Saturday, 30 July 2011

Wartime recycling

I took the dustjacket off the 1941 edition of Primrose Cumming's The Silver Eagle Riding School, so I could put it in a protective cover, which as you can see it was in dire need of, and lo!

this was on the other side.

 I've never actually seen the dustjacket for Khyberie, so this was a double treat.  What a shame it is to have to cover it up, but you can't have both sides of a bookjacket on display at once.  This isn't the only double-sided dustjacket I've found, but it's the only one I've managed to photograph.  I'm not sure whether this was strictly a wartime practice.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Morning walk

It's harvest time, as I realised when I emerged from my work-induced fug and took the dog for her afternoon walk.  Quite how I had missed the characteristic combine hum I do not know.  Obviously I was much more into the cataloguing than I thought.  I hoped that the contactors wouldn't have started again by the time I did  my early morning walk the next day so I'd have chance to photograph the half done bits.  If I were a really good writer, I would now be telling you why I find the half doneness so intriguing but I can't actually think of anything momentous.  On that profound note, on to the photos.

Harvest time is one of the dog's best things.  For months, she has not been able to go into the crops, as I had it hammered into me by my farming relations from the time I was able to move on my own that one went ROUND the growing field, not THROUGH it.  Oh the horror when one day my sister and I, having done what we thought was a very careful recce went straight through the riverside field (planted with something) instead of round the edge.  We were seen, and our sin was reported to our grandparents.  It was quite a formative experience.

Once the harvest's done I cast off the dog's shackles and let her go off footpath briefly before it is sown again and we go back to the straight and narrow.

Further on in the walk, I try to count the pigs. I know there is at least one fewer as there is a notice on the farm gate offering half of one for sale.  Regret again that I have not got round to buying a chest freezer, for at least the tenth year running. The pigs do not help in my quest to count them, as they are still fast asleep. There should be new pigs soon as the boar's been and spent his time with Mrs Pig.

Right at the end of the walk, in the field the pigs aren't using, are these runner beans.  Not sure if they were planted deliberately.  I hope they survive.  There are certainly human foxes around. Our pear tree lolls over into the churchyard, and every single pear that side has been stripped: pointlessly as they are nowhere near ripe, so the thieves, having taken a few experimental bites and found the pears still rock hard, ended up dumping the chewed remains on the path.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Latest on Amazon

Amazon's acquisition of The Book Depository has been submitted to Ireland's Irish Competition Authority, which has just reported back on the proposed acquisition after a three week investigation. They've cleared it, saying that the acquisition "will not lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any markets for goods or services in the state."  Full details on the decision will be released next month.

The decision by the UK's equivalent body, the Office of Fair Trading, should be released by 30th August, at which point the OFT will state whether or not it will refer the takeover to the Competition Commission.  

The Irish decision blows something of a cold wind over at least this bookseller, though of course it's no guarantee of what will or what will not happen.  

I am not hugely convinced by the combined submission by the Publishers' Association and the Independent Publisher's Guild to the OFT, which states that Amazon acquiring the Book Depository will lead to a supermarket-like choice of only bestsellers, as well as decreasing competition.  I'm not certain that this will be the case: the consumer, I believe, will not initially be the one to suffer.  The consumer generally does very nicely thank you out of nice Amazon:  oddles of choice, and the opportunity to make a little money yourself selling off what you've read.   If Amazon doesn't have the choice from its own warehouses, it more than makes up for it with Marketplace.

It's the book sellers who will suffer: the independent bookshops; the chains; and the publishers.  Amazon is not above throwing its corporate weight around (as I've written in earlier blog posts).  With Amazon's increasing acquisitions, and its increasing forays into being a publisher itself, comes the need to make sure its considerable power is exercised to the good.

Clive Keeble, in his reaction to the news piece in, says:
"The launch of Marketplace in 2001 (April 2002 in UK) was the rocket that launched Amazon into dominance.
Book listings were the gatekeeper to the Amazon website ; however Amazon ensured that they were responsible for minimal stocking liabilities via such as the Advantage programme. At the same time Amazon further squeezed the large publishers for preferrential terms.
Amazon quickly realised that Marketplace was akin to 'slots'(fruit machines) for revenue ; assured percentage commission plus the monthly listing fee from millions of third party sellers.
Nowadays, I believe that Amazon will happily subsidise any losses on their own direct sales of new books from their massive revenue from third party sellers such as TBD. If large publishers are willing and weak then Amazon will happily turn the screw on terms.
I could give numerous instances where Amazon has deliberately predatory priced recently published titles without the assistance of additional discount from publishers. Refuse to supply Amazon and they will source from the wholesale network (if the publishers do not supply the general wholesale network then they would lose sales to many smaller booksellers).
I believe that the objections to the takeover of TBD by Amazon are on very weak grounds : however, I desperately hope that they are reined back. Without the power of strong legislation there will be no control over Amazon ; the various trade bodies should have been petitioning political movers and shakers at least seven or eight years ago."

