Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dilemma

"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 na├»ve 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

6 comments:

Jennifer Cloud said...

JMHO-That's why many of us buy from small publishers. They aren't relying on old numbers in a desperate attempt to capture a best seller that surprised the publisher to begin with. They aren't ruled by a marketing department trying to plug ever changing likes into a formula.

Let's face it. One or two books sell well and suddenly the reader is inundated with copycats until they can't stand that formula and move to something fresh. It's the nature of the beast. Editors should go back to falling in love with a novel. Love the characters, love the plot. Marketing should come to a good book after it's been selected, not the other way round. Marketing's guesses shouldn't become the acquisition department.

BTW-The last ebook I purchased cost $5.00. I wouldn't buy one at $14.95. I rarely buy hardcovers either. I'm on a budget. :)

ClothDragon said...

There are options though. My sister has found an addiction to fan fiction and internet-published stories. There are electronically based publishers popping up more and more often. And iPhones soaring popularity give people a mobile way to read them. People may not read MacMillan's ebooks, but they'll keep reading ebooks. I'll continue buying books a year after publication when I can get them in paperback. For me, it only says they don't want my money now, but next year, if I remember, then they'd like some.

K. Ann Karlsson said...

Well...erm, jeez. Now I'm depressed. Publishing is in a death spiral. And I have more questions...
First let me say, I love books. Love 'em. Love to read them, love to write them, love to turn the pages or flick through the screens as I delve further and further into the story. I adore that unique form of mental telepathy where a writer writes down his/her thoughts, and they are picked up and interpreted by a reader who could be miles--light years!--away in time and location.
But in light of the facts you enumerate above, I can only conclude that--Steve Jobs notwithstanding--there is no iPad, no e-reader, no device that is going to "save" publishing if publishers are so out of touch with the reading public. The iPad would operate just like another big box store.
But isn't it a good thing, BTW, that there is no direct competition between the books themselves? A book is not a Toyota, after all. It's that "fictive dream" thing again--one person's dream, another's nightmare. :) What (I think) you're saying is that readers don't much care if it's Macmillan or Hachette publishing the books they like. But the readers do care if they don't see the latest Sherrilyn Kenyon (Macmillan) on the front shelves. So the publishers don't really go head to head in that way. And since all the big box stores pretty much offer all the same books, readers can't really take their business elsewhere.
I do think (maybe naively again) that editors still fall in love with books, but their tastes may not be the readers' tastes. And, as Jennifer points out, profitability is snapping at their heels, so they turn out a copycat to last year's bestseller too, in order to hedge their bet on the "new guy."
So here's my question(s): if the publishers' strategy continues to be to squeeze the last drop of profit out of the few stories told per year by the big-name authors, what happens to all the other stories? Where do they get told? For free? Around the campfire? Or is there enough left over to float the rest of us (fledgling writers) for enough time to build a readership? Don't events like RomCon and other reader conventions tap into the readers' wishes WRT what they read and what they want to read? Does that info not get back to the publisher?
Sorry, too many questions. Just trying to educate myself and I have found your blog to be one of the most straightforward in the business.
Thanks!

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

K. Ann, your question is: if the publishers' strategy continues to be to squeeze the last drop of profit out of the few stories told per year by the big-name authors, what happens to all the other stories? Where do they get told?

Answer: There are plenty of other places authors are being published, however,the same problems exist here as for the unknown author whose book does arrive in at a big box bookstore--who knows it's there? There are approximately 80,000 books, so unless a reader goes to the big bookstore with a name or a title. . . The same thing happens no matter where the book happens to land. Amazon for instance, even worse as there are millions of titles there. As an experiment, start a new blog and see how many people show up.
Another side of the issue that self-pub authors complain about is that they can't get into big box bookstores--like that would make any difference.
Part of the problem with the box box concept, be in hardware, groceries or books, is that the people working there are not expert in the products being sold. They just work there. Indy bookstores do a much better job helping readers select books by great unknown authors. However, big box bookstores have forced many Indys out of business because the books on the Indy bookstore's shelves are not bargain basement priced. The problem, I'm afraid is equally shared between publishing's multi-national corporations of whom stock holders demand a profit, writers who don't produce good reads, to readers looking for bargain basement books.

Scott Jensen said...

I wonder how story blogs are doing? A story blog is one where essentially an author puts up his story on the net for people to read. You click through webpages as you would leaf through a book. Each webpage being another page of the story and some web ad (like Google Adsense) alongside it. The author making money from the web ads.

I've read story blogs where if you keep up with it, you're seeing the author write it. The current story the author is writing isn't complete and is being made before your eyes. You don't see they actually type in live but the author put out a new chapter after it is done. One story blog I read was very interesting in that the author deleted five chapter since he didn't like where it was going and did a reset at the point where he thought it went off track.

But, again, I wonder how profitable such story blogs really are. Robert and Sharene, do you know? Any commenter know?

Anonymous said...

"Editors buy books on personal preference and not from any data on what readers want to read."

Sounds like Congress and they're on their way out, too! I hope!!!