9 AUGUST 1975, Page 13

Book marks

I am sorry to learn of the Post Office's record E200 million losses — I really can't afford them — but they do not seem to have deterred Mr Eric Deakins MP in his tireless attempts to be .funny. Only last February Bookbuyer was left feeble with mirth following the Secretary of State for Trade's nimble evasion of a question on the overseas 'printed paper reduced rate' increases: on that occasion Mr Deakins was asked whether the Government would bring the export costs of British publishers into line with those of their overseas competitors, to which he replied wittily: "It is not in the Government's power to harmonise costs." Now nobody actually asked for costs to be harmonised, nobody expected costs to be harmonised and, so far as I am aware, nobody wanted costs harmonised. Which made it an entertaining answer. What the book exporters did want was for the 'reduced rate' to represent a reasonable reduction on the full rate (Universal Postal Union resolutions allow member countries to charge 'reduced rate' tariff's at half the full rate and several countries do just that) whereas what they got was an even smaller reduction than previously — 18 per cent less than the full rate, and easily the smallest reduction of any of the Major book exporting nations.

Now what have we Last week Mr. Philip Goodhart MP asked what steps the Secretary of State was taking to promote the export of books and periodicals. -My department," replied Mr D.. grandly, -is continuing to collaborate with the publishing industry in improving its sales overseas." But, persisted Mr Goodhart, British publishers would soon have to pay postal charges that were 50 to 98 per cent higher than those paid by their American publishing rivals — the Book Development Council thought this would have -a calamitous effect" Qn British book exports. Ah yes, but Mr Deakins was willing to meet the BDC people if they could come up with some positive proposals. (They will be glad to hear that: they have been trying to meet somebody from the Government for over two years,) And then came Mr Deakin's punch line:

understand that the industry is looking after itself in the light of increased postal charges. It is investigating successfully other and cheaper ways of exporting books."


The comedy could end there, but I cannot resist supplying a little epilogue. The book industry is indeed looking for alternatives to export book post, and that is because the Post Office has almost priced itself out of the market. And if, as it surely will, the book industry does find cheaper alternatives then the Post Office will lose its main 'printed paper' customer and will no doubt have to put prices up again so that it really will price itself out of the market. But that's not quite all. Some of the present "printed paper" traffic is profitable for the Post Office, notably in certain European countries, some, to places like Afghanistan, Nepal and Timbuctoo, is unprofitable. Since publishers do a lot of business with European countries that is the area where they are most likely to establish alternative ways and means. When they do that, the Post Office will lose much of the profitable European business whilst retaining the appetising prospect of unprofitable traffic to Timbuctoo.

,Give 'em a ring

I hear that Messrs George Bell, publishers of the Samuel Pepys diaries, are being offered for sale.