Monday, September 03, 2007

What's Wrong with the Major Publishers

From ABA Omnibus

Perhaps what makes me different is that I'm not just fascinated with books--I'm intrigued by the business that revolves around them and more importantly, how to improve them. There's a lot of blogs out there that offer insights, whether it's from the perspective of booksellers, publishers, book buyers, or the authors themselves.

One of the more fascinating reads is from Jim Huang who operates an independent bookstore in Carmel, Indiana. His latest post, Where I am, after 20 years in book selling, is a long but insightful read. He talks about his experiences as an independent bookstore, at his relationship with publishers, and how he thinks the world can be set right:

When I think about the center of gravity of the mystery genre, I still believe that it lies in series. Seventy percent of the titles on the bestsellers lists of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 2007 year to date are part of a series. Seventy percent of these series titles belong to long-running series of five or more books. Sales in IMBA member stores are not necessarily representative of the marketplace in general, but they are the best indication we have of what the most devoted mystery lovers are looking for. Yet you can in fact generalize from these numbers. When you look at the BookScan mystery bestseller list for the week of 8/12/07, representing sales throughout the industry, you see that over 70% -- closer to 80%, actually -- of these bestselling titles also belong to series.

So series matter, and what publishers do with them tells you a lot about their inclinations and abilities. I write a lot about series and the bad job that the most publishers do with them: not keeping books in print (especially the first book which is where readers want to start), not clearly indicating the order of books in series, not identifying books as part of a series, not packaging series titles with a common look to make it easier to find them on new releases tables, not timing publication of new hardcovers and paperbacks to maximize sales, not indicating for the benefit of buyers for stores a new title's place in the series, not soliciting orders for series backlist and frontlist together, not waiting months (if not years) between UK and US publication, etc.

It's not even like what we're talking about major, insurmountable problems. The issue of properly timing the latest paperback and hardcover releases in a series is simple on every level -- easy to explain, easy to grasp, easy to fix -- and it doesn't cost a dime to make that fix. It's incredible that a new hardcover release is ever published prior to the first paperback edition of its predecessor. And yet it still happens, over and over again. Fixing this won't turn a midlist writer into a bestseller, but it will undoubtedly sell more of his or her hardcover books. That should be a goal that everyone agrees on.

No comments: