Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Skulduggery at Waterstones

Aspiring authors will undoubtedly be alarmed to hear that Waterstones, one of the larger book stores, and many supermarkets, are allegedly demanding hefty premiums from publishers for the pleasure of promoting their books.
For those of us at the sharp end of the business, this will come as no surprise. What many newcomers to the business find surprising is that, in addition to these demands to promote a publisher's book, the retailers also demand a whopping 55% discount in addition to reserving the right to return any unsold copies.
This latter requirement does benefit the reader, who can frequently pick up heavily discounted copies, but does nothing for the struggling writer.
Publishing is an expensive and chancy business and it's a brave publisher indeed who will take on an unknown author on literary merit alone. It's an industry with tight margins and commercialism unfortunately takes precedence over art.
This accounts for the obscenely large advances on royalties paid to many celebrities for their memoirs or to established authors, whose next offering can be relied upon to produce the goods.
All bad news for the newcomer who, in desperation, sometimes turns to the oft-derided but very practical business of self-publishing. The advent of computerised, print on demand, processes where books are stored as a computer file and then printed, one at a time, as required has made this possible.
Unfortunately, it means that the editorial process that tends to separate the dross from gold, is absent, leading many reviewers to ignore such works.
The sales effort, paid for by the conventional publisher, is also missing, rendering it difficult to achieve much in the way of substantial sales to the general public, although this is of lesser importance if the book is of a specialised nature.
The publisher of the Da Vinci Code issued 50,000 copies to various reviewers and book buyers in order to promote the book – and, incidentally, to make it an immediate 'best-seller.'
Such largesse is denied the average scribe.
All in all, it's a sad indictment of the modern trend toward huge retail groups such as the supermarkets who, in spite of their claim to be acting pro bono publico, are merely acting on behalf of their directors and shareholders to maximise their profits.
Waterstones would appear to be no exception.

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