16 March 2005


Or, "Londonbook Faire." With, perhaps, a commentary as subversive as Simon's running underneath.

The London Book Fair is going on at the moment. (Pause for a moment to reflect that the original "faire" was a place for unskilled and semiskilled laborers to go to get hired, particularly for winter jobs.) That means that the UK-based "publishing press" has even more opportunities than usual to display its ignorance. In no particular order, and certainly with no particular coherence:

  • The Bookseller whines and moans about "three-for-two" deals on bestsellers in the UK. Simultaneously, an article in The Book Standard quotes an industry executive as saying "We do not have three for two in America but it is coming;" she obviously hasn't been to the Borders here in Chambanana. All of which is rather fascinating, as later in the same article a different publishing executive apparently claimed that books are underpriced.
  • That same item in The Bookseller includes a claim that publishing will continue consolidating in the next decade until only three or four publishers account for 90% of the market in the UK. Perhaps so, given the lax antitrust enforcement Over There and Over Here (although a market in which as few as four actors account for a 90% share is inherently concentrated under even the Department of Justice's loose HHI standard, with an index of at least 2025). Of course, 2004 was "a good year for indies" (although one must question whether the headline and conclusion are supported by the data presented in the article). What is more interesting is the parallel claim that indies can/must "professionalise their distribution and target a defined niche if they want to deal with large bookselling chains," according to a major book-chain's president. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
  • What I find most amusing—as a matter of fact, I do have a particularly sick and twisted sense of humor—is the cognitive dissonance between the previously mentioned claim that books are underpriced and that consolidation of publishers will redress the "current imbalance" in favor of retailers at publishers' expense.
Of course, there's not one word in here about what this might mean for authors; or what it might mean if booksellers and publishers tried to concentrate on quality instead of imitation; or what it might mean if retailers, in particular, discover that their reliance on an author's past sales in determining how many of his next book to order is at best a classic example of the post hoc fallacy, while simultaneously becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, at least, a self-fulfilling prophecy in that given store. All of which leads to questions about why none of the articles I've seen on the London Book Fair this year discuss consolidation in the retailing end of the industry…