Fun as always to sign at the great Seattle Mystery Bookshop in my favorite neighborhood of my favorite city. I live in Spokane but I end up spending so much time here that I bought a share in a boat, a 40-foot 1940s Criss Craft that doesn't run, and that serves as a floating apartment on Lake Union for a couple of friends and me. After a late-night whiskey-fueled poker game one of my Seattle friends dubbed the thing "Little Spokane" in honor of its charming seediness. It's a great place to write, the rain tapping away above me as I work; I managed a couple of chapters of my new book, The Financial Lives of the Poets there last fall. Little Spokane is moored on Eastlake, near where my favorite scene in the worst movie ever filmed in Seattle--McQ--was shot. In the scene, an old, out-of-shape John Wayne is a detective chasing a drug-dealing bad guy on a dock on Lake Union and shoots him in the back. (Swaggering down a hallway he also punches a kid in the gut for calling him a pig--civilian review of the police, anyone?) Eastlake has always felt like old Seattle to me, those moss-covered old floating homes and rusted ship hulls. I rented a tiny floating home there for a few months (230 square feet) in the early 1990s and it's been a shame, for me, to see the neighborhood condo-ized. I like the sort of authentic industrial grubbiness of cities--plenty of that in Spokane--and I'm glad we can bring just a bit of that to old Seattle.--Jess Walter
This weekend, Oct 24th and 25th, is the reconstituted Seattle Bookfest. They'll be author panels, signings, all kinds of fun. The location is in Columbia City, south of downtown Seattle, in an old elementary school building. The link to the website will take you to their website where you can get more information about the panels and authors, as well as directions.
Hope to see you there!
[Oct 27: photos from the weekend are now available in their own photo album.]
That's the link to a good story about the 'Great Price War' that has erupted between several massive corporations. Nothing new in that. Remember when there used to be a gas station on all corners of an intersection and one would drop the price a penny and all would rush out to beat it? Same thing. The corporations who are gutting any profit out of the bestsellers they sell are not looking to make money on the books; they're doing their best to lure you into their mega-store to buy that copy of the new Grisham or Patterson and they hope and assume that you'll buy a few other things at full price while you're there. That's what is called a 'loss leader'. They are not trying to make money on the deeply discounted item. They are trying to fill the warehouse with shoppers. They don't give a damn about books. They're not booksellers. This time, however, it isn't about gas or bags of fertilizer or laptops or cute skirts for junior high girls. This time the lure is a book.
So what does it all mean? It means that we, small independent booksellers, should not be buying the bestsellers from the publisher, but from Target or Walmart or Sears. Not Amazon – yesh, never Amazon. (And, you have to wonder – how long before B&N and Costco and Sam’s get into this throat-cutting price war?)
It means, really, that we should stop stocking and trying to sell these author and titles.
It means that the bestseller lists will continue to be filled with the same names as they always are.
It means that publishers will have less interest in 'smaller' books, books that are not the mega-sellers that will get into the corporate warehouse bookstores. Nearly all the major publishers are subsidiaries of massive corporations. We already see the major publishers cutting back on who they publish. These kinds of price wars will reinforce the view that the Big Bestseller is the way to make sales and money for the publishers and their corporate bosses.
It means that you may have fewer choices of books and authors. The corporate mega-chains are not interested in providing a wide range of books and authors. They're interested in what sells, sells fast and sells in big numbers. That is not really a criticism. That is what they do. That is their business model. If you buy your books at Target or Walmart, you're not going there for selection. You're going there because of the price or because you have no other options. A huge section of the American population has only the national chains to go to for books.
It means that the high price of books will only increase because the hulking chains will discount them anyway. I wrote a few weeks ago about the strange economics of the new Dan Brown. It is a book that has the retail price on the flyleaf of $29.95. While that seems like highway robbery to most of us, in reality it is just a bit over what is becoming the new 'norm' for new hardcovers: the new Cornwell is $27.95, the new Connelly is $27.99, and the new Ellroy is $28.95 (at least it is a hefty book). The new Jonathan Kellerman is $28 (and the mass market comes out in only 4 months!) The last Grisham hardcover, Innocent Man, was $28.95. His last five hardcover novels have all been $27.95. These exaggerated prices have become, over the years, the norm. A hardcover under $25 is the rarity now.
