Very loud and very necessary
01.01.70 | Libby Webb
I’m shouting as loud as I dare: “WHO IS THE STRANGE YOUNG BLONDE SPRAWLED ON THE LIBRARY FLOOR? HOW DID SHE GET THERE?” One or two other customers look round in surprise, no doubt reflecting that libraries are not the oases of silence they used to be. Blushing slightly, I continue: “AND WHAT IS THE CONNECTION WITH ANOTHER DEAD GIRL, WHOSE CHARRED REMAINS ARE LATER DISCOVERED IN AN ABANDONED QUARRY?”
I am shouting at Mrs. Blackstone. She is cupping her hand to her good ear, straining to hear. In the last ten years she has lost her husband, her sight and most of her hearing. No longer able to read or watch TV, her only entertainment is listening to our audio books. She can just about follow them if the volume is turned up to the max. But choosing which to borrow is a problem: she can’t see to read the titles, or the synopses on the back, which is why I’m yelling them out at the top of my voice in the middle of Blogton library at three pm on a showery Thursday afternoon.
She shakes her head. “No, I don’t think I like the sound of that one, dear. Can you try another?”
Mrs. Blackstone may soon have fewer audio books to choose from, because they don’t come cheap. And in these budget-slashing times we have to look carefully at our spending.
Let’s take an example: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We have it in paperback, Audio CD, Playaway (a solid-state prerecorded audio player into which people plug their own headphones) and DVD. The paperback cost £7.99 and has been issued 29 times: that’s a dose of thrilling Swedish crime-solving at a cost per borrower of 27½p. The audio CDs cost £67; there is a hire charge, but over-60s - that’s the majority of users - get them free. In two years we’ve received £7.20 in hire charges and it’s been issued 20 times, so the net cost per borrower is £2.99. Then there’s our Playaway: cost £64.95, income generated 80p, issued 6 times, cost per borrower £10.70.
The DVD, on the other hand, has actually made us money. People paid £2 when it was new and £1.50 after we’d had it six months. It only cost us £13.61, so has made us a total profit of £42.39. Yay! We’re rich!
People seem to accept it as normal that you pay for DVDs but not books, but it’s actually quite odd, if you think about it. Why do we assume that anything printed must be Morally Improving, and should be freely available to all, whereas film is mere entertainment?
But back to library finances. If this were a business, then looking at the above example we’d be concentrating on DVDs, maybe buying a few books to keep the customers coming in, but probably forgetting about the audio books. Far too expensive.
But if we did ditch the audio books, where would that leave Mrs. Blackstone?