LETTERS: Fallacies of the publishing market

From Mr Mike Petty

Sir: Whatever the rights and wrongs of the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, I am becoming increasingly irritated and depressed by the view that seems to be gaining currency in your pages that books are "ridiculously" cheap to manufacture, the implication being that publishers are somehow profiteering.

Germaine Greer is the latest offender ("Away with price-fixing - and on with VAT!", 29 September); Hamish McRae yesterday baldly stated ("Start writing a different chapter", 28 September) that the cost of a book was less than 10 per cent of its real price. Certainly that's true for the big bestsellers which in practice will be the only books to be discounted by the chains, but for the sort of first novels I tend to deal in the true cost is much more like 30 per cent.

Take away up to 50 per cent for the bookshop and 10 per cent for the author, and you don't even have enough for overheads.

I spend much of my working life, as do most publishers, trying to make the sums work.Today's Rushdies are only published at all because those who control the purse strings are prepared to take a reasonably long view, and because the bestsellers can, if you believe in that particular form of accountancy, subsidise them.

Yours faithfully,

Mike Petty

London, WC2

29 September

The writer is a publisher of fiction.