Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For The Price Of A Good Meal In This Town

The Scotiabank Giller Prize was handed out in Toronto yesterday to Johanna Skibscrub for her novel The Sentimentalists at a gala reception, dinner and awards ceremony.

It was an amazing event. I felt like a child at my first Santa Claus parade. I got to sit at a table with Nino Ricci, M.G. Vassanji and Vincent Lam. Just one of the many marvelous "book nerd fanboy" things that delighted me to no end. (And I think I did a semi-okay job of looking somewhat composed and didn't skip around like I wanted to)

Of course, speaking with other booksellers who were there last night, there's a bit of a conundrum in that, we ALL want to do nice front and centre displays of Johanna's book in our stores, but there's not a lot of stock to be had.  The core philosophy of Gaspereau Press is a commitment to making books that reinstate the importance of books as physical objects -- most of their books are hand-made and thus take a long time to produce. In today's world of mass-produced products, one has to admire that commitment and how the publisher has stuck to their guns, despite a lot of pressure.

However, ever since the shortlist was announced, The Sentimentalists has been a bit hard to get ahold of. And now that it has won, it'll be a little harder to get ahold of, at least in physical format.  The ebook of
The Sentimentalists
, though, is available, through KoboBooks, which means that customers can either buy the harder to find, hand-crafted trade paperback version, or an ebook. Two interesting extremes.

Ebooks, of course, while popular and rising, still represent such a tiny amount of sales in our industry. Will the book's limited availability in printed form prevent it from getting onto and staying on the various bestseller lists? Will the limited availability mean people aren't able to purchase it?

Throughout the evening and at the closing of the event, founder Jack Rabinovich reiterated his statement:  "For the price of a good meal in this town, you can purchase all the shortlisted books. Therefore, buy the books and eat at home." Beautiful statement, worth repeating.  CTV host Seamus O'Regan repeatedly stated one should read all 5 of these great books.

Of course, today, booksellers across the country will be scrambling to put up displays, but many of them won't be able to display Johanna Skibsrud's book.  Perhaps the displays will be of all the 5 books instead, with a congratulatory note to the winner, whose book is, unfortunately out of stock.  Perhaps the Giller Effect this year, might be instead of the 712% increse in sales for a single title (seen last year on Linden MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man), will be split across all 5 books. Good for all publishers, good for all 5 authors, good for all bookstores.

But back to the hand-crafted concept and the, interestingly, opposite of that, the ebook. (This isn't a slight against ebooks because I buy and read them.) But isn't it funny that there are the two extremes? A hand-crafted, carefully produced product, then, on the flip side, a simple, non-elegant, digital file?

Given that this great compromise has been made in an effort to help get the novel into more reader's hands, why shouldn't Gaspereau make a POD version available so that booksellers such as Titles Bookstore McMaster University who have an Espresso Book Machine right in the store can quickly print and bind a book to keep up with customer demand?

Why not have a hand-crafted, beautifully produced hard copy, a simple, POD perfect bound trade paperback version, and an ebook.  Yes, the hand-crafted version is the true unique, rare and collectible artifact that many many readers will still seek out. And there are those who will prefer the convenience and portability and availability of the ebook version. But what about the lost sales to those who WANT to buy a print copy of the book, but just can't get it?

Interesting conundrum Gaspereau faces. I'm curious to see how this pans out.


steph said...

But it's not as though we can't EVER get it. We can get the book, we will get the book, just not instantly. I'm okay with waiting. There's lots to be had in the meantime. I'm all about beautiful books, but even if it wasn't handmade, I don't feel cheated or anxiety because I can't get it now. I think this conundrum might even drive sales up; this lack may make people even more desperate to have it, maybe even those who had no intention of buying it now will because of the rarity? Who knows. Whatever the case is, for me anyway, there's nothing wrong with waiting. Gaspereau will make the book as long as people want it. It's not as though I'll never get it.

Mark Leslie said...

I'm with you on that, Steph. I'll patiently wait for my beautifully hand-crafted copy to arrive, whenever that happens to be.

What I'm worried about are all those who won't wait and who will thus miss out on an opportunity to read this great first novel by Canada's youngest Scotiabank Giller Prize winner.

So while part of me is hopeful that the "limited" availability will be a good thing for Skibsrud and Gaspereau Press, I'm worried our society, which has become so "gotta have it now" will overlook the title this Christmas season if it's not within eyesight and easily available.

Sean Rasmussen said...

Nice article.

It's not so strange to see the two extremes (hand-crafted vs. digital). Probably the way of the future.

The value of print is for the physical object, so why not make it as pretty and tactile as you can, for the materialists amongst us.

Personally, I've converted over to digital and am glad not to have to build more shelving in my place.

Mark Leslie said...

Thanks, Sean - and yes, I'm sure we'll continue to see more and more of the two extremes.

I'm buying more and more digital books myself, but it doesn't seem to be stopping my ongoing collecting of the bound paper artefact I've grown to love so much . . . (perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I worry about the poor bookshelf manufacturers)