From an article in the Wall Street Journal:

Simon & Schuster is delaying by four months the electronic-book editions of about 35 leading titles coming out early next year, taking a dramatic stand against the cut-rate $9.99 pricing of e-book best sellers.

A second publisher, Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group, said it has similar plans in the works.

"The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback," said Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster

The article is here.

I don't know much about book marketing, but this seems wrong to me. I would like to see every version of a book available at the same time - give the customers the choice.

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I am curious what the production/distribution costs (there are some) are for an e-book versus a hardcover. I know it is a completely different publishing model, but I know that the e-edition of my weekly newspaper, though $20 less than a print subscription, and the e-edition of my twice weekly, at $30 less than a print subscription, is far more profitable in terms of both margin and net dollars than the print edition.

Of course, again, I realize that book publishing has a far different model than newspaper publishing.
I like all this talking about the cost of production because it takes me back to my Marxist student days.

Of course, the reason that system doesn't work is because if the market is at all open then the cost of selling something has to include a lot more than the cost of production.

I know Neil Nyren has disagreed with this, but I still think one of the biggest factors in selling books is having a lot of copies in stores. Here's what I mean: my novel came out in Canada a couple months ago from a fairly small press. So, a small print run. The book got some very good reviews the week it came out and in many stores all three copies they had in stock sold. I think if that same book had a larger print run and there were a hundred copies in the store it might have sold twenty.

But I thnk that's about the only way to sell twenty copies - have a hundred in a big stack as you go into the bookstore.

Most books that sell in high numbers aren't first or second novels. That's just as true of e-books as of hardcovers and paperbacks. So the cost to take an author from unpublished to selling a lot of copies has to be factored into the cost of production of the books that sell. All that editing and design and marketing and promotion and ARC giveaways and printing and shipping and returning of usually a few titles until one finally sells. That's a lot of capital required.
"I know Neil Nyren has disagreed with this, but I still think one of the biggest factors in selling books is having a lot of copies in stores."

This seems to be self-explanatory. If it's not true, why are so many books printed when they are destined to be pulped? The publishers must believe this at some level, or they wouldn't do it.

Also, your comment ("f that same book had a larger print run and there were a hundred copies in the store it might have sold twenty.") is intuitively true. Bookstores can't sell books they don't have. Maybe people will order the new Stephen King or Harry Potter, but if they don't find your book they'll likely buy something else. (No offense.) The problem is, the publishers put enough King and Rowling books in the stores readers never need to special order them.

The more I learn of how this works, the more I believe publishers--especially large, established houses-- should either give new writers better support, or just not publish them at all. Let them work their way up through the minors and skim the cream. No one's well served when a new writer is signed, all the production costs are assumed, and the book is left on an ice floe to die. (Unless, of course, the author is willing to spend his advance and then some to promote it himself.)
And that is absolutely right. It's taken me years to realize that the disappointing royalty statements had more to do with the fact that stores returned books double-quick than with the original order or the print-run. That's why I have been railing at the returns-policy. And naturally, only what is on the shelf sells. Preferably it's prominently displayed. All of this costs money which the bookstore demands from the publisher as an extra. Bestselling authors don't have this problem because stores keep them in stock. That is why new, relatively unknown, and midlist writers have little chance to become known, and why they get a much better deal at Amazon.
And Neil Nyren disagrees with it, because: Yes, to sell books, you have to have books -- but just because you have books doesn't mean you ARE going to sell them. You can stack a title up to the ceiling, but just because they're sitting there doesn't mean the customers will be any more interested in buying that title. The books'll simply all come back. And the next time, the store would be unlikely to order any at all. It's one of the surest ways to demolish an author's career.

And please note: the publisher does not place the books in the store --it's the store that orders the books, and they base their order upon what they think they're going to sell. You are not going to find a bookstore anywhere that would order 100 books simply to sell 20. And you're not going to find a publisher anywhere that would stomach an 80% return. That would be disastrous -- it would wipe out any profits the book might even potentially have earned. Again, a career-killer if there ever was one.

