Think of a book as being like a pie.

Ever since I began working on my first picture book 25 years ago I have been learning my craft. When I first began I saw this simply as the art of drawing a story, responding to text, shaping a page, a book. Then it was about working my own text and pictures together. And people would say how lovely it must be to work in the children’s book industry, as if somehow that wonderful time when you snug up with a child flows back to the process, and to the beginning of an idea. And yes, it’s wonderful to be able to make objects of desire, which is what I hope my books are. But it is work. It is an industry. And it’s not always nice.

I’ve two kids and a mortgage, though my children are grown now. I began my first book the week after my son was born. Since then I have learned a lot.

So, think of a book like a pie. Not a pie made by one person. There’s a whole team behind a book; author, illustrator, editor, designer, agents, production team, printers and binders. There’s shippers and sales teams, and warehouses and storage. And  then there are bookshops and other booksellers. All of these people need to receive a share of the pie.

So, how is the pie cut. Well, author/ illustrator share 8-10% ( . although there are now publishers offering less these days to their ‘contributors). This is on the price the book sells to the bookshop/outlet, NOT as most people believe, the cover price. Agents get between 15-20% of that 4-10%.

A publisher will sell at full price from their website, though sometimes you will find the books offered at a discount from publishers websites. This, to my mind, undermines high street bookshops. They then deal with different customers. Now, I’m not party to my publishers’ deals, but it seems to me the most common price is 50% of the cover price. If they are lucky. More and more bookshops ask for 60-70%. If publishers sell through a distributor then the discount is 60-70% because the distributors have to earn their piece of pie too. The distributors offer a good service to the publishers, making it easier for them to get their books into shops, which is what we all wish to happen. And then there are sales teams, and if they are freelance then they too get a pie slice. For smaller publishers their share of a book profit, after production and shipping and design etc is around 10% also.

When some books are sold in large numbers and then fail to sell a publisher will be expected to pay for their return, or the books will be pulped.

And then there is Amazon. The only way they can offer books at the discount they do is to push as hard as they can for the biggest discount they can. When it comes to paying tax Amazon are careful to stand on the right side of the law but the taxes they pay as peanuts compared to their earnings, and they get huge tax subsidies to set up warehouses, tax breaks on rates, government money given to them without even a guarantee of a living wage being offered to their staff.

Amazon pay 11 times less corporation tax than high street bookshops.

Many people think it’s the seller who takes the hit when a book is discounted. It isn’t. It’s the publisher and the author. So why do so many authors still partner their websites with Amazon?

Project Goldcrest. Worth having a look at.

The problem with this is that bookshops can’t compete with the massive discounts, and many of them don’t want to. They understand that authors, illustrators, publishers need to earn a living. Also small publishers find that they are increasingly expected to offer the big discounts to bookshops and there’s no understanding that the unit costs for them are higher so the profits are lower than for the big publishers who can print in larger numbers.

So why do all publishers sell to Amazon? Well, they don’t. But if something has an isbn it will inevitably be listed on Amazon. They list everything registered. There was a time when bookshops subscribed to the Nielsen listings. Maybe this was before the internet. But this costs money, so now many small indie bookshops use Amazon as a database. If your book isn’t listed on Amazon it then becomes invisible and no amount of marketing, appealing to readers, will make it show up. Not only this, but some bookshops will then see that Amazon are offering the book at a higher discount than they can buy it for from their wholesaler, and will order from Amazon and sell on to the customer. Who can blame them as they try so hard to make a living ( and how many bookshops have had people browse, photograph books and then walk out saying  they would get it cheaper on Amazon. My worst case of this was a man explaining, or mansplaining, to Nick in Mr B’s how he should become an Amazon reviewer because they would send him books for free that he could then sell on in his shop. Argh. FACEPALM!)

If you are still with me, still reading, then you need to know that while some authors, a very few, earn a lot of money, many more who work very hard are struggling. These days sales are considered to be ‘good’ if you sell 2000 copies. If you take the sums above and do the maths it will give you an idea of average yearly earnings. Many authors supplement this income with school visits, and it’s good that now most literary festivals offer a fee. When people offer you ‘exposure’ as your fee at a festival think of mountaineers. People die of exposure. Exposure doesn’t pay the mortgage, rent, bills.

There is a movement towards fairer contracts for authors, illustrators. The Society of Authors is asking publishers to sign up to this.

 

So, when I say on twitter, please don’t buy my books from Amazon, but from your local bookshop, this is the longer argument.

I realise not everyone can get to a bookshop. I realise that for many books are a luxury. That used to be what libraries were for and perhaps if Amazon took their tax liability more seriously perhaps the public funding of services would be stronger. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty. I just want to educate people into understanding the implication of the choices we all make.

