Some of you already got a head start on this question in the comments section of yesterday’s post, but today’s question is a biggie: What should the publishing industry do to weather the downturn?
Moonrat also got a head start, and she lists ideas such as lowering print runs, more online retail, and of course, everyone’s favorite head scratcher: the returns system.
What do you think we should do?
Great series of posts! Thinking about your last blog post kept me thinking all the way through my dreadfully dull docket this morning, my thanks to you and the commentators.
My 2 cents:
1. Leverage the midlist and backlist authors.
Definitely more online retail. Use the massive backlists and midlists to create low cost downloadable ebooks and audio books available directly from the publishers websites. Not megabuck CD audio releases like the $80 Harry Potter audios, but affordable [ie – in the $5 range] downloads. The only upfront costs are the audio production and then it goes on the website forever.
I have favorite books from 30 years ago that I would buy again in audio form and have the technology to download myself. Also a great way to introduce new talent.
As for ebooks, look at the model in use by Netflix. They have brought out a good portion of their gargantuan backlist as ‘instant watch.’ If you are a subscriber, you can watch episodes online. I, for one, would pay a small subscription fee for be able to access ebooks on-line. I don’t mind reading off the computer if it is well formatted.
2. Did I mention online retail? Many publishers actually have fairly pathetic websites. These sites need to be leveraged to bring in readers. Sample chapters, coupons, downloads, etc.
3. As for clinging to the blockbuster model. Look around . . . I have one thing to say . . . SUVs.
The race goes to the swift and adaptable, not to the big glossy dinosaurs. Use this time to become diversified and adaptable so when the blockbuster breathes its last, the publisher will have a varied portfolio to fall back on.
4. Lower the cost of e-readers. I am prime for a Kindle, but just can’t afford it. I will have to wait for version 2.0 and then score one used.
Just my two cents worth . . . now I gotta get to work!
Advertise. Seriously. Do you ever see a bookstore advertise on TV? Christmas is coming up. Get those ads out there! Publishers could advertise too, of course. Put out TV ads with their ‘big’ names along with a couple they figure are going to break through.
If people who don’t regularly buy books aren’t thinking of buying books, well then, they aren’t going to buy them, are they? Get them thinking about it. That’s the first step.
How about some of these best-selling writers taking on more of the publishing risk? Big movie stars often forego a big salary for a cut of the movie's profits. One way to reduce costs, perhaps is for those mega-authors to be on the same side as the publishers–they take less advances for a larger percentage of sales…if their book sells well, they share the wealth…if it doesn't…the publisher doesn't take a bath…some thing with some of these big bets the publishers make with huge advances for books that disappoint: i.e. The Gargoyle. Seems to me profit-sharing is one way to go at the publisher/author level. That's one. Another is innovative marketing. Discounts on volume purchases: i.e. buy one author's book from this publisher and get the second book by that author/publisher at a discount.
Offer bookstores a choice of how they handle books they order: take these books as non-returnable and give them a higher percentage payout. Returnables pay less to the stores. This will incentivize (if that's a word) the bookstores to order more carefully while affording them the opportunity to maximize their take on a book's sale.
Embraced the new technologies more quickly. Seems to me that books online are going to be the future. I like to hold a book, but the kids today are just as comfortable as reading online. Bookstore chains like B&N and Borders may be the casualties here. Then you may see small speciality 'antique' bookstores surviving and thriving for those who want to read the 'old' style books that are no longer printed. Click and print is likely to grow. Just a few quick thoughts. Maybe not worth a flip, but there they are.
As a consumer, I feel I have to do a lot of work to find out about good books.
They should fix that. Then I’d buy more books.
I’m enjoying this discussion – it’s really interesting to hear everyone’s ideas.
In yesterday’s post someone mentioned focus groups. I really agree with that idea. I think the industry needs more feedback from readers. Not thoroughly testing a product prior to release is a little like driving with blinders on. You can get all kinds of information about demographics, which can help you target specific audiences.
I would combine that with marketing, which really is the key to selling. Right now, it seems like name recognition guides marketing, but that’s a very limited approach. If a focus group responds very positively to a piece of writing, market the bejus out of it, even if it’s by a little known author – but market it in the right markets. That’s my two cents.
Deaf Brown Trash Punk says
keep advertising, keep selling more books and make it cheaper.
