Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
A few days ago someone bought a copy of my poetry book, “Ode to Mustard,” online.
I only mention this because it’s astounding! Seriously, think about it. Someone bought a thin volume of poetry that I self-published in 1999!
What were they thinking?
I’ve had this book available for sale online for years via one of those Amazon.com personal-seller accounts. I’ve been holding onto the hope that someday, somehow, I might, you know, sell a few of them. Positive-thinking adherents would tell me that I should set my goals a bit higher than “sell a few of them.” And to those people I’d have to reply, “Poetry book.”
Which isn’t to say that my poetry book is a bad poetry book. It’s just that it’s a poetry book. How many more times do I need to type “poetry book” before you understand what I’m saying? Well, settle in – I’m just getting started.
The best thing going for my little book is that I got Hunter S. Thompson to write a blurb for it. Yes, for real.
“I told you not to write this horrible morbid swill,” Hunter wrote. “Now you’re going to have to live with it.”
Cool, right? I always thought that this would be a great selling point, but I think most people assume that it’s made up. I guess when it comes to a poetry book, even a bona fide HST blurb isn’t enough to move units.
Ha! I said “move units” and “poetry book” in the same sentence. This should tell you all you need to know about my keen business sense.
But hey, this book was never about the money (except for the paying-lots-of-money-to-have-it-printed part). It was about the art. But at some point the “money” and the “art” have got to meet. And when they finally do meet, sitting down together over lunch at a fancy little cafe, guess who heads to the bathroom as soon as the check comes? Uh, Art … where you goin’?
This poetry-art clash finally happened last week. It was while I was standing in line at the post office to mail out the online-purchased copy of “Ode to Mustard.” This is when, after 10-plus years, I finally did the math.
The lucky Amazon poetry book-buyer paid $10 – of which I get $4.50. I have to mail the book to Amazon so they could turn around and mail it to the person. This cost $1.50. Now, if you include the envelope and the address label and the time required to print out the fulfillment papers, address the envelope, go to the post office, wait in line – all the stuff that is usually described as “handling” – well, it starts to get pretty bleak. Also, it’s $25 a year to have this Amazon seller account. Oh, yeah, and each book cost around $2 to print. And none of this takes into account the years and years spent pouring out my soul to create sing-songy, silly verse with titles such as “Three Hanky Utensil Love Poem” and “The Rime of the Big Chocolate Duck.” Really, how do you put a price tag on such a thing?
As I handed my envelope to the postal clerk, it hit me how pathetic this really was. Essentially, I’m saying, “Hey, here’s a free copy of my book, and I’ve included a $5 bill for you to use as a handy bookmark. Thanks for your support.”
I came home from the post office and set about the process of canceling my seller account. Now if you want a copy of my book, you’ll have to buy it used. I see there’s one for sale at Amazon for $77.03. Yeah, good luck, dude. Another seller is offering a copy for $1.52, which, according to the description, “appears never read.” Ouch.
They don’t make it simple to cancel the seller account. I have to enter passwords and maiden names and navigate several pull-down menus and questionnaires. When I got to the final question, “What is the reason for canceling your seller account?” I knew this would be an easy one to answer.
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