A book isn’t a pie. I’ve read books that have changed my life, filled up my heart, challenged my thinking, soothed my soul. A book isn’t a product.

I’v met so many wonderful readers, booksellers who work so hard to make a living, keep their staff employed. We need to work together to level out the playing field before it’s too late. If we want diversity in publishing we need to share out that pie in a fairer fashion. Bookshops aren’t individual shop windows for Amazon. They are experiences. I’ve been to so many now as I travel the country. They have their own character, individuality, beauty.

I’m off on the road in the month of Oct, to London, Cornwall, through Somerset, across South Wales. In November I am heading to Lake District. My schedule is packed, but if you have an indie bookshop enroute then contact me via publishers and I will do my best to call in and sign stock for you. This is a link to my travels.

Thanks for reading ( a bit longer than 140 character tweet). All this talk of books makes me want to go and read. Please leave comments to add to this debate, whether you are a reader, a bookseller, a publisher. We need to keep talking, because we need to make changes.

 

 

 

 

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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26 Responses to Think of a book as being like a pie.

  1. Pen Thompson says:

    Thanks Jackie – an informative blog, not a rant. And you are right , we should buy from independents . And I have ordered 3 of your books from Solva Woollen Mill and am looking forward to them. But Mrs Noah’s Pockets I did source via Amazon, having read about it on Twitter via a fellow enthusiast and I doubt I’d have bought it if that easy search, click and buy option hadn’t been available. So I fully understand the problem, and do try to buy from independents , but I also know I will get a proportion of my books from Amazon beacuase of the ease and speed of doing so. And I’m sorry .

  2. John Ward says:

    Very well said, Jackie. An admirable exposition of what has always struck me as an overcomplicated and back-to-front industry, where those on whom it all depends get little more than the scraps that fall from the table after the pie has been guzzled by others.

    More power to your elbow, as my mother used to say. Another thing that people overlook is that the internet makes any independent bookshop your local bookshop, provided it has a web presence and outlet. Book-ish Crickhowell and Solva Mill are two of the best local bookshops in Perth, or indeed anywhere on the planet.

  3. Adam says:

    Very interesting piece. Since we’re talking money and fairness, there are a lot of writers lower down the food chain who are paid in “exposure”. A necessary evil perhaps on the road to achieving some sort of recognition and, eventually, some level of remuneration, but increasingly hard to make that next step. Saturated markets coupled with the false idea that the writer’s life is easy and glamorous do not help.

  4. Dear Jackie, Thank you. I loved your books as a teacher. Now as a newbie independent bookseller, I am determined that an even wider readership should benefit from your titles.
    It is a privilege to sell children’s books, and by golly, aren’t we rich with great children’s books that need to be know, read, shared, recognised and bought honestly and fairly.
    We’ve been trading 3 1/2 months; already I’m used to ‘friends’ saying, ‘But I can get my books from Amazon?’ ‘Don’t you worry about Amazon?’ ‘Why don’t you use them as a supplier?’ ‘I take my recommendations from you and then buy from Amazon’. ‘Amazon has free delivery.’ ‘Shouldn’t you sell through Amazon?’
    The anonymous might and power of Amazon to annihilate the real people in the pie is morally and financially contemptible.
    Thank you for your post.
    I hope you pass our way on your travels, Bronnie

    • Jackie says:

      I have a friend, Marilyn Brocklehurst. She spent years as a librarian, then more as a bookseller. She reviews for The Bookseller. She has an indepth knowledge of books, makes up lists of books for teachers. She had a teacher sit in her shop, using her wifi, drinking her coffee, using her advice and expertise and ordering from Amazon. I would have tipped her coffee over her keyboard and asked her to leave.

  5. Bernie Bell says:

    Blimey, Jackie – just reading that, was a job of work in itself! That isn’t a criticism – what I mean is – say a person has an idea, an inspiration, they write about it, or draw it or paint it. They would like this idea to be spread to others – maybe a book would be a good thing to do? But….to go through all that malarkey – who has the head for it?
    I wrote some stories, someone I know said I should make a little book of them – I said if she wanted to make the book – fine – I don’t have the head for it – not even the trying to get folk to buy stuff side of it. Nothing happened – I don’t mind, but then – I don’t need to make a living from my writing – folk can read it for free in ‘The Orkney News’.
    http://www.theorkneynews.scot
    That you write, draw, paint, live – live very fully – and can follow all that business stuff too, is a marvel to me. We all have different ways of mind and being – good on you – I followed it – I tried to follow it, but it almost turned into what happens when folk try to explain computer stuff to me – I glaze over. But – I don’t have to/need to follow it – you do, to make your living.
    You get the message across very clearly – as do the folk who are taking part in this discussion. John Ward echoes what I said in the earlier blog page Small sellers are on t’Internet, too.
    Watch out for that exposure – make sure it’s not indecent!

