The Book Catapult

The Lo$t $ymbol

Yeah, that's right - that's the 2004 me on the leftWaaaaay back in aught-three and aught-four, before bookstores were equipped with barcode scanners, I rang up so many copies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that I inadvertently memorized the 10-digit ISBN – 0385504209. This is a depressing thing to have happen to a reader of fine contemporary literature who already has a chip on his shoulder. DVC was poorly written at best, rife with cliches and forced cliffhangers at the end of every 4 page chapter (“He spun to the driver. ‘Take me there at once!‘”) – so much so, that in March 2003, I decided to stop reading the advance reading copy while trapped on an airplane in favor of the Skymall magazine. That’s pretty bad. Sometime in 2004 I returned to the book just to figure out what the big deal was – I finished it, but I’m still not sure.

“So what, Seth?”, you ask. So I spent 2 bitter years as a bookseller resenting the fact that Dan Brown buttered my bread, rather than Jonathan Lethem or David Mitchell. For every 100 DVC‘s I sold, maybe one copy of Fortress of Solitude went out the door. I was amazed, actually, at the staying power of the hardcover edition – even after 2 years, people would wander into the bookshop, blinded by the lights and all the brightly colored books, and ask, “Do y’all have a book called, I think it’s like, The Da Vinci Connection or The Da Vinci Cornrow?” Seriously? It’s sold over 30 million copies worldwide – where have you been? The phenomenon of DVC helped me become the bitter, angry bookseller that I am today – the resentment I felt over having to sell over 1400 copies in my humble indie bookstore helped me focus my power into clearly and concisely recommending and reviewing the books I felt passionate about, in order to usurp the throne of Mr. Brown. 0385504209 made me the man I am today.

Which brings me to my point – and there is one somewhere inside this rant, I assure you. For those of you unaware (and I can forgive this, as the book is not yet released), Dan has finally finished his DVC followup, titled The Lost Symbol, and it hits the shelves on September 15. Everyone who sells new books – who takes it seriously as a business, at least – is excited about this new book, as it is potentially capable of breaking the majority of the industry out of the financial funk of 2009. We have had no Harry Potter or Stephenie Meyer this year – couple that with the good ol’ recession and you have a pretty awful year so far. While a tiny part of me appreciates that Random House has slapped a $29.95 price tag on The Lost Symbol – that’s a hefty sum to bring into a struggling indie – the other part recognizes that 30 bucks is a ridiculous amount of money to charge for a novel of such mass marketed appeal. Will Amazon and Borders be charging $29.95 for such an item? Hahahahahahahahaha!

Amazon: $16.17 ($9.99 for the Kindle)

Barnes & Noble: $17.97

Borders: $17.97

Walmart: $14.50

Hell, even (former indie, turned chain) Powell’s is selling it at $20.96 – 30% off the list price. Why would anyone in their right mind buy this book for $30 if you can find it – quite easily – for the price of a trade paperback? If an independent store is expecting this book to help them out in the failing economy, how can anyone expect them to offer a deep discount? Sure, we’ll throw promotions at you, offer $5 coupons and midnight release parties, but there is no way for non-discounters to effectively compete with the prices offered elsewhere. And the crazy thing is, I don’t really blame the deep discounters and the chain bookstores this time.

My rhetorical question to the greedy publisher is: Why make the price so exorbitantly high in the first place? No one is buying the book from Random House for $29.95 – we all get at least 40-50% off; this where our profit margin lies. It’s the same with the ebooks being offered at the same high list prices by the pubs, but sold by anyone selling them at at least 50% off. The publishers are effectively pricing themselves out of the market and systematically killing the little guy. There has been quite a bit whining and complaining from them lately about cutting back, switching to print-on-demand, consolidating imprints, yet, we still think $29.95 is a reasonable price to ask of the consumer for 528 pages of potential drivel. (That’s like 18 cents a page or 70 cents a chapter.)

The refusal by the large publishers (Random House, Penguin, Harper, Hachette, etc) to either lower the price of a hardcover book or cut back on the number of titles printed in that format will eventually destroy their industry. Historically, the design of books hasn’t changed a whole lot, so the pubs are locked onto the formatting that they’ve offered for the last 100 years or so – hence the pigheaded refusal to offer an invisible, paperless ebook at a reasonable price. My genius solution? Cut in half the number of books published in hardcover – this will save pubs and consumers alike millions of dollars – and publish them instead in trade paperback. A $13-20 price point is much easier to swallow, especially in the current fiscal climate. Keeping the prices high just forces small stores to sell high in order to cover their costs and actually make money. Walmart doesn’t care that they lose money on The Lost Symbol – as long as they get people in the door, filling their carts with other crap, they make their cash back a thousandfold. The small bookshop down the street doesn’t have that option as books are usually their primary product source. And for the love of God, lower the price of the ebooks! Why is a paperless book the same price as a bound one? Ridiculous. This is the kind of stupid, blind greed that’s going to shut down every independent and bankrupt the major publishing houses.

Well, I said that I had a point here somewhere, but this was apparently just another crazed rant. Sorry about that. All I want is a little fairness in the marketplace – that’s my point. I implore you, dear reader, if you have an independent bookstore somewhere within reasonable distance of your home, please visit them. Buy something. Or they will die. Thank you.

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2 comments on “The Lo$t $ymbol

  1. Corey Wilde
    September 3, 2009

    I don't know why, but a reading a good rant is just so satisfying.

    Sadly, stupid, blind greed is prevalent in our culture today. It isn't just the publishing industry that is guilty.

  2. Marko
    September 5, 2009

    Let me tell ya', it feels pretty good writing 'em too.

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2009 by in Dan Brown, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post.
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