"I hope you will forgive a possibly naive comment, but isn't readers' solidarity reflected in their purchasing power as consumers? That is, if readers won't/don't buy hardcover or trade paperback books for $27.00 or even $14.95, then the publishers' argument is moot, really, whether or not Amazon is arbitrarily setting the price at $9.99 for e-books (and Macmillan is demanding more). Of course, reader purchasing power is not organized advocacy, and it's heavily influenced by marketing, but I would argue it's still a way that readers make their preferences known. Isn't it?
I can see that if Macmillan is greedy, one of the outcomes will be that some good (maybe great) books won't get to the hands of readers. But then, at the point where readers aren't buying at x price, won't the publishers have to rethink their strategy to stay in business?
In other words, it seems to me that the publishers and distributors (and even the authors) will forget the reader at their own peril..."
The above came in this morning from K Ann Karlsson as a comment, but because it strikes at the heart of what's killing a wonderful industry, we thought we would respond as a post rather than a comment that might get lost.
First of all, this is not a naïve comment as consumers are normally the driving power behind the success or failure of a product and even an industry. However, the consumer only has this luxury when there’s competition, and with books, there is very little. Yes, many readers have stopped reading novels out of frustration; however, this doesn’t bother the book industry in the least as they continue to turn out the same types of substandard books that turned these readers off in the first place. This is the reason the industry is facing dire straits as we speak.
A recent example of consumers controlling the market might be Toyota recalling thousands of the vehicles for defects that their customers complained about. Publishers have no idea what readers want because they depend on bookstores for this information and big box bookstores can’t tell their readers what constitutes a good read if it’s not in the front of the store or doesn’t have a widely known name on it. Publishers have no idea who buys their books, or why. With an average of 80,000 books on their shelves, many of which no one who works in the bookstore has read, this is an impossible situation.
How many ads for books do you see on television? When was the last time you heard about a publisher taking a survey on who reads their books? How much direct marketing do publishers actually do--and the word, “direct” is very important in this question. If you’re curious about the answers to these questions, here are some statements that might help to answer them:
Publishing depends on a few celebrity authors to make money for them. You’ll see their titles up front in most bookstores.
Publishers have no idea what readers want to read. They depend on big box marketing people when deciding which books to publish.
Big box bookstores depend on what’s selling and what’s not to feed marketing information back to publishers. Again, remember whose books are up front in bookstores. Name recognition is key here.
You’ll find out how knowledgeable workers are in big box bookstores when you ask them to suggest a good read.
Most super-bestseller of past years have come as a complete shock to those who published them. If you ask them, they will tell you that they have no idea why certain books sell well and others don’t.
Editors buy books on personal preference and not from any data on what readers want to read.
Bottom line here is our industry is dying and you have touched on one of the reasons why. Nuff said.
Robert and Sharene