Joyce Dunbar and I have been in the Netherlands. We visited Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Breda, Heemstede, and Delft …We went to celebrate our book ‘Grumpy Duck’ which was awarded ‘Picture Book of the Year 2020′ in the Netherlands.
It was a rather overwhelming experience I must say. ”You should write about it, because I can’t “, said Joyce. She is too nice and too modest to do so, but I think it’s important to celebrate books. Besides, as I’ve said many times before, behind every good and successful book is almost always a good team of people. From a good editor, a good designer to a good publisher. In this case, also the good translator and the good Dutch publisher.
” Isn’t it a bit early in the year for the ‘Picture Book of the Year 2020′ ?”, you may ask. Well, actually we have known about the award since autumn 2019, but it all makes sense once you understand, that the ‘picture book of the year’ in the Netherlands, is a book which is celebrated throughout the whole year. It’s a rather ‘Big Thing’ over there and it needs much preparation and organisation. Thousands of books were printed and distributed to bookshops, schools and libraries. On Wednesday 22nd January was the breakfast celebration with Grumpy Duck. Our book was read by many celebrities, teachers, librarians, children and booksellers all around the country. The book was discussed and read on the radio and national television and banners and posters were everywhere. What Joyce and I liked the best was to see bookshop windows decorated by children from local schools. Grumpy Duck was looking at us from every corner.
Of course it’s nice to get an award, but what fascinates me the most was the fact, that something like this, on such a scale is possible. Here in England, once a year on World Book Day somebody talks about the importance of books and importance of reading. It’s all over in no time and everything is quiet for the rest of the year. Finding out from the official media what’s new in the world of children’s picture books is almost impossible, and every day, bookshops are closing down across the country.
So what is the difference? Why are books in Dutch bookshops beautifully displayed and why do people go to bookshops to have a look and buy books? One of the main things in the Netherlands is the fixed prices of books. Every picture book in the bookshop costs the same. It’s forbidden to change the price of a new book at least for a year. After that the book can be, in theory, sold with a discount, but the same discount must be offered to every seller and bookshop. Like this, it would be impossible and silly to completely fill up a bookshop with soft toys and discounted ” well selling” books, or with books by one author whose book is animated and appears on TV.
The simple rule of a fixed price makes business clear and transparent. Apart from many other advantages it gives authors a chance to make living and not being depressed that their books are continuously discounted by publishers in an attempt to get them into a bookshop.
The shop owner then, has a chance to do what every good bookshop owner likes the best, look for and order nice books, discover new good titles, talk to their clientele and turn their shop into a place where people love to come.
It allows shops to order and display books in hard back, with the covers facing out! In fact I heard many times in the Netherlands “We love hard backed books”. In England we also like hard backs, but Waterstones doesn’t take hardbacks, because they apparently take too much space on shelves! They would rather fill up shelves with soft toys of the Gruffalo and Peppa Pig and squeeze all the books onto a couple of shelves where it is impossible to find anything. They can do that, because with disappearing numbers of independent book shops, there is hardly any competition and no need to change a thing.
And what got us into such a muddle? As always, pure greed. Thinking that if I discount a book I will sell better than the publisher next door. It is very short sighted. I find it very sad, that fixed prices of books did exist, not a long time ago, in the UK.
Dutch publishers work together and it’s great to see that it works.
Now something I should have started with. Thank you Walker Books for publishing Grumpy Duck and for getting Joyce and me the chance to work together and a HUGE THANK YOU to my Dutch publisher Lemniscaat for publishing Moppereend: for doing such a great job to promote the book, for looking after us so well during our visit and for making us so welcome!
Long live Grumpy Duck!