Friday, June 30, 2006

Jaws of Vengeance!

Marie and I have just seen a crane eating a building.

Words alone cannot really do this justice but the old concrete bunker on the roundabout at the end of Westminster Bridge Road is BEING EATEN BY A CRANE.

It has jaws and eyes and water sprouting from it's articulated neck. It looks a little bit like this.

I had to stop and stare and laugh like a 10 year old boy.

I've just seen a crane eat a building.


As we bang on about with nauseating regularity, we are capable of getting just short of a million titles into the shop next day. (Obviously, not all at once. Not if we also wanted to get into the shop ourselves and unpack the boxes. But you catch my drift.) Customer ordering is our *thing*. (Suck it and see on the link to your right!) Anyway, there is a very lovely friend of my parents who lives just round the corner from the shop, and who comes in I'm sure partly out of loyalty to me. In fact, increasingly I'd say she comes in *entirely* out of loyalty to me, because, despite the fact that we can - and do - get almost anything for our other customers, we can never, ever, ever get the books that she wants. They're not even that obscure. They're just always reprinting, or just slipped out of print so fast that we don't know they're out of print when she comes and asks for them (for any other customer the computer would say NO) - essentially, because of some dreadful misalignment of the stars we are giving her, and her alone, TERRIBLE service - and I can see her smile becoming more strained and tight every time I say 'I'm so sorry, we just can't get that for you...' And she is the *only* one. She is lovely and we are rubbish. Why?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

e-book musings

Just read an interesting article on the e-reader and its potential and I got to thinking on the other side of the argument for a change as to just how would you make money from such a thing?

As I'm not a publisher I've just been plucking figures out of thin air. I'm more than happy to stand corrected if none of the below stacks up...

Let's take a £6.99 mass market paperback thriller, the kind of thing I guess would be used on the reader.

The publisher will sell this to a large retailer for £3.50. The author gets their royalty (and here I must profess my unforgivable ignorance in the matter of how much percentage the author takes but I'll hazard a guess at a pound for a 6.99 book [this only underlines the fundamental differences between authors and retailers - writers, most retailers aren't really your friends no matter how much the big boys go on but that is really a whole other post])

That leaves £2.50 to the publisher. Printing, wharehousing, distribution and admin must amount to atleast £2 (surely?) leaving 50p profit on the book.

So, how do you price an e-book download? Working backwards we have £1 to the author, 50p profit to the publisher, no physical costs but running and managing a vast website of millions of titles out of which only a few thousand or so turn a profit ain't cheap so I reckon, conservatively, another £1.

So, the minimum price for a download would have to be atleast £2.50. But what about the question of value? A 3 minute single from i-tunes is 79p. A book which you may end up spending 2-3 weeks with demands a certain price point to give it the appearance of importance and value in your purchase. Too low and people will dismiss it as cheap and not worthwhile and too expensive and you might as well have the book. Which is why you can see from the article that a publisher would aim to come in at about 20-25% below cover price - between £4 and £4.50 then for a download.

But, a cheap mass market paperback is that price from asda. Anyway, back to value.

The Sony i-reader looks at being priced between £175-£225. If you're saving £2 a book then you have to download 100 books to break even (and the i-reader only holds 80 titles). A serious book reader may still take close to 2 years to get to that point and serious book readers love browsing in book shops so they ain't your market. Your average reader will probably take a good 5 years to break even by which point your machine is close to obsolete. I guess this is why the Sony i-reader can surf the net and play music too. Let's face it, the i-reader is aimed at men of a certain age who read certain magazines and just love gadgets. I'm Sony and this is my market, I'm happy but, if the i-reader is only being used for reading for half of its time then there aren't many books being downloaded and the publishers aren't making any money.

