Peter Robb is obviously having a serious case of selective amnesia.
I read with interest and a touch of sadness his blinkered view of the current state of bookselling and publishing in his article in the Good Weekend March 30, 2013.
As an independent bookseller in business for 35 years I am staggered at his blurred view of bookshops of yesteryear. Also, if I were a publisher, I would be similarly saddened by his view of the current state of publishing.
Why were books published 50 years ago? Is it any different to why books are published today? What keeps a bookshop in business above all else it is to ensure all areas of the community are catered for with respect to their literary needs and desires? Basically to drive sales. I know it doesn’t sound altruistic but it is true. Every bookseller I know loves what he or she does and loves books but we have to make a dollar to survive.
A bookshop, whether established 100, 50, 30 or 2 years ago has to provide an income to survive. How did they do this? Well I can tell Peter that they probably sold many books that he would not read or even glance at. In fact, the vast majority of the population would not be remotely interested in the books Peter wants to read. So according to him that makes them “crap” and “doomed losers”. If we and the publishers catered only for the minority, like Peter, we would not be in business for long. Each to his own. That allows us to continue with the art of “choice, guidance and seduction”.
I find Peter Robb hypocritical in the extreme. I suspect that he would be happy for his books to be in the top 10, but then they would probably be classified as crap and we would be selling lots of them.
Publishers are also working very hard in difficult times to make a dollar. Publishers now, as in the past make choices to publish a book based on many factors. Sometimes it works and sometimes not. New authors emerge and shine, others fade away. Publishers can invest in new authors only because they have other authors that sell a lot of books (books that Peter probably doesn’t read) .These books make money for the publishers so that ultimately they can print Peters’ books.
He claims that “at some point I stopped visiting shops. You can say it’s the internet, and it partly is” ...”I was buying obscure books, out of print books… and foreign language books”
Well Peter, are you suggesting that your local general bookshop should stock obscure, out of print or foreign language books? How many books do you want us to sell in a day? Perhaps none.
You are also using the internet to purchase books. Have you tried to go into your local bookshop and asked them to source a book from overseas for you? If you do you may be pleasantly surprised that we are friendly, informative and can usually source your book, fast, reasonably priced, undamaged and you don’t have to pay for it until you pick it up. Not bad eh!
Peter, Melbourne is still a great place for bookshops. You may even find one or two of your books in them.
Church St, Brighton, Vic