Someone sent me a link the other day asking me to help save a local bookshop,
“Could you tweet this? He needs help.” She said and I opened the link, to find that I’d already heard of the guy who owned the shop and quite frankly, I didn’t like him.
Let me explain, just so you don’t think I’m the kind of bloke who spends his life going round disliking people he’s never met for no reason (I am a bit like that but let’s pretend I’m not, just for the purposes of this blog).
I used to drive a cab for a living. One of the by-products of driving a cab (along with junk food retention, a brown right arm, permanent tiredness and an acute dislike of students (there is that dislike thing again)) is you listen to an awful lot of BBC local radio.
I’ll not slag off local radio, I spend an awful lot of time on it as part of my weird life, I like that it reaches out to communities, and it gives certain groups a voice they normally wouldn’t get it the huff and puff of modern media.
Where else can you listen to a pensioner moaning about her bin collection than local radio? Well okay, you could listen to her in the post office queue but that wouldn’t give her much of an audience. Actually, it would in my post office where the queue is as long as the opening ceremony of the Olympics (coincidentally most of the old ladies use the same hair colour as Paul McCartney).
Anyway, let’s just say I like rubbish local radio and when I drove the cab I listened to it a lot. One programme that used to be on was a late night chat and easy listening (is there any other kind on local radio?) show. I was half listening one night, keeping an eye on the guy in the back who had gone suspiciously quiet, when I heard the magic words “local author”.
Now I write for a living, as demonstrated by the fact that you are reading this (hopefully) and by the fact that I wrote an eBook this year and stuck it on Amazon. I’m proud of my book, it’s sold fairly well, got good reviews, and I consider it my baby, and I love it, and like any parent, if you criticise my child, I’ll want to rip your face off.
As a result of writing I’ve built up a circle of friends who are also writers, many of them are local, and many of them struggle to make ends meet as they follow their dream. So if I hear of another local writer I like to try to help them, I’ll often download or buy their book, I’ll try to encourage them, support them and eventually, hate them when they become more successful than me.
So when I heard the local writer guest being introduced as also owning a bookshop I was doubly enthused, mostly because he sounded like a nice guy, but also because he might be able to help me flog some books (I’m being honest here, don’t hate me).
After a while they started to talk about his book, he explained that “it is printed on lovely paper, expensive stuff and it’s a proper book, not like those horrible kindle things.”
A “proper” book.
Those words I hate.
A “proper” book.
He’d just walked into my cab, looked at me, shook his head and said “My book is better than your book.” Which, as I explained earlier, is akin to walking up to me and pointing at my son and saying “He’s a bit gozzy isn’t he?” (I haven’t got kids, but I’m guessing this would seriously p**s me off, even if my kid was gozzy, I wouldn’t want it pointing out).
The author on the radio then proceeded to explain how much he disliked kindles, about how they were killing small bookshops and how they were the end of quality literature and life as we know it (I might have made the last bit up).
By this point I was seething, I no longer cared if the guy in the back threw up, I just wanted to scream at the radio and not just because he’d called my son gozzy (even I’m getting confused now).
I was angry because he was using the same old rant that independent bookshops use about eBooks and Amazon over and over again... they’re killing local bookshops.
It isn’t. There I’ve said it; the kindle isn’t killing local bookshops.
The publishing industry is killing local bookshops, Amazon is just part of that industry and I’ll be honest, I quite like it.
Last year I had a meeting with a local publisher who offered to publish my book, we sat in his office, surrounded by boxes of books on two leather couches and he shook my hand and said,
“Let’s make a book together.”
I came out of that office and did a little jump of joy. I actually jumped into the air because I was that happy.
At the next meeting he told me he’d done the figures and estimated I’d be earning about fifty pence for every book sold, I must have pulled a face because he went on to tell me that he would be the one doing all the work and I sort of nodded and felt a bit daft for doing the jump of joy the week before.
It was only on the way home that I thought “Hang on. He’s not doing all the work, he’s doing some of it, but I’ll be the one trekking around book shops trying to flog it, I’ll be the one writing blogs about it, arranging interviews, paying for petrol, sneakily sliding it to the front of displays when the staff aren’t looking. But most of all... I’m the one who bleedin’ wrote it! The shop will make more money than me; the publisher is making more money than me; why am I the one who is making the least money?”
When I mentioned this to the publisher he huffed and puffed and threatened to pull the plug. So I saved him the bother and did it myself.
I’m daft that way.
I could bore you with figures here so I’ll not, suffice to say, if I sell a book on Amazon for the kindle I make a lot more money, and the person who is buying it pays a lot less.
Had someone said that to me a few years ago I would have accused them of witchcraft and thrown them in a pond.
But it is true, I make more and you pay less.
And that, I’m afraid, is what local bookshops large and small are going to have to come to terms with. The market has changed and adapted and they will have to change and adapt or die.
It’s no good chucking in a few wicker chairs and a coffee pot, if you are charging £10.95 for a book someone can get off Amazon for £4.00 you are going to end up with a lot of stale coffee.
The world is changing into the World Wide Web. And it’s no good being snotty about “lovely paper and proper books”, it’s time to hop off the tram and get on the bus because this is a real revolution and the workers, i.e. the writers, are fighting back.
This month it was announced that eBook sales have overtaken “real” book sales for the first time, a few flakes of snow have become an avalanche and people are reading and discovering new authors.
Granted, a lot of it maybe fifty shades of sh** but it proves my point, the publishing world has changed and the writers of the world have a platform on which to unite.
When the dust settles I hope there is a place for independent bookshops, especially for the little one my friend sent me the link about; I don’t want to see anyone lose their job.
All I want is to be paid a fair wage for doing mine.