Further to Sam Husain of Foyles’ proposals, I have long been of the opinion that the single most effective way for publishers to support indies would be to publish simultaneous paperbacks.
A number of publishers, notably the Independent Alliance, have supported us greatly with increased discounts, signed stock etc, and even the giants now recognise that the ruthlessness of a certain online tax-dodging, employee-exploiting monster has necessitated a different attitude to the independent sector if high-street bookselling is to survive.
But this Christmas, I was again increasingly frustrated that 90% of the titles being promoted, reviewed, featured in the media—and which I wanted to stock—were hardbacks and therefore out of our reach, and certainly out of the reach of many of our customers.
As usual I tried to second-guess 20-odd hardback titles we could stock and hoped for the best these were the ones our more affluent customers would want. Of course we worked our socks off fulfilling customers' orders as swiftly and efficiently as humanly possible, with much help from the wonderful Bertrams. But inevitably many customers were unable to wait even a day for a special order to arrive. As Sam Husain says, us indies add extra value as a showroom, but if the books are not on display the customers won't see them.
It seems a particular kind of madness nowadays, when e-books frequently come out simultaneously with hardbacks (giving another advantage to the online giant over traditional bookshops) that most readers have to wait at least six months to be able to buy a physical copy of a book, when the marketing and reviews are happening right now. This is particularly true of fiction, where most readers don't own rows of beautiful hardbacks, but want to be able to try out a new author, have a quick read on the train or give a reasonably-priced present. As Allen Lane worked out years ago, access to literature for the average book lover needs to be affordable.
My frustration is exacerbated by the feeling that many publishers and reviewers live in a rich media-bubble in London and have no idea of the two-tier world they are creating by this outdated insistence on making most of us wait months for the paperback, especially as cut-backs in library provision mean that traditional access to literature for the working class is being eroded.
News from Nowhere is both the major high-street independent in Liverpool and a hub of the community, and I can count on my fingers and toes the number of our customers who buy hardbacks. For us to be unable to display the latest, hot-off-the-press books we know our customers would love is a tragedy and, I believe, the result of a short-sighted, old-fashioned policy suited to a more leisurely world, not one dominated by instant access to everything.
Some say publishers wouldn't entertain my idea as the current model works financially for them. Well, we seem to be being constantly told by the publishing world that us indies have to adapt to changing times, so why not the publiishers too? It really would make all the difference.
Mandy Vere, from the News From Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop.