Monday, 22 September 2014

Tarot Cards a riddle about independent bookshops.

Monday morning in my bookshop and I have just put up the sign warning customers not to buy themselves tarot cards.

This is a bit like the riddle of the twins guarding the gates one leading heaven and the other to hell. You have to go through one of the gates, and you get to ask one question to one twin, what do you ask?

Now as a bookseller it isn’t my job to express an opinion as to whether or not tarot cards work, do they do. What? Tell fortunes. Enhance the reader’s ability to tell fortunes. Don’t work at all.

In a world where everything has descended to how much profit, and believe me the bookselling world, which was inhabited by people who were interested in books, is going that way. What am I doing? I guess trying to enhance the relationship between the writer and the reader by selling the reader the right and not the most profitable book. 

I think I can explain this better as a publisher. Now recently one of the big chain booksellers wanted to stock some of the local books that I publish. What they actually cost me to produce is not an easy thing to work out and as my primary interest is to make them available, rather than profit so I don’t know exactly. I guess the equation is something like this based on the amount of a title I actually sell which is normally around 100 copies. For a book selling at £5, material cost about £1.50, labour cost 50p, authors royalty 50p and if I sell it to another retailer, their margin and getting it to them around £2, so I would be making about 50p per book.

Anyway this big chain bookseller wanted 60% discount, with me paying shipping costs to get the books to their warehouse and they intimated that if I gave them 65% discount the book would be much more likely to become a bestseller.

Of course it is much cheaper to produce longer print runs, so my £2 manufacturing cost would probably be more like £1 instead of £2, but the way I perceived this is that the big chain would have liked me to put the selling price of the book up, so I could give them enough discount to allow them to sell it on special offer, most importantly cheaper than any independent bookseller. So something like I make the selling price of the £5 book £10 so they can buy it for £4 and sell it for £6 while the independent shop wouldn’t stand any chance of getting it for less than about £6 from the publisher.

We once had a thing called the net book agreement here in the UK which stopped all this sort of thing. If a book sold for £5, the price fixed by the publisher the independent got a discount between about £1.60 and about £1.80 with the big chains getting between about £1.80 and about £2.50 and everyone even the supermarkets had to sell the book for £5.

Sorry a bit of a rant there, back to the tarot cards, of course tarot cards weren’t originally intended for fortune telling and weren’t originally printed, so I guess they weren’t originally sold by booksellers. Anyway around 1500 printing presses settled down as an invention and the printing of books and of course tarot cards became really viable also around this time tarot cards started being used for divination. So I would guess that these would have been printed, how the business of the, not buying your owns came about I don’t know, but there it is.

So assuming that tarot cards have to be given to you, and I guess in day and age when everything cheap that you ask for as a present, you get, then this must extend to asking someone else to get them for you as a present. Then the riddle is. How? Should you want a deck of tarot cards, do you get someone to give you a deck without asking them to do so?

Obviously if they only work if you acquire them as a gift then it is reasonable for me to put up a sign saying don’t buy them for yourself, perhaps the next stage is asking someone if the want a deck, obviously they can’t say yes – as that defeats the object – but they can say no or perhaps they can not say no.       

The bottom line here being, if the proper action is to put up a sign warning people not to buy something and I guess you can look at all the places online selling tarot cards without this warning, then what is going on?                    

Saturday, 20 September 2014

James Patterson, the Alex Cross novels. Buying Tarot Cards occult books in the bookshop. A few thoughts on painting watercolours of traditional sailing boats as The Frigate Shtandart is in Ramsgate Harbour. A ramble.

Apart from closing my bookshop on Sundays and Thursdays I also employ someone on Saturdays, so if my wife is here too, then I can also skive off on Saturday sometimes and paint, so this is one of today’s paintings, more about this later.
On the whole I am not much of a fan of murder mysteries but as James Patterson is an author who has seen the writing on the wall about independent bookshops, which pretty much boils down to - the big chains like Amazon and Waterstones taking over bookselling - damages the relationship between the writer and the reader, I thought I ought to give his work a go. I am not entirely new to his work having read Maximum Ride with my children, anyway the long and the short of it is I have got addicted to this crime series. Anyway I am about half way through and read pretty quickly, but I have to admit that a lot of the time I would normally devote to blogging has been spent reading these. I don’t mean here that I am not a veracious reader anyway, it’s just when I get addicted to a long series, I also read when I should be doing other things.

