Saturday, July 28, 2007

Life Post-Harry

There's an extremely good piece in the New Straits Times today by Johan Jaafar about life in the aftermath of the latest Harry Potter launch. He's spot on when he talks about book selling in Malaysia in general and last weekend's kerfuffle:
... we are dealing with an industry which has too many misses and very few hits. One business magazine calls it "the twisted economics of Harry Potter": The wizard brings both profit and pain to the industry.

Imagine life for the bookstores after the Harry Potter mania subsides.

They will have to be content with very few reasonably successful titles.

Bestsellers are hard to come by. Stores are stacked with titles whose shelf life is the stuff of legend.

The talk among booksellers these days is about inventories, if anything at all. Unsold stocks are devouring booksellers’ profits. What you see in posh, well-lit and well-stocked stores is deceiving.

The cost of operating is prohibitive, the buyers are shying away and foreign books are flooding the market.

Publishers, too, are not getting their money as fast as the books are being churned out of the printing presses. For every successful title, there are hundreds of sluggish ones.

The book industry is as perilous as Harry’s attempt to fight the Dark Lord Voldemort.

It is a thankless industry. In this country, only textbook publishers are smiling all the way to the banks.

Publishers of general titles are struggling to survive in an industry worth a mere RM1.5 billion.

Even the broiler chicken industry is bigger than the book industry.

Little wonder there are very few quality book publishers in the country.

There is not even one specialising in children’s books. Perhaps the book industry is searching for the missing Horcruxes, the secret magical objects that need to be destroyed by Harry Potter in order to kill Voldemort.

There are far too many "dark forces" bedevilling the industry in order for it to rise to the next level.

A supermarket chain in Britain offered the book at about RM35.

Online retailer is offering half the price offered by bookstores.

Understandably, booksellers in US and Britain cried foul but in Malaysia they did something about it.

As much as the Potter brand is seductive, slashing the price the way of the hypermarkets will spell trouble for the book industry.

Yes, I will support anything that will benefit consumers. But an unnecessary price war is detrimental to the industry as a whole.

The industry simply can’t survive on a one-off phenomenon.

This is not even about survival of the fittest. The truth is there is no pot of gold even in such a precious commodity like Harry Potter.

In the wake of the Harry Potter mania lie realities very few outside the industry will ever understand.*

For my daughters it is time to bid farewell to a long-trusted friend.

For the industry, at least in Malaysia, it is a time of reckoning. And to move on.
* My emphasis.


Anonymous said...

I should be worth a mere 1.5billion :) People can sell roti canai and survive.

irene said...

It's like the chicken and the egg. Books are expensive, so we can't buy many; they need to price the books like that in order to make profit and survive. The books stay expensive and we go off to Payless Books' warehouse sales.

bibliobibuli said...

some truth in that irene. but the books in warehouse sales aren't the latest and some titles won't make it there at all. best is to be a cheerfully eclectic book buyer - buy different kinds of books from different sources.

i love cheap books too ... in fact i was at big bookshop today and picked up some great non-fiction titles. these were books i wouldn't have bought at full price.

i don't mind paying full whack for a hardback or trade paperback copy of the latest quality lit fiction e.g. i just bought michael ondaatje's new book and graham swift's. they weren't cheap but i love having first edition copies.

i feel that i was very lucky growing up in the UK as the public libraries were so good and my school library was good so i really didn't need to buy too much