I’m not the most knowledgeable about publishing/distributing, but how much advertising is spent on already well-known authors? Because if the answer is ‘lots’, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Nearly all the women in my family are rabid Nora Roberts fans; they do not need a huge display at Borders saying her latest book’s out. Trust me, they already know. What seems like a better idea is to sink some of that money into a less-known author, put him/her in the display. Then mom may pass said by, think ‘mmm, interesting’, and pick it up as she enters the shelves for Roberts. Two books sold, bam.
Ditto on series books. When Goodkind’s “Confessor” came out I saw advertising everywhere. I’m sure that people who read the first nine books are already checking the web for release dates. Or, a simple sign will do. You’re not going to get a lot of NEW readers picking up a TENTH book with a shiny display.
Of course, that’s a bunch of assumptions on my part. I don’t really know advertising budgets for said books…I just know what I see in bookstores.
Zoe Winters says
haha, yeah, sorry about that. The way your last post was worded just lended itself to response in the “you tell me” department.
Major publishers need to say no to bookstore returns. If they all do it, bookstores can’t do crap about it. It takes some of the financial pressure off of publishers, and allows books that do get bought by bookstores to have more of a chance, since they can’t just pack them up and return them.
Publishers need to seriously embrace ebooks, more than they have. Also $9.99 for a fiction Kindle book is insane. Ebooks should cost much less than dead tree books. If it’s more than a mass market paperback, it’s epic fail. Unless it’s nonfiction offering specialized information.
I also agree with more online retail. Though I think Amazon will abuse people if it has all the power. Other online bookstores exist.
Use print-on-demand technology as a test marketing tool. Publishers don’t know if a book will take off? If they’re printing in trade paperback, just use POS with Lightning Source. You can still sell to bookstores through Ingram. And you can test market. THEN if sales warrant it, go to print runs.
Go after authors with a platform. Fiction too. We can give out free ebooks and podcasts. That builds audience. These are already people who like the work.
Agents and publishers shouldn’t get so intense about getting their hands on every single thing an author writes. Because freebies build platform. And that ultimately helps the publisher, IMO.
Zoe Winters says
*POD not POS,
wow that was a freudian slip. LSI doesn’t produce POS. In fact, most major publishers are using them for at least a portion of their backlist.
I don’t agree with Moonrat when she says that book prices should increase.
I’d buy tons more books if the prices were lower. Twenty-five dollars for an adult hardcover is a lot of money if you don’t know if you’ll like the book or author. Likewise 16-17 dollars is a lot to pay for a YA. The cost of a book is what drives people to the library to begin with, raising prices will encourage consumers to buy fewer books, not more.
Despite cost, though, I think marketing has so much more to do with a book’s success than anything else (including the actual writing).
Instead of having that one “big book” each season from each publisher, why not spread that marketing around to five, ten? Honestly, if I see a YA on a shelf I think I might want, I have to grab it, because I’ll usually never see it again — it’ll be sent back to the publisher to make way for the next lead title. Meanwhile, a few select authors who already have huge name recognition get the majority of publicity.
Absolutely the price of books is too high. Publish more in paperback and keep the price lower. $15 for an adult PB? Come on. If books were $10 or less, then you’d have a lot more buyers.
(Anon 10:26 beat me to it!)
I’d try having more widespread marketing for lots of books rather than a select few. I’d also like for “new” authors, or authors that are not yet established to come out in paperback not hardcover.
Spending ten bucks (YA) or fifteen dollars (adult) on a paperback that also has some publicity would incite sales, in my opinion.
You can’t gain readership if no one wants to take a risk paying 25 dollars on an author and book they’ve never heard of.
Marilyn Peake says
My understanding is that the big publishing houses are making a profit, even in this time of financial struggle. I think that the publishing industry should find ways to cut back on areas of wasteful spending, but continue to carry on with the business of publishing. I think, as we enter this new millennium, we’re going to be forced to take a cold, hard look at how businesses are currently run. There used to many smaller businesses and tighter anti-trust regulations, and businesses still made millions of dollars. In recent years, a business has been considered failing and stock prices have fallen if a company doesn’t increase its profit each and every quarter. The problem with that approach in today’s world is that companies making hundreds of billions of dollars each year are still expected to increase profit every quarter, so they end up buying and trading companies like kids trade baseball cards. Two problems with that: 1.) All types of products, including books, are produced by only a handful of conglomerates and 2.) If that sector of the economy fails, consumers are forced to bail out the companies so that the worldwide economy doesn’t fall into an abyss. Here’s "A Who Owns Whom Guide to the Book Publishing Industry" compiled by a Sociology Professor:
And here’s information about Bertelsmann which now owns many of the large publishing houses:
For the first nine months of 2008, Bertelsmann tripled its net profits to $493 million. I don’t think they’re in trouble in a way that most of us consider "financial trouble". Borders may fail, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Can the publishing industry really not survive losing Borders? On the other hand, Barnes & Noble is considering buying Borders which would consolidate the major bookstore chains even further.
Personally, I think there will be broad and sweeping changes in the global economy in this new millennium, and those businesses that fail will look at the innovators that succeed and think, "Geez, why didn’t I think of that?"
I am not so sure about the no returns policy. My publisher here in South Africa distributes books to the bookshops on a consignment basis – and this seems to work much, much better than the alternative where a bookseller will grudgingly order one or two copies and the book will never be visible or available, and there’s no point in marketing it aggressively because two books don’t make a very big display! The books published by my publisher are far more visible than those ordered on a “no returns” basis.
Another interesting fact – books that are signed cannot be returned because they are regarded as damaged goods – so a hot tip to a new author is to sign as many books as possible in as many different bookshops as you can. If they’re on consignment, then once they’re signed, they’re sold!
I think that the book industry does need to promote itself more aggressively from grass roots upwards. It needs to regard itself as a fierce competitor to other industries – computer games, for instance. I’m sure that if enough marketing brains got together they’d be able to think up a host of effective ways to promote reading as a leisure pursuit and get more people discovering, or rediscovering books.
I would have to agree with some of the points already posted here:
1. Update the return system (the way it is, it doesn’t make any sense)
2. Use POD better.
3. Rethink advertising plans ( like Anon 10:22 said “Meanwhile, a few select authors who already have huge name recognition get the majority of publicity.” Why would an established bestselling author need a display table, when his fans will seek him out no matter if his books were in the far corner in the basement of the bookstore.
Okay, lots of people are writing about the need to give e-books and new authors a chance. What about new authors or unpublished authors (whatever you want to call them) getting a chance to preview their first few chapters of a work on ‘Company X’s’ New Authors Forum page. Based on clicks or comments or something, ‘Company X’ could choose to put the rest of the manuscript out- like itunes sampling then purchasing-for a certain price per book/download. Then, if that is going well, POD or a limited printing of that book would be available for those who like real copies vs. e-formats (perhaps a discount if you bought the e-book). More new authors would be able to break out with less gamble on the part of publishers, agents, book stores etc. I might be missing something big, if so, sorry!
I find the trend toward only publishing blockbusters very disappointing, but also very risky. Investing big money into a book that could very easily sell poorly does not make sense, especially in the market now. Investing modest money into many books with smaller initial printings would be much safer. And you never know when one of those small books could take off and be a smash hit like The Kite Runner.
Like others already stated, I think that POD could be a solution to many problems. Not only as a test marketing tool, as Zoe suggested, but also as a way to curb costs like distribution, warehouses and other logistics, as well as the costs of returns for books that aren’t selling.
In the long run, I believe POD would also allow for lower prices, which would increase sales. I buy less books than I want, because they’re pricey.
Been thinking about this since yesterday’s post.
One alternative model suggested itself, sort of a combined “bookstore business as usual” and POD approach. Bookstores would have (a) ONE copy of each of a gazillion books, or just a zillion or so plus terminals to place online orders on the rest of the gazillion, and (b) gonzo technofied and cross-referenced search capabilities, including, like, Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature.
You’d go into the bookstore, find a book you think you’d like and maybe sit down in the coffee-bar area to look it over.
Want the book? No prob. Just drop off the specs at any of our dozen order stations around the store.
Come back tomorrow or next week, or watch your mail. There’s your book. (Special rush orders available for a premium.)
Sort of on the order of those “Things Remembered” gift shops in a lot of malls, but with way bigger (because virtual) inventory.
Madame Lefty says
As much as I'm not a fan of Ebooks, I do see the amount of people flocking towards it because of Kindle and other devices. It's something that should be looked into.
I think the online advice is fairly solid.
However, I agree with those who mentioned that the major advertising on the big Stars is a bit silly at times. Everyone knew when Breaking Dawn was coming out. There really wasn't a need to have that much of an elaborate promotion.
One anonymous poster said s/he feels that it's difficult to find new good authors.
Everyone knows the Nora Roberts, Stephenie Meyers, and Stephen Kings. There fans will gobble their books up regardless.
Whereas other lesser known authors, consumers are left on their own.
I like for instance how Target has the Target book club pick, or whatever it's called. It calls attention to books you may or may not have heard of. I think if more publishing companies or even retail stores such as Barnes & Noble did a little more of that, perhaps book sales would go up.
I for one love it when B&N has a display table full of books on a particular subject and the like. It brings to light new authors for consumers to devour.
Plus you can't underestimate the powers of people such as Moonrat and Book Club Girl. People want a solid opinion, so if they can't get it in advertising they'll go online to find it.
Very bright people read this blog. I sincerely hope that that someone from the publishing industry reads these suggestions. Let me amend that to someone that has power to make changes.
so many great ideas!
I particularly agree with those who said that some of the ad money for the 3rd, 6th, 10th in a series could be spread out for those that are new. A perfunctory sign giving the release dates is enough for me because I’m already looking for when the new one is coming and checking online, etc. I think the same is true for most series readers as well as fans of particular authors.
As soon as my favorite authors come out with something new, I go get it. I don’t need advertising. I just need to see it in the store. (although I must say that online release info is very helpful to know when to go looking in the store.)
Outside of releasing EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING I LEARNED FROM SPORTS as soon as possible, I think the best way to solve the book down turn is simple: get people reading.
Sure, make information about good books more available – but also encourage the ‘fringe’ audience to read them too. I don’t necessarily think the blockbuster mold will fold – it just needs to be more inclusive.
As they say in one of the best sports movies of all time, ‘if you build it, they will come.’
I already answered, so I’ll go as Anon so people don’t get sick of me.
Why can’t publishers send through email (so they don’t have to pay for postage) a list of their new titles coming out? Similar to a book catalogue that they give to booksellers?
Every week I get a Borders coupon in my email — to click on you also get to see the week’s lead titles — why can’t publishers do the same, for each of that week’s books getting released? Show the cover, give the back of book summary, list the price.
You could sign up for YA selections or Romance or Thriller, whatever you’re into. It could be done by individual publishers — so that imprints of Penguin (Dutton, Penguin, Razorbill, ect) are all together. Or it could be done in conjunction with other publishers as well?
Being aware that a non-lead title EXISTS is half the battle to getting sales. How can you buy a non-lead title when you don’t know it exists?
Furious D says
1. Improve advertising. Only people who pay attention to the “Books” section in their newspapers know when anyone outside of James Patterson is coming out with a book. The problem is that newspapers are dropping their “Books” sections. And they don’t have to have 1 commercial per book, but have commercials of packages of authors. 2-3 thrillers, or 2-3 sci-fi, in an ad.
2. Reduce advances and improve profit share for top-list authors. If the authors write bestsellers they shouldn’t need huge advances.
3. Look for ways to use technology to make production cheaper. There has to be a better way to manufacture the books to make them more cost effective.
4. Use POD technology to promote the mid-list through e-sales.
5. try out a line of affordable paperbacks aimed at the youth market. The best way to market them, get someone to try to get them banned. All the kids will want them. 😉
Those are just what I got off the top of my head.
Ryan Field says
I think they should focus more on e-publishing.
Nathan Bransford says
One thing to keep in mind about pricing — production costs are only going up. What a lot of people are asking publishers to do is to cut prices at a time when costs are rising — that’s not an easy way to expand your margins.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to e-books in the same way, which is why I think you’ll see a whole lot of consumers continue to make the switch. There are some production costs associated with e-books, but not nearly as much as with a printed book.
I’ll agree with the people saying e-books and POD, for mostly similar reasons.
I also think that publishers sending lists of new books to interested parties by email could be a way to increase publicity for very low incremental costs – setting up a mailing list isn’t hard. An option for that would be to allow people to sign up for new genre releases by genre or all new releases.
Personally, I prefer the lazy way of getting information – my RSS feed, my inbox – rather than adding another dozen pages to my list of pages to check daily. I don’t doubt there are more people out there like me.
Embrace the new technology. Don’t fear it.
Marilynn Byerly says
Publishers have failed to look toward the future of book distribution which is ebooks.
Like it or not, ebooks are the future. They are simply too efficient a delivery system, and with the price of paper and transportation skyrocketing as well as the slow death of the bookstore industry, they will soon be the only way many books will reach readers’ hands.
Already, they are the growth industry within publishing. In September according to the AAP, they rose 77.8% in sales. To see the kind of growth ebooks are experiencing, go to the International Digital Publishing Forum ( idpf.org) and click on the industry statistics.
The publishers need to rethink their distribution deals with ebook providers, particularly Amazon which demands 66% of the cover price. This is utterly ridiculous since this covers computer storage and automated sales, not warehouses, human labor, and shipping.
Agents and authors with clout need to fight back against the 15% ebook royalty which in an insult, particularly for books that are going into paper where a vast majority of the book costs — acquisition, editing, and cover — are factored into the book’s costs. If authors can’t make a living in the system, the system will fail.