True.  We must now hope the OFT does not follow Ireland's lead.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What holiday?

Last week I spent the holiday money.  Business has been up and down of late (though I seemed spectacularly unaffected by the Royal Wedding - it's school holidays as does me down) so I was mulling on whether or not to invest in the business, which is still making a profit, just about, or hang on and have a couple of days away, though even this might have come to naught anyway because of other family pressures.

Anyway, when the chance of new stock came up; and a lot of it at that, I took it. We will be having family days out.   New stock doesn't always come along when you want it to in my line of business: once I knew I was going to buy this, of course someone else contacted me with another large collection they thought I might be interested in.  It was mostly children's books, rather than horse, so I didn't feel as bad as I might have done at turning it down, but I felt a pang.

So, off I went last week to the deepest Midlands.  Here's some pictures of what I bought - 261 horse and pony books. I am now barricaded into my desk by piles of books, and anyone who wants to use the computer other than me does so with threats of death ringing in their ears lest they disturb a pile in any way.   The family are used to this.  If anyone struggles, it is me, as I build up large piles of books next to my chair without giving any thought about how I am going to get out.  It's a new slant on painting yourself into a corner, I suppose.

I felt quite pleased with myself today as I have catalogued 40 books, though having worked out that that still leaves 221, I felt less buoyant.

Movement is very slightly easier, as I have tried to catalogue by area: I've identified a small rectangle of rug which if I clear, I can get out without either breaking an ankle or worse, kicking a book.  Some people catalogue alphabetically and in order. I catalogue so I can get out and eat.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Guest blogger - Meg Rosoff

I have a guest blogger - the wonderful Meg Rosoff (and I have a couple more guest bloggers waiting in the wings too). Meg is a prize winning author.  She's won  the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2004 for How We Live Now, and the CLIP Carnegie Medal in 2007 for Just in Case.  And she likes pony books.

Over to Meg...

I grew up in the wrong country. I know this because there weren’t enough pony books in America. By the time I turned eleven, I’d read eighteen Black Stallion books, twelve Marguerite Henrys, Black Beauty, Taffy’s Foal, Blaze Finds the Trail, and even (though reluctantly) a bunch of vaguely horsey cowboy books -- though I was decidedly not interested in anything other than the ponies. Desperate, I moved on to The Yearling (a deer book -- what a cheat), The Red Pony (too sad even to think about), Strider by Leon Tolstoy (I think it’s fair to say that I entirely missed the communist metaphor), Dapple Grey in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book. All very literary, but not what I was after.

The pickings became increasingly slim as I moved up in my teens and then twenties. Anything by Molly Keane was likely to feature fox hunting. Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man was bliss. Later there was Hound Music by Rosalind Belben. And then I moved to England at the age of thirty-two and found myself in retro-pony book heaven. Despite my advanced age, I read all the books I’d missed growing up. KM Peyton and Ruby Ferguson were top favourites, but anything with a gymkhana and a handsome older brother kept me happy for days.

Then I ran out again. The Horse Whisperer? Surely not. Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses wasn’t really about horses. I couldn’t face Jilly Cooper’s Riders, though I’m still tempted occasionally. Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven was perfect, despite being about racing, but what I really wanted was an endless supply of pony books. For grown-ups.

So I did what any other self-respecting frustrated pony book lover would have done in my place. I wrote one. It was called Horse Therapy and it wasn’t very good (I’d never owned a horse, and hadn’t ridden in 25 years) but it had a certain energy and it probably made up in relationships what it lacked in yard-lore. And when I say relationships, I mean sex.

“I don’t think I can sell a pony book with quite so much sex in it,” said my new agent politely. So I threw it away and wrote another book. And then two more, and then my answer to Tess of the D’urbervilles, a pony book for teens and grown-ups called The Bride’s Farewell. My pony-loving friends loved it. My mother thought it would read better without all the pony rubbish.