These books are priced to be discounted. When the corporate mega-warehouses offer all New York Times Bestselling List books at 10% or 20% off, there is just a small step to 60%, really. Whatever the discount, it amounts to the same thing: an offered discount is a way to get you in the door. Any discount is a loss leader and only the chains can afford to offer them because they have the power and resources of the corporation behind it all. And that is why small independents can't compete with those discounts - we don't have the deep financial pockets of a corporation. We'd go out of business if we did discount.
So the question for all of us is where do we spend our money and who are we going to support? While I am heartened and happy that we have wonderful customers who will support us by getting their bestseller from us, I can't really blame them if they go buy the new Grisham from an outfit that will sell it for much less than the publisher is charging me. If that means that their book budget allows them to have money to spend here, how can I complain? The nagging question is, is that really how it works?
What is the alternative if you don't want to buy from a corporate chain and get that dirt-cheap book but you can't afford to pay full price here? Put your name on the wait list at the library. Or just don't read that book or that author.
But, in the end, the real discussion needs to not be about discounts, but the high price of books themselves. At some point, publishers are going to have to come to grips with the fact that they're pricing the 'mass market' out of their products. When the market can't afford your wares, and you have to discount them to get them to sell, there is something fundamentally wrong with your pricing structure.
And at the very bottom of the issue is this: we live in an economy built on consumption but the price being assigned to entertainment is becoming too high for the mass audience that the system relies on to support it. The mass audience doesn't have as much disposable income anymore. Doesn't matter if it is the price of a hardcover, or a ticket to a baseball game or a movie or a rock concert - if the price exceeds what the mass audience can afford, the system will screech to a halt.
As it is constantly reported, more and more of the money in our economic system is concentrated in fewer and fewer people. If the 'mass market' has less and less disposable income, the high price of books means fewer titles will sell, more people wait to rent their movies and to watch them at home and more people will watch sports on TV and more. A fabulously wealthy Wall Street banker or a fabulously wealthy movie studio executive will probably only buy a new bestseller once. Either everyone needs to become fabulously wealthy for the mass consumption to continue, or prices have to come down. Since everyone is not becoming fabulously wealthy, we're all left with chain-mega-warehouse-superstores - which just concentrates the wealth further.
What a vicious and ridiculous circle.
We can’t survive – as a business or as a country – on 100 millionaires each buying one copy of the new Dan Brown. We need those millions dispersed, with 133,000 people making up to $77,000 a year buying the new Ellroy, the new Hallinan, the new Elkins, the new Daheim or the new Karp, to buy a stack of paperbacks and a ticket to a ballgame and new paint for the living room and to go out to eat now and then, and then other small businesses will need to hire more people to serve all the new customers and that is how we dig ourselves out of this economic pit.
It makes no sense to continue to raise the prices of your products during a period of deep economic hardship for the greatest number of people, yet book prices continue to escalate. Wouldn’t it be more rational for the manufacturer to lower the prices on the widest range of their own products – in this case, books – instead of relying on a different corporation to lower the prices on a tiny selection of those same products? Wouldn’t it be better to sell more copies of a lot of titles rather than a ton of copies of a handful of titles?
However, as we say around here, if you want sanity, don’t look at the book business…
A funny thing happened on the way from A VIGIL OF SPIES (the 10th Owen Archer mystery) to THE KING’S MISTRESS, my first historical novel-without-a-crime-investigation (though there ARE mysteries…)—my name changed! My signature changed! The working title of the book changed! But this morning when I walked into Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Abbey recognized me (and so did JB, Gretchen, and Fran, thank goodness), so I haven’t completely lost myself.
So here’s what’s happened: Candace Robb is now also Emma Campion (it was rather fun, actually, devising a new name, a combo of a good Norman name of a beloved English queen—and Emma Peel—and a good Yorkshire surname); my signature is now as illegible as my husband’s—sweet; and A GIFT OF SCARLET is THE KING’S MISTRESS. Why the title change? Someone at Random House UK thought the former, my working title, sounded too much like an Owen Archer title. Uh—but that’s why we changed my name, eh? (Except in Italy, where I’m such a bestseller my publisher insisted they publish Emma as Candace—got it?)
