by Raelene Gorlinsky
New York Magazine's article "The End" is a fascinating collage of tidbits about the NY publishing industry -- both its past and the current unsettling turmoil and change. It's lengthy, and I don't agree with all the doom and gloom, but I recommend reading it to understand part of where the industry stands at the moment. Be aware it ignores small presses and e-publishers. This is about the old guard NY publishing giants - HarperCollins, FSG, RandomHouse, Simon & Schuster, Hatchette Grand Central, et al.
Part of the article discusses the focus on blockbusters, how that's what the publishers are risking all their money on and how that is squeezing out midlist authors. Questionable business sense like paying $1 million dollar advances to unknown first-time twenty-something authors in hopes that the book will be the next Oprah pick or runaway fad. There's a list at the end of the article about spectacular flops of this type and what they failed to earn for the publisher. Harvard economist Anita Elberse is quoted for a tidbit of a study of Hatchette's 2006 list: Average profits for 61 titles were almost $100,000 each, BUT -- the top seller had $5 million profits, and if you take that one book out of the calculation, the average profits for the other 60 drop to a mere $18,000 per book.
The juiciest part of the article, of course, is the gossip about people in the industry. Do read.