No one will ever see books like this again.

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Three days before I sat down to write this blog post, I finished reading Drama High by Michael Sokolove. I clutched the book to my heart, and thought, no one will ever see books like this again.

Then I mentally slapped myself. I had slipped into traditional writer think.

Drama High was published by Riverhead Books in 2014. Riverhead was once a literary imprint of Penguin Publishing, and got subsumed into the whole Penguin Random House merger. Imprints lose their identity in mergers like this, and Riverhead is no exception. I doubt the imprint would have published a book like this in 2019.

For those of you who haven’t seen the book, and I would assume that’s most of you, Drama High focuses on a high school in Levittown, Pennsylvania, that has developed a highly recognized theater department. The book, written by a former student, is a love letter to teaching as well as to theater. It’s filled with heart and compassion and general quirkiness.

The book ended up becoming a bestseller after it became the inspiration for the short-lived TV show Rise. I have no idea how I found it; probably the Amazon algorithm, because I haven’t been in a bookstore since the pandemic started.

But I got caught in that traditional publishing think: that only trad pub could take a risk with a small book like that and yet make sure it got to the places it needed to go.

And you know, in the limited book world I grew up in, that was true. When I came of age as a reader, there was a mountain of book outlets—not bookstores, per se, but places to buy books all the same. As a kid, I got my books (gothics and skinny mysteries and the occasional weird horror thing) from a drugstore a few blocks from my house.

By the mid-1990s, there were “dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of stores in the country that carried 100,000 titles or more” according to an October blog post by Mike Shatzkin.

That seemed like a lot of books. But we had to buy a title when we saw it, because if we waited, we might never see the book again. I searched for books by Phillip Rock for three decades, because I discover the first in the series in a used bookstore. I might never have found the last two books in his only series if it hadn’t been for Amazon and Downton Abbey.

Quirky books, like Drama High, only got commissioned because someone thought the book would do well enough. Had the book been published in the previous century, someone would have thought the book would do well in niche bookstores.

Only there really aren’t that many niche bookstores anymore. There are barely bookstores right now, because of the pandemic. This month, for example, we are losing one of our oldest bookstores here in Las Vegas. The owner finally decided—with the economic collapse and the pandemic—that it’s time to retire.

Other bookstores have other issues. It’s going to cost money for bookstores to get proper ventilation systems and, in some cases, put their inventory online. It’s not something you can just hire a few college students to do; it takes a true structure.

Book buying has changed, although reading hasn’t. As I’ve said in the previous two trainwreck blogs, traditional publishing needs to recognize how book buying has changed.

And it looks like some people in traditional publishing are finally beginning to understand that the changes they’ve been living through these past 20 years are permanent. The way Things Are Being Done has to change.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s Author Page. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says making certain the trains run on time is a different business than building a railroad or building and continually improving a quality ecommerce site.

Traditional publishing (and the big and habit-encrusted European conglomerates that own most of traditional publishing in the United States) is no place to seek innovation and nimble adaptation skills. Their evergreen solution to financial difficulties is to find another blockbuster celebrity book, “Michelle Obama’s Thanksgiving!” – “Tina Fey on Motherhood!” – “Isaac Mizrahi’s Styling Secrets!” AKA making the publishing business run on time.

Does anybody who can get a tech job (or maybe any job) at Amazon ever consider going to work for a New York City publisher? Ditto for Google, Apple, etc.?

What intelligent and aware college graduate is going to look for work at a traditional publisher unless there is no other choice available? (a possibility these days, PG admits). It’s the ultimate low-paying dead-end job. Period. Find a wealthy spouse ASAP.

Some of the senior people in publishing got into the business when it looked like it had a future, but if they’ve truly drunk the big publishing Kool-Aid, PG isn’t certain exactly where they’re going to end up when the consolidation of publishing starts up again. And it will. PG suspects some of the owners of traditional publishing companies are spending serious time trying to figure out who the greater fool might be so they can dump that boat anchor.

Whatever publishers survive will have Amazon to thank for it (although PG doesn’t expect them to acknowledge that fact).

PG is not a futurist, but he’s read enough from smart people who are to conclude that the effects of the world-wide economic shut-down on education, businesses, lifestyles, etc., are not going to end when Covid goes away.

A lot of small businesses that closed aren’t going to reopen. Landlords, many of whom are small businesses themselves, will understandably want to get any sort of tenant that will pay the rent in full and on time. PG doesn’t believe that bookstores will be exempt.

People who are buying lots of stuff from Amazon, including books, aren’t going to immediately snap back to traveling from store to store to buy things.

Later today PG is probably going to post about some of the long-term impact that the Spanish Flu had in the early 20th century that lasted long after the virus had petered out.


PG promises that he had not heard about CBS trying to sell Simon & Schuster, as documented in the New York Times story he linked to a couple of posts above this on until after he put up the original version of this post earlier today.

He wonders if he needs to obtain some sort of license before displaying his prescience in public again.

4 thoughts on “No one will ever see books like this again.”

  1. Promises, promises, PG!

    I’ve known about the sale of Simon & Schuster for several months and, if anyone asked how I know, I’d have said I must have read it on The Passive Voice. And it turns out I did, you posted about this earlier this year, on 9 March in fact. I fear your memory is going down the same plughole as mine!

    Meanwhile, I commend KRR’s article, it’s well worth reading the whole, including the bit where she realises that her “no one will ever see books like this again” was out of date.

    • As I noted on the OP (although I expect it will not show up, being “badthink”), things have changed at the traditional publishers. Although they have stayed the same.

      KKR complains that she submitted a book under a pen name with no author history, that had an African-American character, some years ago (must have been quite a few years, as she said it went through an agent), and it was rejected by every house. Her assumption is that the editors all thought that she was an African-American, and so was “not up to their standards.”

      What I noted is that the same book would be all too likely to be rejected by nearly every house today, too – if they did have an author history. Because she is not African-American.

      The “quality” of writing is still being judged not by the content of the text, but by the color of the skin.

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