I still hanker after pony stories. I read them secretly, hiding them from my uncomprehending husband and daughter like pony porn, and I’d still love to write them. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that Kathy Peyton has written all the books I wanted to write, and written them with more elegance, wit, and first hand knowledge than I’ll never have. Unable to better that, it’s back to more mundane subjects – adolescence, love, war, depression, family, identity – minus the pony. Which, if you ask me, doesn’t help the finished product at all.

Thank you Meg. I now want to read Horse Therapy.  If anyone out there hasn't read The Bride’s Farewell, I can highly recommend it.  Meg's latest book has moved away from horseworld.  It's called There is No Dog.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Coping with repellent books

By which I mean physically repellent, rather than the content: a subject for a whole new blog post.

Bookdealers come across some rare delights in their efforts to find stock.  I suppose that's true of dealers in secondhand anything, though I'm glad my days of doing NCT Nearly New sales, and finding baby clothes for sale with the baby sick still on them, are now past.   (I used to run these, and we instituted a ruthlessly efficient quality control system to root out this wickedness...)

I also used to sort books for a local Cancer Research shop, and never ceased to be amazed by what people thought we could sell:  colouring books already coloured in; books with half the pages missing; books which had obviously been in the bath; books which had spent a long time in a dusty attic, and my particular favourites, books which had spent some time in a damp garden shed.  There is nothing like sorting through a box of slightly damp, mould ridden and reeking books, to cheer your day.  Wait, yes there is.  There was the box of books which contained a mummified mouse corpse.

And how do you describe these book gems? If I ever ran an estate agency (unlikely but I have done quite a bit in my nearly 50 years, and you never know) I would like my property  descriptions to be along the Roy Brooks line.  Famous in the 1960s for his honest, nay fearless descriptions of what he was trying to sell - he would never have described the utterly bijou broom cupboard sold near Harrods as an opportunity - I feel that he could still teach the book world a thing or two.

Lacking properties to describe, though I am open to offers from any estate agency willing to give me a go, I expend my efforts on books.  I don't usually sell books which smell bad, but after dithering with the following book for sometime, I decided to give it a go.  If no one buys it, which is, I suppose, given the write-up, more likely than not, I think I will do an Unlucky Dip.   I haven't yet decided whether to do this on an opt-in or opt-out basis, but am open to persuasion either way.

Here is the book in question: it's Patience McElwee's Dark Horse:

"Reading copy only and not for the faint hearted even then; ex library and still reeks of smoke despite lengthy exposure to odour removing granules. The dustjacket is laminated to the boards; is faded to the spine, and chipped. The fep has been removed, and the front hinge mended.  The pages are reasonably clean.  Excellent read by a now sadly under rated author, in which the orphan Hardcastles are caught between their grandmother's almighty snobbery and wish to outdo her "friend", and the casual shenanigans of the grand but incredibly scruffy O'Briens.  I can supply a clothes peg with the book should you wish."

So, what do you do if you, all unwary, buy a book which turns out to reek of smoke/cooking fat/mould? There are things you can try, besides the odour removing granules I occasionally use, with occasional success.

Most importantly, if a book has that mouldy reek, it needs a period of at least a month in the freezer to kill the mould spores.  If left to its own devices, the mould can infect your other books.  When the book emerges from the freezer, it will be delightfully odour free for around 5 minutes.  Once it starts to approach room temperature, the mouldy stench will re-emerge.  So, now that you have a (you hope) non infectious, but still smelly book, what can you do?

You can try the heat treatment; at least if you live somewhere consistently sunny.  I have read a bookseller's lyrical description of putting a book out in the sun for the whole day, turning a few pages at a time to cook.  And then repeating that, day after day.  If I add that the seller lived in America (and I assume somewhere like California) you will see why that might be a legitimate choice.  Doing that in the joy that is the English summer would only lead to damp ruin.

Fuller's Earth (obtainable from a pet shop near you) is supposed to work.  Wrap the book in paper and then bury it in a bag of Fuller's Earth.  This is supposed to absorb the smell, and does as long as the book is not too bad to start with.

I have also heard that putting the book into a sealed plastic bag with one of those freshener things you put in with the tumble drying is supposed to work.  I've never tried it, as I can't bear the smell of the freshener things, and the thought of that, not quite overlaying the mould reek, turns my stomach.

