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?
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?