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100 Days of Love and Hate - Day 63 [Feb. 18th, 2007|12:03 am]
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Secondhand Bookshops
While travelling through Bacchus Marsh with Tiki we found a secondhand bookshop. I love bookshops, but I love secondhand ones even more. The one we found had a fair range with good prices ($1.50 - $2.00 paperback, $3 hardcover), and used to be the blacksmith's workshop.

It reminded me how much I love secondhand bookshops - they are wonderful places. You can find books there that you've been searching for for years, you can discover books and authors you never knew existed, and usually at a reasonable price. Every shop has its own feel, its own flavour. Sometimes the person behind the counter is just a staff-member, sometimes it's the owner. Many are friendly folks, who have a great love of books, some are grumpy, finding customers a necessary evil.

There's almost always a copy of the novelisation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial by William Kotzwinkle to be found on the SF shelves, sitting there like an old friend, waiting to be rediscovered. In many of the secondhand shops around Melbourne, you can find books stamped to show that the previous owner was Alan Stewart.

I wish I had the time and money to browse through them more often.

Book Prices
I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks that book prices have gotten a bit silly. $20 for a brand new paperback? I used to be able to afford to buy extra copies of favourite books to give people, but not any more. It's just too damned expensive!

Now, I wouldn't mind if a bit more of that money was finding its way to the authors. I'd be quite cool with that. Writing ain't easy, it's underpaid and under-appreciated. I know authors, people who have proper books out, and none of them are swimming in cash. Well, Sean Williams is - in his mansion there's a swimming pool of money - he said he got the idea from an old Scrooge McDuck comic. But even he only manages because he's cloned himself, and has had the artificially aged and educated clones helping him meet the various deadlines.

But most other writers, well, they are out selling matchsticks on the street between published stories.

I wouldn't mind if wages had kept up with the price of books, but they haven't. And it's not just new books, either. There are secondhand shops out there charging $10 for ratty old paperbacks! Okay, that's half the price, but it still seems excessive.

And let's face it, the high price tag isn't exactly translating to better quality books, either. What happened to proof-readers? Editors who actually edit? One of the reasons for big thick books is that the cost of producing a giant doorstop is only a little more that producing a 120 page novel. People perceive (or so the publishers think) that a thicker book is better value for money.

Of course I'm speaking here for big publishers - small press have to charge a bit.

Personally, I'd prefer a story to be well-edited and as long as it needs to be, and pay my money for something well-crafted, than to have to trudge through an extra 300 pages of crap. It's not worth my time, and it's certainly not worth my cash.

[User Picture]From: mireille21
2007-02-18 09:15 am (UTC)
The Alan Stewart connection is indeed an amusing one.
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From: tillianion
2007-02-18 09:56 am (UTC)
When I lived near Broome, one of the supermarkets in town had a not-too-shabby newagent connected to it, which did a fairly good line in novels (particularly romance, which was my not-so-secret vice at the time). I loved the idea of picking up the latest Joanna Lindsay or Amanda Quick with my monthly shop. Nowadays, books aren't an impulse buy any more, which I find very disappointing.

When I had my second-hand book store, I think the most I charged was $15 for an as-new recent hardback. The paperbacks were $7 for as-new, down to 50 cents for the crappy ones. It didn't do that well, unfortunately, Sussex Inlet wasn't ready for a second-hand bookstore. But one day, I'll have one again. It's my dream to own a book store. Well, one of many :)
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[User Picture]From: drhoz
2007-02-18 12:41 pm (UTC)
Sussex Inlet NSW? I have relatives there... imay even have visited your bookstore - or possibly not. I got the book that inspired the Cybermen, and One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing there tho.

(The Disney movie didn't include the nipple print scene)
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From: tillianion
2007-02-27 08:14 am (UTC)
My bookstore was called Low Mileage Books, and it was open between the middle of 2001 and 2004.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2007-02-18 10:04 am (UTC)
Paper costs exploded, and the price of books had to go up.

But it is frustrating.
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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2007-02-18 12:17 pm (UTC)
It wasn't just paper costs; if it was, 600-page books would be significantly more expensive than 300-page ones (assuming you could find an adult book that short), and they're not. I've heard various theories explaining the sudden rise, including:

(i) distribution and warehouse costs
(ii) publishers being taken over by megacorporations who insisted on all branches of their empire making at least 8% profit, rather than the 2-4% that book publishers used to make
(iii) the GST proving to publishers that (a) book addicts would continue to buy books however high the price and (b) the Howard government wouldn't interfere, but would make up for any revenue lost because of the higher prices by giving money directly to the megacorporations that owned the publisher (never to the authors)

One of the bizarre results of the price rise is that it's now much easier to sell hardcovers than it was. When I started as a bookseller, hardcovers cost up to ten times as much as paperbacks. Now, because the prices have gone up by about the same amount (another hint that distribution costs are the problem, rather than paper), they only cost twice to three times as much.

But yes, it is frustrating.
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2007-02-18 08:16 pm (UTC)
Apparently part of the problem (at least in the US) has been a collapse in the "rack trade" that has done nasty things to paperback sales.

Eric Flint has commented about it on several occasions (no link handy sorry), and apparently so has Tom Delaney at TOR.

Something to do with concentration of the market into the major chains...
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[User Picture]From: cassiphone
2007-02-18 09:23 pm (UTC)
US books (particularly paperbacks) are still wayyyyy cheaper than Australian.

