Sunday, 7 August 2011

Publishers be Damned!

We went to a beautiful wedding in Ely on Friday. The next morning we visited Topping & Company, one of two superb bookshops set up by my friend and former colleague Robert Topping. We were enthusiastically welcomed on the way in to the shop (James Daunt take note!) and I asked about a book I was interested in buying. My son found a book he was keen on within moments of entering the extensive children's section. I was directed upstairs where another charming employee offered me a cup of coffee. Well, it wasn't just a cup. I was served coffee on a wooden tray with a china milk jug and sugar pot. They found a window seat for us with a view of the cathedral.
This is the poetry section - not some miserable corner but books floor to ceiling.
Here's a snapshot of the politics section. I ended up spending thirty eight quid - money I really don't have. The point was we were surrounded by wonderful books. They were often wrapped in plastic sheets making them feel like objects of great value. Everywhere you looked there was something to desire and with coffee, the LRB to leaf through, great staff (chatty and friendly but also highly informed) and a list of mouth-watering events coming up it was utterly impossible to resist.

Later we visited the Cathedral. I was struck by the similarity between the reverent atmosphere inside and a certain something about Topping & Company. A cathedral is a kind of advert for religion. Look at this wonderful building. Think of the years of worship. The whole place leads you further, draws you into a realm beyond the everyday, beyond mortality. Topping & Company does a similar job for books. These are not mere words, marks on paper or on a screen. This is distilled human thought and emotion we are dealing with. There is beauty here, something that will last and be a joy forever. Books are taken beyond themselves and into a reverential realm where they matter A LOT.

It wasn't until later that I became enraged. Shops such as Topping & Company, The Bookseller Crow on the Hill, Daunt, even Waterstone's deserve a much better deal from publishers than they receive at present.

It is A FUC*ING INSULT and A MASSIVE INJUSTICE that they should pay roughly the same for a book they want to buy into their shop as an Amazon customer. 

I just can't get that sentence into big enough capitals or red enough writing to express the rage I feel about this issue. If I were a publisher I would be unable to look Robert Topping or John Main in they eye. I would skulk and hide my well-fed face. High Street bookshops are doing publishers a huge service. The likes of Topping & Co do an incredible job for publishers. They make the books produced feel special and of value.

All the Internet does is shift units. It places books on the same level as beans. It makes all books seem cheap. Stop passing the buck by trotting out the same old lame bottom line crap. Ok, so people will buy books where it is most economical to do so. Ok publishers, make it more economical for people to buy from High Street shops. Go on, do it! Level the playing field and recognise that High St shops are subsidising the Internet stores.

There must be more that publishers can do for High Street bookshops. They should all take a look at themselves and put their hands in their pockets.


Something can, and must, be done.

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