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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Vagueness (1)

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Love it that this bookshop in Margate manages to divide books into three categories: “General Interest”, “Extra Stock” and “Whatever” (there are some other shelves with more specific categories).

General Interest

Extra Stock


Thinking about bookshops and their categorisation schemes reminds me of a bookshop from years ago on Queen’s Road in Brighton, just down from the station, which had, in addition to books on the shelves, large piles of books in the middle of the floor as if dumped there by a dumper truck. At the back of the shop, there was a shelf of pornographic books; in place of the usual bookseller euphemism of “Erotica” as a header for the section, this shop had plumped for the rather more direct word “Filth”.

Amazingly I have just found a picture of that very shop, and an article from The Argus about its closure (well, abandonment) in 2002; the wonders of the interweb, eh?

Bookshop Payola

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

It is commonly believed that the books on promotion in bookshops (for example those on the 3-for-2 deals at the front of bookshops) are not chosen by the bookshops themselves, but are the result of payments from publishers to the shops. I can imagine that this is realistic. This is commonly seen as being a problem.

Is it a problem of significance? I would argue that it isn’t, because there is no motivation for the publishers to put out anything other than their best books. Why spend money on this form of advertising for something that you consider mediocre, when that money could be spent just as well on something that is better?

There are a number of caveats here, some with merit, some with less:

  • The system becomes conservative, because publishers will put this kind of support behind established authors, or only established publishers will have the money to put this kind of investment up front. This criticism has some merit.
  • Publishers are using this to promote material that isn’t selling very well. Whilst this is fine in theory, in practice, the dominance of the 3-for-2 section by newly published books provides some evidence against this.
  • A more sophisticated version of the previous argument is that this acts as a kind of triage process. Good books that would sell well anyway don’t end up going on the 3-for-2; by contrast, at the other end special interest books and books that have been struggling don’t get this kind of promotion. As a result the 3-for-2 ends up being the mediocre middle that need this support to sell in a decent quantity.

Unplanned Obsolescence

Monday, May 25th, 2009

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” When I read that opening line from Neuromancer in the early ’90s, it conveyed a powerful image using a technology-grounded metaphor that set the tone for the whole book. Now, just 25 years after it was published, it is in need of a footnote: the reader reading that book today, and increasingly so in a few years time, will still get a powerful image, but the image is completely the wrong one! Instead of a bleak, fuzzy sky, the image is of a deep saturated blue, with correspondingly different figurative implications.