Publishing Outside the Bubble
4 Mar 2006
Andrew Crofts, a ghostwriter who has published over fifty books and had four Sunday Times number one bestsellers in the last two years, welcomes recent publishing changes. He can be contacted via www.andrewcrofts.com.
Traditionally, many of those who work in the book publishing industry have lived within a restricted demographic bubble. Most are middle class, university educated and fond of products from the “higher” end of the cultural spectrum. Such people are not too keen on the wider and more vulgar, as they would see it, regions of the market, although from time to time they have been forced to dip their toes into the murkier waters when in need of a boost to their profits.
Hands were thrown in the air inside this bubble a few years ago when it was suggested that the Net Book Agreement should be abolished. Lower the price of books and the Lord alone knew what sort of people might start to buy them!
Similar cries of horror greeted the realisation that the supermarkets might now sell a limited range of books from the popular end of the market. To make things even worse, Amazon started to make it easier to buy books than it had ever been before.
All these changes brought with them dire predictions that specialist bookshops would be wiped off the high street, standards of writing would plummet, publishers’ profits would be decimated and decent authors would be reduced to penury (as if we were living lives of luxury before).
Speaking from my own experience as a ghostwriter of the sort of books that do rather well in supermarkets, it seems to me that all the changes have ended up being rather positive.
For years publishers within the bubble had been telling me that the sort of stories I wanted to tell would not sell. “People” they told me, “do not want to read about children who have had terrible childhoods, it is all too depressing”, (never mind the fact that everyone has been reading about gruesome murders since the dawning of time). Now that “the people” can actually get the stories, however, it all seems to be different. They sell by the hundreds of thousands because they are powerful tales about overcoming adversity. They are fairy tales from the real world; Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby – all of them were abused children. The public like these stories and they showed it by buying them and telling their friends about them.
I know the supermarkets are able to command huge discounts, but if I have to choose between a supermarket which is selling one of my titles at the rate of 10,000 copies a day, pushing it to number one in the Sunday Times bestseller list, and a more genteel bookshop which has half a dozen copies spine-on in the biography section, I know which one gets my business.
The specialist bookshops are still full of people who believe they would never want to read such stories and who would probably never buy a book in a supermarket, but equally I am willing to bet that most of the people who buy books with their groceries only ever go into specialised bookshops at Christmas or when they want a cup of coffee and a free read of the Daily Mail.
A few years ago Jordan and her management team were trying to sell her autobiography. As the project was passed around publishers inside the bubble they all sniggered knowingly at the very idea that the public would want a book by and about such a person. The only publisher willing to back it was John Blake, a man who has never allowed his world to be restricted by any bubble. The rest, as they say, is history.
The customer, as everyone says but doesn’t necessarily mean, is always right.