My own take on this is that if a book smells really bad, it will go on doing so, no matter what you do.  If a book is, on a scale of 1-5, 1 or 2, then it's worth trying remedies.

If you have any patent remedies, particularly for anything you've tried on the upper end of the scale, please add to the comments.

Update:  Dark Horse is now sold.  It's the only book I have sold out of the current crop of new stock, so maybe that's telling me something.

Friday, 15 July 2011

My Little Pony?

I was going to post about a DIY My Little Pony program I found, because I was quite proud of librarian pony, but then via Troton TV on Twitter came the glorious news that the bling heavy primping that infests the beauty pageant scene has now spread to ponies.   At the Calgary Stampede, no less, which I'd always thought was quite tough and rodeo-ish.  Pics and story here.  Eyeliner.  Eye shadow.  Sparkly hair gel. They shave their muzzles, for goodness' sake.  Horses have hairs there because they need them.

If primping is what floats your boat, then why not stick to My Little Pony, who frankly won't really care if you daub it with eyeshadow?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Grow, grow the lightning tree

We are a television-rich household, I admit it. My children simply can't conceive a world where television was not.  When I was a child, we had a television, which received all of, ooh, one, chanel.  BBC1.  I knew Playschool existed, but it was on BBC 2, and we didn't have BBC 2, so Playschool remained a dim and wistful fantasy for me.  We lurched into the modern age with a bang after the science programme Tomorrow's World "experimented" with colour television, which had hoards of people rushing home to see if they could see this attempt at getting us to see colour through our black and white screens.  Yes well.  I couldn't see anything myself, and frankly didn't believe anyone who said they could at school the next day.

My stepfather had a similarly robust view, and rather than squint and attempt to "see" colour, he simply went out and bought a new television.  Not only was it colour, but, almost more exciting, it had more than one channel.  THREE! BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.  Not that this panorama of richness was opened up to us, because my mother had (and still has) a deep and abiding suspicion of ITV, which she thought was low.  We were not supposed to watch ITV.  We were particularly not supposed to watch Magpie, ITV's equivalent of Blue Peter.  We were lucky enough to live in a house large enough for the kitchen to be a good distance away from the television room, and so my sister and I would take turns to be on watch during Magpie, listening for Mum coming down the hall, at which point one of us would lunge for the tv and change the channel to virtuous BBC 1.

This left me with two things: a soft spot for the Magpie presenter Mick Robertson; tall; lean and curly haired, and a tendency to never read the tv listings for ITV because they don't count.  Possibly spurred on by my infant passion, I went on to marry someone tall, lean and curly haired, and that wasn't the wisest decision of my life.  Maybe my mother's anti-Magpie feeling was a presentiment of the doom that her daughter would embrace, and the first move in a decade long (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to get her daughter to see sense.  As for ITV, I occasionally regret my automatic passing over of its listings, but technology has moved to accommodate me there.

All this anti-commercial television sentiment in our household is possibly why I don't remember the Follyfoot television series with quite the same passion that many still do.  I certainly had (and still have) the books, written by Monica Dickens - the series was based on her book Cobbler's Dream, and she wrote the books that then accompanied the television series.   I can't remember my mother having a particular down on Follyfoot - she certainly didn't for ITV's Black Beauty as I watched that, presumably its status as a classic meaning Mum was able to overcome the commercialism that studded the breaks.

I can't remember the tune that introduced Follyfoot, either.  Well, to be more accurate, I couldn't.  It is now my resident earworm, having heard it on this snippet from Yorkshire Regional News.  Follyfoot is now 40, and to celebrate there was a day of events, with visits to the locations, and star turns from the hero and heroine of the series, actors Steven Hodson and Gillian Blake. If you haven't clicked on the link in the rush to get on to the Youtube clip you have spied, here it is again.  It's fascinating viewing.

If you want more of The Lightning Tree, (sung by The Settlers, I see) here it is:

I think I might, just might, have to buy the full set of DVDs.

And for those who are curious, there is apparently a phenomenon known as as the Fechner colour effect which gives the impression of rapidly moving black and white images being in colour.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

What would they be doing now?

The thing with reading classic literature, particularly if you've seen a lot of BBC adaptations (and I have), is that the characters become wedded to their period dress and their distant period world.  Wuthering Heights I had to read for A level, and I can't even write the words without dark, lowering moors and a lot of swishing, probably sodden and muddy, fabric, coming to mind.  Some of that might be an over-familiarity with Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, mind.

