Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The great superhero rip-off

On the recommendation of Scott Pack, who I saw speaking at the London Writers’ Club last month, I bought a book called All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Scott himself provided the front cover recommendation on the edition I bought, which reads: “Buy it, borrow it, steal it but just make sure you read it.”

Well, I read it, and now I wish I’d borrowed or stolen it, rather than paying £7.99 for it.

Not that it’s a bad book as such. I can see why some people find it inspirational – it’s one of those symbolic stories that people can readily project themselves into, a bit like the crap that Paulo Coelho writes, though not that bad, fortunately. It didn’t do much for me; it was a mildly diverting short story, basically.

But here’s the thing. All My Friends Are Superheroes is being sold by Telegram Books at the same price as you’d pay for a 500-page novel. I know this because my Amazon order also included the latest Matt Beaumont novel, which is over 500 pages long, but still retails for £7.99.

However, Kaufman’s squib runs to just 108 pages – and of those, 15 or so are blank. And it’s printed in above-average size type. Let’s be honest, it’s basically a short story, or a novella if you’re feeling generous. And I can’t help feeling ripped off as a result.

This isn’t a criticism of Andrew Kaufman, who doubtless has no influence on how his book is priced. But it does suggest to me that the publishing industry has got a serious problem with its pricing structure. To use a musical analogy, I wouldn’t expect to pay the same for a three-track EP as for a 20-track album.

It also points the way towards new ways of distributing fiction. I’ve yet to download a novel for online reading, but All My Friends... is the kind of work I might be prepared to experiment with, at the right price of course. I would feel less cheated now if I’d done that, rather than shelling out for the printed version.