Ebooks may also be the solution to the shrinking midlist. The surviving bookstores and box stores are increasingly focusing on the bestsellers and list leaders, and the midlist has very few sales outlets.
The midlist is where the new authors and the next superstars come from so the publishers simply can’t abandon it. They should move many of these books into ebooks or use the small ebook publishers as a farm system similar to what professional baseball teams use. This method has already been used by wily romance editors when they saw the immense success of erotica.
I cover this topic as well as the POD situation in more detail and give an overview of the current state of publishing in an article available on my website, marilynnbyerly.com . Click on the short story and article icon to find it.
Amazon is in the process of trying to take over the POD market. Currently, they are only going after the small publishers, but, as its history shows, the major publishers will be next.
Right now, a few small publishers are fighting back with lawsuits, but the conglomerates are ignoring the situation. They are fools not to become involved.
Sure, Amazon is only a small percentage of the POD market right now, but with bookstores disappearing, Amazon is setting itself up to be the major player in this form of distribution, as well.
The conglomerates need to move their offices out of NYC to cut costs. Baen Books moved to Wake Forest, NC, a tiny town outside of Raleigh, and they are doing just fine courtesy of the Internet, etc.
The money saved should be invested in better pay for editors and for reinvigorating the midlist to find new talent.
Be willing to take on brand new clients. They don’t cost as much to pay as the Tom Clanceys and Nora Roberts’ of the world and may turn up a lot more money for the publisher.
Marilynn Byerly says
Selling from publisher websites doesn’t work. Small publishers and epublishers have been fighting this problem for years and have lost. People want one stop shopping so they go to Amazon or Fictionwise even if the book costs less at the publisher site.
According to my publisher friends, for every book sold on their site, they sell over a thousand on the big sites. My own royalties tell the same story.
Big publishers also don’t want to antagonize their selling partners by competing against them.
Zoe Winters says
I agree with Marilynn on the Amazon issue. This should be number one priority. Kindle royalty rates are insane. There needs to be either another strong e-reader contender (Like the Sony E-reader) and an equally good distribution channel, to keep Amazon from gouging publishers on Kindle. (I mean who are they kidding with this, “we take 35% on ebooks” business?)
Or… publishers need to start fighting it. Big publishers. Because Marilynn is right, Amazon will only steadily increase who they’re coming after.
Also, Amazon’s POD policies will blow up in their face. Booksurge and CreateSpace do not create products as high quality as Lightning Source. If the public is expected to accept POD technology than there are big quality concerns and so far LSI is leading the race.
Part of why Amazon hasn’t yet been able to shut out LSI is because major publishers do use them for backlist. But it’s only a matter of time if Amazon isn’t cracked down on like yesterday.
I agree with those who've said that the way books are advertised leaves huge room for improvement. There are so many avenues that just aren't used: for example, S&S owns the YA paperback imprint "MTV Books." Do the books in that line ever get a mention on MTV? Nope. The one that DID get promotion on MTV, Stephen Chbosky's THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, is still in print and has continued to sell well for eight years. Word-of-mouth has done a lot for that particular book, but I'm sure S&S / MTV Books could have racked up some similar hits with a little bit of TV promotion.
I know a lot of people who would buy more books if only they could find out about new books and new authors without doing loads of Internet research. The problem with only having a few new books making it past the fabled "tipping point" every year is that those are the books that get recommended over and over from one 5-books-per-year reader to another. So you wind up with one big new memoir bestseller, one big new pop nonfiction bestseller, one big new fiction bestseller, and one big new children's or YA bestseller every year or so. And then people like me go crazy because they can't turn a corner without having one of their female friends recommend EAT PRAY LOVE to them. Gah! Make it stop!
There's got to be a way to get more new books into the general public's consciousness. Savvier TV and magazine advertising seems like a good idea to me.
A lot of great idea’s viewed here. The only one I remember (after reading all of these) that I had difference’s on was with JES’s, the in store ordering system (if a book is not in inventory, i.e. the returns issue). I personally, as a consumer, want my item then and there. I don’t want to have to drive back up to the book store (especially when BN isn’t nearby), spending gas, to pick it up. I’d rather it be there the day I go to the store. Just my two cents though. Unless they’re willing to ship it to me free 😀
As for the marketing and advertising aspect of publishing, some people had it head on. As a consumer, I know NOTHING about the book world unless I do some work and searching on what is coming out, etc. Consumers don’t want to work to find what book they should buy next or what is coming out soon they might be interested in. If anything, publisher’s have ignored a big issue that could really help them. Someone mentioned a newsletter, or something that updated you if you subscribed on what books would be coming out that month, etc. Someone else mentioned TV ads (while not cheap, may be something to consider during the holiday season). I definitely agree someone somewhere needs to put this idea in movement and realize that they can grab so much more book readers by the collar to go buy books if they are visually given a chance to know what is available without having to take the time to look.