I didn't have a huge amount of sympathy for Heathcliff and Cathy even in my surly teenage years, thinking whatever the 1970s equivalent of "What are they ON?" would have been. I know we were supposed to find Nellie Dean the housekeeper narrator the dull antithesis of all that wild and romantic emotion but I had a sneaking sympathy for her. What I liked about the book was the moors: if you regard Cathy and Heathcliff as an extension of the moors, they're just about bearable, but as human beings they're really tedious. Cathy I see as the sort who would drive you completely mental these days, needing lots of long and invariably booze-filled sessions with girlfriends binding on and on and on about Edgar. And Heathcliff. And she would be one of those "friends" who is so self-obsessed they never, not once, ask you about what you're doing, and who never take your advice either, though they are constantly asking you for it.

Becky Sharp, on the other hand....

Monday, 11 July 2011

Amazon from the other side of the fence

Amazon is phenomenally successful, which begs the question - why?

From the consumer's point of view, Amazon is a good thing.  Prices are (generally) low, choice is phenomenal, you can return anything for any reason.  With Amazon's feedback system the buyer is in control:  the buyer can say pretty much what they want, and if an Amazon seller isn't any good, this should emerge soon in the feedback.  Amazon feedback and the seller rating is a fine method of keeping sellers up to scratch.  If a seller's feedback is bad, sales will slip.

Amazon's business practice is pretty much like that of the British supermarket.  It provides what the customer wants, and the customer keeps coming back.

"Customer service from Amazon is always pretty good as a buyer. I buy non-book items there. When [my husbsand] first got his ipod he was having problems with the download software for buying MP3s from Amazon and the help page asked if he would like a phone call to help him. He clicked yes and the phone went straight away. All sorted out with speed."
"I buy paperbacks from  Amazon when I can't find them in local shops or I am in a real hurry. I find the service by Amazon  itself to be very good, books do arrive on time and when there are problems they have a helpful and no quibble return/replacement service, including the time a neighbour signed for my parcel but forgot to pass it to me. Only problem - their packers seem to think any new book will do and sometimes send pbs which are less than perfect, but if you complain another copy is sent, the indication being that the books themselves are so cheap for them it just doesn't matter."

Matters are not quite so good in the Amazon Marketplace, which is its platform for sellers with secondhand or rare books to sell.   As I wrote in previous blogs, many booksellers have to sell on Amazon in order to survive, but they share a pond with poor practice and inaccuray. 

"Marketplace, which I only use if nothing else is available, is a right lottery and you have to read feedback carefully. Books can be terrible 2nd hand on there." 

And again:

"My experience buying from re-sellers has been much more mixed and I usually try to avoid it, partly because the description is often generic and the packing unbelievable, (single layer plastic bags, tight string marking boards etc); slow too. This means I do take notice of feedback in my decision making ......"

Does Amazon really care about the secondhand book side of its business?    It is very difficult to compare like with like.  I tried looking for a first edition of Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming.  What I wanted was the first edition hardback, which is a very, very expensive book indeed. This is what came up:

I tried hitting the hardback tab.  It didn't help.

I gave up, and decided to try a children's book, Enid Blyton's first Famous Five title, Five Go on a Treasure Hunt. Amazon had several copies of the hardback reprint available (though no first editions as far as I could see).  Amazon has a great many sellers who sell enormous amounts of books through them, providing not one whit of a description.  Take this example, with sellers with similar feedback ratings:

In the first example, you don't know for sure whether you're even getting a hardback, let alone whether it has a dustjacket, is ex library, or has names and addresses all over the first blank page.  There are many large sellers on Amazon who use this sort of generic description.  Sellers get no credit from Amazon for providing the sort of informative and concise description the second seller uses.  I know which I'd rather buy.

Inaccuracy is rife on Amazon.  I tried looking up a book I know well in all its editions, Ruby Ferguson's Jill's Gymkhana.  Amazon have, according to it, over 30 copies of this book in the paperback edition published by Knight in 1977.  The picture shown in the example below is, however, the paperback edition published in 1968.  Amazon's insistence on each book being entered under its actual year of publication leads to multiple listings (3 pages of them in the case of Jill's Gymkhana).  If you were to enter your book under the correct heading, it would not appear at the top of the listings, which is where most people will look.  So sellers don't enter their listings where they should be: fine if you're not bothered about what edition you read, but very irritating if you are.