Which brings me to why people love i-pods. Listening to a song tends to remind you of another song. On your i-pod accessability is everything. When you're reading you tend to be lost in that world, accessability is redundant. Collating all your music into one piece tends to make geeks of the best of us - who doesn't compile playlists and top tens for every concievable occasion? This is a fundamental difference to books. Ok people make book lists and can be semi-autistic in their attitudes but there is a question of time and space involved in reading a book that the pop song delivers instantly. (Or, a quiet spliff as opposed to freebasing cocaine but I wouldn't know anything about that) And something not entirely compatible with the convenience of the i-pod. (Even so it's still a darn sight quicker to turn to page 239 rather than clicking on the wheely thing on the i-pod)

So, I'm a publisher now and I'm asking myself where's my market for this e-book thing? Answer: Over 80% of the publishing business is made from academic publishing and text books. All this guff about Waterstone's and high streets and Independents is a mere drop in the ocean compared to where my profits are. What are my costs in academic publishing? - small print runs and distribution. Electronic delivery takes care of that. Printing, paper and again distribution costs for work books - you'll be able to write on the screen. Interactivity. Ok, you've lost those sales but you've more than gained from the other savings. Also, if Bill Gates does get round to giving away his billions and equiping children in developing countries with these things then that is a good thing to do. All of a sudden the e-book makes sense. Cheaper for the people who need the information while still returning profits to publishers. Hooray, everybody's happy.

So, the small part of the publishing industry that we at C&P deal with - the creamy bit (or is it scum that rises to the top?) - just won't be affected at all by this e-book thing. England are going to win the world cup too. (But I will bet my own money on France beating Brazil)

The e-book is dead. Long live the e-book! Time and a place innit?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

...or as Mark E Smith said "Repetition Repetition Repetition"

Last Friday I was listening to some Steve Reich CDs a customer lent us and generally approaching the trance-like state only the finest quality boredom can provide when I spotted a proof on the floor by my left foot.

It was a book called Remainder by a writer I had never heard of - Tom McCarthy. I began to read it. I closed the shop early. I read it in the half-light that filtered through the lowered shutters. I could not put it down. The music and the book and my thoughts all blended together. Booky bliss!

Several hours later it was finished and I was thrilled. Wow. I was straight on the net only to discover our great friend Short Term Memory Loss was there ahead of me...

His review is good so I'll spare you mine. Suffice to say this is THE MOST EXCITING BOOK TO BE SET IN SOUTH LONDON IN RECENT YEARS. (by exciting I mean in the Kafkaesque Ice Pick way - this book will split your skull) (That's a good thing!)

It's out next week.

You need to read it...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chinny Chin Chin

Here we are in the Times, or if you want to see the photo - and don't blame me if the horror of it gets burned directly onto your retina - you will have to buy the real thing, and turn to page 13 (unlucky for some) of the Knowledge section. They have helpfully put a photo of the three characters from Black Books next to our *enormous* picture so that you can make comparisons. I am Fran. The boys can fight it out amongst themselves for the other two.

Anyway it's actually a fair representation of what we said - accuracy from the press? surely not - but I would like to point out a few minor errata:
- I never "giggle".
- I'm not sure that Matthew was "smiling" when he said "How often in a chain would you get the staff telling you to f*** off or flouncing out of the shop".
- We do get customers, I am going to be in so much trouble about that.
- We usually only have the one chin each.

Aside from that though, it's pretty funny, and a worryingly revealing portrayal of what we're really like. But I'm not sure I actually wanted anybody to know.

PS If you're wondering which book I'm reading in the picture, it's Peter Hobbs's excellent The Short Day Dying which deserves to be bought by more people, and I'm only sad that you can't see the cover in the photo.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Best Week Yet...

...and it's only Friday.

AC Grayling talk in the shop...

Vast improvements in local beer (pub next door)...

Football on telly every night...

Customers who not only love the shop but have started lending us CDs (Thanks Mr S!) and making us coffee in the morning (on delivery of a box of books - thanks Sue!)

All in all a bloody good week.

Thanks people, enjoy the weekend.

Judgement Day pt 2

Just had our first negative customer in 6 months.

'You don't have many books for the size of the space do you'

'erm... we like it like that. Customers seem to respond to the light and space'

'ohh. When I worked in books there was more of them. Bye then'

'Bye to you too and f*** you very much!'

Atleast being the boss I can give people dirty looks and get away with it. (The first dirty look in 6 months might I hasten to add). Although I guess I need to be careful as every dirty look given only condemns me to the next circle of hell below. At this rate I'll be keeping Judas company in no time. Behave yourself, boy.

Judgement Day or, why nothing matters anyway.

Have just ordered a book from America from our new favourite small publishers.

The book is called Divine Destruction and one of its theses is that America's opposition to climate control policies is the influence of far-right dominion theologists who believe there is no reason to protect the environment given the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ.

