Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday stuff

Big money elsewhere

I was saying last week that the idea of there being big money in books is more illusory than real, and here's a reminder.

Jonathan Ross -- a strictly UK-famous media person -- recently negotiated an £18 million contract with the BBC. And he isn't worth it, says Anita Land, a leading show-business and media agent.

Anita gets a bit of a spread in the Times. But there is, reportedly, more provocative stuff along the same lines in Shooting Stars: A Collection of Essays, Rants and Musings on Talent and TV . I'd like to give you a link to that book, which the Times says is published by UKTV, but I find it absolutely untraceable -- at any rate within the time that I'm prepared to devote to it.

Ghosting is the life for me

Back in June, I wrote a piece pointing out the many advantages of being a ghostwriter -- always provided you have the skills required. And now the Scotsman proves the point, with some success stories and details of the income earned. (Link from booktrade.info.)

Does Amazon need books?

The Sunday Times -- in an article about booming online sales in the UK -- quotes Brian McBride, managing director of Amazon.co.uk, to the effect that the market in watches and jewellery is worth $50 billion (£26.5 billion) in America, which is twice the size of the book market. And now Amazon.co.uk have started to sell watches.

True talent will out

John Banville won the Booker prize last year with a novel called The Sea. I've never even seen a copy, much less read it, but it was, I think it is fair to say, widely regarded as a rather dull read. Even one reviewer who liked it was forced to admit that 'Critics, from the established media and the blogosphere alike, seemed united in their distaste for this novel, deeming it unworthy (and in some cases unreadable) for the UK's most prestigious literary award.' The Amazon reader reviews were also far from totally enthusiastic.

When asked what he would spend the Booker money on, Banville replied, 'Good work and strong drink.' Well, it appears he's done the former.

It's not a secret that John Banville is the writer behind the Benjamin Black pseudonym, and under that name Banville has written a crime novel called Christine Falls. According to Marcel Berlins in last Saturday's Times, this 'succeeds sensationally'. The online link to the review doesn't seem to work, so you'll just have to take my word for it. But the publisher tells you quite a lot about the book, with a link to some other reviews.

A present for a very blokey sort of bloke

It's well known that many men have a taste for mechanical things, cars, cameras, and all like that. So here's news of a suitable Christmas present for one such bloke. It's a bit pricey, but if he's special, why not? If he isn't special, the usual two bottles of beer will have to do.

The Quantuck Lane Press, founded by an ex-W.W. Norton man, has just published American Genius, which is a generously illustrated book about nineteenth-century bank locks and time locks. And, what's more, if you live within reach of New York, you can visit an associated exhibition at the gallery of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.

The asking price, in the UK, is £55, which is a bit steep, but you could always haggle with your friendly neighbourhood independent bookseller. Mention the Amazon price (£36.30) and see if he will compromise. If he doesn't actually come at you with a knife, you might strike lucky. Position yourself between him and the door before you start, though.

Half term

This is half-term week in a lot of the UK, and I may be absent tomorrow, dealing with number-one grandson.


Anonymous said...

Amazon may have diversified but eye-tracking tests of amazon.com clearly illustrate that the majority of users look at the Books tab more than any other tab in the top navigation.

Simon Haynes said...

Maybe they think it says 'Boobs'

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. John Banville's "The Sea" was tremendously dull and, in my very humble opinion, hardly groundbreaking in terms of plot or characterisation. The story of "ageing gentleman revisits scenes of childhood" was not terribly interesting from a plot point of view and, for me at least, the beauty of the prose could only partially make up for this. The plot 'twist', if that's what it was meant to be, was predictable - the ageing lady turns out to be the girl we remember from childhood - we've seen this in enough films, in enough novels by now to know when to expect it. I've no idea why this won the prize.

Maybe the crime novel is better - a good crime novel does depend on a decent plot, so perhaps that plus Banville's undoubted skill and talent as a writer of beautiful prose will sum up to something worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

A guide to 21st century locks would be far more useful.

Anonymous said...

Re Christine Falls - I haven't read the Berlins review (I hope they get the link up soon), but Joan Smith rather unkindly savaged it the following day in The Sunday Times. Before concluding she didn't like it, she gave away about 90% of the story.
I'm not sure how well he'll break into the market for crime fiction devotees, because the writing style is quite different. But the characters are credible and there's more than one twist along the way...

Susan Hill said...