When I wrote last about Amazon and its service to the buyer, I said that what Amazon did not provide was personal service and depth of knowledge.  Author information and bibliographies were short on the ground.  Since I wrote that, Amazon has made an attempt to plug that gap.  Here's Amazon's page on Ruby Ferguson: 

Here's mine:

So what is a bookseller to do?  Take a leaf out of the small food suppliers' book, I think.  One bookseller said to me:

"The plus for both ebay and Amazon is the feedback system for all its faults. I think this is why, along with choice and price, we struggle with our own sites. People are so wary of buying from someone they don’t know. I think social networking helps to a balance that out a bit. If you tweet or blog you become a person out in the internet."

I think that seller is right:  booksellers have to make strenuous efforts (and it is hard work) to appear as an individual, and not hide behind piles of cataloguing.  

Friday, 8 July 2011

Bits and pieces

You will never, not ever, get the same thrill from an e-reader as you will looking at this lot.  Not if you're me, at any rate.

Thanks to the Mumsnet blogging network, of which I am a member - see smart new badge thing at the side of the blog - I found this excellent blog about the trials and tribulations (plenty of both) on a Perthshire farm.

The Olympic Test event happened this week at Greenwich Park.  Here's the best report I've read of it, by Fran Jurga.

I loved this story of the author's introduction to The Elliott Bay Book Company:  a timely reminder in these corporate times, of the power of the independent.

There's an online children's literature festival at the Awfully Big Blogging Adventure on July 9th and 10th.  The ABBA is written by UK children's book authors, and the programme for the weekend is after the jump.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A detour

around natural history, while I plan my next Amazon post.  A few people have said to me recently that they don't have much in the way of ladybirds, and where have they all gone?  To the neglected tangle that is Badger Towers, is the answer.  For once my many gardening fails have worked in my favour, and the nettles I made only half hearted efforts to get rid of are covered with ladybirds in varying stages of development (was going to say gestation, but I don't suppose they do gestate, do they?)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Life as a bookdealer with Amazon

Whilst it's good news that Amazon's acquisition of the Book Depository has come to the notice of the Office of Fair Trading, who have started the merger enquiry process by inviting comments, none of that will make one iota of difference to the situation that the vast majority of bookdealers in this country have to deal with.

Last year I posted about the almost complete impossibility of running an online secondhand book business without having to use Amazon in some way.  I thought it would be interesting to look again at what life is like as a bookdealer all too aware of how much their livelihood depends on Amazon.  What follows is the body of my previous post, with updates as relevant.

In the early days of internet bookselling, there was AbeBooks, a Canadian company launched in 1996 whose mission was to provide a platform for booksellers to reach a wider audience, whilst maintaining their individuality. You paid Abe a monthly fee for listing your books, and another fee when a book sold. AbeBooks was a success: after all, it made sense to join together with other booksellers who had different inventories to yours. You reached customers you could never reach on your own, and life looked good.

Abe launched the British version of the site in 2002, and I joined in 2003. As the years went by, ABE, ever mindful I suppose of the need to satisfy shareholders, changed.  Listers with enormous numbers of books, many of them print on demand, started to appear on listings. Often you would have to wade through page after page of these "books" to reach a physical copy. Abe dropped its belief that booksellers should be able to promote themselves, forcing them to become more and more anonymous.  It now takes a determined buyer to winkle contact details for an individual seller out of Abe.   Abe stopped allowing booksellers to process credit card payments themselves.  Abe sellers have to have sales processed via Abe, which is far more expensive.  The sellers absorb the extra costs, not Abe.

With the constant whittling away of bookseller individuality, many booksellers decided that a website of their own was the way to go. A company called Chrislands provided websites specially set up for booksellers; easy to operate and set up - a tad samey in look, but efficient and bug free. I have one myself, and it's one of the best business decisions I ever took.

Abe then bought Chrislands in April 2008. In December 2008, Amazon bought Abe. It therefore owned Abe, the next largest bookselling site to itself, Chrislands, the major provider of websites to independent booksellers, as well as other companies Abe had already aquired: Fillz, Bookfinder and 40% of Librarything.  Abe, and therefore Amazon, have now bought the antiquarian site ZVAB.

So what is the problem with selling via Amazon?  Amazon's attitude to its sellers has always been more draconian than Abe: it had no history of having started as a service to booksellers, and it behaved like what it was, a large corporation with a very firm eye on the bottom line.

