Magazine article The Spectator

So Many Books

Magazine article The Spectator

So Many Books

Article excerpt


Pillories of the State on Radio Four (Sundays) has been quite an entertaining series, even though its discussion format sometimes gives it the air of being a typical schedule filler. Presented by Phil Hammond, a doctor turned broadcaster, it looks at how various industries work. Book publishing featured in the last of the series and we learned that 129 million books were sold last year in Britain through bookshops and high street outlets.

I find this figure staggering even though it includes school text books. It does indicate, though, that people do still read books despite the education elite's determination to stop them by trying to offload Victorian classics and Shakespeare from the state school curriculum. Of course many books simply aren't worth reading, the airport novels, celebrity books and such like but the figure shows that not everyone is becoming an Internet zombie. Alarm in publishing circles at books published on the net appears to be unfounded as it has not been a great success.

As Patrick Janson-Smith, joint managing director of Transworld, pointed out, a net novel by Frederick Forsyth is still coming out in book form this year. Readers want the sight and feel of a proper book, they want to handle it as Danuta Kean, news editor of the Bookseller magazine, made clear. No one mentioned buying books on the net which I can heartily recommend particularly if you live in the country. Most of the books I have bought in this way have been delivered within two days and will even be giftwrapped at Christmas if you wish.

My nearest large bookshop is about 20 miles away. There's a smaller establishment nearby but it doesn't often stock what I'm looking for. I once heard the shop's book buyer lamenting, `Ooh, we've got so many books, so many books,' and on another occasion telling a rep, `We don't take many books by Hutchinson,' as if this were ample reason for not stocking a book.

Hammond began the programme by

plugging his own book, Trust Me I'm A Doctor and he wondered why it had not made it to the best-seller lists. It's sold 15,000 copies which seems pretty good but it occurred to me that, with a title like that, however ironic, potential buyers might have been discouraged by recent events in the medical profession. Hammond thought the bookshop take of anything between 35 and 60 per cent of the cover price was an appalling margin but Kean leapt to their defence by explaining that publishers are paying for space in shops and in-store promotion. …

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