After my holiday is almost over Book buying moment in Waterstones Inverness I had a loyalty voucher to spend, so on my first day off (because half a week back at work deserves a reward, doesn't it?) I went to my local Waterstones to spend it.
I was looking for the reissued Diana Cooper autobiographies from Vintage, but they weren't on the shelf, which is fine because there's very little chance I would have read them anytime soon anyway. I did find Hope Mirrilees 'Lud-in-the-Mist' which I vaguely remember reading about ages ago, and Philip Pillman's 'Grimm Tales' which I'd half wanted for ages - so I went away happy with change from £10 and a stamp on my new loyalty card.
Then I read this Article in The Guardian about booming book sales compared to falling payments for authors and got thoroughly annoyed. Booming sales in this case means a 5% increase in sales, and an eventual admmision that profits appear to be static.
It's not particularly encouraging that the average income for a 'full time' author is £11000 a year (I assume this is income earn the predominantly from book sales/royalties), and there was an illuminating, if not particularly edifying, debate about it on twitter around a month ago after a similar article.
Both articles annoyed me because neither show much understanding of the costs involved between an author parting with a manuscript and someone buying a book. That's part of a much bigger problem that covers clothes and food too - we're used to things being cheap, assume we're being ripped off somehow as a default position, and bitterly resist price rises - a situation not helped by stagnant wages at the lower end of the pay scale.
Books in this country are cheap. They haven't kept place with inflation, production values (the quality of cover design especially) are high and there's a whole lot of people involved in turning a manuscript into a book, a whole lot more involved in getting that book from a warehouse to a readers hand - and all of them deserve to be paid properly for their work.
Articles like this which pitch authors against their publishers seem utterly wrongheaded to me, much more useful to question what's happened to margin that sales are up and profits are not, and really consider what that means long term.
I don't want Amazon to be my only choice to buy books from; as a customer I get frustrated by the wait for deliveries (sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's not), and for the books I want they're not particularly cheap. To keep prices mostly low suppliers and staff are squeezed hard, and the environmental impact of next day delivery isn't encouraging. So I rarely use them.
I do like Waterstones with its friendly, knowledge, staff who don't appear to actively dislike their jobs. I like the move away from deep discounting and 3for2 in favour of a loyalty scheme that encourages me to take a chance on books I might not otherwise look at (all those hard earned £10 vouchers happily spent on obscure titles) and I love to browse. I like a good independent bookshop even more, I just don't live within walking distance of one.
I like a bargain as much as the next person, but we really do need to understand when something is a bargain and understand the real cost of cheap goods - and what that means for choice and diversity.