I spotted this on the Times online, an ad in the header of last Saturday’s article about Christian bookshops, The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street:
It’s an excerpt from an article about overfishing of bluefin tuna, which begins:
Two weeks ago a single bluefin tuna sold in Japan for a surreal £111,000. The price of this fish, which ends up in the best sushi restaurants, will carry on rocketing so long as the tuna population keeps plummeting.
It struck me as remarkably apposite for the book trade too: not just the Christian trade, but the wider trade. This week we’ve been having a lively debate about the pros and cons of publishers promoting Amazon in their advertising: A Polite Request to Christian (and other) Publishers: Please don’t do this; and I’m delighted to say that the Evangelical Press, whose posters gave rise to the discussion, have acknowledged their gaffe and apologised.
But I still find myself looking at Amazon askance as publishers seem to cave in to their ever more extortionate demands, supplying them at terms that allow them to sell at below trade or wholesale prices. Did someone forget to put up the warning sign: “Do not feed the troll”? Or are most publishers really that short-sighted that all they can see is the immediate sale and not the long term future?
Of course, it’s not just Amazon and the publishers: it’s the buying public. I’ve long since lost track of the number of people who wander into my shop, tell me how much they enjoy being able to look at a book before buying it — then promptly go off to purchase it online. Hello? Wakey wakey, people: how long do you think your local bookshop will survive if you treat it as nothing more than a showroom for Amazon?
There are notable exceptions, customers who call in, tell me that they know they can get a book cheaper online but they appreciate the service I provide; my thanks to them: you know who you are, and I salute you.
Then we have the rise of the ebook. They still occupy a relatively small sector of the marketplace: I’ve yet to see more people on the train with their ebook readers out than with paperbacks; but with Apple’s rumoured iTablet on the horizon, the tide may be about to turn and all those books we’ve buried in the sand may be sucked out to sea, where, with the bluefin tuna, they’ll be fished to extinction.
Or if not to extinction, to the point where they’re so rare that the only bookshops left will be like those top sushi restaurants, selling paperback books for £111,000…