When David and I set up Godstow Press, we knew quite a lot about publishing and almost nothing about selling. Seven years later the situation has barely changed except that we now know a little bit more about publishing.
At the time it was easy. It was early days for Amazon and, to kid everyone that they were the biggest bookshop in the world, they offered to supply anything with an ISBN. So for a year or two we were on their virtual shelves. Then our books became ‘difficult to obtain’ and bore a surcharge. Now they are unobtainable, except through Amazon marketplace.
I was unaware of all this until a reader in Canada phoned to tell me that I had no right to be unobtainable. Oh, I don’t know, playing hard to get works well in social circles, why not in commerce? There is a certain lustre, after all, to your books having astronomical secondhand prices while the great and the lauded see their books selling secondhand at a penny a time.
The problem is somewhat exacerbated by the first edition of Tabernacle still being on the Amazon listing when it truly is out of print.
But then there came a stream of customers – OK, a trickle – to our site, gasping as if at the end of an adventurous quest. We gave them tea and buns, virtually, and sent them their desired book. A while ago it was Columbia Museum, deploring our hard-to-getness when they wanted A Tabernacle for the Sun for their reading group. We sent them ten copies at trade discount. Now, this week, it’s Georgetown University, who (and here I begin to dribble with envy) have acquired a Renaissance villa on the slopes of Fiesole. The programme’s director loves my books and recommends them to all the students, except, except… But that one’s easily solved, since the whole trilogy is on sale in an enlightened bookshop in Florence (three cheers for BM Bookshop!).
So, hold on America. We’re taking next week off to try and tackle this problem of distribution. It will be very sad to be no longer as elusive as the holy grail, but generally available in a common sort of way, and my secondhand prices plunging to a penny, but in a world where we think if it isn’t on Amazon then it doesn’t exist, we have to come down off our high horse, if we can without compromising our principles on quality of production.
I apologise for the self-promo of this post but I often wake up with a blog in mind, and this was what was there this morning.
So here are the three hardest books in the world to find, unless you’d like to click www.godstowpress.co.uk.
‘Finally, I cannot close without thanking you for the Botticelli trilogy. It is one of the most enjoyable, indeed often gripping, accounts of the period I have read, and your fidelity to historical fact in a superb fiction is extremely gratifying. I recommend it to my students, and it’s unfortunate that it is so difficult to come by in America.’ Penn Szittya, Georgetown University.