Friday, February 26, 2016

The natural history of the book

Do books last for ever? Well, some do. There are classics that appear in a variety of editions, repackaged for each new generation. Even such a doorstop as War and Peace, which one is tempted to think no one really ever reads, is now selling well, I believe, as a result of the recent BBC TV adaptation. (My brother has recently read the whole thing; kudos to him!) And few books are lost forever. At least there will be copies in the British Library or other legal deposit libraries around the world.

But the reality is that most books that are published - that survive the cruel process of selection, editing and packaging by a publisher - have their moment of glory (if they are lucky) in the sun, and then fade away. The common trajectory has come to be known as the Long Tail. This means that after a big rise in sales at the beginning of its life, the market is satisfied, and demand then drops away. Actually, with proper marketing a book may be launched to immediately wonderful sales figures.
The point of the Long Tail in recent years is that the Internet has made sales of previously uneconomic goods (especially books) possible, because a worldwide market can still access something for which demand has dropped away to virtually nothing. Amazon has capitalised on this, and with its resellers has cornered a market in old and rare but not necessarily valuable books. Someone somewhere has copies for sale, and you can have one for a reasonable price plus the cost of postage and packing, which itself has become very efficient.

WEC Publications has managed to keep lots of books alive for a long time, partly because of free storage costs. But now that era is coming to an end, and a cull has begun. Some of our titles have had a very Long Tail, but at last the farmer's wife has caught up with the blind mice. As a result of this, you will find some titles disappearing from You may find free copies of old WEC books turning up unexpectedly. But we cannot continue to sell some titles for which we have not had any demand for a long time.

Some titles (and I had better not name them) will be little mourned by me. But others I will see go with quite some sense of regret. The Briefings series produced 11 great booklets about the frontiers of world mission. Some are of continuing relevance, but having been produced between 1998 and 2006 quite a few are now relatively old, and the market seems to be satisfied. We will make them available for the last time at the celebration to mark the move of WEC from its Bulstrode headquarters on 4 June. Unafraid of the Sacred Forest is an invaluable description of what African traditional religion is, and what freedom from it in Christ is about. The Spirit of Revival is the story of the Congo Revival of the early 1950s. These titles were published by Christian Focus Publications, and will still be available from their web shop, catering to the Long Tail. C T Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer is a classic, if ever there was one. First published by Lutterworth Press in 1934, it was out of print for a while, and we were allowed to import copies of an American edition, but it is now available from Lutterworth Press once more.
Some titles we have been produced by Print On Demand in small quantities, and will continue to be available. These include He Gives Us Authority, Whatever Happened to C T Studd's Mission, and Thousands.

So if you do want a WEC title, act now before all stock is lost.

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