It's not easy being a publisher (2)

Many of our books are based on earlier editions which we scan in. Unfortunately, buying books off the internet unseen is a risky business, as the following shots indicate. The first book, if I remember correctly, was described as having ‘some light pencil annotation’. The biblioclast left her name on the fly leaf, and I say to her, ‘Madam, I know your name.’ The description of the latter made no mention of the scribbling, but, fortunately, as it was in blue ink, it was possible to filter it out.
scribbles 1scribbles 2

There is a good chance that some comments on these books will find their way into Enemies of Books.

Books on books

Tiger of the Stripe has only published one book about books, an annotated edition of Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s The Bibliomania, or Book-Madness, but we have plans for several more. The first will be William Blades’s Enemies of Books, followed by Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon. Later in the year, there’ll be a new edition of Richard Atkyns’s Original and Growth of Printing, together with his Vindication.

Meanwhile, my friend Margaret Willes has written Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books (Yale, £19.99). I’ll be reviewing it in due course, meanwhile, here is some information from the publisher.

A book on bicycles

Michael Harvey's Bicycles
Every now and then a truly original book appears on my desk. Such a book is Bicycles: Objects of Grace, Charm and Utility by Michael Harvey. Michael, as well as being a world-class type designer, is a very keen cyclist and a very talented photographer.

This 56-page colour book consists of photographs of bicycles which Michael has noticed on the street. Fascinating, eh? Well, actually, it is. What really makes it is the careful observation and the great photographs. Here’s a typical caption:

The rear triangle’s horizontal track ends, and short wheelbase show this fixed-gear Bianchi was built for the track. As a shopping bike, it has a front carrier, sprung leather saddle, no breaks.

Michael has also published a book on hydrant signs. Another winner!

Neither of these books is easy to get hold of, but Michael is setting up a website which will accept PayPal. When he does, I’ll post the details here.

It's not easy being a publisher

Being a book publisher is a very hard way to make a living. The biggest problem is the size of the discounts you have to give. Now, I can understand that booksellers have rent and rates to cover, but some of the big chains expect 55% or 60%. I won’t give it to them, so they don’t stock my books. I don’t think they would anyway, but even if they did it wouldn’t be worth it.

Let’s look at an example. I can’t afford to print and bind thousands of copies and then warehouse them so I use print-on-demand. A copy of Schoelcher’s Life of Handel in hardback costs me £9.40 a copy, plus delivery charges. I sell it for £25 which is what I think the market will bear. If I give a bookshop 55%, I receive £11.25. Postage on that book is probably at least £3, so I’ve already made a loss before allowing for the costs of research, design, typesetting, sourcing illustrations.

I sell most of my books through Amazon on so-called ‘short discounts’ (i.e. less than 55% discount) but if I had to sell through Amazon’s Advantage programme, I’d have to give them 55%. The Advantage, I have to say, is all Amazon’s. Not that I’m knocking Amazon. Without them I’d have no business at all. However, I have to say that the lack of competition in the online bookselling business is very bad.

The other major online bookseller is ABE Books (go here in the UK, here in the US). They’re great for out-of-print books. They also sell a lot of new books but I find that most of the new books I buy from them take an age to arrive (many are shipped from the States) and often cost more than they would from Amazon.

A slight frustration I have with Amazon is that I don’t really have a direct relationship with them. My relationship is with my printers, Lightning Source. They supply Amazon directly, which is great for me. The downside, though, is that my books don’t always appear on Amazon and there’s little I can do about it. For instance, why is my paperback edition of Bibliomania available from Amazon in the US but not the UK?

By the same post

Handel by W. H. Cumming
By the same post, I received copies of Tiger of the stripe’sThe Life of Handel by Victor Schoelcher. It’s a much more substantial book (440 pages) than the Anecdotes. It’s a bit of a relief to receive the paperbacks because the printing on the hardback edition of the same book was a bit light. The paperbacks are a bit darker. We have a third Handel book in the pipeline, one by William H. Cummings who used to be the Principal of the Guildhall School of Music.

