Friday, September 19, 2008

The End of Book Publishing As We Know It

Today was my last day in a week-long training class at work.

My normal commute is only 22 minutes. This week, because the flipping class started at 8:00 AM, I had to leave at 6:55 every day and spend an hour in early morning traffic.

I tell you this because, having lost my usual two hours every morning to read blogs and Internet news, I am now a week behind. I've just seen this article on "The End" of the book business in New York Magazine, courtesy of Nathan Bransford here. Forgive me for coming late to the party.

The first half of the article rehashes territory we’ve been over many times before here. Let me summarize. The links in parentheses are to posts on this blog that addressed points made in the article:

Forty years ago, the “gentleman” ownership of publishing gave way to corporate ownership. Dozens of independent houses were replaced by a handful of media conglomerates that now own multiple imprints (March 7, 2007).

Corporate ownership means corporate oversight and a focus on the bottom line, which in turn led to a preference for “known” best-selling authors rather than risky unknown authors
(October 22, 2006). And those best-selling authors sometimes have an inflated sense of their worth (January 5, 2008).

It wasn't until Page Five of the nine-page article that I found anything worth quoting:
One key advantage of corporate publishing was supposed to be its marketing muscle: You may not publish exactly the books you’d like to, but the ones you publish will get the attention they deserve. Yet in recent years, more accurate internal sales numbers have confirmed what publishers long suspected: Traditional marketing is useless.

"Media doesn't matter, reviews don't matter, blurbs don't matter," says one powerful agent. Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them . . . Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing. What readers want—and whether it’s better to cater to their desires or try harder to shape them—remains a hotly contested issue.
Pages Six and Seven contain a laundry list of the nightmares keeping publishers awake at the wee hours of the morning:
  • Oprah will be going off the air in a few years, taking with her those lovely book club picks.
  • Borders bookstores are on death watch. If and when the chain expires, publishers will lose their negotiating muscle with B&N.
  • Amazon had 31% sales growth in the second quarter and seems intent on building a vertical publishing business.

The last two pages of the article focus on previous publishing disasters and potential upcoming disasters (disasters being defined as books on which publishers made big-advance gambles that didn't pay off).

I've been thinking a lot lately about the new ventures intended to revitalize the publishing industry. The two mentioned most often are Bob Miller's HarperStudio and Jonathan Karp's Twelve. Both men are featured speakers at this year's 35th annual New England Independent Booksellers Association Trade Show (NEIBA), which opened Thursday morning in Boston.

I'll talk more about this tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Maya Reynolds said...

Thank you, Susan.