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?                    


  1. Actually tarot cards work whether you buy them for yourself, ask for them or have someone else gift them to you - there are many traditions and rituals around the tarot - the real deal though is intention. If you believe they won't work under a particular set of conditions then most likely that will be your experience as you are not open to experiencing them in these conditions. Seems a shame to shoot yourself in the foot business wise when it could serve you and your customers to release this myth.

  2. I am a tarot reader and totally disagree with the whole 'they have to be bought for you' routine as it is such a personal purchase. I also teach the tarot and try to dispell all the unhelpful myths around tarot cards. I agree with SpiritMountain that they will work regardless of who buys them so long as the person reading bonds with the cards, hence why you should buy your own. For your own sake I'd take down the sign x

  3. My dear, all that is a load of old tosh. If I'd waited for someone to give me my first deck, I'd probably still be waiting. Your sign most likely will mean lost sales for you. Good to know superstition is alive and well in the edges of Kent :D

    1. Indeed, I heartily agree.....if I saw such a sign above the Tarot cards in a bookstore, I would ignore it anyway. This is putting ideas into people's heads, because it just isn't true (just a rumour) that cards "have" to be bought for you. As a collector - I wouldn't have many if others were buying them!

  4. What nonsense! Unless it's a Tarot deck you've asked for, it's much more probable that a deck bought for you will not work as well as one you've bought yourself, simply because another person's idea of what you like is usually not the same as your own. Personally, I would say avoid buying perfume and Tarot decks for other people as they may not suit. But if you really don't want the business, who am I to argue :)

  5. I think I will stick with the lost sales and remain the fool in this instance. The mythology surrounding tarot cards, which I guess, starts with them not necessarily just being for the playing an early variant of the game of bridge maybe debatable. I do wonder however once you start removing tarot mythology just what it is you would have left. Perhaps the answer here is more about solving the riddle, which would do. What? Didn’t John Dee have something to say about understanding and learning? However I like to think that those of my customers who do solve the riddle, will. What? Gain more than they lose perhaps.

    I would be interested to know where the business about not buying your own deck originates from, it’s certainly been around for the 45 years that I have been selling them for. Of course the internet and modern times has a way of obliterating everything that isn’t the most profitable approach to anything, so it may not be possible to find out. I would hazard a guess that for every website saying don’t buy your own deck there will be thousands saying both that it’s absolutely fine to buy your own deck and just click on the buy it now button.


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