Friday, November 7, 2008

An editor discusses "What went wrong with publishing in October?"

Secret Editor Moonratty writes a thoughtful and informative essay about what exactly went wrong in book publishing last month, and why you should care.

Bascially it boils down to this: In order for a big box retailer to be able to purchase the heavily-hyped Fall 2008 titles - the titles whose sales will make up the bulk of their income for the year, by the way, thanks to good old-fashioned holiday consumerism - they must come up with cash by returning pretty much everything they bought in Spring and Summer 2008. Which means that publishers must eat those books. Which means layoffs and other Really Bad Things.

An excerpt:
In October, bookstores returned so many books that most publishing companies had more coming into them than going out of them. For some companies, the incoming number was more than several months' outgoing.

Although bookstores are suffering (and how), it was the publishing houses that had to absorb the cost of this cash flow creator. This is why Impetus, a relatively new indie company without the history to survive this shock, folded. Some houses lost so much money in returns in October that profits from the entire rest of 2008 have been negated. Can you imagine? Losing enough in a month to destroy your entire year? (Keep in mind that publishing is a very low profit margin enterprise in the first place; now see how if one month involves more outgoing than incoming money you can easily undo the good of an entire year or more.)

Now you can see the ripples that are happening, the layoffs, the dwindling advances, the precautions about acquiring anything in this climate. If publishing companies are shelling out money to publish books that bookstores only bother to stock for a minute and a half, we are all going to hemorrhage money until there is nothing left standing.

This would be a bad situation for more than the sake of my job or your future novel. It's about a lot of things--education, hampered information dissemination, conglomerations swallowing mass media, censorship. Whatever. I could extenuate, but I'll spare you. The point is, when you have a problem, the best thing to do is try to solve it.

For anyone who cares about the book publishing industry and wants to do their part, there's one simple action step:

Buy a book this weekend.
Great advice. Now go read Moonratty's entire post!


Jeff said...

Maybe this will encourage them to look at new ways of publishing and distributing books, investing in new technologies that allow book vendors to print and bind books on site from an electronic catalog, thus reducing the need for returns as well as inventory, not to mention improving profits by getting rid of the distributor altogether.

But that's just crazy.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I bought eight books from an indy seller at a con last weekend. I've never been so glad to hand over 75 bucks in my life. (Many of them were friends' books, too, even sweeter.)

Nathan said...

There are a few books on my "must read" list right now. I'll buy one or two of them today.

Interesting post. I had no idea.

BTW, my 'captcha' is brosses. I'll take this as meaning a relative who gets to boss me around.

Heidi the Hick said...

uhm, yeah. This would go a long way to explaining why of those 67 queries I sent in October, only 19 have replied. The collective breath holding and all that.

I have been buying books, as often as possible from my favourite independent bookstore. I tell my kids that books are not a waste of money. It hurts a little to shell out, but it's not a purchase that gets consumed. Once it's been read, it's still good. It can be re-used! Plus I hope to be adding to the karma bank... that someday a person I don't know will be willing to spend the cash on my book.

Thanks for the explanation, seriously. I was starting to think it was just that my query really sucked...

Kalika said...

I will no longer buy new books. I'm sick of hearing about how the publishing industry likes to wastes tons and tons of books every year, working on a ridiculous system nobody else would ever use. And your solution is that us, the consumers, should pay for your utterly flawed system so you can continue doing it? No environment conscious person would support this. Most the friends I tell about it are horrified. I don't think they'll want to buy new books either.

Jeff said...

Kalika points out the added bonus of not having to trash all those returned books, thus helping the environment, if only we had on-site POD book vendors instead of bookstores and book printers.

Really, there isn't a better time to make this technology happen.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

My novel's publication date? October 1! In hardback! Woot! Go, me!

Sex Mahoney for President said...

Suddenly, I don't feel bad about being rejected for things I submitted in the past few months. It's nice to have a convenient excuse on which to blame your problems. Now I know how racists and homophobes must feel.

Sex Mahoney for President