Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A bookless place (almost)

I had another meeting with a film company yesterday in which various preliminary plans were hatched and options discussed - mostly in connection with my last book, Zoia's Gold and a long short story I wrote a couple of years ago, called The Temporary Witness. They are very nice people with a lot of impressive credits to their name, but their lives are not being made easier by the banks, which now demand their creditor's private homes as collateral as well as up to 18% interest on working capital. All this while the banks themselves pay depositors and the Bank of England (a.k.a. the taxpayer) anywhere between nothing and 3% (at best). No wonder banking is suddenly hugely profitable again. But all those profits are coming straight out of the pockets of the enterprises, large and small, upon which the wider economic recovery depends - making that recovery weaker and slower. No wonder people are angry.
After the meeting I headed over to Oxford Street, with a view to signing some stock in a few book shops. Not so long ago, there were a number of major outlets there: a huge Borders, a very large Waterstones and even (this is going back a few years) a sizeable Dillons. But they have all gone now, driven away, no doubt, by vast rents and a lack of custom. What remains, at the western end, is one small Waterstones - which used to be a Books Etc. There at last I found three copies of The Einstein Girl tucked away on the shelves.
"The problem is: no one reads any more," someone said to me at the week-end. A walk down Oxford Street these days (you can't stroll, for fear of being trampled) is enough to have you believing that's true.


Lady Glamis said...

Philip, this saddens me, wow. I'm glad you found some copies of your book, though. I can't find yours at my bookstores so far, so I'm going to order it online.

I think people read still, by the way. Do you think conventional bookstores are just being taken over by the internet?

Philip S said...

Book stores proper have been under enormous pressure in the UK ever since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in the 1990s, (an arrangement that allowed publishers to determine the retail price of their books). Some of that pressure has come from on-line sellers, but even more has come from supermarkets. These discount the few titles they carry very heavily, to the point where there is virtually no profit in them. This does not matter, because to supermarkets books act as loss-leaders, bringing people into their stores to buy goods that are profitable - i.e. food. Independent booksellers can't compete with that; which is why so many have gone out of business.
America went through the same market change a few years ahead of the UK. France did too - but when the government saw the effect on the publishing and book retailing, they hastily reinstated the old system.
This is the single biggest reason why average author incomes have been steadily falling for the past 10 years and are now a fraction of what they were.

Lady Glamis said...

Wow, thanks for that information. That's disturbing! So that system is still in place in the UK. They really should change it because that's ridiculous. I don't plan on making any money off my writing. If I do I'll be pleasantly surprised. Hah.