Casting my usual dyspeptic glance over the list of this week’s best-selling books – Jeffrey Archer, James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Danielle Steel – I wondered, in all seriousness, who actually buys these books. I ask not with a dismissive sniff at those all too familiar names, but because these unashamedly one-time reads are bought in hardback. Or are they? Do these books really sell tens of thousands in doorstop size – to the general public?
The books can’t – I hope – all be bought by libraries. Indeed (a digression here) should libraries be buying such stuff at all? Yes, I know these are the books we are told borrowers want to read, but don’t libraries have a duty to tempt frequenters towards better works? If the trimmed-down budget is blown on tens of thousands of Archer/Patterson books, there can be little left for more deserving volumes. Should the tax-payers’ money (as the Mail and Telegraph might ask) be spent on titles that, whatever their merits, can be bought at knock-down prices throughout the country? W H Smith has famously been offering such material at an astounding ‘pound a pop’ – so why should libraries buy even more?
Are ordinary people buying them? Are the books passed on in legacies, or hoarded for kindling in wood-burning stoves?
I have, in my explorations, entered many a domain of ‘the ordinary people’, and I have to say that I have never stumbled across collections of these cherished tomes – so what has happened to them? Did they ever exist? Or were they, perish the thought, phantom sales?