Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Publishing's crises (incompletely) explained
Posted by Cory Doctorow, September 21, 2008

Boris Kachka's long feature on NY publishing's crisis in New York Magazine is a sad but important read. But Kachka puts a lot of emphasis on greed and foolishness and media and bookstore consolidation, while ignoring the largest contraction in book-sales since the heyday: sales through non-bookstore venues like Wal-Mart and the local grocery store.

Historically, these outlets have sold more books than bookstores, and were a vital induction system that coaxed people who didn't (yet) love books into the bookstores. When these chains went national, they demanded national distributors to stock them from coast-to-coast.
The result: a huge shift in the way these shelves are stocked: once stocked by local distributors who chose from a very wide range of titles and hand-picked the right books for each little grocery store and pharmacy, now they are supplied by a national database totalling somewhere around 100 titles.
The consolidated distributors demand gigantic discounts from publishers -- and even so, they go bankrupt with dismal regularity, often with FBI arrests of top execs for corruption.
So yes, there was a lot of foolishness in book-publishing, yes, some writers got stupid advances, yes, mergers and acquisitions have left many publishers without a coherent vision or command structure.
But when 51 percent of your sales disappears and is replaced by a lottery system where a couple dozen titles get nationwide distribution to non-bookstore customers and everything else is pushed into a ditch, surely that must count for something.
Read the rest of Doctorow's thoughtful piece here.
My thanks to NZ author Chad Taylor for bringing this site and story to my notice.

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