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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Sunday, 10 December 2006
Accounting for books
Topic: Misc.

Can anyone explain to me how the book business works? I love reading and have hundreds of books at home. But I’m baffled by the industry that publishes and sells them.


Is it really necessary for books to appear only in hardback form for six months before being released in paperback? I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen an interesting book in a shop but refused to buy it because it was only available in hardback. I don’t see why I should pay an extra £6 for a harder cover. I find it hard to believe that this strategy is profitable. It means that the book is at its most expensive at the point it gets the most publicity. By the time it’s made into paperback, something else is being discussed in the media and potential buyers who were put off paying the higher price may have forgotten about it.

Biographies of Non Entities

I’m bewildered at the plethora of biographies of people who’ve done little or nothing with their lives – winners (and losers) of reality shows being the obvious example. Is there really the demand for these books? They seem to be heavily marked down everywhere I shop.

Lack of Choice for the buyer

How was it possible for Waterstones to acquire Dillons and Ottakar's? Likewise, how was it possible for Borders to take Books etc?The latter doesn’t have very many branches outside London, so in many towns, Waterstones is the only large chain retailer around. (I’m not counting WH Smith here, as its offering tends to be rather narrowly focused on bestseller writers like Patricia Cornwell, Michael Crichton and Ian Rankin.) The situation is slightly better if you live in a University town, as there is usually a Blackwell’s too.

The online buyer doesn’t have that much choice either. If you look at the Borders website, you’ll see that its online sales operation is merged with Amazon. Booksonline ( is exclusively catering to the Dutch market now.

Merging Science Fiction and Fantasy

Why on earth are these two quite different genres put in the same section of so many stores? It’s ridiculous that novels by Isaac Asimov and Philip K Dick are placed next to stories about wizards and dragons.


On the plus side, it's nice so see that Foyle's has caught up with the rest of the world and abandoned its stalinist payment policies. Does anyone else remember having to run around the shop with receipts? If you told the young people today .....

_ DY at 3:26 AM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 10 December 2006 3:36 AM GMT
Post Comment | View Comments (3) | Permalink

Monday, 11 December 2006 - 9:18 AM GMT

Name: "Cartman"

I don't know about hardbacks, but I believe trashy celeb biographies are about the only thing keeping the book business going these days.

Monday, 11 December 2006 - 8:20 PM GMT

Name: "Mr X"

Young does not want to pay an extra £6? That would be your Jewish side emerging.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006 - 3:15 PM GMT

Name: "roGER"
Home Page:

Hello David,

I've a friend or two or works or has worked in publishing, so here goes:

Hardback - I *think* I remember being told this had something to do with libraries and profit margins. Also, hardback provides a useful 'real world' test of how profitable a book is likely to be. If it can succeed in the small world of hardbacks then it's justified printing a much larger run of paperbacks. But having said all that - I agree that hardbacks are bit silly really.

Biographies of  Non-Entities - I can only assume that someone, somewhere is making some kind of profit from these. Maybe just the non-entities?

Lack of Choice for the Buyer - This is good example of 'my' theory (I'm sure it's very well known one in economics) that a free market when left alone moves inexorably towards cartel or monopoly. But I agree that the authorities (is it the MMC or is it called something else now?!?) have been pathetic in 'preventing' some very dubious take-overs in the past 10 years or so. 

Merging Science Fiction and Fantasy

Merging all the crap together is a great idea. The only problem is bookshops don't go far enough. For a start, why not add "Self Help" and "Sports Biographies" and "Popular Psychology" to the SF & F shelves?

Foyles - Yes it's much better, but disconcertingly clean and well organised now. I've a friend who used to work there and has some tales to tell. Better not repeat any, but I had no idea the Foyle family actually lived on the premises in a flat on the top floor.

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