As Senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam's Sons, how would you describe the current state of the publishing industry? The news all seems pretty grim from where some of us sit--book sales down, advances drying up, booksellers disappearing, industry layoffs, etc. In your view, where are we now, and where are we likely to be in five years, say?

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I wouldn't call fiction writers "hobbyists." Most of the ones I know are very serious about it. It's just that the majority of writers -- fiction or nonfiction -- can't afford to make a living just writing...and it's always been that way.
But a boy can dream... Or at least maybe not lose money on the deal...
It's very similar to going to music school. The schools produce ten times as many musicians (or writers) than can possibly be used. These are very ruthless meritocracies. After a while, the schools exist to some extent to provide work for each others' graduates. Are they wasting their money? Only if you considering going to college for a creative writing major to be akin to technical school. I'm of the opinion no education is ever wasted; it just might not be used in the field you expected when you got it.
No, I don't think it's money wasted at all. I wouldn't suggest taking out a loan to get a degree in creative writing, but if you can afford it could be very personally rewarding.

I know plenty of people who've paid huge amounts of money for golf lessons and they don't expect to be playing on the tour anytime soon (though a couple of my buddies think they might make a serious run at the senoir tour when they retire from their day jobs).
This is exactly the advice I give to my undergrads who are thinking of going on to graduate writing programs: whatever you do, don't go into debt to get an MFA. Find a program that's willing to pay you.
Didn't someone once say the first thing you needed to do in order to write a novel is turn 40 ;)

Oh, halle-freakin-lujah! I thought I was way too old to be a beginner.
Just a post I made on another forum with numbers..

The book industry had $37.3 billion in revenues in 2008. Ebook sales are 53 million for 2008. Ebook sales have skyrocketed in 2008. Can anyone tell me the value of pirated books= sales lost. The forecast tends to indicate a drop in revenues in excess of $200 million, some of that could be from Sept to December jitters, but most of the shortfall has been attributed to piracy. So to make $53 million, you lose $200 million. This is not a good business practice.

Now if the book industry follows the same path as the music industry with a 29% drop in revenues...lets see that would be hmmm 10 billion dollars out of the pockets of book sellers, publishers and authors. Nothing to worry about. The industry can handle that...sure.

A good chunk of the drop in mass market sales is due to piracy...see the following..

"Sales of mass market books, the smaller-size paperback format in which thrillers and romances are typically published, fell 5.8 percent, to 541.8 million copies, down from 575.1 million a year earlier. These once-popular books seem to have fallen out of favor, even in the romance segment, whose readers are typically very loyal." From the NY TImes (2007 numbers)


Just want people to be aware...we have a lot to lose. And I don't have the chance to say I told you so, because it is already happening. It will escalate if the problem is not addressed quickly.
I should be more pessimistic about this - first of all it's my nature, but also I was one of the victims of the squeeze last year when Harcourt brought out my first two books and then just dropped them - the second will likely never see a paperback release, never mind an e-book to be pirated, and yet, I guess for as long as I can remember the book business has been "in decline."

As for pirating, I wonder if the rates of shoplifting were the same in bookstores as they were in record stores? It was back in the 80's that many CD stores started keeping the discs behind the counter and only displayed empty cases. I don't know of any bookstores that had similar approaches.

There may be something to the argument that people are pushed to piracy - I'd have a tough time justifying a hundred dollar textbook for a course I've already paid thousands of dollars to attend.

But six bucks for an e-book of a novel? That's two cups of coffee. I'm willing to take my chances on piracy.

Now I'm with the same publisher Jon is worried could be gone next week, but that's nothing new for me. When I signed with Harcourt I thought they were as solid a publisher as there could be and I was wrong about that, so I just don't worry about it anymore.

There can be a lot of competition for some books, but there isn't much for the kind of books I like. The movies have pretty much given up on stories about adults in real world situations and once in a while a cable TV show comes close, but not very often. I'm working for a TV show right now and I really, really like it but it is a series of compromises - from language to storylines to endings, everything gets dictated by the network. That hasn't been my experience with the two publishers so far and as long as there's a demand for adult, real-world stories, nothing can deliver them like books.

Novels only make up a small part of the publishing industry (I lost out at Harcourt because of dealings in the textbooks business), and adult novels only a small part of that, but it's one area I think will remain fairly consistent.
And that, John, is a very adult, real-world post. Every year since I've been in this business, some publication or other has run a "sky is falling" article about publishing, based upon whatever the issue of the day is. I understand, it's a sexy thing to write about -- but we're still here (which is not something I can say about some of the publications that ran those articles!).
I just hope this doesn't mean there is "the kid who cried wolf" apathy in the book industry.
John, what happened to you, happened to me with my first publisher. Being very new at this, it took me months to realize that I'd been cut off very quickly. (Nobody told me). By that time, my second novel in the series came out to great reviews. Alas, it didn't matter. The decision had been made very quickly after release of the first. Initial sales did not meet expectations of a 15,000 copy print run. In fact, they were dismal. No surprise there, when there had been no promotion whatsoever.

It was an economic decision, but not one that was made because the publisher had encountered hard times. They just decided they didn't want to bother with the series after all. The damage to the author's reputation was never an issue. And it should be remembered that even a good agent cannot protect you against that sort of thing.
Comparing publishing to music at this point is an apples to oranges comparison. Publishing isn't going to drop off 29% just because music, because music has essentially been a wholly electronic medium ever since CDs pushed vinyl out of the marketplace. Publishing might take a 29% hit AFTER every book becomes electronic, but it's a lot harder to pirate a hard copy.


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