Gulp, oh christ. I'm scared now. Pass the crack pipe. There's really no reason to carry on. I'm almost certainly doomed to a flaming eternity of damnation and flesh-eating demons upon god's holy judgement.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Good News!

Everybody knows booksellers like a drink. (Marie is out now buying booze for the AC Grayling event tonight) Our shop is conveniently situated next door to a pub called the Camel. Until very recently it was a bit of a crap pub. In other words there were no decent ales on tap, a problem for a beer lover like myself.

But now things have changed! They have IPA and Abbot on tap!

IPA is a little whimpy but certainly worth a jar or two on a hot afternoon.

Abbot is among my current favourites - strong, tasty and traditional.

Of course the best pint around is London Pride, soon to be the only real ale brewed in the capital. And Fullers is a family company, still clinging doggedly to their independence in the face of interest from the big boys...


I have just discovered that the theme music to the genius black comedy Nighty Night is from an Ennio Morricone score for a 1973 western called My Name Is Nobody about a young gunslinger obsessed with Henry Fonda. Why does it take this long to find out an absolute gem of information? Why didn't I know this already? Sometimes I hate 'In' jokes. It can be so annoying when you're not in on the gag. Smart arses. Did anyone else know this?

(I've got the tune on i-tunes. How can I post it?)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Roll on winter

Oh god there's even more cyclists now. Please let the weather get worse so their numbers are reduced. More cyclists is leading to more annoyance and drivers losing their patience. Especially the no. 159 that tried to kill me this morning by accelerating past and pulling into a bus stop when I was only 30 yards from it.

I'll have to go and calm down by the sea side again now. The only good thing about summer is you get to swim in the sea, one of the most therapeutic and relaxing things I can think of. Went to Walton-on-the-Naze on sunday and took to the water. Bliss.

Then I got to thinking of all the bodies of water I've swam in. I feel a competition coming on...

North Sea, English Channel, Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Loch Lomond, Lake Taupo, erm..

Can anyone top that?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Maths attack!

An unfortunate coincidence

As previously mentioned, the boys and I are going to be in the Times next Saturday, taking part in their 'Ask The Experts' section, where they show a panel of so-called experts a film related to their area of knowledge and ask them to comment. We watched an episode of Black Books and the boys said very funny things. I, less so.

Anyway, last Saturday I was trying to explain the feature to my parents and they didn't understand it, so I got the Times and showed them that issue's example of the feature in question. Unfortunately, on that occasion the field of expertise turned out to be porn. There was a picture and everything.

I'm still not entirely sure my mother understands what I am going to be doing in the Times on Saturday.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In the cold light of day

You know, Serbia & Montenegro didn't half give Argentina a lot of room to play. They aren't going to get a 'defence' as generous as that again.

Thanks to the excellent and underwhelmed Gordon Strachan last night for keeping hope alive.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I had that Dave the Cabbie in my audience the other night...

Was at Morley College last night for a reading by Will Self of his new novel The Book of Dave with some Q & A after. Self was his usual acerbic, engaging and entertaining self. He really loves reading from his own work often lingering on certain phrases and words for emphasis and revelling in the vernacular and in accents.

The book is about a London cabbie called Dave who writes a misogynistic, rascist, homophobic rant and buries it in his ex-wifes garden addressed to his son. Several centuries later his book is discovered after London is drowned from rising sea-levels by the inhabitants of the island of Ham - the only part of the city left above sea-level - and taken as a holy book.

The first reading of the novel was set in the near past and was about Dave picking up an american fare. The conversation and Dave's inner monologue are as you'd expect from a bigot and very funny.

After the readings there were some questions from the floor. After a few people spoke, one bloke sitting on his own with a fedora and a cane raised his hand and said,

'My name's Dave and I'm a cabbie and no cabbie would ever say those things'

Much heated debate ensued over the nature of plausibility and truth in fiction. Self defended himself vigorously with the pointed dissection of Dave's points like a seasoned barrister. Unfortunately, Dave's position descended into personal abuse finally calling Self and his like a cheroot-smoking, middle-class intellectual fancy boy.

Oh Dear. I'm afraid Dave the Cabbie only made Dave the Cabbie an only too plausible bitter, anger-filled figure. One-nil to Self.

We have signed copies in store now.