  6. Bernie Bell says:

    PS I’ve got a proper link
    https://theorkneynews.scot/tag/bernie-bell/
    Read from the bottom-up, as some of the stories follow on from each other – enjoy!

  7. Anna Beddow says:

    Thanks so much for this Jackie, it’s really helpful. More than ever before we need to support our indies. Manchester has 3 ( I think) and one of them has just announced that it’s closing at Christmas, which tells its own sad story….
    Your blog wasn’t a rant at all, and my guess is many readers like me, don’t know the facts. I had no idea about the publishers selling direct. I’d always assumed that was a good thing, so thank you for the detail.
    I love your work and am so looking forward to Lost Words being published soon.

    • Jackie says:

      Publishers selling direct is a good thing, but not when they discount their books online which undercuts the very people they market to. One of my publishers does it. It seems so wrong to me. But then their website is out of date and much of the info is wrong.

  8. Bernie Bell says:

    PPS
    I was thinking – £20 for a book such as ‘The Lost Words’, is nothing. Considering all the thought and work which has gone into it, £20 really is ab-so-lut-ely nothing.
    Folk go out and spend that on a meal, which they then shit out the next day, and think nothing of it. This is a book – a lovely thing, full of good things, to keep, and pass on. £20 is nothing.
    Why gripe about it? If you can afford it, buy it at Jackie’s asking price, if you really can’t afford it, go without. It’s very straight-forward.
    £20 is nothing, for something like that.
    I’ll stop growling, now.

    • Jackie says:

      I’ve been in the position where £20 was a lot. But then so was Amazon’s £13.60.
      If you are poor you are poor and if you’ve no money for food for your kids then you’ve no money for books. The poor argument holds no sway with me…. I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like to worry about bills and children. Fortunately I’ve managed to get by. The thing is, if you can’t afford the £20 that gives all a fair share then you can’t afford the £13.60 either. It’s what libraries are for. And I will fight for them to.

  9. It’s been a pleasure communicating with the folks at Solva Mill, where I’ve purchased two of your books. There are so few bookstores around here, the one I visit is a university bookstore. As an artists’ book maker my concerns are a wee bit different, but it’s still the gallery or agent who take 40-50% of the price; and sometimes when work gets returned it’s no longer in good shape. I applaud the gallery/agent, they do what I don’t like doing and get the work into special collections in many places. On an editioned book that has a high price, that bookmaker is still only receiving about 50%. And when you remember the bookmaker is the author/illustrator/designer/printer/fabricator/binder/papermaker or she has to hire someone for some of that work that $225.00 price tag on one of 40 books make more sense. Having editioned a book last year with that price my copies (not the letterpress printer’s) all sold. I did all of the sales except 5 or 6 that went to a dealer. And really, how many people can actually afford books in that price range?

  10. I am very fortunate that many of our customers value the time and thought that we put into selecting the books that we sell at Number Seven Dulverton and do purchase from us at the RRP, they value our knowledge and expertise at whittling down the vast choice available into an enjoyable, accessible environment. However, this week I have had a glut of customers taking details of books, even asking for pen and paper to write down the ISBN number so that they can search for it on Amazon. It makes me despair, they have enjoyed browsing and discovering, and buying from us acts as a thank you for that pleasure. Of course, I don’t expect everyone who comes in to buy on every visit, some customers come to feed their soul with a Number Seven fix and return at other times to buy. But when the public use me purely as a reference library or shop window for Amazon I get quite protective and very frustrated.

    At Number Seven we aim to create some beauty in the world. Book buying feeds a creative expression – driving past faceless, grey warehouses, stacked high with book upon book, along the motorway is no joy to the eye and being an independent book shop we add character and individuality in any town – that’s a small price to pay.

    Perhaps we need some writer/ author version of The Great Pottery Throwdown! Sounds horrendous, but more customers now understand the hours worked and skill invested in the ceramics we sell and understand the price tag reflects such workmanship.

    I cannot understand a business where books that are eagerly awaited by fans to be published get sold via pre-order at a vastly discounted price, it just makes no sense and surely is not sustainable. I can safely say that as much as I love his writing I will not be stocking Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust, when Waterstones will be selling it for the price I have to pay the publisher…

    • Jackie says:

      Didn’t you say that someone asked Jan to write the isbn of a book down for her, and when she said no, the customer exclaimed, ‘but what if I want to buy it?’ Well, buy it then. Then she would have the isbn and not have to write it down.
      As librarians are to libraries, so booksellers are to book buying. I love the books you have in and always find something new and beautiful in Number Seven. Great to hear you have been passed as fit to stock Blackwings.

