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Who Made Books an Endangered Species?

25 May 2011

According to Michael Levin, a multi-bestselling author and business writer, publishers set the book business up for disaster.


The publishing world gathers . . . at BookExpo America . . . but the one subject attendees won’t be discussing is the coming collapse of publishing and the inevitable disappearance of books.

It’s not just that books are going to Kindles and iPads. It’s that books are going away, and the publishers have no one but themselves to blame.

The traditional New York publishing business model — publish a ton of books, fail to market most of them, and hope that somebody buys something — worked well when publishers had a hammerlock on the distribution and marketing of books. Publishers essentially faced no competition and enjoyed complete control of what books people could publish and sell.

In today’s world, however, anyone from John Grisham to John Doe can put up a book online with Smashwords, Lulu, or Kindle Direct, and bypass publishers — and bookstores — all together. Authors can use Google AdWords or social networking strategies to market their books far more effectively than publishers ever could. So who needs New York?

. . . .

But the real reason why books are going to vanish is the remarkably un-business-like business model of the publishers. Think of General Motors — decades of inefficiency, but without the federal bailouts.

In no other industry do producers actually wait passively to see what products are suggested to them, instead of doing market research to see what people really want to buy. Yet publishers seldom generate book ideas; instead they wait for literary agents to submit proposals. Houses decide which book to publish based on little more than a gut feeling that says, “I think we can make money selling this!”

. . . .

Most of the major publishers today are owned by international conglomerates who, at some point, will awaken to the realization that English majors in their employ are spending millions of dollars on books that no one wants to read.

. . . .

Especially in the Internet era, you can’t make money putting books on trucks and hoping someone buys them.

Link to the rest at Forbes Booked

Big Publishing

2 Comments to “Who Made Books an Endangered Species?”

  1. Karen (Karen LeRosier)

    “remarkably un-business-like business model…Think of General Motors — decades of inefficiency, but without the federal bailouts.”
    Exactly! Thank you! It isn’t the Kindle or i-pad that caused this issue. It began long ago and gained steam when chains drove indie bookstores out, and snowballed when Borders sold their on-line books sales to Amazon. ebooks, eReaders and 70% for self-publishers was just that last straw.

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, instead of blaming or attacking ebooks, these Businesses call a press conference and say, “oops! We’re sorry we’ve repressed you writers, We’re sorry we’ve never asked Readers what they want to read. I only did it out love, only wanted to elevate you up from the ignorant masses. What can we do to fix this?”

    Pollyanna-ish? Um, I do write urban fantasy after all!

    • Karen – I agree that indieworld would be much smaller if multi-published authors like Joe Konrath, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith had more warm, fuzzy feelings about their experiences in the traditional publishing world.

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