Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Doom and Gloom - And Some Hope

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I know, I know. You're stuffing your fingers in your ears, trying not to hear any more predictions about how poor the holiday season is going to be for booksellers, any more reports of publishing company lack of profits and planned cutbacks and layoffs, any more mention of backlist sales drying up and only the mega-authors selling high in frontlist.

But such is the current reality of the publishing/bookselling industry.

New York Times article: Booksellers and Publishers Nervous as Holiday Season Approaches

Now, most everyone in publishing is bracing for a difficult holiday season while trying to remain optimistic about the enduring allure of books.

And the trend that I, as a reader, do not like at all:
most publishers said they were still aggressively pursuing deals for celebrity books and others with natural best-seller prospects.

[Personal diatribe: In other words, poorly written and rush-edited books from people who have no qualifications for what they write and are of no interest to me. But our celebrity-crazed culture will buy anything from a person who's appeared in People magazine. And so many publishers—this is a business, after all—go with what will bring a big profit, no matter what's between the covers. "Platform" is everything now.]

But then there is acknowledgement that challenging times are also exciting times with opportunity for positive change.
Publishers Weekly article: Reidy: Worse Publishing Environment May Be On the Way

This actually is a positive and encouraging article. I'd like to work for this woman, she understands the realities of the publishing business and sees what the future can be.

Simon & Schuster president/CEO Carolyn Reidy listed critical issues facing publishers:
significant decrease in retail traffic, less consumer purchasing, a gloomy economic forecast, declining backlist sales, brand name authors continuing to sell but everything else is far off normal levels,” and retail partners who demand more favorable terms and concessions “as if we are the answer to their problems”

But she also expressed how crisis can be opportunity for positive change, reminding publishers that industry-changing practices came out of the Great Depression and encouraging them to look for such possibilities now. And yet another voice of sense speaking out about the ridiculous and industry-destructive returns system!
What might evolve, in her opinion is publishers “taking a good hard look at returns causes, effects and practices, and coming up with ways to diminish or eliminate them”

Reidy told Publishers Weekly:
“now we have the chance to actually find the reader where they are spending their time—in front of a screen—and cement a relationship with them through e-mail newsletters, viral marketing, mobile delivery and other tools.” Publishing survives, she noted, because readers have a fundamental need for information, inspiration, and entertainment, “and they get that in a book, directly from an author, in an unfiltered way that they cannot get from any other medium.”

Saying she sees these challenges as opportunities, rather than threats, Reidy urged publishers to do the hard work of making entire catalogues available as e-books for electronic reading devices, to create possibilities for print-on-demand when a title becomes slow selling, to design new work flow and supply chain practice systems, and to delineate new policies to address complicated issues such as international territories, pricing, the security of copyrights and royalty rates for those formats.
Yay, support for ebooks and for POD, which I think are the only way backlist—and possibly debut authors—have a chance to survive. So I'm with Ms. Reidy on this. Yes, the economy is terrible right now and publishing (all parties: publishers, booksellers, authors) is taking a big hit. But that really is temporary; there are more important and long-term changes that must be dealt with for the industry to survive and prosper.


Lorra said...

Yup! Time to hunker down. I can eat all that stuff I never bothered taking out of the basement after the scare in 2,000. Then, if the going really gets tough, I'll break up the furniture and burn it along with all my unpublished manuscripts so I don't freeze to death. Thankfully, even though he's at death's door, poor thing, the dog's still nice and plump. That ought to be good for a week or too when the canned goods run out. (I'd be like that soccer team that got trapped on the mountain after their plane crashed.)

Just kidding!

About the dog, anyway.

Barbara Elsborg said...

Pet peeve from me too about celebrity books. Why would anyone want to read an autobiography of a 21 year old winner of X factor? - I made that up, but I expect it's true or soon will be.
I'm even more incensed about fictional books penned by celebs. Did they get judged on content or by author? I was always tempted to send one of my stories in with a really famous name attached just to see what happened. In fact - wouldn't that make a good book? Publishing the responses of agents and publishers? Probably been done too!

Becky said...

I am sure that things will pick up eventually. In the meantime, it is important for author's to keep going, like Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, who is continuing her quest go get her book published by holding a funeral for her unpublished book.