Not a reader, just book-ish

Hmm, so publishers finally catch up with Foyle’s, do they? A million years ago, when I was a slip of a gel — well, in the 1980s, maybe even the 1990s — Foyle’s bookshop used to shelve its books, not by subject, nor by genre, nor even by colour of jacket, but by publisher. Yup, if you wanted to buy a copy of Ulysses, or Agatha Christie, or The Galloping Gourmet (or was that a television programme? It was a long time ago), you had to know who published it. Which was, of course, absurd.

Foyle’s did it because it was easy for the staff. Not, of course, the staff dealing with bewildered or irate customers. But the staff shelving, and the staff ordering, copies. The publisher’s sales-rep came in, they pointed him or her to the ‘Penguin’ shelves, s/he looked at what was needed, and put in an order. All hotsty-totsy, apart from those poor saps who actually wanted to buy books. (Which they did somewhere else. So Foyle’s almost disintegrated. But that’s another story.)

For possibly as much as a decade, publishers have been acting like Christina Foyle: they have set up websites to promote ‘their’ books, and ‘their’ authors. (By the way, can I tell publishers how not-enchanted authors are to be referred to by this possessive?) But readers don’t think, ‘Hmm, I’d like to buy a Macmillan title now. Gee, I wonder what they’re offering? I know, I’ll go to their website and see!’

I don’t even know why I had to type that last sentence out, it is so obvious. But not to publishers, apparently. Anyway, they have just as apparently Seen the Light.  Hachette, Simon and Schuster and Penguin are setting up, which will be run, they claim, independently, to present a one-stop shop for all books by all publishers.

Well, I look forward. Who knows? But I’ve got to say, the website’s name stinks. Bookish, wow, what a come-on. How incredibly whole-hearted of the industry. It’s like the old Jonathan Miller joke. He was asked if he was a Jew. ‘Not a Jew,’ he demurred, ‘more Jewish. Not,’ he added confidingly, ‘not the whole hog, you know.’

Book-ish. A few pages short of a whole index?


  1. Graham Anderson

    May 9, 2011 - 10:38 am

    The idea that readers would think, “Oooh, I fancy a new Macmillan…” is absurd. But what about smaller, narrower publishers like Serpent’s Tail? Are they not more akin to curating record labels of old? I know musically, I would buy whatever 4AD put out because I knew it’d been selected by Ivo Watts-Russell. Ditto Factory curated by Anthony H Wilson.

  2. Georgina Morley

    May 9, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    Hey, why is everyone picking on Macmillan today? And you know, someone might pursue on of our books on our website and see something else they like … same as browsing on Amazon, or indeed in Foyle’s. But it is indeed true that almost no one outside the industry gives a flying fig about imprints. But in this digital world, if publishers didn’t have websites they would be sadly letting down the authors they publish (note I did not say ‘their’ authors).

  3. Georgina Morley

    May 9, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    And apologies for the typo in line one. Heat of the moment, slip of the finger.

  4. Tinny

    May 9, 2011 - 7:06 pm

    I agree with Mr. Anderson, it might work with smaller publishers that have a more consistent style of literature they publish. Penguin or Macmillan or any other really big company just isn’t clearly defined enough for it. I do understand Mrs. Morley’s point of online presence as well, but it is still far more important as the online presence of the author, not as the presence of who publishes that author. It is natural that such presence would be made possible through the publisher, who is supposed to handle the marketing side.

    The comparison to Amazon does not quite work, though, as Amazon is more writer based and more “people who bought this also bought” in its recommendations, not “here’s what this publisher’s also offering”.