I think I’ve just discovered my true purpose on the Dead Guy team. As the sole remaining Brit, my job is to keep the boat afloat while my six American co-bloggers take a day off to enjoy street parties, set off fireworks, play loud music and whatever else goes on across the pond in celebration of your release from bondage to the good old British Empire. (Yeah, OK, I know you fought a war over it, actually beat the metaphorical pants off us, but indulge us; we’d still like to think we had some choice in the matter.)
Coincidentally, my most recent visit to your fair shores took in the place where the Revolution began, or at least gathered pace. I didn’t actually get to the site of the Boston Tea Party – it’s a long, long way down the Freedom Trail, and I seem to have inherited my grandmother’s feet – but we did explore the Faneuil Hall, took the grand tour of the State House, complete with statues and paintings of notable figures, and gazed in awe at Paul Revere’s house, still standing after all these years.
All of which has very little to do with the subject of this week’s post, except that Boston has a Barnes & Noble as well as a whole lot of historical sites, and since I’m physically incapable of walking past a bookshop we spent several hours in there.
Not that I was really planning to post about B & N either. But bear with me; it will join up eventually.
The thing is, we went to the supermarket this morning. (There, now you’re really confused, aren’t you? Where is the woman going with this? I hear you groan.)
Let me elucidate.
I bought two books. I didn’t wholly approve of myself for doing it, but I’m afraid I did it anyway. I seem to fall into temptation every time we do the big grocery shop, despite the guilt which lasts for, oooh, hours afterwards. My justification is that I only buy books which have earned (or will earn) enough for their authors so that I’m not taking food from their children’s mouths by not paying the full cover price.
Even though I do it, I don’t approve of buying books in the supermarket at all, for reasons I probably don’t need to explain, but will anyway, and then you’ll see the connection with B & N.
Large supermarket chains, like large bookshop chains (see?), have a lot of buying power. They only buy the titles and authors they can be sure of selling, and they buy them in industrial quantities – which means they can screw the publishers to the wall on price. Which in turn means that they can sell them at below half cover price, thus playing havoc with the profit margins and therefore survival of the small independent bookshops we all know and love.
So if you want to put me in the stocks and hurl rotten fruit at me (that's metaphorical too, of course; four thousand miles is a long way to throw a tomato) on account of the two bestsellers I brought home with the cheese, frozen fish and anti-bacterial spray, I shall understand entirely.
But there is an upside. Really there is. Maybe less so in the case of Barnes & Noble, who, along with most booksellers, still operate the iniquitous sale or return system; but at least here in the UK (and I think also at WalMart) the books are supplied on a firm sale basis, and in sufficient quantity to allow the publisher to spread the production cost quite a bit thinner. And books on supermarket shelves sell. They reach a whole different market. Far more people visit supermarkets than bookshops, and some of them would never think of visiting a bookshop; if even a small percentage buy books they wouldn’t otherwise have picked up, the effect on sales figures is significant. In some cases it’s huge.
Which is why I don’t feel quite as guilty as you probably think I should. When I was publishing, one single title taken up by a major supermarket chain could have been the start of something which could have taken me off in directions I only ever dreamed of. If it didn’t bankrupt me first; some of the prices I saw today would have needed some pretty hefty sales to avoid leaving me with a profit margin in minus figures.
So although I still don’t entirely approve either of myself for buying books with the groceries, or of the supermarket buyers for beating down the price to a level few small publishers can live with, I’ll probably continue to do it.
Partly because I’m weak and feeble and unable to resist temptation. But also because, surely, any book sale is good.