Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Sod 'Em All Key

And so: the arrival in bookshops worldwide of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, and its inevitable massive sales across the globe. It'll be no surprise to readers that I don't, on an aesthetic level, like Brown's work. It took me two reads of the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code - the second read necessary to check that the sentence really had been that much of a clunker - to decide that it wasn't for me. And, from the look of it, Brown's writing hasn't improved for the third volume.

But the thing is, I accept the Dan Browns of this world. Not everyone wants to read the highbrow stuff. I realise that. Sometimes people just want trash, sure. Hell, even I have my guilty pleasures - I genuinely enjoy watching wrestling, for God's sake - so I can understand that sometimes you want to switch off the critical faculties and read something dumb. And the dumbness has a second, higher purpose, too - in much the same way that Sky Arts is partly subsidised by those who shell out to watch Breaking Point on pay-per-view , so the vast amounts of money made by Dan Brown's latest opus will help to pay for a good crop of literary fiction from the likes of Adam Thirlwell or Julian Barnes , so it's all good.

Except for the bookshops, all of whom have had to discount it to such an extent that none of us will make any money off it. I'd deny being bitter about this but to hell with it, I am bitter. This is the biggest book of the year. For any bookshop, this thing ought to be a gold bar in a dustcover. But because of the ridiculous, supermarket-driven culture of deep discounting which is now endemic in bookselling, the fact is that some of us are actually going to lose money when we sell a copy. In what other line of business does the biggest hit of the year actually hurt the pockets of the people who sell it?

On Twitter today, Richard Wiseman joked that the lost symbol of the book's title is a dollar sign. Maybe it is for Brown, Doubleday and Transworld. But for those of us at the sharp end of the book biz, that symbol is a big, fat zero, slap-bang in the profit column. And you don't need to be Robert Langdon to figure out that that ain't good.

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