I did something I don’t normally do on the evening of Sunday 16th November. I picked a fight on the internet. I won the fight, kind of. Well, my ego is willing to take the credit for the result anyway. I’ll let you make up your own mind.
It started with a book. Its called “Bedtime Tales for Sleepless Nights” by Jake and Dinos Chapman. It’s a children’s story, although being illustrated and authored by the Chapman Brothers probably makes it completely unsuitable for kids. My son likes the pictures, but my son has been brought up so far on Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, superhero films and comics, so a bit more weird stuff isn’t going to bother him. It’s currently listed on Amazon for £19.95, and that is what I paid for it. It’s worth every penny. As a fan of the Chapman Brothers, I am pleased I own it. It is currently sitting on my bookcase, next to the Tower of Orthanc in Lego and the Marvel Fact Files.
Buying this book made me research what other Chapman Brother’s books were available on Amazon. The good news is, there are loads of reasonably priced art books available, if you like them and want to treat yourself. But this past weekend, I found one that I couldn’t have, therefore I wanted it more, like a little spoilt child pestering at her mother. Only I’m the mother now, so I have only have a husband to moan at. It’s called “Flogging a Dead Horse: The Life and Works of Jake and Dinos Chapman.”
If you look inside, be warned, it’s not to everyone’s taste. My first thought was, its handy. It’s not completely comprehensive, but it’s all the important pieces in one book, from 1991 to 2010. Then I saw the price.
On Saturday 15th November, there were four copies available and not one of them was listed at anything lower than £800. The cover price is $85. Today that converts as £54.23. So I did what I usually do when I can’t afford to buy a book, I go to the library, and see if I can borrow it. I googled the Leeds Library Catalogue, and they did have it. Great. So off I tripped to the library, braving Leeds town centre on a Saturday afternoon, armed with the ISBN number, and the giddy excitement that I was going to be taking it home.
My excitement was short-lived. I approached a lady called Shirley, gave her the name and number of the book and was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t have it. I’m not used to being told that in a library. It’s like going to a pub and not being allowed a drink or going into a shop and not being allowed to buy anything. I thought that was the purpose of libraries, Shirley, you go in, pick a book, take it home for three weeks, bring it back. It is a system greased with trust, I know, but no matter how untrustworthy I may look, I have never stolen a book from any library. I was told it was in the reference section, therefore I could look at it, but not take it out of the room. I was a bit short of time on Saturday, so I went back on Sunday to look at it. After waiting half an hour for them to search in the Strong Room, which brought to mind the vault they keep the Crown Jewels in, but is probably just a cupboard, it turned out that Shirley had got it out already. Either that, or someone else had looked at it. So I spent an hour and a half staring, reading and inwardly digesting. These guys wrote a review of it that I happen to wholeheartedly agree with.
And then I had to give it back. I thought about just making a run for it out of the library with it under my arm, but it’s quite a big book and I’m not very fit. And I’m too honest. So I went home. And I got angry. Really, really, furious, heated, raging, annoyed, incensed, enraged, ranting, indignant, irate, riled, up in arms, incandescent, piqued, foaming, wrathful, aerated, splenic, choleric. I was so angry, all these words don’t do justice to how steamingly fucked off I was. I wish I could draw it for you but I can’t draw. My anger caused me to break the first rule of the internet.
The first rule of the internet is
DO NOT SEND EMAIL OR INTERACT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA WHEN ANGRY, DRUNK OR HIGH.
The second rule of the internet is
DO NOT SEND EMAIL OR INTERACT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA WHEN ANGRY, DRUNK OR HIGH.
As I said, on Sunday, there were four copies being sold on Amazon Marketplace. Two were being sold by the same company Daily Deals, and I took full advantage of the Contact The Seller button. The email I sent them was a volcano of verbal diarrhoea, and I think I may have been blocked by them, as I can’t find the email and they didn’t reply. Never mind, I think I can remember the gist of it now the red mist has subsided:
“Daily Deal my fucking arse. A daily deal would be selling this book for less than its cover price, which is $85, not the massively inflated amount you’re selling it for. And you have two. Why am I not surprised? Aint capitalism great, kids?”
