8.08.2005

Glorified printers

Sniffs a Snarkling:


Are publishers becoming nothing more than glorified printers?


Well, Miss Snark doesn't have to remind her well read and knowledegable Snarklings that publishing in fact started with printers. Printers who lent poverty stricken writers money for the print run, and helped them sell the books when it was done.

The question is have we moved the business model so far from that original concept that we've begun, like the puppy, to chase our own tail.

Consider returns for example: publishers now allow huge volumes of books to go out the factory door to bookstores knowing full well that 1/3 or MORE will come back. Who makes money there? UPS.

Publishers mark the price on a book so that if a book is in high demand (think Harry Potter demand) and there's not enough supply, bookstores still sell at the "low demand" price. Miss Snark didn't pass economics 201 to miss the idiocy of THAT model. Amazon made NO net on 1.5 million copies of Harry Potter out the door. Jeff Bezos is a smart guy but that's a recipe for disaster.

Consider that time and again customers tell us that the reason they buy books is that a friend or someone they know told them about it. YET we focus on huge national pr campaigns for a select few to the detriment of pretty good writers down the list who could use just a little bit of help getting their books in the hands of regional newspaper reviewers.

Consider we use webfeed press to print 2000 copies and then have a hard time deciding whehter it's cost effective to print another 2000 when the stock gets low when if we used POD technology we could print books on demand and fulfill author's book signging need, or sudden upsurge in demand with less than a week's turnaround time.

Has most publishing gotten too big? Has the business model outlived its purpose?
There are a lot of smart people in publishing but when I hear them say "you can't touch returns, the stores won't let you", I KNOW in my heart that we are due for a huge change.

We're publishing 175,000 books a year. The one thing about books is that they don't have an expiration date. Those 175,000 books are still around next year, and the year after that. Some of them are thrown away, sure. But a lot of them find their way to used book stores, and sidewalk vendors here in NYC. Half the readers I know don't give a fig if a book is "new" this season or published ten years ago.

We've got to start thinking smarter or we're gonna find ourselves on the wrong end of the puppy here.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's another one (and I don't even work in publishing). Remander books three or four months after they get published so anyone willing to wait can get them for pennies over the internet.

Anonymous said...

Does the business model suck for everyone, or just for the authors? If it really only sucks for authors, who cares? The supply far outstrips the demand -- so much so, in fact, that editors and agents can afford to toss away what may be perfectly publishable material without even reading it, simply because it is submitted in the wrong format or the author has the wrong credentials or can't write a good query letter. Only the flood of submitted material makes this sort of profligacy practical. Why change the industry paradigm just to suit a gazillion wannabe novelists (among whom I humbly count myself)?
If it truly sucks for the publishers as well, then I agree with Her Snarkness that the corporate parents will demand change to improve bottom-line performance. But it ain't happened yet.

Maria said...

In a world full of easy entertainment, the publishers do and will suffer--it isn't just other novels with which they must compete, but also movies, dvds, gaming software, music--any entertainment. Publishers must lure readers or listeners (books on tape) and at this juncture, they haven't tried very hard to compete with other entertainment industries. There is only so much time in the day--publishers must work harder to get their share by enticing readers with a good product, by offering a carrot to the reader. Some of the best products that seem to be doing this are books on tape--you get the reader's attention during driving time, competing effectively with radio. Also, graphic novels appeal greatly to younger readers and can take them away from gaming software--or be a companion product for games. I think the industry could do more to insert themselves in the limited time of buyers by moving FASTER in these areas. They also might try some of the tricks of the music industry--include some books that have "extras" like interviews with authors, posters, color inserts, playing cards, etc. These are items that people can't keep if they are reading the book in the library or buying it used--publishers must entice readers to collect not only the books, but companion material.
Not enough creativity on the selling side IMO.

Anonymous said...

I can't think of any other industry where the retailers are so cushioned; it just doesn't make sense.

Sale or return means booksellers do not commit to a product in terms of their budget, and discounting products in high demand is absurd. The waste! The loss of revenue!

In other sectors, profit is MADE on 'hot' items. Prices are reduced to encourage sales and eventually recoup investment which would otherwise be a loss to the retailer.

Of course book stores want the current arrangement to remain - it's safer and easier for them. But were it to change, the sales end of this industry would be forced into serious action. From writers to readers, this would be good for us all.

Anonymous said...

An independent bookstore buying from the Ingram Book Group can only return 10% of their overall purchase history. That's not a lot of returns for a small bookstore. And so, while an independent can purchase what they want and display it anywhere they please (unlike a big box) we still have to take care of the quantity we buy and can't take great advantage of "taking a loss" like a big box and buy huge stock only to return huge stock.