Over the years I sold on Amazon, the contact the seller was allowed with the buyer was cut, cut, and cut. Originally when you made a sale, you would be sent an email from Amazon including the buyer's email so you could contact them. Of course, if you did this, you were free to mention your own website on your email. Amazon then stopped sending sellers buyer's email information. Over the next few months, there was an entertaining dance by booksellers finding ways round this, and Amazon then plugging each new route.  Amazon have succeeded in locking everything down now.  All communication has to take place within a service monitored by Amazon. If you promote your own website via those messages, you are in trouble. If you send any promotional material out with the book, you are in trouble. There have been successive user agreements tightening up regulations yet further, and threatening suspension from Amazon if you transgress.  These are not empty threats.  I know booksellers who have been suspended, or threatened with suspension.

Amazon have also been obdurate about raising their postage charge, which has now lurched up a massive 5p to £2.80 for a UK book. Royal Mail charges have gone up each and every year, but the seller simply has to absorb that.    The bookdealer doesn't actually get £2.80, mind you:  out of this postage charge, Amazon take their "associated administration fee", which is £0.49.  You would think that there would be no difference in administering different postage charges:  once you have the system in place it would cost the same to administer any postage charge.  Not so.  Amazon charge US buyers £6.94.  The administration charge for this is not £0.49, but £1.08. Is this an administration charge, or just a cut of the sale?

I mentioned price parity, in which Amazon forbids the seller from charging less for their products elsewhere than Amazon.  I wasn't prepared to do this, so left Amazon last year, somewhat in fear and trepidation.  Fortunately for me, although sales have been down, they are not catastrophically so.  I am fortunate in being a niche retailer, selling horse and pony fiction.  I have a large and well-visited information website supporting my sales site.  Other booksellers are not necessarily so fortunate.  

So what's changed since I wrote last year?  I thought that Amazon would raise their 1p minimum price.  They haven't, as yet.  ABE have taken steps to clean up their offerings, trying to get rid of the megalisters by stating that a seller may list only two of a particular title.  This seems to have had a beneficial effect.  Chrislands have raised their monthly fee, but have at the same time increased what they offer.

None of this, however, has done anything to dispel the climate of fear that exists in the bookselling community.  I admit to waking much earlier than I'd like in the morning,  fretting, myself.  I sell principally through ABE and Chrislands.  Virtually all of my income is, ultimately, dependent on Amazon.  If Amazon get nasty with me my business will be rocked to its core.   Amazon still pursue those who sell on its site and who step out of line.  None of the comments I'm about to quote on how booksellers feel about Amazon are attributed.  The reason?  Each and every bookseller who got in touch with me fears what will happen to their income if Amazon decides to punish them for speaking out.

[I] cannot live without amazon – so daren’t leave them – too much of our income comes through them. A very sad fact of life.

I'm still not ready to leave Amazon because I still need those sales. 

My own website does not do very well and I depend enormously on Amazon. Much of our business is with libraries and professionals rather than collectors and they seem to use Amazon despite its useless search engine and poor descriptions.  I have a deep loathing for Amazon having crossd swords with them a few times but cannot see how else to manage as their share of the cake seems to increase all the time.  Zvab has changed its pricing structure as a result of being bought by abe.  I get the feeling amazon will be a great global cloud sharing life with google and not much else.

And I'll leave you with this:

Amazon is a hybrid monster with sharp shoes and a spray tan,  and a tinsy antique fine lawn handkerchief (that’s us) just peeping out of its breast pocket – used only to wipe its dribbling snout.   

Monday, 4 July 2011

Amazon and the bookselling world

The Book Depository weren't owned by Amazon.  The Book Depository provided a viable alternative to Amazon, and I had Book Depository buttons up on my site and this blog.  Amazon have just reached an agreement to buy Book Depository International.   From the sound of the report, it looks as if Amazon will have The Book Depository carrying on in the same form it is now, providing the illusion of competition.

The illusion of competition is something Amazon is good at exploiting.  Take the secondhand book business.   Besides selling a considerable amount of books through their own site, they own ABE, the largest secondhand bookselling site (apart from Amazon).  ABE own Chrislands, largest provider by a very long way of website facilities to secondhand booksellers, including me.  They own Fillz, Bookfinder and 40% of Librarything.  And earlier this year, ABE (and therefore Amazon) bought ZVAB, another antiquarian book selling site.