The only one I remember (after reading all of these) that I had difference’s on was with JES’s, the in store ordering system (if a book is not in inventory, i.e. the returns issue). I personally, as a consumer, want my item then and there. I don’t want to have to drive back up to the book store
That struck me, too, christacarol. There’s already an answer to this:
The Espresso Book Machine
Kiosk book buying at B&N. Or Wal-Mart. Can you imagine?
I blogged about that here.
As with any retail model, it all comes down to one of two things: increase flowthrough, or decrease overhead.
The concensus seems to be that the returns policy is the largest and stupidest contributor to overhead. It may benefit the customer, in the sense that bookstores may order a wider variety of books than they would otherwise, but I don’t think it helps much, really. It sure doesn’t help the publisher. It’s a wonderful thing for the seller, but even they have to get annoyed by the inventory/accounting complexities.
Increasing flowthrough is a marketing thing: advertising, promotions… really raising awareness of brand among consumers in such a way that they cannot NOT buy. Unfortunately, traditional marketing takes money and doesn’t always have measurable returns. Marketers have to know their audience, reach their audience and entice their audience… which isn’t easy even in good times.
Of course, publishing could just die. Then no one would feel guilty about not reading more because there would be nothing more to read. Writers would not dream of big advances because there would be no advances. We’d become eccentric hacks writing snarky comments on blogs for nothing more than the joy of provoking a response and…
I think I’ll stop now.
Widen the net to catch what gets squeezed out of people while there’s nothing much good to say and no-one can stop themselves from saying it.
Alternatively — free cuddly toys.
More importantly — not flinch.
Heather Zundel says
The whole structure of publishing needs to change, not just one thing or another. The current returning policy publishers have with bookstores is terrible. Returning the books and able to get a full refund? Moonrat covers this topic a whole lot better than me.
And I am a big fan of the tangible, hold-it-in-your-hands books, but something seriously has to change (this is in direct conjunction with the above paragraph). I can foresee a legitimate “print on demand” model really working for publishers. With technology now, it is next to nothing to store information digitally. Books could be saved electronically on file on servers, and on back-up servers on back-up servers to insure all possibility of loss. And then, whenever someone wishes for a book, they can order it electronically (which the majority of us do already anyway), the order can be received and processed, sent with ease to a printing house electronically, printed and shipped directly to your door. Publishers may even look into models of offering this service directly. Now, no cost of shipping, no need for returns because it is there is only what it is needed, no storing costs, etc. Or a very similar model could be based off the “Threadless Model” – where people vote on a t-shirt design and then it is printed in a limited quantity, then if it runs out, people can vote again, and once enough votes are accrued, there is another printing run.
Then more money is directly retained by publishers. The problem is what indie music artists face – breaking out from the crowd. The extra money could be put into promoting more unkown authors (something all of us on this blog would enjoy) but we would have to get in the game a lot more ourselves to stand out. More authors could be accepted for publication. Everyone wins. We just need to figure out how bookstores would play a role in it, because I am still a big advocate for them. It is an evolving market. It’s possible, and this is a model that could work.
Vancouver Dame says
Tough question. I've worked in the communications business (local & wireless) which went through several upheavals when cellular phone technology hit the field. In order to survive, companies will usually downsize in whatever area is not achieving an acceptable return, and consolidate where possible. The guy at the bottom is the guy who stands to lose the most (last in – first out) which means new writers have to try even harder).
I agree with those who have cited – publishers need to advertise differently – reassess the market and whether consumers will want to pay the big buck prices on the bestsellers, and major existing authors. When new authors are published, an incentive to consumers would be to offer these books at a cheaper rate than the established authors. That could be offset by taking the suggestion of having the author and publisher share the profit or loss of one of the 'expected' blockbuster books. I wonder what the established writers would think of this change? There are some excellent suggestions in all the comments, but the bottom line ($$) will always impact the final decisions. In summary, the publishing business should perhaps revamp itself by listening to some of the consumers. Sometimes the business gets too big and forgets what fuel is feeding the fire that keeps it running.
