With Christmas fast approaching, I am guilty of a selfish desire to sell as many books as possible to old and young alike, in heretofore secret hope of fulfilling a childhood ambition: to one day occupy a Heaven-on-Earth island in Maine like that possessed by the late Robert McCloskey (One Morning in Maine, Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal) - childhood favorites all, and rooted where my mother’s family spent summers, just across East Penobscot Bay. I have not accomplished as much along this line as I might have liked by my current age, but I am confident that since 62 really is the new 45, it’s not over ‘til it’s over (and it’s never over.) Besides, the New Economy still holds unfulfilled promise.
To that end I am hoping that this year total strangers, as well as friends and family, will avail themselves for Christmas gifts of both “Into My Father’s Wake,” and “The Deep.” These two books, aimed at older and younger audiences respectively, have a relationship on the water and in family affairs (about which some know much more than others.) Hopefully they will make some readers happy and be a gift that keeps on giving.
In a recent exercise with my daughter Emily, head of marketing and sales, we tried to establish the fair market price for our books in the New Economy, which can be directly bought through Amazon (http://www.intomyfatherswake.com) or in the case of “The Deep,” through our Brooklyn offices (http://www.whatcouldpossiblybe.com). We are in the latter stages of getting both books into Brooklyn bookstores before Christmas. (Time is running down!!!)
Unfortunately, bookstores are suffering in the New Economy from on-line sales and on-demand publishing. It is odd but understandable that although books can be produced more inexpensively and delivered directly, pricing of new books does not yet reflect all those potential advantages to readers. Bookstores have to pay rent and staff but they provide a real experience, not a virtual one. Browsing is a physical as well as mental experience, where the greatest reading treats are often found by chance, down that stack over there. But by the time a new paperback reaches an actual bookstore, the price has to be north of $15, if not higher.
In the shower this morning I calculated that a 300-page book at $15 is asking a measly nickel a page. Accounting for paper, print, binding and distribution for the physical item, and the room in which you find it, does this seem unreasonable? I would think not. I would even hope that any randomly selected page of almost any book would have at least a nickel’s worth of value (humor, wisdom, information, writing style) in it. But this is up to readers.
I once comforted myself with a question overheard somewhere – “So many bad books are published, why can’t my bad book be published?” Then the New Economy came along and made it easier for a writer to publish his or her own book, whether bad or good (and I suspect, alas, that more bad books of all kinds are thus available and fervently hope mine is not among them.)
At a recent Christmas book fair in the West Village, I actually bought An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), The Bonesetters Daughter (Amy Tan), The Heart of a Woman (Maya Angelou), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Picture of Dorian Gay (Oscar Wilde), Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner), and Rise and Shine (Anna Quindlen). Can you infer from this list that I had in mind a very bright eighth-grader who loves to read, has a talent for writing and in early adolescence must stave off the nefarious influences of New York City and American culture if she is to survive and prosper as her own creative force?
In any event, the whole stack cost me an astonishing $8. Okay, these are used paperbacks, but that is a lot of value for the price. (I would have paid at least $20, and donated another $10 on top for the charity involved, but they were determined to nearly give these away.) In the end, the only arbiter of real (rather than monetary) value will be the reader, who either gets his or her nickel’s worth per page, or puts the book down before finishing it and says, “That’s enough of that!” They might still be way ahead for whatever price they paid.
I hope this Christmas will be generous in its collective curiosity about our books, and that the New Economy, with its global reach and transparency and ease of use, will invite new readers to our electronic doorstep, there to order, buy (happily?) and read (happier still!). And I hope that when we are discovered in bookstores in the coming months and years, the price, whatever it is, will be no impediment.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2011.