I opened my new Granta mag last night, came in the mail yesterday, to the first story called "Life Among the Pirates" by Daniel Alarcon, an American author from Lima, Peru.
Here is what HarperCollins sez about him: "Daniel Alarcon's debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California."
In the Granta article, the pirates he is referring to are book pirates, not the ones laying in wait on the sea. What a surprise it is to me that there is such a thing! Did you know about it, or am I the only uninformed person in the publishing world? (By the way, if you aren't subscribing to Granta, you certainly must! One of the best literary publications ever! One to which I aspire with the upcoming literary mag that my RJBP company will be launching this year. )
What is and has been happening at an alarming rate in South America are the copy-cat underground publishers that are springing up all over the place. They steal a best-selling book or a book written by a best-selling author that is already published or soon to be published and quickly produce and print out jillions of imperfect copies. Then they send out their army of booksellers, street vendors, hawkers, and sell the books at a cut-rate price on street corners, in buses, in train stations and airports, whereever they can set up a table or spread a blanket or carry an armload. And as soon as the bogus publishers are located and stopped, they find another production location and do it all over again. There's no stopping them. It is incredible! Some authors are saying it doesn't matter to them, at least the books are getting to people who can't afford the regular publishers' prices, and at least the people are reading. In a country whose literacy rate has been notoriously low, it can't go without being said that this piracy is upping that rate. More people than ever are reading and learning to read. So, who is to say what is good or bad? Amazing!
Can you imagine if that were to happen in the states? If it hasn't already. I sometimes wonder if half the books in the Costcos and Sam's Clubs and the huge discount stores might be selling pirated books. I'll also wonder from now on when I see street vendors selling books, if they're authentic or not. But we don't see much of that here, selling books on street corners, at least I haven't.
Are you familiar with how the money is split on, let's say, a book selling at $19 retail? Well, let's take a look at it. Right off the top, the bookseller pays 45% off retail. That's $7.35 off $19.00, leaving $11.65. They'll sell it for whatever they want within that 45% gap up to $19.00.
Out of that $11.65, comes the cost of the production and distribution & marketing of the book and the royalties. Higher costs come into play if the publisher has a paid distributor other than the wholesaler/printer company, or publicity and marketing people, those fees will decrease that amount even further.
But let's start at the bottom and work up to the $11.65, the cost of setting up the book and the print cost. Let's say for figuring purposes, those costs equal 7.65, which is a low figure. That's the publisher's costs and the printing cost combined. Okay that leaves a net of $4.00. Out of that $4.00 comes the author and publisher royalties, and remember we're not including the percentage of promotional, marketing, publicity costs involved with that title. So, the higher price of the book, the higher the net, of course.
Now how can piracy publishers sell that same book for $3.00 retail? How do they do that? Well, they have their own archaic printer machines set up in abandoned buildings, you'll find that some of the pages are crooked, the covers are poor replications, etc etc etc., the authors don't get royalties, the employees work for penny wages, there is next to no overhead. Of course the public couldn't care less if some of the print on the pages is crooked and the covers are up to par, at least they can afford a book to read. It's crazy, isn't it?
Anyway, you'll have to get the Winter 2009 volume 109 of Granta and read the article. Other good reading there, as well. Salmon Rushdie includes a writing called "Notes on Sloth." I haven't read it yet, next on my list.