Monday, November 07, 2005

Knock-off product

In my post of 4 November, I made the point that it's hard to write a book that will really generate massive enthusiasm in potential buyers. And this point was driven home to me with emphasis when I read an extract from a new book by Tim Phillips: Knock Off.

Knock Off deals with the manufacture and marketing of counterfeit goods within the UK, and you can read a good slice of it courtesy of a Times extract.

Out here in darkest Wiltshire we don't see a lot of counterfeit DVDs or clothes, but it seems that, if you were to go to a street market in one of the bigger cities, you would find that the stall-holders are selling little else.

The customers, of course, are queuing up for it. The latest Hollywood or Bollywood epic on DVD, two days after it opened in LA or Delhi? No problem, sir. That'll be £5. And if you want a piece of software which retails for £10,000, that will be no problem either. Just speak to the 11-year-old kid over there and place your order. Have a cup of coffee while he skips round the corner, finds the man with the CD copier (about the size of a kitchen pedal bin), burns off a copy, runs back with it, and asks you for £10.

The UK authorities who are supposed to deal with all this lack real power and lack the budget even to pay for weekend overtime; and weekends are when the trade flourishes.

But it is not our place -- not quite -- to worry about the film industry. Our business is books. And, apart from Harry Potter, who do we know, in the book world, whose books are so exciting that you could shift a couple of hundred knock-off copies in a Manchester street market on a Saturday afternoon? Even at half the price in Tesco?

And that's the real problem which faces the writer of today. Not what the TLS thinks.


Anonymous said...

Michael - quite right (and thanks for the plug for my book), but while the street markets of Manchester or London don't bother with knockoff books, visit the Urdu Bazaar in Karachi or a bookshop in Beijing or a school in Africa, and it's a different story. The global knockoff book market is dominated by fake Potters (Ha-Li Bo-Te as he's known in China), and the counterfeiters have even come up with some entirely new novels ('Apparently Harry and Hermione are getting up to things that J K Rowling would definitely not approve of' a lawyer in Hong Kong told me about one of the books he had confiscated). Sadly, the real losers in the knockoff book trade are the little guys: authors of text books, whose work is routinely counterfeited all over the developing world - not least because academic publishers don't have the funds to enforce the author's copyright. The moral: if you want to get rich, don't strive for the perfect idea and struggle in poverty to realise it - in today's knockoff society, it's a safer bet to spot someone else's good idea and steal it.

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