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April 16, 2008

London Book Fair 13-16 April

I just got back from London Book Fair and I'm working through my list of follow-up, wondering how to evaluate whether the effort and expense really justifies it. One thing that emerged is that printed prices on books is becoming a thing of the past. Given the strong Euro and weak dollar, the book's dollar price tends to devalue its sterling and Euro price. We're actually reprinting our Rucksack Readers leaflet without its US dollar prices at the request of our European distributor for just this reason.

Worse still, we've just realised that booksellers are buying direct from Amazon.com so as to undercut prices further. One of the bizarre by-products of globalisation (combined with the number of book trade middlemen working for narrow margins) is that many of our books are now crossing the Atlantic twice before being sold at a discount via Marketplace on Amazon.co.uk. Added to the 6000 miles they travel to reach us from our printer in Hong Kong, they are doing high mileages before they start. The customer who buys on UK Marketplace has no idea of this: the booksellers themselves claim "dispatched from the UK" – which is true only after they've completed their 12,000 miles! And in case you're wondering why books appear on Marketplace at daft prices like £0.01, it's because the seller still gets £2.75 p&p and the seller minimises what they pay to Amazon in fees. So if you can find what you're looking for on Marketplace, as a consumer you may win (but remember to add on the £2.75 before deciding if it's really a bargain).

The dollar price conversation didn't really happen at Book Fair because I discovered something even more interesting from our US distributors, Interlink Publishing: its President, Michel and his partner Hildi are interested in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. My own book Explore Mount Kilimanjaro is in its third edition, but I had been half-thinking of returning to check out a fourth approach route from the west (Lemosho) for a new version. The idea seemed both tempting (the chance to refresh photographs, update the other routes and experience Lemosho for myself) and scary (what if I'm already past it? how will I remain credible? do I really need to go through all that again?). However, fired by Michel's enthusiasm I'm in the process of booking up through Harry Kikstra's www.7summits.com website. We'll probably go in June.

June 17, 2008

Touching base, between trips

Just back from Edinburgh airport after a wonderfully long weekend in Tuscany. Based in the lovely Casa del Sole, Camaiore, this was a chance to see Italy afresh through the eyes of two-year-old grand-daughter Amy and daughter Helen. Keir and I (Il nono and La nona) enjoyed a different perspective. Yes we went to the Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, but we also visited the Pinocchio Park (and the superb gardens of the Villa Ganzoni also in Collodi), the zoo at Pistoia, the play park in Camaiore and cycled around the walls of Lucca pulling Amy in her chariot. Considering that Keir was about the only person I knew at Cambridge who couldn't manage a bicycle, I thought it was remarkable that we all survived the Lucca walls without injury, and although the puddles spattered poor Amy she didn’t seem to mind at all. We all climbed to the very top of La Rocca in San Miniato for a great view over the town.

The only downside of all this is that I have to leave home tomorrow morning at 0415 for my return trip to Kili. Were it not for the necessity of swapping Italian holiday clothes for high-altitude trek gear, it's barely worth returning to Landrick from Edinburgh airport. The trouble is that all that pasta and vino rosso has added to the task, and there was really no chance to do any training … I’ve always believed (hoped?) that the most important organ for trekking at altitude is your brain (rather than heart, lungs or legs) but I hadn’t expected to have to put this theory to such a severe test! The Lemosho route I’m trying this time at least has a long approach, but it joins the strenuous, scrambling Machame route. Although I’ve done Machame before, at the time I was an important 8 years younger, several kilos lighter in weight and much fitter. Still, if this ill-prepared pensioner can summit once more, it will prove that anybody can.

So I have no small misgivings, despite the usual pleasant sense of anticipation of any long-haul adventure. I love Tanzania, I am still fascinated by the world’s highest free-standing mountain, and I’m hoping to bring back many and much better photos. I’m taking my new Leica-lensed digital camera and hoping that I’m far enough up its learning curve to dodge many of the mistakes I’ve made before. I look back with embarrassment to my 1999 attempts, taken with a borrowed APS camera(!) This pre-dated the formation of Rucksack Readers and was chosen purely because it was very light, at a time when I was most uncertain if I could carry weight at altitude!

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