The problem with books…

So we run a small publishing company here at Freerange, which loosely means we try to marry author and creators of work with an audience via some sort of printing process, digital or physical.  I am also a student who needs to read and study books for the phd I am undertaking.  Both these activities have got me thinking about books, and the logic of books, at least the process where “something interesting that someone has written” gets “into my brain through my eyes“.

Traditionally this process would have gone through quite a few layers of industrialised systems: negotiating contracts, setting out a book, raising funds, printing several thousand copies, distributing to book wholesalers, selling to book stores, and then we’d find a lovely book sitting their innocently waiting for us to buy.    This process favoured safe publishing as large quantities were needed to make the economic logic work, but we did know where to get the books we wanted into our hands.

Two new technologies have transformed this process and made it much more free and confusing.  The first is that we can now read things on screens without printing.  I know I know, people love books. I do too, but to assert that as the main point is to miss the fact that reading on the screen enables us to read peoples work without the massive systems needed to get a book to print in a store.  This freedom of publishing that is the internet definately has its downsides with common lack of editorial oversite and quality control, but hey, this is a good problem, it also has its upside with the consumption of less resources. (less physical resource anyway, still uses energy).  The second new technology is newer faster smaller printing devices that break down the old need to print large expensive runs of books.  The printing of Freerange Journal is made possible by the invention of TruePress printers of which there are only 2 in Australasia that enable us to print small runs of our journal reasonably affordable.

What is frustrating me is that in NZ and Aus we are in an annoying between the old models of beautiful bookstores and some future of beautiful digital efficiency, and this space between seems to be worse than either.  So today I wanted to get my hands on two books. 1. Hannah Arendts “The Human Condition” and 2. “The Resilient City”. Neither are particularly popular books, but both are in print.

It would be nice to visit a bookstore and buy them, but because of the changed economy of books there are not many stores with large collections now and I don’t want to waste half a day visiting them to walk away empty handed, and sadly in NZ the 2nd hand bookstores and good bookstores don’t seem to have their catalogues accesible.

I wouldn’t mind buying them digitally to have as high quality files that are readable and searchable on the computer either, but for some insane reason the e-versions are more expensive than printing, wharehousing and shipping them halfway across the planet.

So I can buy online, and spend 3/4 of the cost of them book on shipping them to NZ.  I can’t understand why all the books in the world need to come from the UK or the States when surely most of them are printed in China now.   Why can these companies not have big warehouses in different locations to cut on shipping?  Either that our get Print on Demand working better so books are printed locally.

Every time I try to find NZ or Aus places to buy these books all they seem to be doing is ordering them from overseas and putting a mark up on them for that.  As much as I like to support local business that is just wasting money.

The cost breakdown of the books was:

1 The Human Condition

via Amazon:  $US10 to buy $18 to ship to NZ

via Book depository: $NZ23 including postage.

Not available as an e-book.

2. The Resilient City

Via Amazon: $US23 to buy $US18 to ship.

Via Book depository: $NZ42 including postage.

E-b00k. $NZ60!

The end of this rant is:

1. The stores in smaller places need to digitise their collections so I can know what they have in their store and visit it to buy it, and enjoy the beauty of a proper bookstore.

2. The big international online suppliers need to sort their shit out so the supply chains are more sensible, when oil starts hitting 3 then 4 then 5 then 6 dollars a litre they are going to have to anyway.

3. Finally the big e-battle between Apple via i-pad, Amazon via kindle and Google via their opensource system is making the whole online thing confusing and difficult, as a reader why should I pay more for a digital version, and as a publisher why should I have to reformat a book 8 times and make lots of separate contracts with different suppliers for them to make all the money off.