Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is the book trade too left wing for its own good?

I like to drop into the excellent Riverside Bookshop on Tooley Street, London SE1 (late of Hays Galleria). It has a good selection and dedicated staff (even if they blot their copybook slightly by not stocking my book God's Philosophers). Further afield, Daunts have a branch in Cheapside which is also worth a browse and Waterstones have some outlets in the City as well. But, given their location, I do wonder about the political emphasis of these establishments.

You might think that in the heart of London's financial district, the bookshops would reflect their potential clientele. After all, the big accounting firms have offices housing over 5,000 diligent bean counters (including me) within a couple of hundred yards of the Riverside Bookshop. Accountants are not usually at the vanguard of the Occupy protests and we rarely plot to overthrow global capitalism. In fact, many of us are secretly quite fond of market economics, recognising that it is responsible for the unprecedented reduction in global poverty over the last couple of decades.
But despite all the well-heeled capitalists just around the corner, City of London bookshops seem determined to promote left wing books rather than conservative ones. On the non-fiction stand at the Riverside Bookshop we find Owen Jones on The Establishment. At least Jones can write; but he is sharing space with the latest tedious polemic from Polly Toynbee, something on the contradictions of capitalism by Marxist David Harvey, and Naomi Klein's climate change screed. The only conservative book on offer is Andrew Robert's quixotic paean to Napoleon.

Then I had to ask myself, what are the current bestselling conservative books? Looking through the Amazon top 100 non-fiction, Boris Johnson is the only right winger in view. The publishing trade itself appears to have a marked left wing bias. Students are big buyers of books, especially non-fiction, and they tend to be left wing. That alone might account for the bias of the book trade as a whole. But that doesn't make it a good idea. Currently, the UK printed book market is worth just £1.4bn a year and is shrinking. By comparison, the video games market is a growing £2.2bn while telecoms is a massive £40bn and cars a whooping £60bn. Economically, books are not very significant. So you would think that the trade would be trying to reach as many potential readers as possible.

This means that local bookshops in areas that are likely to be conservative, like the City of London or a leafy shire town, need to work a bit harder with their buying decisions. They have to search out the books that their clientele are likely to enjoy. And having done that, they need to promote them, since readers won't necessarily be aware of them from the national scene. That does not mean having a separate section for these sorts of books, keeping them quarantined from everything else. Treat them as what they are - part of mainstream thought rather than left wing rabble-rousing.

As a help to bookshops who'd like to sell more non-fiction books to their centre-right customers, here are five excellent titles that they should stock and, just as importantly, promote front of house with those little handwritten signs about how good they are.

1: Matt Ridley The Rational Optimist - why it is a thoroughly good thing that the facts of life are conservative

2: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson Why Nations Fail - the importance of the rule of law and free markets in making countries richer

3: Jonathan Haidt The Righteous Mind - the psychology of narrow-minded lefties and broad-minded conservatives (written by a liberal)

4: Daniel Hannan How We Invented Freedom - the story of how the Anglosphere became the most liberal and prosperous countries on Earth

5: Steven Pinker The Blank Slate - human beings are not products of their upbringing and the environment (also written by a liberal)

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


FreeLiverFree said...

I think right of center books might sell better here in the states than in your country. Though there are probably more displays of left leaning authors than right ones.

Anonymous said...

I think in the United States most books that can be placed on the political spectrum are political commentaries that are only relevant to the current election cycle, and left or right most of it is hate filled drivel.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Jonathan Haidt's book - it is so nice to read a book where the author is trying to understand the other side and produces evidence that sheds light on things.
Great recommendation