It sounds a lot more restrained now than I felt when I was writing it, but they obviously took it in the spirit in which it was intended. A massive middle finger. Ho hum, never mind.
The next one I sent was to Ola’s Books. Here it is:
So did you buy this book just to sell it for more than 10 times what it’s actually worth? Is it new? Have you looked at it? Do you actually care about the art it contains? Are you just another cog in the corporate second-hand selling machine?
This is what she replied:
With all due respect did you even read my sellers description?
First of all I’m private collector and not corporate seller. And yes I do buy books with intention of selling them later with a profit. Great knowledge and loads of research is required to be able to establish which books may bring profit in the future. As we have free market I can charge whatever I wish for a book. If for you it means 10 times what you would be willing to pay – tough. Thats how it is unfortunately.
Secondly. I’m a graduate artist photographer myself. I do buy books for my own collection and I do KNOW every book I’m selling. In case of those books I got for sale right now I don’t want to sell them to be honest. Unfortunately I can live reading the books only. I have to put food on my table. Therefore I need to sell some of my collection.
Please consider that some people may actually have genuine reason and it may not necessarily be just to make money
If you wish please visit my website: aleksandrawojcik.com
In her defense, she has a point about not reading her sellers description, I didn’t. I didn’t really care at this point to be honest, all I saw were pound signs and not in a good way. This is my reply to her:
We do live in a free market, you are correct, unfortunately that fact alone seems to be the undoing of books. I do not see them as a commodity, something to invest in and sell when things are tough. I see them as an object with important intrinsic value. I am quite aware of the fact that as a normal, working person, who works part-time and earns minimum wage, I would never even be able to afford prints of my favourite artists art. Now it seems I can’t afford the book either.
When I can’t afford a book, I go to the library and see if they have it. I’m unable to take this book out of the library because of how much its “worth”. Its possible resale value on the internet. That’s what’s really annoying me, if I’m honest, that I can’t afford it, and I can’t take it home from the library. Somebody is telling me I can’t look at it. And that is all due to lack of funds, both mine and my local councils. That fact is making my blood boil.
That being said, I have visited your website and you are a very talented photographer. I hope you sell it.
Sorry if the email I sent upset you. You should never press the send button when angry or upset!!
I thought that was quite a restrained reply to somebody basically telling me, you are poor, fuck off with your whining and complaining. What I wanted to explain to her was that I do not hold her in any higher regard because she’s a struggling artist. If you are that hungry, sell it for £200. That will get you at least two months food shopping. That’s what I really wanted to say, but I didn’t want to come off as a troll. I’m not that at all. A couple of hours after that, I wish I had sent her that reply, as she changed the listing to £1050. Yes, you read that right. That made her copy the most expensive one. For that price, Miss Wojcik, I would expect at least half the pages to be stuck together with the bodily excretions of BOTH Jake and Dinos Chapman, and I would demand a positive DNA test to prove its theirs. But she doesn’t win in the battle of the most expensive copy of this book on the internet. That prize goes to Abe Books. In November, they were selling a copy for £6060.
I haven’t added a zero there.
SIX THOUSAND AND SIXTY POUNDS!! For that amount of money, I’d expect a Chapman brother to come with it for a least week. Has it been licked by Jesus and the twelve disciples? Does it have pages made of gold leaf? Is it signed, with an actual print and include travel to any destination of my choice and free bed and board when I get there? No, I thought not. It’s just massively over priced.
There was light at the end of the tunnel. The first email I sent was to the seller Strange Horror. This is it.
I have absolutely no idea how you can sell this book for so much. The cover price is $85. It is a great book, but it is the price of a second-hand car. And they say the art world is elitist. I think “they” might be right
You can probably tell it was the first one I sent. It doesn’t have the same air of righteous ire attached to it. It was the first reply I received and I actually engaged in a really pleasant discussion with a man called Dan who runs the shop Strange Horrors. I imagine him to be a cross between David Dickinson and a polite version of Bernard from Black Books. He sent me this reply:
I know what you mean, but it was partially bought as an investment. The book did retail at a reasonable price but has now gone out of print and is desirable and scarce as a result. It is well produced and would be expensive to buy as a custom made one-off. I don’t really expect to sell it at that price, but I am happy to hold on to it as it is rare and is nice to have. The only way I would let it go would be at a high price. Maybe someone out there holds money as no object. That said, I would offer it at £500 to you.
