Bookshop events: no 'wow'

Mentioning no names, but aren't some bookshop events in London - and increasingly elsewhere - succumbing to the over-heated London price overdrive, leaving many of us reeling as it separates the rich from the poorer?

£8? £10? £15? Why even stop there if the market can take it?

Those of us who cough up with reluctance assume that, at this price, it will be something worth paying for. It is. Sometimes. I'm as much a drooling fanboy as anyone else when it comes to my very favourite authors. Especially if they're not doing the festival circuit and the PRs haven't made them do exactly the same interview across the broadsheets. It's quite fun actually to be that close, pore-to-pore, to someone you once believed never left his writer's lair in Northern Vermont. Although you do wonder how he feels with so many eager fans gurning inches away inches like hungry goldfish.

But, sadly, the scenario is often different. The author or authors (and how many authors can you cram between the cash desk and the display of Grey is a logistical conundrum known only to booksellers) may be good, bad or just OK. The "wow factor" is definitely missing.

It is now that we are less than happy bunnies and the high ticket price starts to kick in. If authors are tightly packed, arrangements for the audience make Ryanair look like the Qatari Royal Family's personal jet. How many people can you cram into a tiny space? Always some more seems to be the philosophy. We won't mention the resulting fug, curious body odours and twitchers, as most of us would prefer to forget them.

Assuming we survive bodily discomforts, and even decide that maybe that nothing special author is more special than we thought, we're now faced with the dilemma of whether to buy the book or not. Of course it's a hardback, and it's always £18.99 (and punters know what profits are being raked off, even if it's not for the writer). If you're very lucky you may be offered a discount of a few pounds off, which, judging by the posters, is felt to be tantamount to almost giving it away. Or you might decide to wait for the paperback or to Buy It Elsewhere, mentioning no names.

As we eventually extricate ourselves from the asphyxiating sardine-tin a.k.a. bookshop and stand outside, we are reminded of Princess Margaret's words to Richard Eyre upon seeing a Harold Pinter play at the National Theatre: "What was that?"

Would I have been better off just buying the book and not attending the event? I'm afraid I'm now feeling this increasingly. All we can hope for is that the high prices at least help more bookshops pay their staff the Living Wage. There surely have to be some small mercies…


Malcolm Burgess is a publisher at Oxygen Books. His Don't Mention It: The A - Z of Modern Bullshit is out in October.