No corrections yet
By MAURICE DUNtfVY
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BOOKS AND MERCHANDISE
A. PAUL Hamlyn editor is
said to have asked the chief executive
of the conglomerate's book division, "Max, when are we going to publish a real book?"
Max Henry is said to have replied, "We can't. We're too busy selling merchandise".
In reporting the story in a special supplement on Australian books recently,
the American trade journal, Publisher's Weekly, said it was really
a joke that Hamlyn people tell against themselves, but to me it sounds too good not to be true.
The same article tells how Hamlyn has sold almost a third of a million copies of 'The Australian and New Zealand Complete Book of Cookery', more than two-thirds of a million copies of 'The Margaret Fulton Cookbook', about a quarter of a million copies of'Instant Metric Reckoner' and 135,000 copies of 'Australia and New Zealand Fishing'.
I suppose you could call the them books — they have, after all, got two covers and pages in between — but if, like the ancients, you think of a books as being a repository of part of our culture, they are viewed more appropriately as merchandise. Not for nothing did Hamlyn's encourage their sales representatives with the slogan "Books Can Sell Like Soap".
Many other publishers have also
found that books can sell like soap. Publishers Weekly tells how Richard Walsh of Angus and Robertson bought the rights to 'Dr Atkins' Super Energy Book', very cheaply, had it publicised with transcontinental
telephone hookups from local disc jockeys, and sold 10,000 hardcover copies and almost 100,000 paperbacks.
Hoi z published 'Elvis Still Lives' veek after Elvis had died and 'Q n Elizabeth II' during the Queen a visit to Australia and each immediately sold 30,000 copies.
I have kept these interesting moral talcs firmly in mind while spending a wet weekend poring over a pile of merchandise that had been littering the literary editor's office. And I found a wet weekend was never
The first product is 'The Country Life Book of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother' by Godfrey Talbot, with a foreword by a gentleman who signs himself'Charles' and claims to be the lady's grandson (Country Life ■ Books, 176pp, $18.95).
When I was six my father told me that the royals were parasites on the backs of the workers and I have never had reason to doubt him. But the gentleman who signs himself Charles gives this view no consideration
in the foreword he writes from Buckingham Palace, although he
does say of the Queen Mother that "she has always been one of those extraordinarily rare people whose touch can turn everything to gold" — a point my father also made when he spoke of parasites.
In his first sentence Godfrey Talbot speaks of the "world's best loved Royal Lady". In his second paragraph he tells us he is a "searching writer" who has "to keep shading his eyes from the person sparkling under the spotlights". Normally I religiously read every page of every book I review, no matter how bad it is, but I gave up at paragraph five of this one, just as Godfrey was saying, "To me, the lady of this book stays 'top of the pops' ". My father, I recall, used to wish that she and her kind would be hits of the Blitz.
I did look through the dozens of photographs, however. One mark of merchandise is that it consists largely
of photographs. And 1 discovered that King George VI — "a shy monarch who shunned publicity", "diligent and brave", "gentle and sensible" — had skinny legs and they were quite noticeable when he was wearing kilts.
Another sign of merchandise is that not only is it decorated with pictures but the pictures these days arc often taken from television series. Such a piece of merchandise is Keith Adam's 'Journey into India' (Australian Broadcasting Commission
and Hodder and Stoughton, 160pp, millions of pictures, $15.95).
I remember enjoying Keith
Adam's television series immensely. At the end of each episode the titles said that he wrote the script, but I couldn't believe there was a script. It all looked too spontaneous. Remember
how he walked down the
Grand Trunk Road spouting enthusiastically
about Kipling's 'Kim' and around Simla in the season?
Well, all the spontaneity is gone from this item of merchandise put together by a production team whose list of titles reads like one for a television scries. Unfortunately, in his few breif appearances in the pictures, Keith Adam doesn't wear kilts so 1 am unable to say whether or not he has skinny legs.
I can testify however that South Australia's Premier, Don Dunstan, has solid legs because they appear in a very sexy picture of him in his garden in 'Don Dunstan's Australia' (Rigby, 96pp, $9.95). This book seems to have been put together by combining excerpts from his speeches with photographs by Julia Fcatherstone. I found his liberal views on racism, the White Australia Policy, Aborigines, housing, the environment, cities, suburbia, conservation and education quite unexceptionable
and some of Miss Featherstone's photographs, particularly the landscapes and architectural
pictures, quite pleasing. But why anyone should want to buy them as a book I don't know. Perhaps people saw it as a suitable sequel to the author's first offering, 'Don Dunstan's Cookbook'.
His fellow South Australian,
Geoffrey Dutton, gives us an equally solid offering — which is to say as solid as mashed potatoes — in 'A Taste of History: Geoffrey Dutton's South Australia' (Rigby, 95pp, $11.95). This is another book of a television series and in it Geoffrey Dutton speaks in fairly general terms about the geography and morality
of South Australia, the founding
of Adelaide, the 1870s, the role of water in South Australia's history,
and about its farms, factories, and "true character". Personally I prefer reading Mr Dutton's beautiful poems and his incisive biographies,
for when he is not having his work merchandised he reveals himself as a very fine writer.
Having poked through this merchandise — and it is representative
of the bulk of "trade books" published in Australia — 1 knew why a group of Swiss writers once published an austere little anthology for free. Graccd by contributions from 49 writers, it was designed to circumvent the conventional
publishing and distribution channels which editors Thco Ruff and Peter K. Wchrli said were responsible for the increasing degradation of books to the status of consumer
goods. One of the instructions that came with the book was not to use it for "stuffing shoes, covering your head against the rain". It occurred to me that this is an instruction that could be reversed and included in all the merchandise reviewed