I did appreciate the sentiment, but it was still about £440 out of my price range. I never thought as myself as a haggler, but it seemed to work. Go me. There was a niggling thought in the back of my head saying, if you didn’t expect to sell it at that price, why did you list it at that price, but I’ll let it go. Purely because I like to think Dan would stick it to the Man who had that amount of money. This is the reply I sent back:
I would just like you realise the knock on effect of your decision to do this. I am not allowed to take this book out of Leeds library because they would not be able to replace it if someone stole it.
I’m a Chapman brothers fan, and have been for a long time. I still wouldn’t pay £500 pounds for it. This is the worth that you, and other people, are putting on it, not necessarily what its worth. See Banksy selling canvases for $40 each.
I’m sorry if my first email was sarcastic and a bit horrible. I love books. I love art. I’m just angry that this whole problem has been flagged up due to lack of funds, both mine and Leeds Councils.
Big Sunday hugs
That’s pretty self-explanatory. This is what he sent back:
i didn’t find your email sarcastic and you make a good point. But you wouldn’t walk into an antique shop and say that a rare and desirable chair was overpriced and affecting the chair business elsewhere. Also, libraries are not so innocent – I had my own bookshop some years back (closed due to agiving up competing with Amazon) and heard that the local university library was throwing books into skips to make room. I rescued some of these books ( plenty were over 100 years old) and one of the books was especially attractive, filled with colour drawings of pine trees. I couldn’t find out much about the book at the time, so naively sold it to Maggs in London for £750. Later I googled the book and saw that it had been sold at Christies for £53,000. Regardless of me kicking myself, at least the book got saved from being landfill. We have a heritage to protect and when something is gone, it has gone. Librarians are doing their job, spending public money, but aren’t always clued up, or else don’t care too much, but don’t tell them I said that.
Lastly, the book trade is rocky at the moment, and might even go totally digital soon. Art books are always nice to have, as who wants to flick through images on a computer monitor. So if you see a desirable art book I would say grab it before it goes out of print. They are good items to collect – like antiques.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Nice story Dan. My husband once found a book in a skip. It was Under the Dome by Steven King. I don’t think its worth anything. It’s a decent book though, and in a very readable condition. I do agree with his opinion about libraries, they aren’t completely blameless in this. The Chapman Brothers have been known artists in this country since 1991. They were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003. That’s 23 years they have been active. Leeds Library has 2 books and one pamphlet. You can take one home. That is woeful. Leeds Library, you should be ashamed. The YBA movement was an important art movement in the 1990’s, The Chapman Brothers should be mentioned in the same breath as Damien Hirst, (15 books in the library) Tracey Emin, (12) Gillian Wearing, (1) Grayson Perry (4) Sam Taylor Wood,(1 book, 1DVD). Just because they are not to everyone’s taste, doesn’t mean they are any less important. Art students now were being born when this was causing a ruckus in the Daily Mail. We all need a bit of guiding in the right direction when we Google something. If we are pointed in the right direction by a scary, unbribable librarian, or a beautiful art book, we are more likely to do it when we get home.
But Dan’s argument about the antique chair is a bad analogy and disingenuous. The price of antique chairs, as far as I’m aware, has no baring on the price of chairs at Ikea. I happen to quite like most of the chair designs at Ikea and they retail at a reasonable price. If I needed a chair, I would go there, I would not go to an antique shop. Just as when I look for books, I get on Amazon Marketplace, and don’t go to a book collector’s website. As for the book that was found in a skip, if you liked the book and enjoyed the pictures, why didn’t you keep it? You didn’t pay anything for it, you found it in a skip and luckily for you, it was in a good condition. I’ll tell you why, because you are a book dealer.
I’m not being derogatory about Dan. I value his honesty. I find it completely depressing though that he is the dealer, and I’m the junkie. Only I can’t afford the drug he’s selling. To me, the drug he’s selling should be as widely available as an Ikea chair.