Crap at Maths

It's not big or clever to be crap at maths. I just embarassed myself by claiming 7 x 8 was 63 when in fact it isn't...(7 X 9 is 63 dumb ass!)

My uncle is a bloody maths professor in Zurich!

Why am I so totally rubbish with numbers?

Bah. Can't spell either. Hurumph.

Come on techy types! Invent a chip you can plug into my brain and make me a maths whizz/spelling geek...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ask the Experts? You asked for it!

The Times are coming to see us this evening.

We are going to be part of a series they do called Ask The Experts. The idea is simple and fun. Find a group of professionals (the experts) and show them some popular TV. (Think doctors watching ER) Then record the comments made by the experts to see how accurate the TV is. It's all for fun and very light hearted...

We are going to watch an episode of Black Books.

Trouble is, where most people think BB is a comedy, it is in fact a deadly serious documentary. Bookselling in small shops is EXACTLY LIKE THAT!

Did we really try and fight Scott Pack? Oh dear...

Monday, June 12, 2006


A letter came in the post this morning:

Dear Sirs,


As fellow members of the FSB, I wanted to let you know about a very well kept secret that enables you to get high calibre staff at extraordinarily low rates - impossibly low you might think.

How would you like to employ people with:
  • No National Minimum Wage
  • No PAYE tax
  • No employers NI
  • No contract of employment
  • No holiday pay
  • No sick pay

There is a special, but little known dispensation written in to EC and UK law. This allows certain people to work in the uk without their employer having to comply with many aspects of the usual raft of employment legislation and regulations.

Many people who are in university courses all over Europe are eligible for this dispensation. The need to carry out work assignments as part of their training. This enables you to employ high calibre workers for just £7000 per annum - all in.

It's something that large blue chip employers have been benefiting from for decades.

Yours Sincerely

Peter Harrison
Managing Director

...erm, where to start? I knew this kind of thing went on but when you become a boss yourself and are offered slaves in order to make a bit more profit...


(I refuse to link to these people but if you're the kind of person who likes seeking out extreme material on the web then here's the place to go:

How to cope with this hot weather

1. Buy two books.
2. Read one.
3. Fan yourself with the other.
4. And then when it's winter, you can burn them for warmth. Or rip them up and stuff the pages down your trousers for insulation.

Books: *so* versatile. You'd never get this many uses out of an electronic hand-held reading device.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Summer in Baden-Baden

It's not book of the month any more so I can now reveal that Summer in Baden-Baden was our world cup super special prize trigger - and none of you literary folk noticed!

Had anyone e-mailed or phoned or spoken to us in the shop about the reasons for our May book of the month being Summer in Baden-Baden and whether this had anything to do with where England would be based in the build up to the World Cup they would have won a SPECTACULAR prize...(just imagine whatever you most desire - that was the prize you could have had! Don't you feel gutted?)

You have to be sharp in the indy bookselling came. I know I keep banging on about it but it's not just us - you can all be involved too...

So keep your wits about you and watch out for more "hidden" and "secret" prize-winning opportunities.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sunshine, cycling and psychopaths

The clement weather and loads of recent publicity have brought the fair-weather cyclists onto the roads. As a die-hard who likes to ride in the depths of winter with horizontal rain I have mixed feelings about this. It's a good thing that people get out of their cars, take the air and attempt healthy living. On the other hand they don't half get in your way. Now, I've been known to jump the odd red - at a pedestrian crossing with no pedestrians or at a junction I know well enough where the timing of the lights sequence has been grafted into my brain - but recently I have taken to stopping at the red and it feels much better. And now I can see how annoying it is when some idiot cyclist bombs through without a care for their own safety or that of any passing pedestrian. They really should stop. But when they do stop at the lights it really is VERY annoying when you're at the front and some flip-flop wearing (please don't wear sandals when cycling. Do you want to die?) saunterer danders up and pulls in front of you when it's blindingly obvious I'm faster and will only overtake anyway which I don't particularly like doing as it's dangerous. (Sandal wearing cyclists also tend to wear their ill-fitting helmets at a jaunty angle. This is more dangerous than not wearing one. I never wear a helmet and in 20 years of cycling and 3 dozen falls I've never hit my head yet. If a car hits you then you're screwed no matter what, helmet or no helmet)

There is one good spot for overtaking though. This morning I was waiting by the lights at the bottom of Kennington road. Typically every cyclist who came behind pulled in front of me until I was at the back of a group of about 15. When the lights went green off we went. Some guys who fancied themselves set off at a pace and everyone else just sauntered on. Kennington road is just shy of a mile long and 2 lanes so you've got plenty of time to build up. By half way I'd passed everyone. It was great. I felt like Steve Ovett at the back of the pack in the 1500m with one lap to go and slowly but surely just leaving them all for dust. I know it's childish and blokey but I don't care. You've got to take your pleasures where you can find them.

