From author Sarah A. Hoyt:
Well, yesterday this was doing the rounds of our circles: Sales, Earnings Fell at PRH in 2016.
First of all, what doesn’t this mean? It doesn’t mean Random Penguin is in serious trouble. Not yet. It doesn’t mean the entire edifice of traditional publishing is going away, either.
Look, at this point, just like Hollywood is mostly supported by foreign releases of the movies that don’t do too well here, traditional publishing is owned and propped up by European media houses who, if I read the situation right, don’t even understand how obsolete they’re becoming on this side of the pond.
. . . .
I think the European overlords of publishing houses have no fricking clue what is going on with reading here. Note that all the official publications still lie about it. And the trend is masked with things like the adult coloring book thing, which has kept Barnes and Noble afloat for the last 10 years or so. We went in before Christmas, looking for something for Robert. We found it. It was a book of Drawing prompts.
In fact, the part of Barnes and Noble that is still books is mostly what I would call “novelty books” — drawing prompts, writing prompts, ten things you can do to make your house smell better this afternoon, and adult coloring books. A LOT of adult coloring books. By comparison the fiction section, let alone the science fiction section, was almost impossible to find and paltry.
Which is okay. I mean for years I went to Barnes and Noble and the only thing I bought were the sort of Barnes and Noble Published books like “ten tales of knights and dragons.” Only of course, now that’s not such a good business, because all that stuff is on the net. And their fiction still disappoints me, which is why I started buying from Amazon the year it started up, when it sold only books. Because books were published that I wanted to read, they just didn’t get SHELVED at my Barnes and Noble. Which is why now that the coloring book thing is receding, B & N posted a loss (I think 16%) OVER CHRISTMAS.
But hold on to that “Books were being published. They just weren’t shelving them in my Barnes and Noble so I could buy them.”
Because that’s what this post is about. Reality and the limits of manipulating it.
Barnes and Noble isn’t going away tomorrow, there are fifty shades of bankruptcy in the west before you even have to face you shat the bed and should change approaches. They’re not close to that yet, or if they are they think they can fix it with more cowbe– toys. And “lifetsyle” gifts like mugs and reading lights (not needed since I got the backlit kindle. Never mind.) Yes, I believe they will eventually go the way of Borders, and it will be sudden and terrible when it happens, but I don’t think we’re close to it yet. On the other hand I could be optimistic. I’ve been so in the past.
The publishers are even less going away tomorrow, because frankly, the non-fiction side is still very profitable and besides they get money from Europe. Mind you some of their lines might disappear with an earthshattering kaboom very suddenly, and I’ve heard rumors that better connected people than I expect it “in the next five years.” Could be. Could not be. I don’t know. Indie has moved both faster and slower than I expected. The establishment has certain resources, including money to weather slow periods (which they don’t seem to realize is now permanent) and a lot of magazines and papers willing to do its bidding so it seems like it will recover TOMORROW.
. . . .
First let me take you to a time far away, where there were no mega bookstores. No Borders, no Barnes and Noble, none of the others, either. The biggest ones were two or three branches of a bookstore in a big city.
These businesses were managed the way such things are managed. You hired people who like books. You eventually promoted them to managers. And then you had managers who liked books.
To communicate with these people who loved books, you had book reps who loved books. I met some of these before the great layoff. These people read the books and pushed them at the bookstores with attention to “Well, old Joe who has a bookstore at the back of his feed store in rural Colorado has done pretty well for science fiction in the past. So, this book I just read which knocked my socks off will interest him.”
The system worked pretty well. Look, no one was going to get massively rich from running a bookstore. And writers still worked on a hit or miss basis. But there was always the possibility of a surprise bestseller. You might not appeal amazingly to your publisher, and you might stand outside the narrative they’re pushing, but if you’re a fan and you love the genre you’re writing in, well, some rep or even a bookstore owner might read it, love it, and handsell it to everyone, and word of mouth spreads… So, in a way writers could sell to the public bypassing gatekeepers.
This didn’t make the gatekeepers happy for several reasons, the first being that after several mergers the houses behaved like normal corporations (which could be titled “death by bureaucracy”) and so an editor got incentives to accurately forecast how a book would sell. Yes, your career could, justly, be ruined by giving millions to an author who no longer has a book in him and who writes something pathetically poor, but it could also be ruined because that book you bought for $5k had a runaway bestseller run with a hundred reprints, because it threw all the schedule out, and why didn’t you foresee this?
Link to the rest at Sarah A. Hoyt
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