I’m not what you’d call an unconditional fan of the migration of book sales away from high street bookstores into the online or digital realms, as I’ve mentioned here before, but I’m also no great fan of the King Canute approach to life, sitting around on a beach shouting at the insensate tide in a pointless effort to halt its approach. The cold calculations of economically wobbly times, and of convenience and ease, add up to a pretty powerful tidal force.
The pricing of books, both hard copy and digital, is a hot topic these days, and one that’s going to remain in flux for quite a time yet. In the last week or two, I noticed a couple of price-related items online that I thought they might be of interest to one or two others.
First, The Book Depository is offering 10% off every purchase until the end of this month. That’s on top of already pretty aggressive discounts, and free shipping on all orders, whatever their size, worldwide. (Yes, free shipping worldwide. I have no idea how they make money on this model, but apparently they do). I mention this for two reasons. First, The Book Depository is already often cheaper than Amazon UK for any given title (always cheaper for graphic novels, for some reason, which is what I mostly buy from them) so this adds up to a pretty spectacular deal for the next week or so. Second, if we are going to gradually lose our high street bookstores, it would be nice if there was at least some competition in the online sale of hard copy books – it’s a bit of a mystery to me why The Book Depository isn’t already better known as, at least in the UK, a lively competitor to Amazon, so I thought I’d do my negligible little bit to point out that there is such a thing as choice in your selection of online vendor.
Second, The Book Depository is not always cheaper than Amazon UK. Witness The Edinburgh Dead. At the time of writing, Amazon UK is offering my next book, due out in August, at the pre-order price of £4.34. That’s a 46% discount on the cover price. Within spitting difference of half price. A real book you can hold in your hands, never be parted from by DRM or vendor collapse, and lend to your friends if you so desire, for not much more than £4. Now by all means, feel free to rush over there and pre-order the thing – I’d be nothing but delighted if folk do take advantage of the opportunity to get their orders in early – but I can’t help but think what a funny old world we live in. At that kind of price, Amazon can’t be exactly rolling in profit on each copy sold (to put it mildly). What chance do the high street bookstores possibly have? I mean, if I hadn’t already read the thing, I’d be first in line to get my order in, never mind my nostalgic affection for the bricks and mortar booksellers. Money talks, in the end. It always does.
(As an aside, in light of the constant, tumultuous debate – that’s the politest way of describing it – over the pricing of e-books, I noticed that on Amazon UK, the Kindle editions of all three of the Godless World books are, by non-trivial amounts, the cheapest versions available. All are priced at £4.99, with the hard copy editions somewhere between £5 and £6. That’s not an unfair price for an e-book, I’d say, but there are powerful forces that could yet drive that price a good deal lower and if they do, something – quite possibly several somethings – is going to have to give in the great author-agent-publisher-seller merry-go-round that has dominated the book business for a long time now. No bad thing, you might say. Maybe. We’ll see …)
On a more cheery note, but still in the spirit of public service, here’s the most useful thing I’ve learned from the internet in the last month or so (it really is, and I’m not sure whether that says more about me or the internet):