But as for the psychopath... waiting to pull onto Herne Hill, a road with some seriously fast traffic, a man passed in front of me cycling one-handed (not good at the best of times). In the other hand he was holding his daughter! She was sitting on his knee! His leg was going up and down! He had his spare arm wrapped around her waist holding her on! He had NO control! He should go to jail for recklessly endangering his own childs life!

Not much about books but I'm looking forward to this coming into the shop soon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside...

I have been away with my swollen (pregnant) wife to Broadstairs in Kent. First time there - what a place!

Lovely little seaside town, favourite spot of one Charles Dickens. Bleak House is there on the cliffs and there's a musum and everything. (Of course we didn't go. I have to confess to an A-Level induced loathing of Dickens. I like some of his essays, Night Thoughts in particular, but the novels I find hard work. I'm saving them for my later years.)

We paddled, I drank plenty of good Kentish Ale, we read (I'm reading The London Hanged by Peter Linebaugh, Mary is loving Flea Palace by the brilliant Elif Shafak) we ate fresh meat pies. We saw Peter "Mr London" Ackroyd twice!

I'm not surprised Peter Ackroyd likes Broadstairs. It is stuck in a little Victorian timewarp but not a dull Victorian timewarp. There were all sorts there. Not just old ladies clustered round the bandsatnd (though they were there) but loads of lager swiling lads and ladettes too - a real cross-section of London life...gone to the seaside...

We will be back.

Did I mention the meat pies?

Friday, June 02, 2006

I know it's late but...

...these are the things that keep me awake at night.

Why (at time of writing) has Matthew's profile been viewed 55 times when Adam's and mine have only been viewed a precisely equal 32 times each? What is so interesting about Matthew? Why doesn't everyone want to know about me the most? Why why why why why? How am I supposed to get to sleep now? I will have to resort to drugs or alcohol, or if that won't work, reading a couple of pages of WG Sebald. It's not fair to do this to me, you know.

Mergers & Acquisitions

Yaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnn. Waterstones buys Ottakers blah blah blah.

I Agree.

I Disagree. Or as the mobile ad at the moment goes, how much time have you got?

Rather than bore you with some rambling entry I thought I'd offer a few bullet points in response to the Iain Dale piece and it's comments:

  • I wish Second Hand book buyers would realise that a book has to be bought new at some point in order to become second-hand (That's you Mr. Chap of a certain age with a rucksack on. Just what are you carrying in that thing? You know who you are)
  • There will always be independent bookshops. Every generation of bookseller will throw up a few idiots who think they could do a better job or are pathologically incapable of being fastracked up the greasy pole of management. (Naming no names)
  • WE'RE NOT OVERPRICED! 99.8% of our stock is the same price as every other terrestrial retailer.
  • It's true, if every independent bookseller went bust then there wouldn't be any great material change to the consumer. However, I had a dream a few nights ago where I was living in a totalitarian state. I was really enjoying it too as I didn't have to make any decisions, I was told what to do and had no responsibilities. At the end of the dream after the regime had been hunting down middle-aged ladies in tracksuits I found I was now a target. I was machine-gunned to DEATH. There is a message there somewhere.
  • A**z*n cannot live by books alone (Home & Garden!? Electronics & Photo?!) C&P are not in it for the riches folks.
  • Supermarkets are NOT faster, better, cheaper.
  • I understand why Waterstones gets better discounts than us and the reasons they snaffled up Ottakers. I don't mind this. I would however like longer credit terms - 90 days please. After an initial cashflow bottleneck longer terms wouldn't affect the publishers at all. It would be something they could offer us small fry without affecting their P&L as there will always be a continuous supply of sales and re-ordering. They do it for A**z*n.
  • I think the Da Vinci Code would have been much better if it was written in bullet points. Sort of avant-garde don'tcha think?

Erm, I think that's enough for now.