C.D. Reimer says
Seems like bookstores can return books that they don’t sell. I’m curious where they find books for the remainder pile — last year’s Stephen King hardback for $5.99! — and bargain books. If these books are not selling, why are they still in the bookstore?
Someone in the past thread (Mark Terry?) mentioned publishers branding themselves. This is a very smart idea. Every book is different, but surely a publisher could come up with enough subdivisions to make their product consistent. It would be much like the way TV networks or the comics publishers brand themselves. So far, the only book publisher who comes to mind who’s taken advantage of this is Harlequin.
Here are the facts and factors as I see them:
1. You can’t raise prices because the readers will turn to used book sellers. Why pay $15 when you can get the same book a month later on ebay for 75 cents?
2. The return system is ridiculous. This is retail. No more returns from book stores. I’m not sure who is to blame for this, the publishing house or the seller, but the sellers need to get a quick course on how to run a retail business and start selling books.
3. Update websites. Every author should have one. Every publishing house should have one. Every website should shunt the reader to a place to buy the books.
4. Advertising. If I have to listen to a holiday jingle about shoes on the radio I should hear one about the sale Barnes and Noble is having.
5. Publishing House coupons. I don’t think it’s been tried. But how about $1 off two if you buy from Tor or the Penguin group?
6. The publishing houses and sellers need to stop acting like the only people responsible for sales are great authors and discerning readers. From the model described publishing houses do nothing but make contacts. That’s big, I’ll grant you, but the publishing industry can’t survive if the powers that be keep acting like their hands are tied. Instead of making a brand around one or two major authors (like Nora Roberts), how about making a brand around the publishing house.
My shelf has about 5 major publishing house names on it, with a sprinkling of other books. I check new books to see who published it and when because I know the editors at those houses consistently buy books I like. Tor is already starting this, they have a blog and a good website with free stuff (including online e-books). The others need to jump in with this.
7. Make alternative versions to dead-tree books feasible and affordable. Nope, I don’t have a kindle. I like paper and money is tight. But if Kindle were cheap and I could easily download books, I would. If I could find cheap audio books, I’d download those. But money is TIGHT, that’s kind of the meaning of recession, and I won’t spend over $5 on a book. Even the audio version.
8. Diversify. Lately the houses have been pushing blockbusters and big names. Well, we’re sick of it. Like the song that won’t stop playing I go to the store and scream, “Not another vampire love story! Not another tween fantasy! Make it stop!” I know what I like, and I know I haven’t found a new author I love in almost a year. I’m going to try Lisa Shearin next, I’ve heard wonderful things about her, but if Magic Lost, Trouble Found doesn’t pan out I’m going to bite the bullet and wait for the next Jack Campbell book.
9. Make the books available. I think this is the biggest problem for sellers and publishing houses. They invest in the wrong things. Six major titles go out, they get premium shelf space, and the book store has 3 million copies. But they don’t have a copy of book 1 of another series that catches me eye while I’m there. So, yes, I buy the popular title (maybe) but I don’t buy the three other books that caught my eye because I want to start the series at the beginning.
And by the time I get home I’ve talked myself into waiting for the next time I go to the store. By which point I’ve forgotten that title ever captured my attention.
Impulse buys are a major cash contributor to the coffers. Make the books available. Stock the full series. Hide the big names in with other really cool titles.
Shannon Ryan says
I think Seth Godin nailed this in his article linked from Nathan’s November 7 entry.
sex scenes at starbucks says
I've thought a lot about cross advertising/marketing. Kiddos who like video games or Dungeons and Dragons would read books with similar story lines–high action, intense plotting. The show TrueBlood has surely increased Harris' book sales–the show is like one long commercial! (I'm in spec fic, have met her agent, and I'd never heard of her books before the show, for instance. I love the show and have since bought two of her books.)
Additionally, cross market with other media like music. It's just market research; it's not brain surgery. Other industries do it with great success. One of the failings of the publishing industry is to think we're "special" and "different" in some way. Other artistic endeavors sell well–with proper market research.
I think the midlist is sorely neglected as a money-making machine. Advertising doesn't have to be in the New Yorker or Times. Use Google-ads for Pete's sake! I agree with those in the thread who say it's tough to find those midlist authors, what with no advertising and Big Bright Displays for Nora and Stephen in the freaking way all the time.
So, my solution–for the bookstore: more specific blue signs at B&N, etc. Not just "Fantasy /Sci Fi. How about Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Vampires, Historical Romance, Space Opera, etc, (incidentally, the same labels we use in our queries, which somehow never make it to the bookstores) to let one book sell another.
