Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Too Many Books? Too Little Publisher Support?

I'm a little slow blogging today. One of my CPs and I were trying to finish an application to do a presentation at the next RWA Conference in Dallas. Our deadline was yesterday. Now that's behind me as well as my column for the next Passionate Ink newsletter. Busy, busy times.

I've been pondering this post for several weeks. Ever since I first started trying to learn about the publishing industry back in 2004, there's been a low-level rumble among writers about the lack of support for authors by publishers. Recently, several popular romance authors announced on the RWA loops that their contracts were dropped. Newer, less-known writers were appalled. If their heroes could be cut loose for lack of sales, what could they expect?

The conversation moved into the blogosphere where other writers have expressed discontent with the state of publishing. Readers have come forward to complain about the same old/same old material being dumped on the market.

I did a bit of research and came up with the following numbers from Bowker, the world's leading provider of bibliographic information:

U.S. Title Output: 2001___142,000
U.S. Title Output: 2002___150,000
U.S. Title Output: 2003___175,000
U.S. Title Output: 2004___195,000
U.S. Title Output: 2005___172,000

According to Bowker, 2005 was "the first decline in U.S. title output since 1999, and only the 10th downturn recorded in the last 50 years. It follows the record increase of more than 19,000 new books in 2004."

Bowker announced the 2005 numbers on 5/9/06. On 5/10/06, Publishers Weekly (PW) parsed the numbers: "Figures indicate that the largest decline occurred at small and mid-sized houses; production from the smallest house fell 7%, while new titles from small-to-medium and medium-to-large publishers dropped 10% and 15%, respectively. New titles from the largest houses fell 4.7%, to 23.017, while new titles from university press rose 1.8%."

Five days after that article, PW published a second story: "The 9% decline in title output that R.R. Bowker estimates for 2005 is being viewed by most industry members as a needed correction to years of overproduction, though many said the drop isn't big enough and that the cutbacks--which are predominantly at small and medium-sized houses--are coming from the wrong place."

The article continued, quoting Jane Friedman of HarperCollins who said that "most everyone agrees that too many books have been published" and "publishers 'need to get more out of the books they publish,' by either selling more copies or by leveraging their content in digital formats."

Another publisher, Rudy Shur of Square One, had his own viewpoint: "'Thinking that the more books you can produce will make more money for a publisher is neither bad or good--it's stupid' . . . Many booksellers said that while a decrease in production is positive, the numbers need to come down even more."

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, disagrees. In a 5/1/06 PW article, he said, "more choice will lead to more sales . . . he thought it was encouraging for the book industry that sales of used books has doubled, the growth of POD/self-publishers has exploded and purchase of niche titles online has grown significantly."

Of course, PW pointed out that "While those developments may be positive ones for consumers, they are not necessarily good trends for many traditional publishers."

I'd point out that the doubling of sales of used books is also not helpful to authors unless you regard the opportunity to reach more readers as helpful.

Historical romance author Anne Stuart was blunt during an interview with "All About Romance." In response to a question, part of her answer was:

So now I'm with Mira [division of Harlequin], who promised to love, honor and adore me. And maybe they do, but they could do more. I know every writer says that, and I hate to be greedy and ungrateful, but they're not so much about the books. They're about slots and numbers, not about passion for what they're putting out there. Or so it seems to me. But then, right now I'm pretty disillusioned about the lack of support from them. I'll
get over it. Maybe they're right and I'm wrong and I'm a middle of the road writer.

No, they're wrong. I'm a goddess.

And maybe I've misjudged them. It seems to me that they look at my books like boxes of cereal on a shelf, and they're in the business of selling cereal, not loving it.

My thanks to Vanessa Jaye's blog ( and to Cat Brown for pointing me toward that interview. You can read the entire interview with Anne Stuart at:

I was amused in reading Isabel Swift's blog yesterday morning (see my side column for the link) to see a reaction to Anne's comment (sort of). Isabel is the Vice President of Author and Asset Development over at Harlequin. She announces the formation of iBOAS, the Imaginary Buddies of Anne Stuart.

I admire her effort to take lemons and turn them into lemonade. It's got to be hard to be on the receiving end of a bite from one of your very own authors.

I suspect that's not what Anne had in mind in terms of more support from her publisher. But that road does go two ways.

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