Recently, Philip Pullman, President of the Society of Authors, announced that the organization will be launching a campaign for publishers to stop damaging authors’ earnings by discounting bulk sales to book clubs and supermarket. The author, who is perhaps most famous for the His Dark Materials series, has personally slammed the cut-price culture which pervades in literature today.
However, in the age of stagnant wages and an ever-rising cost of living, is Pullman, a man of considerable fortune and whose books have grossed millions of pounds in profits, simply out of touch with the modern market?
After all, as paper books face stiff competition from the links of ebooks and Kindles, as well as the ease with which readers are being lured away by audiobooks and TV streaming, low prices are keeping the industry alive. Combined with the convenience of buying books at the same time as groceries, low prices lead readers to become more adventurous and explore new genres and styles.
Also, it is clear from the profits made by many publishers and huge authors (including Pullman himself) that the low prices of mainstream literature are justifiable, and although this may mean that some up and coming authors struggle, the fact is that there are other avenues to pursue to ensure profitability. Almost all of the creative arts offer low wages and many earn significantly less than Pullman and other members of the Society of Authors, which makes this petty argument simply distasteful.
As my recent post has demonstrated, physical books remain popular, and this is, in part, due to the ease at which they can be purchased- unlike films or songs, which now need to be downloaded and often synced to a device, books are easy to buy in many places, including supermarkets. Whilst Pullman and his cronies want to see supermarkets banned from bulk buying books, the reality is that the convenience of being able to buy a paperback at the same time as stocking up your kitchen cupboards is driving sales in the literature market.
Ultimately it is my belief that low book prices are not crippling the industry, but driving it. Whilst there are often loss leaders, particularly among hardback sales, book prices are always calculated to make a profit, and although authors are often paid a measly proportion of that money, this is the reality with many creative arts. Those who work in these industries do it out of love and passion, and there are many other markets in which workers are underpaid, such as the NHS, which need far more urgent attention. Pullman and his moaning pals should concentrate on pushing the literature market forward and encouraging and supporting new writers, rather than trying to line their own pockets.