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Monday, March 03, 2008

More on free and suchlike

This just came in, and I thought it deserved a long reply...

Hello Mr. Gaiman:
As a bookseller, I am a bit surprised by your recent comment about free books and the HarperCollins download. When you say, "the problem isn't that books are given away or that people read books they haven't paid for. The problem is that the majority of people don't read for pleasure," you seem to miss the point that all of us booksellers are hoping to sell your book to READERS as well as non-readers. Our situation improves as more non-readers become readers, but we can't survive when the readers go elsewhere. I am not at all against free literature--I firmly believe that the more people read the more people read--but somehow, if we independents are to survive, we need to be included somewhere in the formula. I also believe that we independents have no RIGHT to exist, that our time may have passed or be passing, but it would be nice if we could survive; I believe we can--and do--serve a very important purpose.Thanks. I don't sense that you have anything against booksellers--I do want to let you know how your comment might be interpreted by some.
Don Muller
Old Harbor Books
201 Lincoln Street
Sitka, Alaska 99835

Hi Don,

I don't see this as either they get it for free or they come and buy it from you. I see it as Where do you get the people who come in and buy the books that keep you in business from?

The books you sell have "pass-along" rates. They get bought by one person. Then they get passed along to other people. The other people find an author they like, or they don't.

When they do, some of them may come in to your book store and buy some paperback backlist titles, or buy the book they read and liked so that they can read it again. You want this to happen.

Just as a bookseller who regards a library as the enemy, because people can go there and read -- for free! -- what he sells, is missing that the library is creating a pool of people who like and take pleasure in books, will be his customer base, and are out there spreading the word about authors and books they like to other people, some of whom will simply go out and buy it.

If readers find (for free -- in a library, or on-line, or by borrowing from a friend, or on a window-sill) an author they really like, and that author has a nice spanking new hardback coming out, they are quite likely to come in to your shop and buy the nice spanking new hardback. You want that to happen. You really want that to happen a lot, because you'll make more in profit on each of the nice spanking new hardbacks than you will on the paperbacks (or, probably, on anything else in the shop).

I don't believe that anybody out there who can afford a copy of American Gods is going to not buy it (or another of my books) because it's available out there on line for nothing. (Not at this point, anyway.) I think it's a lot more likely that some of the people who read it will find an author they like, and buy more books. Which is good news for people who run bookshops.

(Remember: one in four adults read no books last year. Among those who said they had read books, the median figure — with half reading more, half fewer — was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger. Which means you need to find ways to get young readers to read books. And means that if someone likes American Gods and goes out and buys my entire backlist from you, that's more books than most Americans read in a year.)

I think it's very likely that someone who reads American Gods online and likes it may decide, come the 30th of September, to go out to your shop or somewhere else like it and plonk down their $17.99 for The Graveyard Book in hardcover.

I don't see it as taking money from the pockets of booksellers.

(To steal a metaphor from Cory Doctorow, it's dandelion seeds rather than mammals. A mammal produces a few offspring that take a lot of resources. A dandelion produces an awful lot of seeds because the cost in resources to the dandelion is small, but those that sprout, sprout.)

Then again, I do not always understand the ways of booksellers.

Old Harbor Books looks marvellous -- http://litsite.alaska.edu/akbooksellers/oldharbor.html -- and looks like somewhere that's involved in creating readers and a reading community. My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn't stock paperback bestsellers because "people could always go to Wal-Mart for those" and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was Amazon.com that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn't -- it seemed to me that they didn't work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn't give them a pleasant experience when they were there...

But I digress...

Anyway (it probably bears reiterating) this is an experiment. Harper Collins are going to be looking at the figures over the next month and longer. If sales of American Gods crash in bookshops -- or if sales of all my other books crash -- they won't be doing it again. If American Gods sells more, if my other titles sell more, on actual Bookscan sales, then I think we'll all agree that you and your fellow booksellers will be selling more books, and will thus have nothing to worry about.

Remember, publishers aren't making their money from free downloads or from free online books. Like you (and like me), they make their money from books sold.

What we all want to do is sell more books. To readers, to non-readers, to people who thought they didn't like that sort of thing.

Also, there are also a lot of posts coming in like this:

No question - just wanted to let you know, after getting your "American Gods" online for free and reading about 200 pages, I had to go out and buy the book. Great read!

which may make you feel a little better....

...


Dear Neil
You should be able to listen again on the BBC website. all the radio programmes have a seven day period of grace and you can hear them again. If I remember rightly, I thnk I caught the Lovecraft show this way. The Beeb are also doing their shows throught the iplayer (not yet Mac compatbale). I watched the Worlds of Fantasy series about child heroes, only two days to go. Two more in the series and I think worth watching.
Kind regards
Philip

Not Desert Island Discs or Pick of the Week though.

Mr. Gaiman - Congratulations on finishing "The Graveyard Book." Can't wait to add it to my collection. I have two questions, that are both tied together.

1) You grew up in England, but have moved to the US. How difficult / time consuming was the process (paperwork, etc.) at the time, and what prompted your decision to move here?

2) If someone wanted to reverse that, and move from the US to England, any suggestions on what websites would be good to start researching?I know you are a busy man, but I thank you for any advice you could provide.

1) Fairly time consuming, not that difficult. I think the fact that we had two kids made it fairly obvious that I hadn't married my wife to get to America, and the fact that I earned the majority of my income from DC Comics (at the time) meant that it wasn't like I was about to become a drain on the US economy. I still wonder why I had to get the X-Ray of my lungs and bring it to the US in my handbaggage, and still remember fondly the lady at the US embassy who called me back and told me, quietly, that I'd left originals with her when I should have given her the copies, and when I thanked her told me to shut up because if it was known that she'd been helpful she could be fired.

2) It's nice to think that I could do more than you with a quick Google, but I don't think I can. http://www.uk-yankee.com/ looks like it might be a fine place to start looking though.

...


Mr. Gaiman,

Since your love of libraries has been well documented on your blog I'm sure I'm not the first to alert you to the marvelous www.deweydonationsystem.org (tagline: helping books find libraries since 2003). Their efforts this year are aimed at the Children's Institute in Los Angeles which helps out abused children in a myriad of ways both large and small and the Rockhouse Foundation in Jamaica which serves impoverished children in Negril. The Dewey Donation System (which I'm not affiliated with except as a donor)is a grassroots campaign run simply for the love of books and with the sure knowlege that books change lives. As a librarian and veritable eater of books (yours and many, many, many others), I know that much is true.Thanks for your time and thanks for your much-loved books,
Stephanie Betts

Oddly enough, you were the first -- but thanks...

And this made me smile: http://cjsd.blogspot.com/2008/02/ten-simple-rules-for-graduate-students.html

This fascinated me: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080214114517.htm

This (via Cabinet of Wonders) is a Google Map of the American Gods-style holy places of America.

And for those of you currently reading American Gods, it's worth pointing you to http://www.frowl.org/gods/gods.html, and on Neilgaiman.com to http://www.neilgaiman.com/works/Books/American+Gods/in/183/ (the astonishingly incomplete bibliography).

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