The Price of Coffee



Tim Hortons coffee cup

I work on the Triangle, a fashionable part of Bristol crammed with clothes shops, bike shops, book shops and coffee shops. The larger book shops, Borders and Blackwells, contain their own coffee shops. It’s not hard to part with money. Unless you want a kettle, that is — you won’t find a kettle shop — so when ours broke I went out for a large Americano. I’d been trying to draw something using Neo Office and needed a pick-me-up.

The coffee came to £2.30.

A notice in the window at Blackwells said Sir David Attenborough would be signing copies of “Life in Cold Blood” the next day.


Later, I caught up on news feeds. A note on Reg Braithwaite’s weblog prompted me to buy him a coffee — a bargain, I thought, at $1.47. A while ago I submitted an article to an online programming journal. They emailed back a 7 page author’s agreement. Print it, read it, copy it, sign both copies, scan one, email it, they said — a bizarre combination of legal, digital and analogue. The agreement mentioned a fee for the article and a kill fee if they rejected it; the actual figures would be in an assignment letter, to follow. Well, I never expected any money so this was exciting, a profitable use of the combined printer-scanner-copier I’d recently purchased (£80.00, via Amazon). I got started.


At work the next day we had a new kettle. But I craved strong coffee. It might help me get to grips with flash memory drivers. The queue at Blackwells snaked through the door and on to Park Street. I caught a glimpse of David Attenborough, smiling and signing. Each book sold would, I reckoned, return him a royalty sufficient to buy a large cappuccino.


And Attenborough is royalty. I’d guess he signed at least 200 books in an hour. “Life in Cold Blood” — the culmination of the magnificent “Life on Earth” series — deserves to be a best-seller. Reg Braithwaite has around 5000 subscribers and writes something worth reading every few days. He doesn’t publish his drinks count.


Cooked breakfast

I kicked my coffee addiction before it really got started. To be honest, I prefer tea, and besides, you can find better value for two quid on the Triangle. The assignment letter which followed my return of the author’s agreement set both the fee and the kill fee for the article at $0. At least there’d be no further paperwork. There’s a difference between offering something for nothing and getting paid nothing for it.