Thursday, November 5, 2009

Publishing (a mass perspective)

I thought for a change of pace today, I’d blog about something I know nothing at all about and see where it got us. My topic of choice, because I’d LIKE to know something, and have learned if you pretend to know something, somebody might actually talk to you about it and then you WILL know something, is book publishing.

I’ve never published a book. Even as a kid when I was illustrating books, they generally petered out on about page four, usually because I’d run out of silver crayon, and no princess story can be told without lots of silver.

The word on the street recently though, is book publishing is a dying field. (Say what? Then what are we doing?) We (and I don’t necessarily mean just the royal we, though if you want to exclude yourself, you can take it that way) HAVE NO CLUE what we’re doing. That’s the point. But clueless or not, I find some stinky fish to the idea that publishing is dead. Why?

Because there are other explanations that make more sense.

The nature of past year comparisons: I had a former life in advertising, and for our client we used to present sales comparisons. Guess what we compared to… SAME MONTH LAST YEAR. So lets just say LAST YEAR Stephanie Meyer put out her 4th highly demanded (for mysterious reasons I won’t ponder here) book about sparkly vampires that every teenage girl in the entire country (and a few of their mothers) had to own. This year, there is no comparable breakout book. You tell me this years sales look bad and my response is DUH!

Kindle and Company: I just got to say… not worried.  Kindle Schmindle. This may change the FORM some books take, but there is a business model, and they WILL find it, in which as many people or more make as much money or more off of books. Yes, some printers will suffer, but I don’t think we will lose as many of those as we will gain techy people figuring out how to make the EBook a truly rewarding experience. I’ve got some sadness that the electronics themselves will probably be produced in China, where printers are here, but hey, that is capitalism, and maybe with more money in China, they will want to buy BOOKS written here—that is a lot bigger market to open than the other direction.

The pathetic attention span of the masses: Poo, I say. Poo! When I was a kid the options for kids were poor. I wasn’t really a reader until I discovered Stephen King at 12. But I STILL managed to become a reader—latch key kid who’d seen every episode of Brady Bunch, Partridge Family and Gilligan’s Island at least a dozen times and I STILL learned to love reading. Now there are so many more options, too. There are people who will never be readers—always have been. But there are just as many who love books—always will be. If the percentage stays the same, then because it is a growing population, that makes readers a growth market.

It’s the Economy, Stupid: I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but we’ve been in a long recession (Michigan’s is going on 6 years now). At first people tighten their belts on big ticket items (car lasts an extra year or two, no remodel) but eventually, they have to tighten it on smaller purchases, too. I used to buy my kids a lot of books. They reread them, so it seemed a good purchase. Anymore I only buy books when a series they’ve been following gets a new one because it seems cruel to wait on the library wait list for six months when they’ve already been waiting that long. Books are a discriminate purchase. The only people I know who NEED books work at book stores to support their addiction. Most of us can get by reading LAST year’s books from the library. But you know what? When the economy turns around, so will book buying.

Because there is evidence to the contrary.

I am signed up to the free version of Publisher’s Marketplace. Yesterday and today there is news: Harlequin, up this quarter, Lagardere, up this quarter, Harper, up this quarter. (anybody spot the trend?)  Seems to me maybe people are buying books for Christmas… possibly at the expense of more spendy items, but I don’t CARE about THAT. BOOKS are selling. What that means, in my lame, clueless opionion, is eventually that has to trickle to publishers BUYING more books from agents, freeing up agents to take more clients because they need more books to sell and a recovered market.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.


Unknown said...

I am guilty of owning a Kindle. It is so convenient and portable and I really love it.

*hangs head*

However, books will never go out of style. I love the smell and feel of a book. CAn you tell I am a bibliophile?

I also think that once the economy picks up, so will business across the board (including publishing companies).

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love this positive post!

I completely agree. I think the media frequently trumps up stories. Yes, the publishing industry is in flux. But people are READING. Who cares how it's happening.


Hart Johnson said...

Chary--your kindle still gets money to everybody involved except the paper pushers! I am a-okay with you reading via Kindle. (and I love books too--even the ones I don't care to read, like in the crypts of reference books at a college library... LOVE books)

Thanks Elizabeth! Yes... people are READING!

Natasha said...

That's your story and you are sticking to it. The story in India is that everytime I go to a bookstore, the books on display are completely different from the last time. Which means books are being written and published- and that would never happen unless they are also being sold.
With the recession, book reading seems to have gone up - people are replacing expensive holidays with books!