Dec 11, 2009

FIXING PUBLISHING - impossible?

For over a year now I have been hearing doom and gloom. There have been layoffs, cutbacks and a lot of scrambling around. There is also a lot of time and energy spent trying to place blame on why sales may be down. The economy, Kindle, weather, plagues of locusts. US publishers need to stop worrying about people buying UK books. It's time to stop trying to assign the blame and move forward.

Publishers need to stop and take a breath.
Publishers need to re focus where they are putting their energy, and yes, their money. Stop catering to the media, the book sellers, the distributors and yes, even the authors. I'm not saying ignore these people, that would be stupid. But stop putting all your energy there.

Where should the energy go?

It comes back to the very core of doing business.
The customer is always right.
Book sellers tell the publisher what their customers want. But it's impossible for that not to be biased toward what the book sellers need. The same is true for distributors. Publishers need to get a direct line to the consumer un filtered by blogs ans media and people with a financial investment.

Want to break out an author? A blog tour is not the answer. Mass emails won't do it. Even massive advertising is only so effective. Want to get people to pick up a new author?

Drop the price. Steve Hamilton is poised for a break out. Why isn't THE LOCK ARTIST priced at $19.99? or even cheaper? Why don't publishers take a whole bunch of authors first books and drop the price of paperbacks to $2.99 to get people to try a series? Michael Connelly is ready to jump to the next level? Why not sell the next book at a really nice price break and get more people to buy it when it comes out in hardcover? Or how about a one time BIG discount for book stores so they can really push it at a great price?

And while it is expensive, author tours are still effective. Readers meet authors and they make a connection, they feel invested in the author after they meet. It builds long lasting fan bases. People talk about meeting authors for months and even years after an event.

You want US readers to stop buying UK versions of books? Release them at the same time. Why should I wait a year or longer to read a book by Val McDermid when I can go on the internet and in five minutes order it and have it in under a week?

How many authors have back list that has gone out of print? Too damn many. I won't name names, but I could list a plenty of authors that were sabotaged by their own publishing houses bu not having the earlier books available in paperback. Some of then didn't get a chance to go out of print, they never even did paperbacks. People don't want to buy a third or fourth book in a series if they can't get the earlier ones.

Want to generate some buzz for a new author? Why not send a pile of arcs of the new Tim Dorsey to some libraries to use in their book clubs? You can hit groups that are reading and talking about books because they love to read. Damn good chance when the next book comes out a bunch of those people will be new fans and buy the book. If nothing else, they will be talking about it to other readers, and that's something you can't buy with an ad.

A lot of this comes back to something I have been ranting about for over a year now. It's not all about numbers, it's about readers. The more readers an author has, the more successful they will be.
Vertigo comics makes all their first issues available for free on the website. Why not make authors first books available for a free down load? Get some one hooked on that first book they will want to buy the rest. The hardest part of this business is getting someone to open the book. Once they start reading, chances are you have them. So why not make that first step easier?

The whole e-book debate is out of control as well. E-books will not replace hard copies. They will be selling more and more, but they won't eliminate hardcovers and paperbacks. Want to generate sales on a new hardcover? Why not take a page from the Hollywood playbook. Offer a free down load with the purchase of a hardcover. A one time use code with the new Robert Crais book. Buy the hardcover and you can download an-e book of it for free.

And on something related, I am tired of bookstores blaming poor sales on Amazon. They have been around a long time now and aren't going anywhere. How do you compete? Do what you are best at, hand selling and customer service. That's why stores like Murder by the Book in Houston and Once Upon a Crime are still open. Customer service. (the customer is always right)

Do I have all the answers? No. What I do have is a lot of time spent talking with readers and authors and booksellers and publishers.

Publishers do need to listen to book stores, distributors and media. But I think it's time they REALLY start listening to the people who are spending the money, the readers.Lets stop trying to figure out who or what to blame and look instead to the future. There are a lot of readers out there and there are a lot of good books. Lets get the them together!



PS:
We work with some wonderful people in publishing who love what they do and it shows. The same is true of a lot of book sellers we've met. people who do this because they love the books and they love to read. So thanks to you all for not going for the high paying corporate jobs and doing what you do instead. We appreciate it.

12 comments:

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

My husband and I often have debates on many of the issues he's discussed here. There's one thing we've always agreed upon and that is that the customer is always right. With audio and then electronic books hitting the market, the customer base is changing.Stalwart readers have embraced the new technologies and new readers will be gained by it; E-tronics or something we don't comprehend yet. Imagine, if you will, the crime fiction reader who has a chance to parley which solution s real through their home mouse (see the movie CLUE). The international market is here , the internet market has been here for fifteen years. Now, more than ever, when a customer walks into your bookstore they are asking you to feed them something new and wonderful. Publishers need to embrace the international time-line as well. Frankly, although I buy the American version, I am not, will not, wait for the new Ian Rankin series for a year. Nor, may I add, do I have to.
We like to read. So plan your new publishing models, but dammit, give me my books.
At the end of the day most of us want, need to feel the book in our hands to have the entire experience.

Ruth Jordan

Sandra Ruttan said...

FInally, some common sense about the problems with publishing and where to start finding solutions.

eviljwinter said...

I like what Marcus Sakey said when he came to Cincinnati a few months back.

The way to make book tours really work is for some big name authors, the ones who don't normally go out much anymore, to hit the road with a promising up-and-comer.

And I agree on the pricing. Stores, especially the chains, live for the discount. If such a discount comes right out of the box, that will simultaneously please the corporate masters and get the people on the floor excited. Win win for the bottom line and the book lovers.

Amy said...

Lots of great comments here, Jon. I particularly love the idea of sending ARCS to library book clubs. Lots of YA publishers do this through YALSA for teen book discussion groups and then the teens send feedback back. Why isn't this done for adults? I don't know. It works well - librarians review, buy, and discuss books constantly. (I know I can't turn it off!)
The goodwill of sending ARCS to a library that could not otherwise afford copies is definitely worth more than the price of advertising.

bnh123 said...

I love these ideas, and appreciate the discussion! If the model isn't working now, borrow ideas from other industries to help make it work.

Ayo Onatade said...

Way to go Jon. As always you have hit the nail on the head. If it were not for readers then publishers would not have any customers. They need to listen a lot more to their views! As for e-books. As much as I can see their worth like you I do not think that they will ever replace books. I am strictly a book in the hand person. For me part of the joy in reading a book is being able to physically turn a page over!

Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Jon, and some great ideas too. I especially like your idea of creative pricing. That will do a lot toward putting books into the hands of readers.

But I think we're a long way from improving the hand selling and customer service you call for in the bookstores. Of course, the indies have it, but they're a vanishing breed, as you know.

I was in a Barnes & Noble the other day, looking for the new World Almanac. It wasn't in the reference section, and I know it's out, so I asked a store clerk where I could find it. She had no idea what I was talking about. She'd never heard of the World Almanac. She called someone else over to help out, and he wasn't too sure what it was, either.

They've got a long, long way to go.

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Elizabeth Sims said...

A friend just sent me a link to this post. You got a lot right, Jon, as do the commenters here. As a midlist crime / mystery author, I'm grappling with these exact issues. My publisher doesn't think tours / publicity travel are worth it unless you're a big shot, but I keep at it on my own dime because I know that making friends in person IS worth it. Coincidentally, I wrote about the subject in the current Writer's Digest magazine. If you're an author wanting validation of handselling, you might want to check it out. I suddenly realize this might be taken as self-promo, but I intend it as a contribution to this discussion.
Elizabeth Sims

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Hairy said...

Great post, Jon

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