And while we're on the subject of returns -- yes, in a perfect world, I'd love not to have the returns system. But without it -- with the sure knowledge that every unsold book in their store is a book they're going to have to eat -- the stores would be draconian in their ordering. They would take only what they felt 100% sure they could sell. They would take no risks. And who do you think that would hurt? The big names? The stores know they can sell them. But they don't know if they could sell the small books or the midlist books or the risky books. So, I.J., those writers you're worrying about? They wouldn't even make it into the stores in the first place. John, those three copies you mention? Good luck on finding even that many.

Sorry for the rant, guys, but these are simply the realities.
I'm just glad I spelled your name right ;)

And I don't think anyone was denying the reality - if anything we were trying to explain it.

What I was trying to say is that a publisher is a lot more than simply a printer and can't replace by new tchnology. Publishers have a good sense of what has sold in the past and for a new book they send out many ARCs, get advance reviews, evaluate everything and have sales reps who talk to bookstore buyers. This all costs a lot of money and can't simply be replaced by uploading a file to Amazo or some other online site.
Thanks, John -- you're definitely right about that!
I always sound like an old fart when I say this but I remember before corporate publishing, when publishers would fight for a book because they believed in the book and not because it could make them a lot of money. But that was during a time when people read a lot more than they do now, when their were critical standards held by most of the population, and publishers didn't have to compete with television and video games.

I'm an incurable idealist, but I know full well things will never return to the way they were.
At the moment, Amazon's share is still small. But Amazon posts trade reviews. They may some day start doing some marketing. We eliminate the sales reps, and gain the advance advertising of having Amazon show news of the release six months or more ahead of time while accepting preorders. No bookstore will go to that trouble.
And Amazon is trying with their recommendations based on your buying history and that kind of thing. Who knows what's going to work...
Hi John -

Whether you are right or not about the value a publisher provides I think will help determine what the industry looks like in a decade. Authors can send out ARC's if the cost of printing and mailing one is under $5 as it is now (and increasingly ARCs are going paperless). Authors can definitely get advance reviews from other authors as well. Right now publishers are the only ones who can get larger numbers of reviews from some of the bigger reviewers and they are the only ones who can really get books on shelves - but I don't see any practical reason why that would have to be the case in a print on site model for all non-hardbacks. As for publishers knowing what sells and evaluating everything, I think most bookstores would say THEY know better than the publishers, but they are stuck in the system.

now, I could be totally off base here. The beauty of it is that we're in a situation where finally the market is going to work things out. If publishers really offer all the value that you cite - or more accurately if publishers are the only way that value can be added effectively enough to satisfy the majority of book buyers - then those who survive will emerge from this even stronger.

I should note that I think publishers do offer value. Currently they are the best route for offering a number of the things you cite. But I'm not sure that they have to be the best route for it. Especially the "gatekeeper" role - that simply will not survive in its current form. But IMO the biggest value that they could add (aside from basic editing/cover/layout) is marketing and publicity and quite frankly they've been reducing that for all but the biggest titles.

We shall see.
Realities for the bookstore and status quo for publishers.

I doubt any author would expect a store to order huge stacks of his/her book and keep them around for a year, but I think one or two copies should be on the shelf. For a series author, a copy or two of each novel should be available. This is not what happens. Within a month (two at the most), sellers return the unsold portion of the order and nothing by the author remains on the shelves for the rest of the year.
It is also a fact that publishers have to pay for display space just like grocery chains. So a just released book doesn't necessarily find a place on the "new releases" table.
As for stocking more than the bestsellers: not much point in being a bookstore if you don't have some representative variety. The point of of my complaint is the insane order and return policy which damages both publisher and author. Let the stores order modestly and sell what they've ordered. A publisher should expect the store to keep some stock on hand or reorder when supplies run out.

But the world is changing rapidly. One must hope.


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