In an excellent article in Books for Keeps No.2 in May, Steve Bowles reviewed and recommended a number of series of books for adolescent readers. He made the point that general publishers with a few honourable exceptions ‘have made no concerted effort to create a sizeable UK market for teenage fiction’ but that educational publishers ‘seeing the gap have provided most of the books which are useful in these circumstances’.
Unfortunately like many people connected with education he mistakes two quite distinct and separate markets. When he says that educational publishers have filled a gap he means only a gap in the school market for educational books – literally ‘text’ books purchased by schools through educational suppliers and having until recently no connection whatever with a teenage reading market for fiction as stocked by booksellers. However the first tentative connection between these two markets is now being made. Topliners were probably the first teenage educational series which booksellers found they were being asked for regularly. As a result of pressure from booksellers, Macmillans reluctantly have granted one or two booksellers a 25% discount instead of the usual 17½% and these booksellers can now sell Topliners without actually making a loss (they don’t make a profit either at 25%). Longmans have followed with Knockouts but none of the rest of the series mentioned by Steve Bowles are available on booksellers’ shelves – and thus regrettably not available for sale through school bookshops.
Teenagers are not the only potential market for ‘educational’ books. Parents who have seen them have been enthusiastic about the excellent Terraced House Books series from Methuen Educational (mentioned in Books for Keeps No.4 in September). But the price at which the ordinary bookseller can offer these ‘non-net’ books on which he receives such a small discount from the publisher, puts them out of the reach of the very people who want and need them so much.
So I would make a passionate plea to publishers to recognise a new and expanding market for these series. All that is needed to have these series on sale in booksellers and available for the general public and school bookshops is for publishers to give full trade discount on these series – preferably making them ‘net’ books at the same time.
Which brings up the thorny subject of ‘net’ and ‘non-net’ books. There is considerable confusion among teachers about this and its related subjects – the Net Book Agreement and Book Agency Licences, etc. The SBA is now compiling a simple statement about the whole complicated issue. This will be included in the new issue of the Handbook (now in preparation) and reprinted here in the magazine when we will also attempt to guide readers through the maze of trade practices and the law.
David Stewart is a bookseller in Liverpool and a member of the Board of the SBA.