Today I was told on the internet that it’s just the way it is and it will never change. Publishers will always limit editions of books they publish to automatically make them collectables, book sellers will always take advantage of this, whether they are artists or people running businesses. With the massive public spending cuts we have had to endure as a country recently, including the mass of library closures, we should just get used to the fact that politicians are limiting our access to knowledge. I answered,
“Just because it wont change, doesn’t mean I have to take it lying down.”
My righteous anger worked. I think.
I checked back on the Wednesday morning, before I had my cup of coffee, ready to torture myself again. Look at the lovely book. Look how much money you have in your bank account. Cry silently into the unmade coffee.
There were 12 copies of the book all under a hundred pounds.
I have no idea how Amazon Marketplace sellers brains work, or how they run their businesses. It must be something to do with clicks, that is people clicking on the book description to see what some mad-lady-almost-troll is tweeting or facebooking about. It might have just been my clicks, as I stared in disbelief at the prices. Whichever way, there were four copies of the book listed on Saturday. There are now 15, only 3 of these are over £500, as Miss Wojcik unlisted hers on Wednesday. I bought mine for £37, including postage and packaging. It wasn’t the even the cheapest one on there. I didn’t want to appear to be taking the mickey.
The wider point I’m trying to make is this. You cannot price anyone out of the book market. The collectable and rare book market is a bit like the art market, I would imagine, or the antique chair market. I cannot afford a signed first edition of Dickens and I would not even try to get hold of one. I have a signed copy of Generation X by Douglas Coupland, but he’s one of my favourite authors and it’s not for sale, whatever price you offer me. It is obvious now that the Chapman Brother’s book is not that rare, as my whole family could buy one if they so wished. So collectable it may be, but rare? Not that much. Monetary worth is subjective, especially when it comes down to collectable items.
I will not have my reading material dictated to me. I will not be dictated to, full stop. That is basically what it comes down to. If the same four books were still listed on Amazon, this post would be the same, only peppered with more Yorkshireisms and swearing. The point would be the same. I will not be priced out of a market that I have been taught to love since I was small so that a London banker with three houses can place it on one of his many coffee tables that I have technically paid for, and has never seen a cup of coffee in its life, and stare at it without ever opening it. He can afford the artwork. Leave the books for the poor people. And as for libraries, just get a bit more clued up. That’s all I ask. I realise that we are very lucky in Leeds to have an art library at all but now this book is listed at a reasonable price, I expect you to buy another copy for lending. If it gets stolen, you still have the reference copy. I’m sure you will have a spare £30 somewhere. I will even donate a tenner towards it if you want. It’s really worth it. And as you can see, Shirley, I really feel passionately about this. Don’t make me turn into a proper troll.
But I’ve babbled on long enough. I’ve/We’ve made a small change, which I’m quite proud of. I wasn’t expecting to, but I did. It just goes to show what you can do with a spare weekend and a bit of righteous anger. Just think what I could accomplish with a spare month! Although, I’m looking at either Russell Brand or Bono to be my rich sponsor, because I’m not in a financial position to do it for free. I think I will leave you with a quote from David Shrigley. (www.davidshrigley.com) He was talking about the art funding cuts in the UK, but the argument is still valid.
“It’s not about me or people like me. I get my income from private collectors now. This is about a legacy for everyone in this country which could be lost.”
So go visit an art gallery.
Get a book out from the library.
If something annoys you, press the Contact The Seller button.
But don’t be a troll.
Peace out x
I would like to add a little postscript to this post. Its now the 29th November and my copy of the book arrived while I was on holiday. I’ve only just got my sweaty little monkey paws on it, and I haven’t been disappointed. I knew what to expect but it’s way better looking at it in the comfort of your own living room. It’s a beautiful, fantastic book and as of writing, there are only two left on Amazon Marketplace that are listed under £50. I really hope that the others are in the hands of fans who will appreciate them for the works of art that they are, affordable, but still works of art. Lets face it, it’s the only way we are going to get our hands on Chapman Brothers art.
Thanks to my friend Matt who gave me a perfect quote. When some people thought I was getting disproportionately angry about this, he wrote this on Facebook,
“The rich don’t create culture or art, they merely profit from it. They deserve to be called out on this. Well said.”
So at least one person agreed with me!