For a publisher, this could be the ultimate nightmare

Found this article in Publisher's Weekly which suggests a nightmare for publishers. A possibility which is, quite frankly, likely to happen. And the idea is like Pandora's Box---once the idea gets out into the open it will be impossible to dismiss it as foolishness.

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Comment by Jon Loomis on December 3, 2009 at 5:20am
I'd love it if WalMart or B&N went direct to Sarah Palin for her next masterpiece--if the big retailers siphoned off the whole celebrity market it would be fine with me. It would mean that publishers would have to (get this) create their own celebrities, by making a genuine investment in writers' careers, instead of just talking about it. My other recommendations:
1.Publish fewer but better books. Drowning the reading public in shit is not the way to build an audience.
2.Stop overcharging for hardcovers. $25 is ridiculous.
3.Pay more attention to your midlist! There's a lot of untapped commercial potential there, and you'd see it if you weren't so busy kissing celebrity ass.
4.Stop the madness on the return thing, as others have said. Just say no. It will mean that big retailers will have to be more careful/thoughtful when placing orders. Good.
Comment by I. J. Parker on December 3, 2009 at 4:27am
First off, note that this article is written by an independent bookseller. That's a very special point of view of the dilemma.
Secondly, B.R. is absolutely right in that publishers have to stop the generous return policy and not accept anything back until at least three months have passed from delivery. And that means, John, D. that you might find some of my books in your bookstore after all. And it also means that I put some of the blame for my own problems on bookstores.
And finally, electronic publishing and Amazon's Kindle (et al.) may well turn the whole business upside down and, instead of authors having to depend on agents, publishers, marketers, promoters, and booksellers, they will be able to deal more directly and economically with the reading public.

It is conceivable (and I'm about to try this out) that the author may choose the electronic route to start with and negotiate for print versions subsequently.
Comment by John McFetridge on December 3, 2009 at 4:10am
Some good points, John.

I think that for most writers change will come slow. Most writers still really like the idea that after working alone for so long on a book they get to be part of something bigger. They like the idea of an advance, even if it's just ten to twenty thousand, and the idea that there's a whole company waiting for the next book. At least that's what many writers I know feel they need publishers for. They may be more emotional than practical reasons, and that may be a generatioal thing that's changing.

Konrath is going to be a very good example because he's a very mainstream writer, his Jaqueline "Jack" Daniels series is well-written, traditional crime series stuff - the kind of thing that used to need a publisher's support. I think content makes a difference only because I believe audiences are different - some people really like "indie" music and accept a different technical standard than, say, people who like classical music would. Some people really like experimental fiction and would likely put up with newer and unusual ways to get that stuff whereas someone like my sister really only likes the mainstream stuff. She might like Konrath's novels, but she's unlikely to ever download one to an e-reader.

So we may simply be in the middle of a transition stage. Or maybe just at the very beginning.
Comment by John Dishon on December 3, 2009 at 3:41am
I think you have to ask the question, "who needs publishers for what?" If it's bestseller status, probably so, unless you're already an established bestseller like James Patterson or Stephen King. They could ditch the publishers right now and still be a bestseller. But what about the mid-list author? The main thing publishers offer is distribution in bookstores, but how represented are mid-list authors in bookstores, such as B&N and Borders? I've checked mine before and none of you here are stocked in mine. Some of you are Canadians so that's part of it; I don't expect to see Canadian mid0list authors at my Kentucky B&N. But if, and I'm just speculating - I haven't seen any data - but if mid-list authors aren't being widely represented in bookstores across the country, then is it really harmful to only be available online, via Amazon or some other seller? It is true that most sales still occur in brick and mortar stores, but if your books aren't in those stores then that has no effect on you.

So when you determines "need", it's going to depend on what you want out of the business to begin with. For many authors, just being available in Amazon might be enough for them, in which case the major publishers aren't really offering them anything they can't do themselves. Yes, there is editing, there is cover design, there is typesetting, but these are areas that an author can pursue himself, either by doing the work himself or hiring someone else. So it is possible to do it all without the publisher, certainly without the agent, and it's agents who perhaps might be hurt the most in the long run.

And all this is important because it can act as a catalyst. If more and more authors realize that publishers aren't meeting their needs to their satisfaction, maybe they'll try a different route. JA Konrath getting dropped might have unforeseen consequences. Konrath is an author I have not read but I know about him. I knew his name and his books before I ever joined Crimespace, just by seeing his books all over my local bookstore. So Konrath, for me is kind of a big name because I knew about him without knowing anything about him. So for him to get dropped, a proven author with a fan base, what does that mean for everyone else? If the publishers can't take care of an author with a proven track record, what chance do I have? If nothing else, it makes the publishers look bad, makes it look like they don't know what they're doing or don't have the ability to control their own business anymore. Which can lead to more and more people losing confidence in the publishers and trying some other route.

it's all speculation at this point, but I think publishers would be wise to recognize that they are not the only game in town anymore.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on December 3, 2009 at 3:17am
The sooner major publisher cauterizes the open wound called book returns, the better they will be. But the fear is for an organization like Wal-Mart or Banres&Noble to go straight to a major writer and offer them a deal they can't refuse. They have the clout to do that. And financially speaking, I could see it being a sweet deal for both parties.
Comment by John McFetridge on December 3, 2009 at 3:16am
John, as long as our system is capitalism then we'll need organizations with capital -- that's what the publishers have now.

This is sort of the same argument as the music industry and their "heritage acts." The top few sellers account for the vast majority of sales. And to get those into the top spot took a lot of upfront investment.

Maybe that will change, but we aren't really seeing any signs of it yet.
Comment by Dana King on December 3, 2009 at 2:55am
I wish Part 2 was ready; I'd like to see what his recommendation is for a fix.

It may be as simple as some publishers having the stones to go first, and tell the retailers no. This may require backing away from the position of "major player" for a bit while they move away from dependence on the celebrity best-seller and cultivate some broader based appeal, spread out through more writers, but whoever goes first will be in the best position to capitalize on the new business model when it evolves, as it must.

Let's face it: People like to read, and they'll buy books. They have to get them somewhere. The current business model may be dying under its own weight, but something will replace it so long as people want to buy books.
Comment by John Dishon on December 3, 2009 at 2:47am
"Who does need the publishers? The answer: just about everyone else."

Interesting how he doesn't elaborate on this at all, just states it as if it were a fact known to everyone.

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