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  • Writer's picturepeter grose

Let's hear it for BF

Ben Fox (above) has always been nice to me. I was nice to him in an earlier blog (July 19 2021: America after the horrors) where I said it was people like him who would restore America’s reputation after the horror of the Trump presidency.. He has more than fulfilled his entrepreneurial promise.

Ben started a web site called Shepherd which aims to do two things: first, he wants to sell books (whether he aspires to be the new Geoff Bezos, current owner of Amazon and from time to time the world’s richest man, is for Ben to say. Books are what got Bezos started, after all.) Secondly, Ben wants to promote authors. What could be nicer, or more commendable?

I’m guessing that you’ve not heard of Shepherd, or barely. Yet the site is going gangbusters. Last month it had over 100,000 visitors, which ain’t bad for a site launched a bare year ago. If you want to find my humble contribution, check out the best books on WW2 from several perspectives (or browse the World War 2 bookshelf which I am featured on). By contrast, this site gets about 100 visitors a month, not 100,000.

Ben says he won’t rest easy in his bed until he is selling US$10,000 worth of books a day.

More power to his elbow, sez I.

He has ambitious plans to improve the searches on the Shepherd web site. More power to his elbow again.

When I switched from literary agency to publishing, I was shocked to discover how low numbers were when we decided a print run. For instance, I published Umberto Eco’s international best seller The Name Of The Rose. Our English language print run for the first edition, to supply the UK and the rest of the British Commonwealth, was 2500 hardcover copies. (For the record, we went on to sell about 100,000 hardcovers. We reprinted it fortnightly, including two reprints before publication.)

Our numbers for poetry were even more pathetic. It was not uncommon to print 400 hardcovers and about 1000 paperbacks of a new poetry release.

Why these timid numbers? Well in my publishing days the only places to sell books were conventional bookshops, and there was no way of knowing where demand would be strong. A good review in the Glasgow Herald, or The Sydney Morning Herald for that matter, would mean that bookshops in Scotland and Sydney would quickly run out of stock, if they ever stocked the book in the first place. We had accounts with over 2000 booksellers in the UK alone. So what do you do with 2,500 copies of The Name Of The Rose? Send them all one copy each? Or do you make sure that the big chains like W.H. Smith and Waterstones have plenty of stock, and to hell with the rest? We never solved this problem.

That was until the age of the computer and the invention of online bookselling. Suddenly

the author’s aunt in Glasgow was on an equal footing with a Londoner within an easy walk of Waterstones. All aunty had to do was turn on her computer, wiggle her mouse, flash her credit card, and the battle was over.

So more power to the elbow of entrepreneurs like Ben Fox. I’m in no doubt that they are the future of books, and bookselling. And why not?

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