The books arrived exactly on schedule, auspiciously on Friday 13th! There were five very heavy boxes awaiting me downstairs and the delivery man was reluctant to bring them upstairs so I had to haul them up myself, box by box, in my creaking vintage lift. First impressions… the cover was matt, as I had requested, but the colours were very slightly off. I had saved my cover image in CMYK mode, but perhaps my iMac screen calibration was slightly out of kilter, as the tan colour had a greenish tinge while on my screen, it had looked rather more yellow. Inside, the pages were very white and the printing itself was deep black and glossy. This was the ‘satin’ sheen and the printer had assured me it would not be too shiny. I was taken aback by this and admittedly, this took some getting used to. I had hoped for a matt finish and slightly off-white paper, not glaring white. I was afraid that this sort of printing was rather more suited to a different genre of comics and this detracted from the pleasure of holding my finished book in my hands for the first time.
Eventually I got used to the glossiness of the pages and in daylight, it did not look too bad. Still, the paper felt a little stiff, the paperweight was 150gsm while I would have happily settled for anything between 100gsm and 120gsm. It made the book feel hefty but I suppose the weight also gave it a sort of gravitas. Happy and relieved that I finally had my books, I set about changing my Facebook status, like a good internet citizen, announcing the arrival of my books and telling my friends that they were ready for sale. I am grateful to have many good friends who are so supportive of my own scatty artistic ventures.
Which brings me to the prickly issue of … postage and other costs of selling one’s books online!
Royal Mail have been increasing their prices over the years and have just announced a dramatic price increase in 1st class stamps, beginning from 1st May. I think 1st class stamps were about 17p or 19p when I first arrived in England back in 1990. Price rises like these make it uneconomical for small-time sellers to do business via Royal Mail. I do not know how eBay’s small traders are faring with these price increases. To send my book to a buyer in the UK, it will cost £3.05 in postage. This means I will have to absorb the packaging costs to stop my book from becoming prohibitively expensive. Worse still, sending the book to the USA (where many of my friends are based) will cost £7.60 for simple air mail. This doesn’t even include having the insurance and security of Air Sure, so I am not sure what I’ll end up doing if one of the packages goes missing. I have no doubt that many of my potential sales will evaporate because of the postage costs, even after discounting the book heavily for friends. Then later, I found that Paypal also takes a 5% cut of any money transfers, which diminishes my margin even further. How does anyone make a living these days?
It makes me ponder where our future as artists/creators is heading; if it is so expensive for a product to move from creator/artist to his/her audience/buying public, with each party in the chain taking its (disproportionate) cut, then how is the artist ever going to make a living? Making a book is not quite the same as going through one’s daily work, delivering a parcel, fixing a car or painting a house. It will be the biggest companies like Amazon who will manage to survive and keep prices low because of their economies of scale and monopolistic tactics, designed to drive their competitors out of business. Is this truly good for the consumer? They will get cheap goods – but at a high price. Will the average consumer ever realise that, when mostly they just want the latest Playstation device or another execrable bestseller from Dan Brown? When independent publishers and bookstores can no longer survive because of spiralling costs and cutthroat competition, the end consumer will ultimately lose out. It’s not a level playing field, it must feel like being a helpless 5 years old again and being pounded into the ground by a 6-ft tall playground bully.