After that, we’ll give music a rest and publish a new edition of Enemies of Books by William Blades. I’m making a few new enemies, if you know what I mean. It’s a very amusing book.

Anecdotes of Handel

I’ve just laid my hands on copies of Tiger of the Stripe’s (that is to say, my) latest offering, Anecdotes of George Frederick Handel and John Christopher Smith. It’s a new edition of a book written by the Reverend William Coxe in 1799. Smith is that chap on the left with the quill poised magisterially in his hand (you can click on the pic for a closer look). ‘Who is this guy,’ I hear you ask; I bet John Smith’s not his real name,’ and you’d be right (aren’t you always?). His real name was Johann Christoph Schmidt, and his father was also Johann Christoph Schmidt. ‘Blimey! So he’s German, like Handel himself.’ Well, of course, Handel was British because he naturalised. I’m not sure about Smith. He was brought up in England, but I don’t know whether went through the naturalisation process. It required an act of parliament in those days. ‘So who is this bloke Smith?’ He was a composer, dummy. He was also Handel’s copyist and amanuensis. His father had been Handel’s copyist, too. Smith junior did a lot to promote and preserve the Handelian tradition. He inherited many of Handel’s manuscripts which he later donated to the king.

‘And what of Coxe?’ I hear you cry. Well, he was Smith’s stepson and he wrote the Anecdotes to raise some dosh for the Smith family.

That's OK, then

For one awful moment I thought that the natural order of things, that is to say market forces, had become distorted. However, it turns out that Sir Fred Goodwin (I keep almost saying Ron Goodwin - he wrote 633 Squadron) is receiving a pension of £693,000 p.a. That’s alright, then.

Talking of market forces, one of the main arguments for the obscene salaries, bonuses and pensions received by many in the higher echelons of British industry is that they are needed to attract and retain the ‘best people’. This is fallacious on several grounds.

First, we clearly have NOT attracted the best people. Our banks have been run by a bunch of egotistical idiots, as has most of British industry. Senior management in, say, Germany, are paid less well than in the UK. Can we say, in general, that British industry has been better managed than German industry? Certainly not in the manufacturing sector.

Secondly, the idea that everything should be left to market forces (that ancient Thatcherite mantra) is absurd. We do not leave the consumption of heroin to market forces. If our government really believed in market forces, it would, for instance, permit secondary picketing. I am not suggesting that either heroin or picketing should be deregulated, simply that one cannot rely entirely upon market forces. Even if we accepted the idea that a theoretical perfect market would regulate prices and pay perfectly, we do not have anything like a perfect market in executive pay. The company is theoretically answerable to shareholders for all their policies, including remuneration. However, although we all own these companies (through pension schemes, and now, in the case of the banks, as shareholders), we do not have the chance to vote at AGMs. The votes are largely cast by the pension funds. The people who run the pension funds and the people on remuneration committees are, for the main part, other over-paid executives.

Latest from Tiger of the Stripe

It’s the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death this year and Tiger of the Stripe is doing its bit to mark the occasion. We have published two books on the great composer so far and we have a third in the pipeline. Go here for further details.

Rewards for failure

Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, is apparently receiving a pension of £650,000 per annum at the age of 50. The underlying principle is clearly that pensions should be in inverse proportion to the wealth that the pensioner has generated. As my newsagent pointed out, it is probably a price worth paying to keep such a destroyer of wealth out of the job market.

Sadly, this does not bode well for me as I can’t hope to compete with Sir Fred. While Tiger of the Stripe did not make much money last year, it did not lose billions of pounds, or even hundreds. I am clearly an abject failure in the world of high commerce and will be punished accordingly.

You might think that this would leave our revered Prime Minister Gordon Brown in poll position to receive a bumper pension. His policies, such as the tripartite system of regulation, allowed RBS and others to squander billions of pounds. Unfortunately, the PM blotted his copy-book by saving the world on 10 December 2008 (see here). This must surely more than compensate for wrecking the British economy.