Jan 4, 2009

The New Year

2009 looks like it will be really interesting for a lot of reasons.
A new president with some new ideas is obviously going to be something to watch.

What I'm going to be watching is the publishing industry.

There's panic in the streets as everyone one is wondering if the whole industry will implode. Speculation abounds as people wonder if print books are dead and electronic is the new form( I don't think so). Will major block busters and high profile books be the only ones published? Sarah Silverman just got a boatload of money to write a book.

I think the woes the industry is feeling have been building for a while, and quite honestly maybe there are just too many books being published. Judging from the volume of books coming across my desk its not hard to imagine the the sheer volume of novels being released has passed the saturation point.

I don't believe print is dead, electronic books like kindle and others will be growing and gaining a larger readership, but I don't think in my lifetime I'll see the end of hardcopy books. The scramble to move to electronic formats is kind of funny because this has been coming for a while and I think its a good thing. It gives writers another outlet for their work and can bring them a larger audience. People having extra options is always a good thing.

i think the cutbacks at the big houses is not so surprising in the scheme of things. Business was good, sales increasing year to year, but how long can growth continue in any industry? To expect a set percentage of increase every year is unrealistic I think, especially in publishing which has been around a long time.

The fall out of all of this will most likely mean less books published by the big houses. Hopefully this will mean the books they do publish will be of higher quality and sales will maintain. It also means that authors with smaller sales will be looking for a new home. Truthfully this could be a boon to smaller publishers and actually broaden the market in the long run. I have to say that I came across some books in the last few years that I could not understand why they were published. And also why they got the push they did.

Having to regroup and rethink the way they do business is not a bad thing. Publishing has been around a long time and when was the last time they really made any significant changes to the way they do business? This is a great opportunity to give a kick start to a business that has been rather stagnant. Businesses need to remain fluid to remain viable. Comic book sales have dropped a bit, but with increased sales of trade collections they are actually doing fine.


Maybe stop being dictated to by Barnes and Noble and other retail sources. Why are people in the sales department so powerful? Shouldn't the editors have a little more say in what gets pushed? They are the ones buying the book. it seems like many businesses, that instead of people familiar with the product having a voice that the decisions are being made by accountants. Unless the sales staff has actually read the books in question they shouldn't have much of a vote.

Maybe advances should be cut and the rate of royalties increased? Instead of a bigger advance authors could get a higher rate on royalties. This would help the authors who really work it and go above and beyond in helping with their own marketing.

Maybe less advance and a little more on advertising? Instead of say, 10,000 advance an author gets 8,000 and a guaranteed 2,000 in marketing.

Here's a strange idea. Maybe the publicity people and the marketing people could listen to the author a bit more. I know some of the publicity people really do listen and are great at their jobs. It also stands to reason that every author is going to think their book is the most important. But if an author says that newspaper X reviewed the last three book with high praise and should get an arc, then they should in fact get an arc. If an author says that they do really well in the midwest maybe they should do a few signings there. This really should be looked at as a little more of a team effort.

Returns mean to be re thought. Not eliminated. But maybe a more realistic time frame. Books have to be returned in six or four months or the books can't be sent back. It is crazy that bookstores can send back books sometimes up to a year later.
The returns need to stay, but the structure needs to be fixed. Without returns a lot of bookstores will cut back on orders and new authors would be screwed.

The Harper Studio imprint tried something new and while i think they were off the mark a bit they were looking in the right direction. They should have allowed returns on a limited basis. They also wanted to focus more on the internet, which on the surface looks like a good idea, in truth it is a way of looking like you are doing a lot of marketing but allows you to spend almost no money on it. I love getting advance reading copies that state they are doing an internet campaign. it usually means they flood me with emails of reviews from other media(which I don't even read), having the author set up spots on MySpace and Face book or what ever the darling of the moment is.Internet marketing looks impressive on a book jacket, but it really isn't very specific.

I also think that marketing money could be better spent. I understand that when you drop a 2 million dollar advance on someone you need to spend a lot on advertising and marketing to make sure you sell through. I get it.


Some authors always sell big numbers. A certain writer who does some horror novels gets full page ads in major newspapers every time he has a new book. It seems silly as most people will buy the book and the ad is rather redundant. Maybe cutting the size of those ads in half and spending a little more on authors who aren't doing huge numbers yet. I like the baseball analogy here. Why drop all the money on the big league team, why not build up the triple a team and increase the number of high end players? There isn't a limit on how many best selling authors you can have. So instead of spending 2 million on Patricia Cornwell why not use a portion of that on new authors?

So what's coming? We'll see a lot of authors looking for a place to publish because the big houses are cutting back. And while it is sad that some authors that are quite good will get dropped, it is business and the product lines you drop first are the ones with low sales.
I also think that the smaller publishers will worth watching. With more authors not with the big houses there will be more chances for the small houses to pick up some really good writers. 10,000 copies maybe to little for a New York publisher, but it would great for an independent house.

I don't have all the answers, or maybe any answers. But I do recognize that something needs to change. And the answer is not going to be simple. It's going to involve trying new things and most importantly, listening to the people who buy books.

When it's all said and done I'm hoping that while the number of books landing on my desk will be dropping that the ones that do show up will be more consistently worth reading.

It's going to be an interesting year.


Jim said...

Jon-- Great thoughts. Yes, returns need to be rethought. But if you're talking time frame, there needs to be a better minimum window not a max window. If books HAD to be returned in 4 months, baby, ALL those books are going back. Even midlist authors would be really hurt by this as chain stores look to cut inventory on titles that sell slowly to make room for higher turn around items. In fact, one could argue that it's the midlist that would be hurt the most... titles that could sell a lot of copies in the long run would be returned if there investment could not be guaranteed.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

The number I threw out for a time frame was just a ball park random number. I do think though that there should be a set time that allows for sales to catch on but also keeps returns from coming in for too long.

Maybe not allowing any returns for four months would be a good place to start?

Returns are such a funny thing because I can't really think of too many businesses where you get to order product and then sit on it for a while and the just send back what didn't sell.

But with the book business you really have to do it or you won't sell any books. people would only order the sure thing.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"But if an author says that newspaper X reviewed the last three book with high praise and should get an arc, then they should in fact get an arc."

If only more authors, and publicists, had this much basic common sense. In a house like mine, with two active reviewers, we get our share of arcs, but they tend to be for the new books being pushed. Meanwhile, I'll hear that the author of a book one or both of us reviewed and loved has a new title coming out, and we haven't even been offered a copy of that one, while three copies of the latest 'it' book sit collecting dust on our bookshelf devoted to arcs.

We're always more likely to pick up a book by an author who's delivered before, who produced work we raved about. Smart writers should pay attention to who reviews them, and who likes their stuff, and make sure those reviewers get copies of the next title. It's not rocket science, just basic common sense.