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Bookshapes - July 1979

July 1979, no. 12

Bookshapes - July 1979

July 1979, no. 12

The New South Wales Prices Commission has been listening to complaints that books are overpriced. I meanwhile have been looking at some of the award-winning and commended books in the Children’s Book Council 1978-79 competition, and I am here to say that whatever may be claimed about some kinds of book, children’s books are cheap. It is amazing.

In front of me is Ruth Manley’s Book of the Year, The Plum-Rain Scroll, illustrated by Marianne Yamaguchi (Hodder and Stoughton; typeset by Computer Graphics Corporation; printed in Hong Kong). It is the author’s first book, and the edition is not likely to have been a big one. It is a well-made cased book of 280 pages, with attractive chapter headpiece drawings, printed endpapers, and a wrap-around dustjacket printed in not four but five colours. The recommended price is a mere $6.95.

If The Plum-Rain Scroll were an adult book by an established author it would be $9.95 or more. (The persisting view that novels for children should be cheaper than those for adults is a tribute to the power of received ideas. Why should they be, in these days of fallen birthrates and an ageing population?) The costing on this book must have been tight, and we must salute Hodder’s for an adventurous piece of publishing. It is a happy chance that the book won the prize and will now enjoy good sales, but that could hardly have been foreseen when it was accepted. People who complain about the price of books tend to forget what risks and losses are often involved in publishing new authors.

The appearance of this book is marred by the reproduction on the half-title page of the complete blurb (a long one) from the dustjacket. This unsightly practice is a hangover from the days when librarians tended to remove jackets from books. Nowadays it is an advantage from the point of view of the librarian to leave the jacket on, protected by a covering of clear plastic. So why disfigure the half-title page with a blurb that no one has any reason to read?

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