Monday, February 02, 2009

The Future of Publishing
Part 5

Read here to see what this is all about.

What is one thing you would you do to change book publishing for the better?

My first point on saving publishing is this.
You CAN NOT eliminate returns. By doing so you would effectively close almost every independent bookstore, shut out all mid list authors and seriously change the way big chains order. In two years time we'd all be buying our books from Amazon because they wouldn't be any where else. Because of returns small bookstores can take a chance on a book and order ten or more copies of something that is unknown to them. If it doesn't sell, no harm no foul, send it back. If they have to keep the books they might only order one, if any. Chain stores will only order what they think they can sell. They are finicky enough about ordering books now. There is a reason a lot of stores don't carry some smaller publishers and self published books, it because they can't return or the returns are a pain in the ass. I'm sure something could be done to rework the return system, maybe a minimum amount of time before returns are accepted should be longer and nothing after one year. Another problem may be the huge advances. There is a reason why some really big numbers are handed out. If a publisher gets a reputation for not paying very much for books people will stop bringing them books. But maybe a change in the money flow. Less up front and more per book sold. It gives the author and publisher reason to sell books.
Here's what I've seen on the back of some arcs to explain the marketing plan:
Email blast
Online promotion on websites and blogs
podcast interviews
What I see is this- "We're not spending very much money on publicity"
Web marketing is fine, but switching exclusively to web marketing or relying to heavily on it is not the answer. People who buy books read and that means print advertising. But it should also be a focused print advertising and not always in big media. Instead of a huge sum paid to USA Today, maybe a number of ads with bookstore newsletters and in smaller papers. I'm guessing the typical Onion reader buys more books than USA Today readers. There is no magic answer here because if there was someone would be doing it. but it seems obvious its time to try something new. What would help sell books by an established author? Cheaper paperbacks. No one wants to start a series midway so the new hardcover is impossible to sell if people can't get the backlist. If some one has never read AUTHOR X and can get paperbacks at 4.99 they will be more willing to try the books. They get hooked, they buy the new one. Offer free downloads of first books for E readers. These are just some ideas. the system is not totally broken, just a bit out of date. Everybody had a bad year and it doesn't mean publishing is screwed. The econimc problems are hitting everyone.

Eliminate the lavish, gold-foiled embossed catalogs and allocate for reps, or heck even folks in NY themselves, to connect with booksellers and folks further down the food chain in a more intimate/direct/authentic way. Furthermore, worry less about what, say, the Times is going to think and more about whether or not anyone that actually pays $$$ for books will do so-as such, more TPB originals, less production per year.
Russ Marshalek, former Marketing/PR Director for Wordsmiths Books

Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 4. If you work in publishing (author, editor, agent, critic, bookseller or reporter) and would like to participate, email me at with your response to "What is one thing you would you do to change book publishing for the better?" and I will post it.


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