each title with a subtle but suggestive cover, laden with symbolism. Continue reading