Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Celebrity Book Tokens

I think it is about time for a New Year rant. There’s one question that haunts me every time Christmas or one of my children’s birthdays comes around and that is: why do people give book tokens to very young children? I can remember as a child myself suffering from that terrible sinking feeling whenever a book token hoved into view. Money, yes: book tokens, no. Book tokens were for swots like Carole Morgan whose bedroom was probably bursting with all sorts of improving volumes but you can’t buy records with book tokens...or Airfix kits or Man from Uncle bubblegum cards or anything…except books.

And so it came to pass that yet more book tokens arrived this Christmas and I was obliged, like some Bureau de Bookchange, to exchange them for cash so that the kids could buy what they really wanted. This has two consequences. First it involves a bit of creative writing when it comes to thank you notes and second it involves me in a search of WH Smith or Waterstones for something worth exchanging them for.

And this is where I start to get really depressed because WH Smiths has on a sale of 125 hardbacks and of them I counted 12, yes 12, that were fiction and 113 that were either by or about so-called celebrities or spin offs from TV programmes. Worse, the fiction titles were by authors that have already sold enough copies to fill the Albert Hall, twice. In fact I checked Smith’s website and discovered that of their top 30 best selling hardbacks, 7 are by fiction authors and the rest are celebrity trash. So where does that leave the rest of us authors (and I count myself here even though my measly self published opus is hardly a work of literary genius) when it comes to making a living? Where is the motivation to write a book and sweat blood to get it published only to find that you are outsold by millions to one by that one off the travel show or some faded comedian who can’t write a proper sentence?

Predictably, Waterstones was no better. The books that I would really like to buy are no longer sold by bookshops who are so in thrall to the celebrity culture that they probably wouldn’t know a fiction book if it fell off the shelf and knocked them unconscious. Instead, I am forced to Amazon who do sell them, and much cheaper, but WHO DON’T ACCEPT BOOK TOKENS.

There, I’ve got that off my chest. And speaking of which, where did I put that Katie Price volume?


Perplexio said...

I've not seen quite the same trend here. Yes there are the celebrity penned books (which I'm guessing were actually ghost-written by people who actually CAN write and not the celebrities themselves) but they don't seem to pollute the bookstore to the same level of excess that you describe.

Over here the issue is more with celebrities recommending books... Like Oprah's Book Club, Today Show recommended books, etc. It's great that Oprah and the hosts on the Today Show are getting people to read. And sometimes their selections are actually pretty good (although Oprah's selections tend to be predictable in that they involve rape, child abuse, or some other depressing subject).

I try to stick to Amazon for my book shopping as the prices are better but I miss the feel of browsing through books in a real bookstore when doing that.

Charlie said...

The Yankee asks what are book tokens? Are they gift certificates? In America they are cards with a specific dollar amount you can use to buy merchandise at a particular stare. They are quite popular at book stores>.

musicobsessive said...

Sorry Charlie - looks like this one got lost in translation. Book tokens are gift certificates that allow the holder to purchase books up to a credit limit at any store. That is, the currency amount attaches itself to the books, not the store. Hope that clears it up.

Perplexio - I too, like to book-browse but I'm afraid that the likes of Amazon are far cheaper and hold a bigger stock so that's where my money goes these days.

YourZenMine said...

Like you, I'm absolutely dismayed at the amount of rubbish celebrity books proliferating book stores at the moment. Thankfully, my eyes are blind to such.

We don't have book tokens in Australia but we do have gift certificates for particular stores. I like receiving these as there are very few things I enjoy more than spending time browsing through my favourite book/graphic novel store. However, I can appreciate the disappoint children must feel to receive such a gift.