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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2007-02-19 12:07 am (UTC)
I've also heard the collapse of the rack trade being used as an explanation for the "extra 300 pages of crap" school of writing. Apparently, the majority of paperback sales in the US used to come from the spinning racks in supermarkets and general stores, where a very thick book could take up the space of several thinner books without a corresponding increase in profit. In those days, US publishers actually discouraged overlong books, unless they were by known bestsellers such as Stephen King and James Clavell.

The rise of Borders and B&N, which had enough shelf space to display paperbacks as thick as bricks, meant that this was no longer an issue.

OTOH, US paperback prices don't seem to have risen as drastically as those in the UK and here. As best I can tell, looking through my library, they've roughly trebled over the past 20 years, while prices here have increased by a factor of six or more. Here, of course, we're supposedly paying a premium to keep Australian publishers (mostly subsidiaries of British publishers) afloat so they can publish Australian authors. In reality, Australian publishers are so contemptuous of the backlist (anything more than a year old) books by Australian authors are more likely to remain in print outside Australia, and schools and universities have to import them!
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2007-02-19 01:15 am (UTC)
The key comparisons to make though are the gaps between paperback prices and movie prices, and the gap between paperback and hardback prices.

Barring Tuesdays*, the former has barely moved in 20 years. The latter has collapsed by about 2/3rds. ie Hardbacks have gotten cheaper, lots cheapers, and this reflects the changes in the distribution/profit breakups.

*And Greater Union Civic desperately trying to fight off Dendy Civic...
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[User Picture]From: ghoath
2007-02-18 12:04 pm (UTC)
with you about edititing.
my dad has thie theory that Order Of The Phoenix was so damn big because Rowling said "I'm a celebrity now, I"m gonna write it my way", and really, it did go on a bit much.
i agree with you, i'd rather read short and good than wade through 300 pages of crap. well said.
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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2007-02-18 12:31 pm (UTC)
Part of the problem is that editors who edit occupy a lower niche in the publishing hierarchy than they did, and they're understandably scared to suggest changes to the work of a hugely successful author. Who do you think's going to be fired if a Stephen King or J. K. Rowling book fails to sell? (Hint: who was fired after the O. J. book was cancelled?)

Also, editing takes time. Do you think Harry Potter or Robert Jordan fans (and their publishers) want the next book to be good, or do they want it now?

(I'm not a fan of either series, btw, and I'd much rather read short and good. But if sales figures are anything to go by, we're in the minority.)
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[User Picture]From: drhoz
2007-02-18 12:34 pm (UTC)
don't forget additional costs of bringing in specialty (or even ordinary) books from overseas :(
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[User Picture]From: celuran
2007-02-18 06:00 pm (UTC)
I wandered into a secondhand bookshop last week when i was otherwise feeling lonely and tired and crap and found a copy of Coroner's Pidgin for 1.50 sterling and suddenly Belfast was a much more pleasant city. It currently smells funny because this particular bookshop was also a cafe inside which you could smoke, but that'll wear off.
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[User Picture]From: stephen_dedman
2007-02-19 12:09 am (UTC)
*fondly remembers buying 'The Rest of the Robots', new, for 80c.*
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2007-02-19 12:13 am (UTC)
I was going to post about buying paperbacks for $4.00, but you have me beat.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2007-02-19 09:00 am (UTC)
Doctor Who books for $0.99 and $1.99! Those were the days!
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[User Picture]From: fuschia17
2007-02-19 02:17 am (UTC)
I love nothing more than to go on a Book Trawl. That is, the art of trawling through second hand bookshops with a long long list of those books I'm dying to read. :-) Actually I haven't been on a decent book trawl for a long time now.

I guess I should be grateful that Melbourne does still have a few secondhand bookshops where it's worth either the time to sift through the books, or the money because it's such a good book...

But I am now getting to the point where unless it's an author I *must* read! - I can wait to discover a second hand copy.
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[User Picture]From: possbert
2007-02-19 04:24 am (UTC)
http://www.barterbooks.co.uk/ Barters Books in Alnick is wonderful. And it has toy trains.
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[User Picture]From: thinarthur
2007-02-24 07:08 am (UTC)
Trudi C told me she got $2 out of the $20 cover price of her books, though as her star has risen she can presumably get a better deal in the future.

Do you remember the 2nd hand bookshop (Franklins?) that used to be near the corner of Bourke & Russell St in the 80's? You could even pick up a 2nd hand Supervoc in there!

I found a very good one in Daylesford, great range of genre stuff, they even had the old Australian reprint issues of the 60's Superman Comics in there at very reasonable prices
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[User Picture]From: thinarthur
2007-02-24 07:44 am (UTC)
as for book prices, in 1969 I used to get the Armada "William" books from Woolworths for 30 cents, and was most annoyed when a different publisher brought them out for $2 with crappy 70's kids in flares covers. My mid 70's Star Trek Photo Novels went for $2.50 from the Bookshop of Charles Dickens, while the '82 Wrath of Kahn was $3.95 and the '87 copy of Lord of the Rings was 9 quid.

I suspect that in real monetary value terms that the cost of books is not that much greater now that it has been in the past, but if you compare the hour or so it takes to read a 200 page book with the average cost of a copy of a 90 min movie, the movie option has become the cheaper time filler in recent years, which may explain why there's so few movie novelisations now.
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