Friday, October 31, 2008

Publishing's Economy Woes

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The news was not cheery this week in Bookland:

Reader’s Digest is eliminating a third of the positions in its Books Are Fun subsidiary.
McGraw-Hill Companies saw a third-quarter drop in profits of 14%, and cut another 270 jobs.
Random House Doubleday just laid off 16 positions across the board (including several editors).

David Drake of Doubleday Publishing Group: “we, like others in our industry and beyond, face a particularly challenging economic environment."

Amazon sales are still booming, but their growth has slowed a bit, and they’ve lowered their projections for sales increase in fourth quarter 2008.

Last quarter’s revenues at Indigo, Canada’s largest bookseller, fell 1.9%.

Simon&Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said their major accounts [bookstores] report that in-store traffic is down, and that sales of backlist titles have dropped. She is further quoted, “we remain optimistic that books will remain recession-proof, as everyone wants to believe, yet we are very much preparing ourselves for having to face an extremely difficult market."

Several more indie bookstores announced they would close, due to the balance sheet showing more red ink than black.

Yes, it's the economy.

Despite experiences from past economic recessions, despite what the "old timers" in the industry always believed, publishing and bookselling are no longer immune to a bad economy, to consumers who have far less discretionary income to spend. Books have not remained recession-proof.

The old wisdom was that people turned to reading as an inexpensive entertainment and escape from depressing reality, when they could no longer afford pricier pursuits. So book sales continued to do well when the economy was doing the opposite.

Ah, but that was before the present reality of "entertainment" - just pay your monthly cable and internet bills, and you'll have access to a gazillion TV shows and mindboggling worldwide information, entertainment, and social networking on the internet. So if money's tight, people now decide to just stay home with the TV and computer. No need to pull out your wallet to buy books to distract you from the depressing real world news.

So the old wisdom is no longer applicable. Publishing and bookselling are taking a hit just like everything else in this worldwide economic depression. Things are gloomy right now. I hear editors from many publishers sounding depressed, being worried about their jobs, wondering how they can possibly pump up slumping sales, worried about what books to acquire and what to pass on. And this means that publishing companies are focusing even more on needing explosive bestsellers, not wanting to expend much on chancy new authors or midlist - unless that new author seems like they can be the next megahit. Of course, that involves convincing the company to expend massive marketing money to turn that unknown into a chart-topping phenomenon. Which means less marketing budget available to other books. So even solid midlist authors are now worrying about what type of promotional support they'll get from their publisher - or even if they'll get another contract.

Book sales are showing a small decline for almost everyone - although few companies release specific figures. But many authors are commenting on decreased sales royalties, whether they are with the big 5 NY publishers, epublishers, or small print presses. And it seems to affect all genres in the trade, unless you are one of those megasellers (an infinitesimally small percentage of the total of new books released each year). It isn't a big drop yet, but no one's predicting a turnaround anytime soon.

So, in the face of all that doom and gloom, what can you as an author do? Well, authors and publishing industry professionals cannot singlehandedly save the economy. We have to do our best to keep things going and ride it out. What you can do for your career is persevere. Promote yourself and your books as much as you can afford to do. Keep writing, keep submitting. Even if a book doesn't get picked up, hold onto it - eventually the economy will improve, publishers will be contracting more books and filling more release spots, you can try it again. And mainly recognize that it is not your or your publisher's fault, the book business is seeing the same impacts as every other retail business in these hard times.

And maybe go buy of few books yourself.

10 comments:

Emily said...

I don't have cable (but I am an internet junkie). I buy books once in a while, but I'm really frugal and unsupportive by patronizing my local library. To my credit, though, I have a habit of requesting that they use tax-payer money to buy the books that *I* want to read :-)

Jory Strong said...

Depressing! Though I like to think Romance readers (erotic and otherwise)make up a recession-proof subset of buyers and would rather read a book than watch tv or hang out on-line. I know I would, and given a choice between spending $$ on books or something else, even chocolate, I go for books every time.

TJ Michaels said...

As a rabid reader (I practically eat up books) I'm with Jory in that I also spend more time reading than watching TV. But still my book buying habits have changed a bit. I don't buy as many books as I used to and have found myself going back to piles and piles of books I own to re-read something I haven't touched in a long while.

I still buy new books (getting ready to grab one now before I go to the airport) just not as many. And as an independent and self-sufficient single mom of two teens, things may be a bit tight but I still (and will forever) buy my own books and my own everything else.

TJ
www.tjmichaels.com

Ashlyn Chase said...

Emily brought up a good point that a lot of people either don't know or forget. The local library will order any book for you that you'd like to read. Then they have it on their shelves for others to read after that.

Most only require you to fill out a simple request form. Having the ISBN number helps, but title and author's name should do it. If I couldn't afford to buy books, I'd definitely use that option.

My husband an I are fortunate and aren't doing too badly as far as weathering this economy. (His team has said that if he's laid off they'll all quit. LOL) Still, I'm glad I have the e-book option since it saves me money and time on my book shopping.

Adele Dubois said...

It's ironic that my blog post today discusses the power of the word *love* and how love fuels creativity.

Art brings hope to the world. If the artistic community gives up due to economic crisis, the world will become a dreary place, indeed.

Best--Adele Dubois

Raelene said...

I realized I cut way back on my book buying starting a couple of months ago. Other bills have been going up and up, so I have less discretionary funds. Well, since I work for a publishing company, I do get to read any of our books I want. But I read widely, in other genres and from other publishers. Now, before I buy a new print book, I seriously ask myself if I really will or must read that book within the next two months. If not, I'll wait and buy it from the used bookstore at half or less the price. It's that, or buy very few books.

Raelene

Selena Blake said...

I cut out cable so I can buy more books. There are only a handful of shows I'd watch anyway and I can see most of those online if I want. Not that I have a lot of time for TV.

I purchased two shiny new books this weekend. And the bookstore I was in yesterday was pretty busy. I'm a total bookstore addict, I could spend days at a time there. I found a new book I really want. All erotic words. It's in the reference section with the dictionaries. :-)

As I was buying the books I was thinking in the back of my mind, do I really need them? And the answer was yes, I really need them.

Books are reusable. You can read them over and over if you wish.

They provide hours (not minutes) of entertainment.

They're relaxing. They help me decompress.

They're new and an affordable way for my to buy something new to satisfy my craving for "new" stuff.

They remind me to dream big, work hard, not take myself to seriously, and believe. They remind me that what goes around comes around.

And so with that last thought in mind, I picked up that second book and walked to the check out counter...hoping that in the scheme of karma, that second book might somehow equal return sales on my own books. *grin* Or at the very least provide 5 or 6 hours of pure bliss.

charleneteglia said...

We don't have cable. We rarely go out. We have cut corners all over the place, but we still buy books. I will always choose a book over TV for relaxation. And it honestly wouldn't surprise me to see sales of erotic ebooks go up during times like this. You don't even have to spend gas $ to get to the store to hit that download button and buy yourself hours of entertainment that leaves you feeling better.

Becky said...

Tonight as I was going through blogs, I noticed that there were a few author's whose books didn't get published- most likely due to the downturn of the economy. I noticed that there is one author, Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, who is holding a funeral for her book, after several attempts to get her book published.

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