Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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Content's cost
It seems that the argument over the cost of e-books vs p-books is a beast that just won't die. On The Guardian's site, William Skidelsky provides a fairly concise survey of the key issues in this spat, inspired by a chapter about publishing in author Robert Levine's forthcoming book Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and how the Culture Business Can Fight Back. It seems there are people who still think that when they buy a paper book, the bulk of the price tag pays for the object, for the book itself, the stack of paper, glue & ink. Skidelsky explains (c/o Levine), however, that it costs only about $3.50 US to print and distribute a hardcover. The rest of the money is split between the retailer, publisher and author. No kidding, right? But apparently it is still necessary to explain to some willfully ignorant people that what they are paying for is not just a stack of paper, and that if you remove the stack of paper to make an e-book, the book should not become almost free. To these people I say: If you went into an art gallery and offered to buy a painting for the cost of the canvas, wood and paint that was used to create the picture, what do you think the response would be? Of course, a book is not a painting, it is a mass-produced object, which is why it costs ONLY $20 to $30 (or thereabouts) and not $20,000 to $30,000 (or more) which is what any respectable painting can cost. (And for those who are going to drag out the iTunes comparison, please know that it takes a hell of a lot more work to write a novel than it does to write a 3-min pop song.) Behind just about any book there is a squad of people who created the thing. That's right, it didn't spontaneously self-generate on the shelf in the bookstore, nor on the server of your e-book retailer. If people insist on denying that books are created by people who deserve to be paid well for their work, then what incentive remains for anyone to write and/or publish books? Figure it out already.

Old rules
Over at Slate, poet Robert Pinsky reminds us that there are three simple rules for book reviewing: What's it about? What does the author think about that? And what does the reviewer think about what the author thinks?

New clichés
Tired of the same crappy old clichés in book reviews? Darryl Campbell at The Bygone Bureau has some ticklish suggestions for new ones.

Daphne's digs
Got a spare £2 million ($3.2 million CDN)? The Cornish cottage where author Daphne Du Maurier lived for a year and wrote her novel Hungry Hill is up for sale. Other literary domiciles recently up for grabs include houses once inhabited by JG Ballard, Charles Dickens and JK Rowling.

Type types
The second episode of the excellent PBS web series Off Book is about typography.

NY's psycho
In honour of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, an anonymous location scout for the film industry in New York City has created a blog tour of the places Patrick Bateman, the novel's protagonist, visits and references in the story. Meanwhile, the NYT's Deal Book has enhanced anon's blog with an interactive Google map.

Redbook revision
The Michelin Guide, which has been helping readers decide where to eat since 1889, is facing a spot of trouble, according to an article in the Financial Times. While the restaurants upon which it bestows stars can reap massive financial gain from that honour, the famous French "red book" is seriously in the red, "haemorrhaging more than €15m annually."

August Craft
Check out this month's "Fiction Craft" on Open Book Ontario. The question: How do you tackle revision of your work? Answered by: Lynn Coady, Martha Schabas, Scott Chantler, Ian Hamilton, Tim Sandlin, Rachel Simon and Suzannah Dunn.

1 comment


thanks for your commentary about e-books and pricing.
I confess to being one of "those people" who wondered why, if there were no dead trees and shipping involved, that e-books still cost a significant percentage of their physical versions.
I had never seen the actual figures for the cost of production and distribution of a hard cover book before, so this was interesting. (I have looked for it, but didn't perhaps know where or how to phrase the search query.)

And I understand that for the author, the "cost of production" hasn't changed, so their expectation for compensation shouldn't change.
And for the publisher, less printing and (certain) distro costs, their cost and expectation for compensation is likewise in place...

But for the "e-tailers" (to be cute), when their cost to stock the book plummets, we the public logically assume that their cut of the profit is going to take a similar reduction. I used to work at Chapters, I know they're profiting handsomely from the sale of these books, and much of that was predicated on the fact that they had a bricks-and-mortar store, with physical overheads and staff to pay...but that's not there in the on-line world. The cost of a few megabytes of drive space and the pipe to send them through is when you factor out the retailer's old costs, and factor in the new, much lower costs, I think it fair to assume that the price should come down, and more than the 10% one often sees as the difference.

I note that when I purchase e-books from O'Reilly (computer books being a particular set of materials that ages rather badly, for the most part being relevant for only a year or two, hence perfect candidates for purchase as e-books) that the price difference between the electronic version and the print version is usually only 15%. And this is directly from the publisher, who has no retail overhead.
Now, in their favour, O'Reilly includes some bonuses for purchasing the e-book: deep discounts on the physical version, if you choose to buy (40% usually); access to addenda; access to code samples; access to pre-publication versions of books on cutting-edge subjects, with an updated e-version when it is fully edited and printed.

So, my question, with my new awareness of the cost of a hard bound book, is why do the retailers get to keep such a large part of the pie?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith is a novelist and journalist living in Toronto. His young adult novel Snakes & Ladders was published in January 2009 by the Dundurn Group.

Go to Shaun Smith ’s Author Page