Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Lies Ahead in Publishing?

From the Sunday morning mind of Earl Staggs

Recently, my good friend Kevin Tipple sent me a copy of an article by David J. Montgonery from a site called “Crime Fiction Dossier.” The article began with:

“We're starting to see reports of tough times in the publishing industry, with sales at Borders down 10% and Mifflin Harcourt declaring a freeze on acquisitions.”

The article goes on to say layoffs are rumored throughout the publishing and bookselling industries and that publishers will start making some changes to their business models. Some of the changes referred to were fewer one-off books, more books published as paperback originals, and fewer monster advances.

Mr. Montgomery went on to say:

“We'll almost certainly see a contraction in the number of books published. This is a step that has been a long time coming and is desperately needed. Currently the big houses publish too many books; more than they can adequately promote and sell. By publishing fewer books, and focusing their efforts on the ones remaining, they'll not only improve their bottom line, they'll better serve their authors. (Obviously this means that some writers will get the axe, but only those that were the most marginal anyway.)”

Basically, he’s saying if the publishing industry wants to survive, it must tighten its belt, do some serious housecleaning, and make some drastic changes in the way they do business. (Unlike the mortgage and automobile industries who only have to ask the government to refill their coffers with our tax money. But that’s getting into political territory and we don’t want to do that here.)

I doubt Mr. Montgomery’s thinking comes as a surprise to anyone in the writing community. How long have we wished publishers would regress to the days of old when they promoted and supported talented new writers with their dollars until the writers could build a fan base?

Instead, we’ve seen their dollars go into multi-million-dollar advances to the same big name authors who already have an audience and to ribald celebrities for tell-all books. Except for a slight few authors fortunate enough to land decent contracts, we’re pretty much left to our own devices and purses for promoting and selling.

In summing up his article, Mr. Montgomery said:

“The current economic climate provides a chance for the publishing houses to take steps that will put them on a firmer long-term foundation.”

What steps the big houses take, how successful those steps will be, and which houses will survive fall squarely in the wait and see category.

To bring it down to a more personal level, how will the changes in the foreseeable future within the publishing industry affect us? All we can do is wait and see.

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9 comments:

Hootin' Anni said...

I personally always wondered why they didn't publish the first printings in paperback. Less costly around the table if you ask me.

Happy weekend.

Morgan Mandel said...

I agree. It makes more sense to do paperback first. Then, if people really like the book, they'd buy the hard cover more as a collector's item. Although, they might have to do large print paperbacks, since many Boomers are readers and will have difficulty seeing small print soon if they don't already.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://www.morganmandel.com

Mark said...

Entertainment survived the Depression when all else failed. I'm hoping it will survive during this recession. We will need our escapes and we will need, as the Doormouse said, to feed our heads. I believe fiction will survive. A lot of MBAs in the business might not.

Marilyn said...

Personally, I think we'll see a huge increase in e-books.

I've probably bought more books this year than ever. Why? Because I love them.

Jean Henry Mead said...

All I can say is 'It's about time.'
Who wants to read Sara Palin's tell-all or Joe the Plumber? Big advances most often lose money for the pubisher. Are they finally seeing the light?

Dana Fredsti said...

Mark's point about the entertainment industry weathering the Depression is a good one and one of the things that keeps me optimistic - people always need entertainment, be it reading, movies, ???

Dana Fredsti said...

Mark's point about the entertainment industry weathering the Depression is a good one and one of the things that keeps me optimistic - people always need entertainment, be it reading, movies, ???

Earl Staggs said...

I like Mark's point, too, that entertainment will always survive even though evolutionary changes come along. Vaudeville gave way to movies and radio, then came TV and now the Internet. In publishing, I think we're seeing more trade paperbacks at $12 to $15filling the gap between $5 and $6 traditional paperbacks and $25 to $30 hardcovers. I also think the coming revolution in publishing will be onsite POD equipment in bookstores. But that's a topic for another day.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Glad I inspired Earl to write something as otherwise he would have just rambled on again about some obscure writing point.

"Do they really say that? Would anyone outside of Texas know that?"

Anyway, large trade paperbacks don't sell well. When a hardback can be had for the same price as a large trade or even cheaper, folks want the sturdier version of the book. Back in the days when I worked retail, folks would ask us if we carried the hardback version because they didn't want the big paperback. "They feel and look cheap" was a frequent comment. Even if the hardback wasn't available, often they would just drop the book and not buy it.

I'm still of the mind that e-books--as currently constructed--aren't going to increase much sales wise if at all. I'd say more, but then that would give Earl free material and no one really wants to do that unless he gets paid.

Kevin