Now I guess you are either familiar with my bookshop or not, if you are you will know that it one of the only fairly large bookshops where the stock is of reasonable quality and the books are mostly cheaper than the internet. Nearly all of the James Pattersons I am reading at the moment came from my bookshop, average price about £1.50. This is done by having a mixture of new and secondhand books, the new ones being sourced from bankruptcies, warehouse returns (we have this amazing computerised warehouse, but one we have taken a book out it is just too expensive to put it back in) and so on.

As it is a fairly large bookshop it has a fairly large mind body and spirit section, the pictures below are of the part of this loosely called “the unexplained” and of course predicting the future is a factor here. We sell a lot of books about this type of thing and so far no one has complained that they don’t work, but Tarot Cards are a bit of an exception to the secondhand part of business. 

Only new packs that have never been used by anyone else work, and really you shouldn’t buy your own because the also only work if you get them as a present. In terms of making something difficult to sell you would think that all this rigmarole would mean we didn’t sell any, however we managed to run out.

The good news is that I have managed to source some more, which are new, sealed and cheaper than you can buy them on the internet.    
The bottom line here is that at the moment I have four verities of packs of tarot cards in the shop (we are closed on Thursdays and Sundays) priced between £2.99 and £5.99 (I am not selling these by post or online as I don't think tarot cards bought this way will work) you certainly can't buy them for yourself as all the sources say they don't work if you do. I am pretty sure they need to be given to you, unasked for, so if you want a set I guess you need to work that one out somehow. If you do buy someone a a deck of tarot cards you need to leave them sealed as the person who is going to use them needs to be the first to touch them.

Anyway I had a go at painting the Frigate Shtandart today.  

What I wanted to do here was to only use watercolour paint, no pencil or pen sketch first, which means if you want white sails then the sky wash has to go on near the end, something I have hardly ever done before.

The notes here are for me as much as anyone else as this is my first try at painting traditional sailing boats.

The paper in this case is Bockingford 200lb Not 28x38cm which is nearly as big as A3. all of the paint is Winsor and Newton artist’s quality watercolour, the brushes Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolour Field Brush Set.

The rigging is painted with ivory black and the masts with burnt umber, this didn’t smudge too much when I painted the sky over the top, a thin wash of cerulean blue, it probably would have gone better if I had either had a bigger pot, so I could have mixed up all the sky at once or if I had sprayed the rigging with fixative first.   

This unfinished picture was my first crack at it, from the crosswall, I may go back and try to finish it tomorrow, why not use a photo? I can't really explain this one can I? You either understand or you don't.

 The second go was from a much more civilised location, here are the pictures.

Sorry about this but something has come up, so no time to correct the errors in the post, I will just click on publish and try to finish it off later... 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Frigate Shtandart in Ramsgate Harbour for the weekend

I guess if you are in East Kent and were wondering about what to do this weekend then lashing out £2.50 to go over the Frigate Shtandart is a consideration.

It’s all on their website, see here are a few of the photos I took in Ramsgate this morning.

The original of this frigate dates from 1703 a time when Ramsgate was doing considerable trade in the Baltic, so this may not be a first for Ramsgate, although it would be first for the Royal Harbour which was completed around 1790.

I did manage to get down there and do a quick sketch

Very tricky balancing of pad pen brush paint, I will try and get down to the crosswall with some sort of seat tomorrow, all that view of Ramsgate and no seats on the crosswall facing the town.

John Powley-Kemp at The York Street Gallery in Ramsgate

 The current Exhibition is by Ramsgate based Painter John Powley-Kemp, John is somewhat of a Ramsgate Institution these days when it comes to local artists. John who is now 80, still paints everyday and is full of surprises. The exhibition runs -  17th September - 24th September.