    • Bernie Bell says:

      All I can say, Davina, is – keep on keeping on.
      This makes hard reading. What do these people think they are doing? That’s the problem – they don’t THINK.
      If they behave this way, there may not be any bookshops left for them to browse in – looking, smelling (books and bookshops smell good too), enjoying – not just finding the particular book they were looking for, but coming across other, un-known books, while they’re there. Maybe talking with the bookshop person, maybe talking with folk they meet there and exchanging thoughts. This all disappears when things are simply ordered from the big companies, via the Internet.
      On this blog page, someone else tells of how a teacher comes into their bookshop, and uses the free Internet access to order from Amazon! Teachers aren’t just for maths and geography – they’re supposed to also help young people to get some idea of how to live right.
      What a nerve, though! What a goddam nerve! Then these people probably wonder why the world in general is going to hell in a hat-box. It does all connect.
      Have they no shame?
      I risk wittering at you. I mainly want to say – as I often say to people, including myself – what you do is what you do, what others do, is what they do. It’s their choice, their karma. The difference is, that you have a living to make, and, when their behaviour damages that – that’s hard to face with equanimity.
      There are many, many people who do appreciate good things in every way and every aspect of life. These will continue to be your customers, whether in the shop, or on-line.
      I simply don’t know what to say about these people who come in and use your shop in this way – grown people. Please, though, Davina, try not to let it get to you. It’s getting to me, and I’m not even a bookseller! NIL DESPERANDUM.
      I don’t really understand the reference to how Philip Pullman’s book is being sold – that’s not my world. I will say, that if Philip Pullman is a party to these price-cutting shenanigans, he should be ashamed of himself. I believe that part of what he writes about is – being true to your self and your comrades. Would Lyra behave that way?
      A bear stops being a bear, when they stop being true to themself. Does an artist lose something when they swim too merrily in the corporate world? I don’t know if this is what is happening – or if his books are being sold in a way that he doesn’t agree with either.
      I also don’t know what The Great Pottery Throwdown is – I live a quiet life!
      Keep on keeping on, Davina – people do appreciate real shops – some people do appreciate real …..everything!

      • Jackie says:

        Philip is in the unfortunate position of promoting fair trade in the book business while his new book, which his loyal fans will be desperate for ( me included) is being sold half price by Waterstones. It means that many indies won’t stock it. Such a shame.

        • Jackie says:

          I’m doing two events with Waterstones. So far they are holding the price at £20 which is great. I’ve done stock signings before and been to some branches. Love Waterstones Truro. And I LOVE that Waterstones have always been great supporters of fantasy fiction.

      • Thank you Bernie,

        I believe Philip Pullman is at the forefront of trying to regain the RRP back on books. I think what has happened to his new title has brought it to the forefront and highlighted the discrepancies, but then I’m sure the monopolies commission would have something to say…

        Most of our customers are a joy and love being in Number Seven and do support us, so we are very fortunate. I try to focus on those most of the time but its the bad pennies that you often remember for ruffling your feathers!

        • Jackie says:

          We need more big sellers to come in with support. Those of us who wander in the ‘midlist’ are struggling. I can only continue to work in publishing because I am supported by people who buy my paintings. And I begin to wonder whether just painting is a more attractive profession. But then I do so love stories.
          I’ve ideas brewing. To do something different.

  11. Bernie Bell says:

    I ‘googled’ Waterstones, as I had only a vague idea what they are, and thought they were, kind-of, the Starbucks of the book-selling world. This is one of the entries I found:-

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/waterstones-defends-unbranded-shops-after-accusations-of-subterfuge-a7603331.html

    Sneaky. Hmmmmmmm. No comment needed.

    We just have Tamm’s bookshop, in Stromness, and The Orcadian bookshop in Kirkwall ( The Orcadian being the local newspaper). This level of choice, suits me – the lady who now runs Tamm’s will order anything you ask her to – within the bounds of legality!
    Have you ever seen that film about a small, friendly bookshop being squeezed out and gobbled up by a huge superstore bookshop? It’s all ok though, because the two shop owners fall in love, and she sees that his big bookshop is A GOOD THING really – AAAAAH!
    Starring , I think, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks – who collects typewriters, and should know better!

  12. Bernie Bell says:

    Completely changing the subject – my ‘Help Musicians’ Christmas catalogue arrived today, so I can order some of your Christmas cards. Hurrah!
    If anyone else would like to – go to helpmusicians.org.uk

  13. Stuart Hill says:

    Just found your blog Jackie after a frantic time of preparing for art stuff and rushing to beat deadlines. I am one of the many struggling authors who’s seen royalties diminish to the realms of the totally pathetic. The amount of effort needed to produce a novel is certainly not reflected in the returns. It always amuses me when people assume that because you’re a published author you must be rich…oh if only!

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