Indies

Having just spent a couple of days in Dublin, trying to do a little bit of promotion for our guidebook series there, I am reminded about how hard it is for the little guy to compete in a world that is dominated by the big and the powerful.

I decided to ignore the big chains this time and just contact the small independent booksellers, to see if they would be interested in taking our books. This was, of course, a great deal easier said than done. Disappointingly, I quickly discovered that, unlike in London, there are no dedicated independent travel bookshops.

The first two so-called independent bookshops I went into were actually, I quickly discovered, owned by that corporate monstrosity Waterstones. But they still like to present themselves as “independent”.

The conversation that I had with the buyer of one of Eason’s bookstores is revealing. I had wrongly assumed that Eason would be a cosy, friendly little bookstore – after all, on its website it wrote “independent” in quite large letters, just below “Irish”, as though that is one of the main points book-lovers are looking for in a store – but of course it is one of Ireland’s largest chains.

He asked me what kind of discount we are offering. I gave the standard price that we offer to all shops that we deal with in the UK: 40%. He openly laughed at this.

“That’s far too low,” he said, in that loveable Irish brogue. “We wouldn’t take a discount of less than 55% – and that is only for those companies that are really selling a lot of books.”

We then got talking about the guidebook publishing industry, which has been suffering a big downturn over the past few years. He told me what Lonely Planet are doing – giving bookshops huge discounts, simply so they can actually shift some of their stock. With the kind of discounts that Lonely Planet are giving, and the volumes that they are selling, how can we ever compete?

Upon my return home, disturbing news greeted me that The Travel Bookshop, a charming independent bookstore made famous by the Hugh Grant movie Notting Hill, is closing down and they are trying to find a suitable buyer for it. Apparently, it made a loss of £18,000 last year and has debts of nearly £50,000.

This bookshop has been very supportive of our guidebook, and the buyer for the shop has given me invaluable advice about how subsequent guidebooks that we publish should be presented. I am deeply sadened to see the shop go. And not just because it was an independent shop that we can work with, and was supportive of our project. I am sadened because the shop is so iconic and there are not many such independent shops left in London. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to raise funds to purchase the shop, but this might have been the red wine talking.

Then there is Amazon. We received another Amazon order today. Nothing unusual about this – we often get Amazon orders – but today I felt intensely angry and bitter towards them, blaming them for putting small businesses such as The Travel Bookshop out of business. The retail price of our guidebook is £12.99. Out of that price, Amazon take 60% (£7.79). £7.79 for doing what exactly?! They don’t even have to store the book, since they only order books they know they can sell.

It’s frustrating beyond belief. We did all the work for this book – it is our creative brainchild. So why should these corporate monstrosities take such a huge slice of the profits? It seems grotesquely unfair and points to some serious flaws in the capitalist model.

There is a widespread view that the huge giants like Amazon and Waterstones are good for consumers, since they can offer attractive discounts on the books that they sell. Almost all major highstreet chains these days has some sort of “3 for 2” offer.

But is it really good for consumers? Sure, you’re getting a cheaper deal, but are you getting a better choice of products? Think of how many independent businesses have collapsed under the weight of these corporate giants, and how many truly great works have never seen the light of day simply because it turned out not to be profitable to publish them.

Before you purchase from Amazon, stop and think. If ever you want to buy one of our books, go to our website. Do not go to Amazon and give the greedy suits your money. Support the indies of this world.

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3 Responses to “Indies”

  1. James Says:

    Did you try Foyles?

  2. Diana Says:

    You are obsolutely right! Also Amazon doesnt pay the cost of the delivery either! And for the publisher there are of course the cost of printing, paying the author, doing research and pay the staff. And in all this the publisher shoul also be able to earn some money.

  3. emuu Says:

    It’s hard to believe how far aggregation of the media has gotten. If you haven’t already, try writing a novel some time. After eight years and thousands of dollars working with editors, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that you might as well give away the result than try to engage the “publishing industry”.

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