Frankly, the name change is only fair. Candace Robb portrayed Alice Perrers (the main character) in two of the Owen Archer mysteries (THE LADY CHAPEL and THE KING’S BISHOP) in a decidedly unbecoming light. Emma Campion has put the record straight (with a lot of help from her friend the historian W.M. Ormrod). As she explains in her Author’s Note, Emma, er, Candace never felt right about her portrayal of Alice, and began to delve. She presented almost a half dozen papers at the two big medieval studies conferences in the US and the UK chronicling her research—er, I did—in order to get feedback from historians. Fittingly, Lewis Carroll’s Alice books thematically linked all the papers. The last was “Negotiating the Croquet Grounds”…. all about becoming Emma and learning that I had (or we had) to spend the summer cutting the novel for the US (and European) market. Curiouser and curiouser.
I must say, at first I was depressed about cutting 30k words from the UK edition, but I’ve turned it into a delicious exercise. Let Alice decide what detail or episodes she’d just as soon leave out and tweak a few she feels I didn’t get quite right.
So now I am three—Candace, Emma, Alice.
Meanwhile, I spent 3 weeks in York in late spring being wooed by the dean and chapter of York Minster—they want more Owen Archers. Of course they do! They let me climb and crawl over, under, and through the minster and gave me a private tour of Bishopthorpe Palace.
And a short story by Candace (“Karma”)—a contemporary!—is just out in the American Crime Writers League anthology MURDER PAST, MURDER PRESENT edited by Jan Grape and Barrie Flowers for Twilight Time Books.
I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, Emma or Candace. But I DO know that the next book under contract is another Emma Campion (I wish this meant Candace got a long break), THE HERO’S WIFE (this title I like—you’ll see, it’s quite ambiguous) about Joan of Kent, the wife of the Black Prince and mother of King Richard II, and her penchant for clandestine marriages. And then? And then?
If you like a fast moving historical based police adventure/mystery/love story complete with a psychotic killer you will get a trilogy's worth in "Trilogy in Blue: From the Ashes". This novel takes a family from Vermont in the late 1800s to Seattle and the Alaskan gold rush. The father of the family becomes a successful businessman who is not getting along with his son who becomes a police officer in Seattle in 1905. This novel takes that officer and his family family through graft, greed and corruption and a psychotic killer bent on taking the life of the police officer and his family. The sequels in the Trilogy series will follow the adventures of the next two generations to present day. Written by a 38 year veteran of law enforcement the reader will get insight into the lives and world of police officers.
Check out my web site at http://www.taperry.com/ for the release date of the next in the novel in the Trilogy series.
So last year I sat here on the now-famous Mystery Bookshop blog stool and wrote about The 7th Victim and how excited I was to share the stories of my seven years of research with the FBI profiling unit in Quantico.The 7th Victim went on to be named to Library Journal's Best Books of the Year list. I was very excited, to say the least...especially since my main character, Karen Vail, was due to return in Crush.
Crushhas just hit stores, and the response has been tremendous! After having a tough time in 7th Victim, Karen Vail is looking forward to a romantic getaway with her boyfriend in the Napa Valley. But--come on--this is a thriller! Can I let Vail kick back and relax? Now what fun would that be? For us, not much. Not to worry, though, because if I had something to say about it (and I guess I did), Vail would have her hands full. And, in fact, she does, after stumbling upon a freshly murdered body in the deepest reachest of an exclusive wine cave.
Vail works with the Napa Valley Major Crimes task force to unravel the mystery--but finds herself pulled down into a world she does not know, far from home, chasing a serial killer who doesn't appear to follow any of the conventions she, and the profiling unit, have encountered before... And through it all, a surprise lurks...something that turns Vail's life inside out in a way that will leave readers with slack jaws--and reaching for the next Karen Vail novel.
I've already had emails from readers all over--Germany included--who've readCrushin one to three days. The response has far exceeded anything I could've hoped for. Watch the book trailer as well as the four-part interview I did one of the senior FBI profilers I've now worked with for 15 years.
Stop by my website, www.alanjacobson.com, to pick up a free, 22-page personal safety booklet I co-wrote with the profiler. It's filled with vital tips on staying safe. Till next year...keep the blog stool warm!
Here is a four-part interview with Alan and FBI profiler, Mark Safanik. Each segment is just about 10 minutes.