So the great monopoly that is Amazon, having closed a gazillion bookshops by its undercutting pricing policy has now opened....ta-dah: A bookshop. In Seattle. Irony much? Can't see it catching on. I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the way books are marketed and sold, which is not good news as I write them.
The rot set in with the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement. The NBA came into effect on 1 January 1900 and involved retailers selling books at agreed prices. Any bookseller who sold a book at less than the agreed price would no longer be supplied by the publisher in question.
Ironically, it was bookshops themselves who fought against it, and Waterstones was one of the first stores who started discounting books in an attempt to undermine it. In March 1997 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the Net Book Agreement was against the public interest and therefore illegal.
So here we are. Pile them high, sell them cheap, give them away. Next time you, dear writer, moan about the discounting you have to agree to and the hoops you have to jump through to get sales, you know whose fault it was. Yep. The good old bookshops. The ones that Amazon closed down by implementing the outcome that they fought so hard in the courts to obtain in the first place.
I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. It is personal - but before I am accused of 'sour grapes' let me say that 99% of my sales now come from ebooks and I'm not complaining. It is the undermining of authors, and who caused it that I get angry about.
Bookshops never had, nor do they now have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 45% discount. Subtract from that what a writer gets paid in royalties, and the fact that bookshops run a sale or return policy, and you end up with so little for your years of hard graft that you might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).
It is not a level playing field. Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. Plus most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous authors' because I can't get beyond page 15, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.
My local Waterstones once had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. They don't stock my books (other than the Usborne ones). Nor do WH Smith. They say they do, but several people have been in to ask, and they seem not to have heard of me.
So I read the news of Amazon's latest venture with a mixture of amusement and deep cynicism. I can see the day coming when Amazon the online retailer starts undercutting Amazon the bookstore, causing it to close down. Watch this space.