Once in a while, my mother might accuse someone of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, and you know exactly what she means, don’t you?
Tricky, though, isn’t it, when you think about books?
At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the bidding war problem.
Every publisher wants the hot new book. He wants it because it will raise the profile of his outfit, and because it will make him money... Or does he? Perhaps he simply wants it so that the other guy doesn’t get it, or maybe he just gets carried away with the process and ends up with a horribly expensive lemon.
It’s cynical too. How many publishers do you suppose actually want to read Katie Price’s biography (and perhaps it's no accident that her name is 'price')? Or the latest 50 Shades rip off? None of them, right? Right. They don’t want to be the one that misses the boat, either, though, do they?
Or so you’d think.
I have heard tell, though, that it’s rather less like that than you’d think. Book people, from agents all the way through, are not envious of success, and they’re quite happy to pat on the back their colleague (and let’s not pretend this isn’t a terribly incestuous business), who lands that big deal, who makes that pile of cash in an industry that is very difficult to succeed in right now. What no one really wants is to be left with egg on his face. That’s the real curse, that’s the position there’s no way back from.
Advances are getting smaller all the time, and, heaven help me, I’d be much happier taking smaller advances and selling a book every couple of years for the next thirty years, until I retire or expire, than taking, say, a seven figure advance for my first couple of books with the World watching, corks popping and the expectation that I might be the next great British novelist, only to fall on my face and never be able to sell another book as long as I live, because my name is associated with failure.
At the other end of the spectrum, tell me what you pay for a lipstick, a trip to the pictures, a bottle of shampoo, socks, snacks... I don’t know whatever it is you pick up and pay for almost without thinking.
I don’t know how long it takes you to read a book, but I know that it takes the average person twelve to eighteen hours to read the average book, (and yes, I know that comes with a pretty decent sized -ish). On the other hand, I seldom actually read a book in less than four or five days. So a good book might give me a week’s worth of pleasure, but that’s a conservative estimate. A really good book gives me a lifetime of pleasure, because it informs every other book I read and everything else I take an interest in. A really good book enriches my life, and isn't that priceless?
The average paperback costs about £8- in your local Waterstones, which, coincidentally, is the home of your local Costa Coffee, where the same amount of money will buy you two cups of coffee and two muffins... almost. Now tell me books are expensive.