Monday, December 8, 2008

How to Fix the Publishing Industry

What if major publishers. . .
  • abandoned the hardback fiction book altogether and let libraries and collectors simply laminate their own copies of trade paperbacks? Then the first printing of each book could be bigger and priced to reach the whole market. Publishers win by reducing their print costs and minimizing the number of returns. Readers win by getting a book they can afford when it first comes out, and writers win by reaching as wide a market as they can on the first publication. Novelists would also never be stuck in hardback form only—as many are—a spendy version that’s hard to sell at book fairs and special events and never reaches its full audience.

  • changed distribution to a nonreturnable basis? Bookstores would have to be conservative in how many books they ordered at one time, and publishers could simplify their bookkeeping for everyone involved.

  • printed only as many copies as were necessary to fill orders? Money (and trees) would be saved from not printing, shipping, processing, and shredding books that never sale.

If all that happened, bookstores would have fewer returns to process and they could make money by remaindering books on their own premises. They could offer discounts and buy one/get one free deals to keep product moving. Promotional bargains pull in customers who spend money. It’s how retailers make money at Christmas.

I am not the first to suggest these changes. So why doesn’t the industry do it? No one wants to go first. Every major publisher is afraid to lose business to the other company who isn’t doing it. Meanwhile, the big houses aren’t making real profits. Only the small publishers who have adopted some of all of these ideas are in the black year after year. What will it take for the industry to recreate itself?

As an novelist, would you care if your book never came out in hard back? As a reader, do you buy hard backs? Would you miss them?

14 comments:

Chris Redding said...

I have no desire to be in hard back. I'd rather have people actualy buy my book than have it look pretty on the shelves.
cmr

C.D. Reimer said...

As a book buying reader, I'm sensitive to price. The only time I buy a hardback is when there's a steep discount or the hardback is cheaper than the paperback version. My sweet spot is $15 or less.

As a writer working on his first novel, I'll probably lean towards paperback over hardback. Would I buy my own book in hardback? Not without a steep discount.

Amber said...

OMG! I have so wondered the same exact thing. I think the whole publishing process is crazy. How does anyone win? I'm published through a small press who does accept returns, however, the books have to be returned, not just the cover. This means she has to pay to have them shipped back to her, not to mention the loss of the cost of the book. But, at least she can possibly sale them. The returns are killing her. Whenever an author does a book signing, the store ends up ordering way too many (even when the author asks for a certain amount) because they can just return them at the publisher's cost. This is truly a horrible system. One I'm not sure how ever came into existence in the first place. And by having people buy into the "mass" produced mind set is not helping. For example, I've heard that Barnes and Noble will no longer allow book signings unless your book is considered "mass" produced (3,000 copies printed up front). Well, what if all those books don't sell? What of the trees? What of the loss? Also, RWA (Romance Writers of America) doesn't even consider you published unless your book is "mass" produced (or you get a $1,000 advance or make it in royalties in a certain amount of time). They even added a new requirement to enter their contest to where you have to have a book that is "mass" produced. This just helps to buy into the whole system. Something needs to change. Especially with the electronic market gaining. I love my printed books, but this is ridiculous.

Jennie Bentley said...

Well, sure. We all want to move into hardcover, don't we? That's where the prestige is. Along with everything else. And extra champagne, since there are TWO release dates, not just one.

I'm very happy to be in mass market paperback right now - they're cheaper, you sell more copies, and it's a great way to introduce yourself to a wider audience when you're just starting out - but I'd be thrilled to be moved up into hardcover at some point. Double whammy!

All the people who just can't wait, can cough up the price of the hardcover on the release date, while everyone else can wait a year for the paperback. Seems like the best of both worlds, if you ask me!

Vincent Zandri said...

I believe the return policy went into effect during the depression of the 1930s when booksellers needed the option of returning anything that didn't sell ...something like that. In terms of today's publishing, we're talking an industry that's been bleeding a slow death for a long time...But I don't think skipping the hardcover is the answer. I think a return to repsonsible publishing in which an author is acquired and so long as she or he is writing well, the pub/editor/author relationship is developed not over a period of two or three books, but over the course of a lifetime...Small presses seem to be going this route more than the big pubs who nowadays are more like Hollywood and screenwriters who are hot one day and out on the street the next...

Letitia Harmon said...

Maybe once I had a readership established I would prefer hardback. In the meantime, I'm only recently published, and it's fine with me that the novel is only available in paperback.

http://www.letitiaharmon.com

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks for the insightful comments. I have to point out that if no novels were printed in hard cover, there would be no prestige associated with it.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Having been published in hardcover, trade paper and multi format, I think the important thing is just to get published. Large publishing houses are in trouble and POD is becoming more prevalent. Multi format or ebooks amounted to $14 million in sales the first 3/4s of this year, not counting library and discounted sales, which could double that figure, so we have to be realistic about the market. We're never going to see the hardcover production of the past again. Not in this lifetime.

Vivian Zabel said...

A publisher can't even get a hardback children's picture book printed in the U.S. without paying more than for what the book would sell, has to go overseas. So fewer and fewer children's books are available.

A hardback book is nice because it does last longer, but the price is rising alarmingly, in fact paper back books are rising in production costs.

I'm afraid what the future holds is not good news for authors, readers, or publishers.

L.J. Sellers said...

For additional comments on this topic, see my Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=568183620&hiq=lj%2Csellers

Emma Larkins said...

As a reader - hardbacks are lovely. They look good on a bookshelf. I like buying them at the library for $0.50! But otherwise, I wouldn't buy them.

I think that the system is kind of backwards. First time authors have enough to overcome without having to try and sell a book format that is difficult to sell. It should be something that you work up to, that you earn. Like a Rolls Royce!

LaShaunda said...

I agree the return policy should be revised. Hardback can be special ordered for those who collect books.

Its nice to see your book in hardback, but paperbacks sell more.

waterproof said...

As a big time reader and college student, I look hard for discounted books (Atlantic Books is a GREAT discount store in my area). I avoid buying hardcovers if I can help it, but if the book is only in hardcover, I will make an exception. When I have a job, I would like to buy hardbacks -- they last longer, they don't get beat up by frequent reading.. it's a better investment. But with bills going up, and college expenses, it's in my best interest right now to purchase paperbacks.

As a *writer* however, I would strongly prefer hardback over paperback. It is much more professional and prestigious.

©Hotbutton Press said...

I do buy hardbacks, but only books I truly want in my library and would re-read. Many are non-fiction, like art history books, but I collect various fiction series also. But, I do understand the dilemma of hardbacks being remaindered and shipped overseas at huge discounts. It's crazy. How about publishing everything in paperback, and if a book sells over a certain number, a hardback collector edition can be printed? That might make more sense.