Friday, 10 May 2019

Why do people think children's books should be less than the price of a pizza? Moira Butterfield

I recently asked a local book group about their book-buying habits. They were lively retirees who bought children’s books regularly, keen to encourage their young relatives to read. I felt inspired. Here was part of an army of grandparents and great-aunties trying to get their families interested in books.

But then I asked them where they bought books. The answers were very depressing for an author, and has led me to ask…Why do people think books should be so cheap, and is there anything we can do to change that attitude?

The book-buyers I questioned went to cheap book outlets to get bargains. These are the kind of outlets mostly stocked by children's book companies who specifically print bargain books. They keep origination costs negligible (low fees for authors and artists, no royalties for contributors), and they keep book prices very low, making their money (lots of it) on high-volume sales worldwide. There will also be publishers' unwanted stock in the shops. 

The people I asked also went to charity shops, not to save the planet by recycling, but because they really didn’t want to pay much for books. Sometimes they went into bookshops to look at book selections, but then left to get the books more cheaply on Amazon. That’s a particular shame as our local independent bookshop will do its best to match the Amazon price if you ring up and order.

I don’t blame people for being thrifty, but this isn’t thriftiness. It’s the perception that books should cost peanuts and this all-pervasive attitude prevents authors from making a sustainable living, as we know from this week's depressing ALCS survey statistics. The price of books has fallen to the point where being a full-time author is almost impossible.

So how can we challenge this idea that books should be really low-cost objects? How can we get this into the news? How can we alert these really well-meaning book-loving folk to the reality? Maybe the Children’s Laureate could speak about it? Perhaps famous authors might speak up about it (authors that might make news headlines)?  They could compare the lasting and valuable purchase of a well-crafted children’s books to, say, the price of a quickly-eaten Easter Egg or a takeaway pizza.

Why should people bother about creators when they perceive all authors and illustrators to be rolling in money and getting most of the purchase price. How can we put them right? 

We do somehow need to get this out there as a public talking point because if we want to get a range of people writing books  – anyone who doesn’t have the support of a well-heeled partner or a pension cushion - then the perceived value of books must somehow rise. 

Moira has written a number of children’s books for UK publishers. Recent books include Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow) and Home Sweet Home (Red Shed – due out in June). 2020 will see publications from Walker, Nosy Crow and Templar. 

Moira Butterfield
Twitter: @moiraworld

Instagram: @moirabutterfieldauthor


Nicola Morgan said...

I and many others have been speaking up about this for many many years. CWIG (SoA) campaigns on it, initiated/led by me and James Mayhew and continued by the current committee and the SoA as a whole. We have to keep doing it.

Anne Booth said...

This is so true. Thank you so much for this post. It is so hard, as I think people just don't believe that most authors aren't rolling in it, and it is embarrassing to keep trying to explain to relatives and friends and schools that this is the case. I am going to share your post - and I think we do need a change of perception. Perhaps publishers, if they do care, could use celebrity authors who DO get huge advances to talk about this and change people's expectations - but maybe the whole celebrity author thing is part of the problem. I would love it if famous people who are passionate about literature, (like Mariella Frostrup for example) got involved (Maybe Mariella already is - I mentioned her because I love her programmes). I am very grateful to The Society of Authors and James Mayhew and Nicola Morgan for their work on this.