Today, I am annoyed. Annoyed from my own perspective as a retailer, but more annoyed on behalf of my customers who are being asked to pay £10 over the odds for a new book simply because of the perversity of an international rights deal between publishers.
On this occasion — and this is far from the first time my customers and I have had run-ins with publishers over rights restrictions — the book concerned is Graham Ward’s The Politics of Discipleship: USA edition, Baker Academic, $24.99; UK edition, SCM-Canterbury Press, £25. Using current exchange rates, $24.99 works out at £15.05; for the latest figures, allow Google to do the sums for you: 24.99 USD in GBP — unless there’s been a major shift in the markets, it won’t have changed much.
It’s not just about price, however: in this case, ironically, it’s the very topic of the book itself. Subtitled “Becoming Postmaterial Citizens”, the book addresses such issues as “the perversities of globalization” (Stanley Hauerwas, endorsing the book).
Yes indeed, globalization, or globalisation. Take your pick of spellings but the fact is that we now live in a global community, serving a global marketplace. Global. It means worldwide. It means — wakey, wakey, publishers! — international rights restrictions are dead. They’re history. They’re like the parrot in that old Monty Python sketch: kaput; deceased. That era is gone, over and done.
Your customers, who also happen to be my customers, aren’t interested in your wheeler dealer negotiations over who publishes what where, whatever vast or not-so-vast sums of money may have changed hands — especially not when the price in one corner of the market is marked up like this. Who in their right mind is going to pay £25 for a book that’s also published for $25 and available for even less at the click of a mouse?
On what basis am I as a retailer supposed to tell a customer who walks into my shop with a Baker catalogue offering them a book — part, incidentally, of a series that they’ve been collecting — at $25, “No, you can’t buy that edition here, you’ve got to buy the de-serialised edition from SCM-Canterbury for £25.”?
They will say to me, “Dearly beloved bookseller, you must be joking.”
And I say to you, “Dearly beloved publisher, you must be joking.”
I’ve said this before: I say it again: the geographical boundaries you’re fighting over are in meltdown: the internet — and now the digital — revolution has broken down the barriers. It’s time to recognise that when you publish a book you’re not simply publishing it for your own country: you’re publishing it for the world.
That’s globalization. That’s life. It’s part of what it means to work in today’s marketplace, and trying to restrict products according to the old ways simply doesn’t work anymore. To serve your customers you need to think like your customers — and if you attempt to build walls to stop them, those walls, like the Berlin Wall back in 1989, will be torn down. Trying to block sales through Amazon simply won’t work: you may be able to stop this one, but others will slip through and other channels will open.
Call it the “perversity of globalization” if you wish, but from where I’m standing selling books, it’s the perversity of publishers.