Two items in the book trade news today, both of which mystify me. Firstly, Waterstone's will be selling the final Harry Potter (What? You didn't know it was coming out?) at half price because they're driven to be 'price competitive'. Customers will also get a free copy of Wizardology: A Guide to Wizards of the World. Whoopee - get in the queue right now! Simon Fox, their chief executive, says they won't lose money but that 'At half price it's pretty difficult to make money.' Well, duh.
I'm sure you're all aware of the madness going on in the book world which over the past few years has seen the rise of discounting and of the clout of supermarkets, along with a corresponding decline in the independent bookshop sector. What has happened is that customers (and I include myself) have been trained to view books as products on which we want a good deal just like the 3 for 2 or Bogof deal at the chemist or supermarket. The question always is, can we treat a book like a can of beans or a tube of toothpaste? Do we now view books sold at full price as a bad deal? There is a debate going on yet again in the book trade about removing RRPs from books entirely and letting prices find their own level. The whole question of perceived value is an interesting one. We don't want to shell out £7.99 for a paperback but don't mind the same price for a main course on a lunch menu? Remember, as Milton said: 'A good book is the lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.' Isn't that of more worth than a lasagne and side salad?
With the Harry Potter scenario, one wonders if any copies will be sold at all at the RRP. With the gigantic economies of scale involved, neither Bloomsbury nor J.K. herself will suffer. But what about struggling authors who are already facing the prospect of declining royalties which may well be based in the future not on the price printed on the book but on the actual selling price. God knows, a paperback that generates a royalty of 5% or 7 1/2% of a selling price of £7.99 isn't much - but if the book is discounted and a royalty paid on that price, it's far less.
I know we writers are crazy idealists (Got to be, why else spend months and years of self-doubt and effort to produce our books) but where is it written that we have to pretend we don't really want to earn money for our work? I don't mean J.K.'s millions - just a nice living income so we can concentrate on the thing that matters most to us? Anything wrong with that?
Which brings me to the second news item: that Headline is going to publish the debut novel by comic writer Simon Spurrier online for free, in 6 weekly instalments from 24th May. Editor Piers Blofeld says '"Contract" was one of those very rare submissions that had me literally jumping out of my chair with excitement ... While there are obvious issues for publishers, the main point for me is that what writers need above all else is readers.' Well, duh, for the second time - but what about an income? Can someone please explain the logic of all this to me?
The book's website, ironically, is www.itsallaboutthemoney.co.uk - and after free online publication, it's out in hardback on June 4th at £19.99. Once again, can someone please explain?