Why do you say that the idea of books making large amounts of money is more illusory than real. It plainly is not. A lot of books make nothing or next to nothing but quite a lot make a very large sum indeed. I could name you 6 off the top of my head now.

Paul Ekert said...

6 that do or 6 that don't?

Anonymous said...

If a casual walk-in customer to my bookshop expects me to match or indeed to offer any discount over a newly published book then they are in the wrong place.

Many quality books are only offered on Amazon on extended delivery terms, whereas businesses like mine can generally offer non-stock items within a 24 hour business cycle.

"Turnover is vanity ; profit is sanity". Amazon makes their profit from their eBay style services to third-party sellers rather than on the merchandising of new books. I would be fucking mad if I tried to mix and match with the corporates : I would also end up bankrupt, which would distress my loyal customers who far prefer to get personal face-to-face service and the opportunity to handle the catholic stock range available in store.

Anonymous said...

The chain bookstore in town can sell books fairly inexpensively. However, their selection tends to be limited to current best-selling titles. I carry used and out-of-print university press, technical books, history, and other non-fiction selections. It always amazes me when someone walks in the door and informs me I call sell a book more cheaply than the chain bookstore, because, after all, my books are used.

Susan Hill said...

Six books that HAVE made large amounts of money.. and then there are the others that go on doing so. They may be in the minority.. but they are there all right.
I just thought of about 10 more..

Anonymous said...

"...quite a lot make a very large sum indeed."

Defining the word 'lot' is, of course, the key. 'Lot' is a ratio.

I suspect that Michael is alluding to the infitinitesimally small percentage of 'all' books.

Publishers cannot afford to spend the money required to make every lemon a winner. Some are 'backed' and some are simply floated with a view to further investement in the unlikely even that...

The Da Vinci Code has made insane amounts of money but I've yet to hear anyone say they really enjoyed it. Out of forty million I expect there would be a few but it seems more and more that enjoyment or 'quality' has little to do with what 'makes it'. Or at least not neary as much to do with it as a 'layman' might expect.

Booker winners are routinely picked from literary earwax but they make money (that is not to suggest that they are all duffers but the ratio of duffers is in the sky).

The business is run somewhat, it would appear, like a lottery (the idea that 'good' books do well notwithstanding). That the business, as a whole, should appear so is not surprising but that it is actually 'run' as such gives cause for concern. Some people believe in the tooth fairy and many should when one looks at their output and sales.

When a book goes from selling half a dozen a week to thirty thousand a week on the strength of a Richard and his Momma interview we get to see the real mechanics at work. This effect may be at the limit but it is representative of the way things are in the 'real' world.

A writer may coast after gaining readers and those readers may be hard or easily won but money and its fortuitous placement decides the game. How many superb writers were almost out on a ledge before they won some literary bash and achieved 'balance' in the universe?

In the art world hundreds of great artists were (probably) lost when the tyranny of 'the modern' took hold. While (hopefully) not as extreme, the modern publishing world seems little different.

There seems to be no evidence that anyone can 'tell' what readers want, and unfortunately 'tell' is a world full of shenanigans.

Large publishing companies look a bit like oil exploration and drilling companies but without the benefit of geology or indeed any kind of heuristics at all that might offer solid pointers.

Threfore they rely on 'taste' which in the real world involves a great deal of hind-quarter metal-plating that often takes the form of going with what you know (contacts or fame-in-place).

Fame-in-place makes sense if all you want to do is not look stupid. It is like the stock market wag who says the market will go up because it is going up.

New technologies threaten to fragment this comfortable world but publishers will get hip to it, eventually, and thus return always to the strange attractor that is 'taste'. A handful of people shape our 'taste' for us.

Aren't we lucky?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the apparently low (intellectual) value of some current bestsellers I believe that the mega publishing world is currently being driven by the lure of zillions of sales in the supermarkets and on Amazon etc.

When I see some of the beautiful bin ends which I am able to offer I know that something is wrong somewhere.

I hope that the terrestial chains will realise that it is pointless trying to compete on price with the merchandisers like Tesco and Amazon, and return to the higher ground.

The way will then be clear for all terrestial bookshops to ensure that a discerning customer base has a quality product.

Bookdealers like myself have a very defined image : we are not elitist but we love to handle and trade books. Too often I behave like a youngster in a sweetshop, purchasing books which I know have a very narrow readership. The fact that I am still surviving in a rural west country location speaks volumes for the books which customers want to buy.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to track that Shooting Stars book all this week without luck! Just came across a press release from uktv this morning with a bit more info: