Why the book business is seriously weird
For weeks I've been reading press reports about how, in the UK at least, no bookseller can make any money out of the last (and shortly forthcoming) in the Harry Potter series. The big supermarkets are going to sell it as a loss leader, just to get people into their shops, with the result (it is claimed) that other booksellers will have to match that price -- or get near it. Result? All retailers will earn zero profit, out of the biggest bestseller in history.
The latest gloom and doom story along these lines appears in the Independent and is summarised by the Bookseller.
Now this is ridiculous. The appearance of the conclusion of the HP series is going to provide the retail book trade with its largest volume of purchasers ever; punters will be literally banging on the doors and demanding to hand over their money. And yet no one can make any profit out of it? I can't imagine, frankly, a more vivid demonstration of the general cluelessness of the entire UK book trade. And signs are that it's not much healthier elsewhere.
Well, if I was a small independent bookseller, I know what I'd do. I'd make the best of a bad job. I'd put up a big window display, with a placard out in the street (until the health and safety police stopped me), saying 'Get Your Full-Price Harry Potter here! Do Not Accept the Cheap and Inferior Editions On Sale Elsewhere! Buy the Real Thing Now!'
And so forth.
Words of wisdom
Speaking of large numbers of readers, what's the most popular book in the world, viewed from a long-term perspective of, say, the last couple of hundred years?
According to Martial Development (link from reader Elberry) it's the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (sometimes written as Lao Tse and other variants). Martial Development also points out, with reasons, that, if he were around today, Lao Tzu probably couldn't make ends meet by using AdSense. I am inclined to agree.
One of Lao Tzu's aphorisms is: Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.
Which certainly puts me in my place.
While we're on this subject, don't forget that Ron Hogan did his own translation of the Tao Te Ching. Ron was the creator of the Beatrice site, in 1995 -- surely one of the first of its kind. And he is currently one of the editors of Galleycat.