From author Sara Hoyt via PJ Lifestyle:
When I came into this field I was told two things by older and more experienced colleagues. One of them was that for all its glitzy innovation and its very real new ways of doing business, the publishing business remained at heart a nineteenth century business: contracts weren’t as important as a hand shake; who you were as someone for people to work with was more important than cold hard sales; your publisher would take care of you. All of these things – except for one publisher in the field (Baen Books) – were a lie by the time I started in the late nineties. Well, maybe not the first. If your book was a year late in being published, and technically out of contract (my very first published book, Ill Met By Moonlight, now indie) the contract meant nothing.
This was my first experience with the fact that the book business was in fact not a nineteenth century business, but a fourteenth century one. You came in and you were an indentured serf. No matter how badly you were treated, you had to be nice to the Lord, because he held your life in his hands. And no matter how badly you were treated, the other Lords would side with each other and conspire to keep you in servitude and destroy you if you spoke out against it.
The second thing I was told when I came in was “the publishing business is in crisis. And it’s always been.”
This was meant to imply that for all the moaning and bitching from publishers about how bad things were (usually when making an offer for a book) things went on and the publishers continued being paid their salaries and their pensions and writers had both the security of knowing the business would continue and the awful certainty it would continue the same way – with them as peons.
. . . .
How many of you in the past twenty years or so went into a chain book store and came out with no books and disappointed? You remembered perfectly well going to the convenience store around the corner and against your will spending your last dime on a paperback because it looked so good, but now here you were, in a chain store, surrounded by metric miles of books and unable to find anything you even wanted to look at.
. . . .
[P]ublishing had been taken over by MBAs and had been concentrated in the hands of six conglomerates. Selling books the public wants to read is fickle. You never know what
those rubesyour clients will want. Look how they embraced Dune which was published by a tiny press. Who could have guessed they’d like it? And why had all those mom and pop bookstore owners pushed this obscure book from nowhere?
When publishing fell in the hands of people trained to manage businesses predicting how a book would do was REALLY important. It was also impossible. So the new CEOs moved to do what dictators always do: eliminate the human factor.
Slowly — helped by changes in book retail, which in turn was helped by giving discounts to chain bookstores and leaving mom and pop’s out in the cold — they turned book selling into a “command economy”. Someone at the top had a five year plan, predicted how much each book would sell, and it sold that. This was accomplished by telling the stores how many books to stock and it was aided and abetted by stores stocking the same books in a “tri-state area” and also stocking according to “publisher confidence,” i.e. how many books the publisher said they would sell.
Link to the rest at PJ Lifestyle and thanks to Andrew for the tip.