By Iain Dale
I make no bones about it. I love political memoirs and biographies. OK, I may read the occasional football biog, but political autobiographies and biographies are what I read most. I’m in the middle of Peter Mandelson at the moment. Hmmm. Perhaps I should rephrase that. However, the genre of political biography has been on the decline for some time. This is because the major publishers have caught massive financial colds in publishing them. A few years ago Bloomsbury paid a huge amount of money for David Blunkett’s diaries. They clearly thought he would be the next Alan Clark. Boy were they wrong. Blunkett rather cannily held onto serialisation rights, which fetched a six figure sum. He was rumoured to have made £400,000 from the book, and the publisher? They paid a quarter of a million pounds and sold, er, 4,000 copies in hardback. I don’t think it ever made it into paperback. Other publishers duly took note.
There was a time when every two bit backbencher would be able to get their memoirs published. No longer. I reckon there will be very few takers for the memoirs of most ex Labour cabinet ministers like Geoff Hoon, Jacqui Smith or John Denham. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Even smaller publishers would blanche at taking them on. This is a shame because no matter what you think, they all have an interesting story to tell. But none of them would sell more than a couple of thousand copies. Is it worth the bother?
I can see the day when such politicians might well get their memoirs published but only as an e-book. The biggest cost of any book is the print cost. This is usually well over 50% of the cost – sometimes up to 80%. If that cost can be taken out of the equation then suddenly a book may become viable. What no publisher has yet worked out is how to price e-books. I suspect there is a £10 price barrier, although it could be as low as £5. Biteback is about to make its entire catalogue available as e-books. But even now, we’re not sure how to price them. But if publishers can get the pricing right for e-books it could mean that the political biography and memoir genre gets a new lease of life. Let’s hope so.