I currently have to look through hundreds of sci-fi books to find, say, an epic fantasy. As a customer, I don't have all day, but most times I walk out of the bookstore with about four more books than I intended on buying. I can't be the only one. Find ways to capitalize on that. And if a book is cross-genre, then put it under two blue signs, or even three.
I don't know that I have an opinion on returns, but I know in the design industry, where I worked for many years, returns came at a price–20-40%. It's called a restocking fee. It may be time for restocking fees in the publishing industry.
A really good question.
I’d suggest less hardcover releases and more paperbacks. I’ve actually been reading a lot more books lately (and writing, doing lots of writing) because I’m out of work and it gets depressing. But $20 for a book is usually too much.
For the most part, I’ve been picking up paperbacks that were originally released as hardcover but are now cheap enough to afford.
Yes, my meager food money is being used for books. Sometimes you need to feed your mind too.
Social Media, involving:
1) Book fans who just like reviewing and chatting
2) Wannabee writers who would salivate over contests,
3) Casual book readers drawn in through Twitter, etc
4) The kitchen sink.
In short, they have to stop being victimized by trends and effin’ RIDE them. The brevity of writing on the ‘net is not a threat to longer works, it BEGS for them. Bring them together.
First…All of us book lovers out there have to pass that love on. Hit the young crowd, people. If you’ve got kids and/or grandkids, turn them on to the power of books. Start a book club with them or at your local library, send every parent you know a list of fabulous family read-a-louds, make sure the schools in your ‘hood are participating in Battle of the Books. Make reading cool…because it is.
Second…the publishing industry needs to go after the youngsters with the same sort of drive. And I say, “Push the Kindle on them early.” My tweenager would never consider writing a book with pencil and paper, and though she loves the feel of a book in her hands (who doesn’t?!), I know she and other kids will adapt to the technology of reading faster than the rest of us—just like they have to the technology of writing.
Nathan, you’re awesome!
A lot of great info and ideas here. I like the idea that we’re getting to a point where you can:
1) Go to Amazon or whatever.com and read the first few chapters.
2) Make a choice: Pass, Download, Or order hardcopy (Maybe even get a special price if you buy digital and hard copy)
3) enjoy the satisfaction of hassle-free and risk-free book buying
It almost seems like we need a big company to specialize at this. The “publisher of the future.” I don’t like having to dig through 10 pages of garbage links in order to find the book I searched for at Amazon. A books-only company could make the book buying experience very satisfying.
Also, said company could have Bookstores on the street with POD machines. They’d have the big-name guys on the shelves, but you could also browse the library, order a copy, and five minutes later you have a book with pages still warm from the press. A hot, fresh latte and a hot, fresh book.
Please tell me this is coming soon!
They could also take on lots of new authors, because the risk is minimal. Granted they would probably have to hire editors to dig through the slush faster, but anything that’s readable could be bought on a per-sale contract. And some of it would take off.
Why aren’t the people who work in bookstores better sales people. Believe me, I like the no hassle approach. Half the reason I go in is to relax. But if I were working there, I would have a personal list of books that I think people would like depending on what they’re looking for, or what they have in their hand.
If bookstore employees posted their personal lists, or there were lists from authors/customers/barristas, you might create a tone of “unearthed gems” that would entice browsers.
Newsletters are another way to get the goods out, but they need to come from reputable sources. A monthly newsletter that stores could subscribe to could both train employees and do the work for them.
The tactic of just putting books on shelves doesn’t sell. I know they group like-for-like on occasion, but if retailers put more concerted effort into spreading the love for more authors, they might sell that blockbuster and a lesser-known author. Two-for-one helps everyone.
How about the return of the dime novel? Only, I’m not talking about real dimes, more like two or three dollars.
The model I like to think about is those wonderful German Reklam books–slim, cheaply produced, generic-looking books that sell for very low prices. In germany, the Reklam books are mostly PD classics. But there’s no reason why they couldn’t be backlist or midlist books, or even authors who specifically write cheapies, like they used to.
OK, maybe those cheapies wouldn’t be great lit, but they’d keep people reading at a time when it’s hard to justify paying full price for a book. And, as happened with the dime novels in the old days, there’d be a few breakout authors who transcend the category.
Cheapies have one undeniable affect on buyers: it’s hard to buy just one. I know that in Germany I’d go to buy a couple and come out with a bag full. OK, part of that is because it’s not easy to find German books out here where I live, but it’s also because I figured they were cheap and took barely any shelf space.
I don’t care that they are kind of ugly. They’re readable and fit easily in a pocket.