Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Demise of Print Publishing--A Publisher's Commetary

Yes, the book business is in dire straits. Wylie-Merrick has posted lots of stuff about it, including ideas that e-books be provided free, with advertising. As an indie publisher, I maintain that books give more to life than soap or pencils.

Books have prestige. In this context, I believe that “free” generally spells garbage. Publishers cannot pander to readers whose attention spans would cause them to throw down a free book in a New York minute for a little Face Book time, and I will fight to my last breath for old-style print books with a price tag on leisurely enjoyment. Still, I realize that the advent of digital publishing makes change inevitable, and we publishers better start right now to get into the cyberspace groove, before it’s goodbye glue and ink and hello cell phone reading. Only the opthalmologist will profit from that.

As for the proposal to sell advertising in ebooks, exactly who is going to drum up this so-called financial asset? I envision a book world of Viagra ads in romance novels or hatchets and butcher knives in murder mysteries. Yucch!

Here are three ideas I believe will keep offset print books viable: 1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced. 2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors. 3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Any thoughts?

B. Phillips
Co-publisher, Editorial Director
Bridge Works Publishing