If there is competition, Amazon are not beyond attempting to control it.  Amazon introduced "price parity":  if you sell on their site, you have to agree that you will not sell your books elsewhere at less than you have them listed on Amazon.  In other words, if you have your own site (which will cost you a lot less than selling via Amazon) you cannot undercut Amazon if you sell with them too.  Although Amazon can't control what you sell at in a bricks-and-mortar store, they include the following in their selling agreement:
"We also hope that the spirit of the price parity principle will be followed with respect to other channels, and that your prices on Amazon will be competitive with your prices in physical retail stores."

This policy has been in place for a while:  it was taken by booksellers to the Fair Trade Commission, who have not yet reported.

Amazon have their own print-on-demand business.  They attempted to force publishers to use Amazon's print-on-demand services, threatening removal of the buy buttons on titles in reprisal if publishers didn't toe the line.  Amazon were taken on by Book Locker and the Long Riders' Guild Press, and Amazon retreated.

Amazon have their own publishing imprint:  AmazonEncore, which publishes already successful self-published books.  Scratch Amazon's back if they ask you to review one of their books, and they will scratch yours.  Give them a good review, and they'll offer to promote you.   I was interested to see in this piece that it's only if you give a good review that you're going to feel any benefits.   Whilst I can see that it's standard marketing practice to want to promote your products, in the overall picture of Amazon as book behemoth, it's worrying.

And there's another example of Amazon's rampaging hold:  I research bibliographies on the British Library site.  Click on a title to get the full bibliographical details and guess what - there's a link to Amazon.

It's as if Amazon's some great hawk hovering over the surface of a pond.  Every now and then attempts to escape corporate dominance bubble up to the surface and are either gobbled up (Book Depository), or exploited (self publishing).

Thank goodness J K Rowling is only releasing the ebook versions of the Harry Potter series through her own website, Pottermore.

Bits and pieces and a parsnip forest

The equestrian test event is on in Greenwich Park at the moment.  There are not many moments when I regret having moved from Charlton (next door to Greenwich) but now is one of them.  Here's Fran Jurga with a full report on what's happened so far.

Like Susanna Forrest, I long to have a go at side-saddle.  Susanna has, and here's her lovely blog piece on it.

My idea of War Horse the movie would have been Tim Burton plus the puppets from the stage show.  Failing that, it's Stephen Speilberg, who seems to have some misgivings himself on his use of real horses.

I have a vegetable patch on what was our muck heap.  The theory is that I grow stuff up there that doesn't need a lot of horticultural input; potatoes, garlic, onion, and parsnips (note nod to the Oxford comma which I am experimenting with having been taught  it was a Bad Thing.  Now questioning this assumption).   I am supposed to go up to the muck heap once a week to check on what's been happening.  I haven't been for a while, and when I have gone, have not looked in the direction of the parsnips.  This is what's happened to them now:

They are taller than me.  Goodness knows what's going on underground.

Friday, 1 July 2011

New books for July

Here's this month's horse and pony book releases.

Kate O’Hearn - Pegasus and the Fight for Olympus
I’m looking forward to the next episode in this Greek gods meet modern day America saga, having enjoyed the first book, Pegasus and the Flame, very much. At the end of the first volume, Olympus had been saved, though surely only temporarily as the Nirads were still very much alive and well.

Jenny Oldfield - Black Pearl Ponies
Jenny Oldfield’s latest series is out this month.  As far as I can see,two titles are released this month:  Red Star and Wildflower.  It’s another series set in America, on a ranch, a formula which has been extremely successful for Jenny Oldfield before.

Tracy Dockray - Lost and Found Pony 
Feiwell & Friends, £10.49.  Tracy Dockray, who has illustrated books by Beverly Cleary, has her own book out at the end of July.  The cover certainly looks promising.

Pippa Funnell - Tilly's Pony Tails 14: Buttons: the Naughty Pony
Out on 7 July, it’s episode 14 in Pippa’s series, which shows no sign of slowing down.

Christine Pullein-Thompson - Phantom Horse series
The Phantom Horse series has gone through a fair few printings, most recently by Award,who have commissioned another edition, with covers by Jennifer Bell, probably best known for her illustrations for Stabenefeldt, as well as her lovely book for J A Allen, The Allen Book of Drawing and Painting Horses.  Two  of the original titles in the Phantom  Horse series have been changed:  Phantom Horse Goes to Ireland and Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland are now Phantom Horse Disappears and Phantom Horse Island Mystery.