Reinventing the publishing industry
Recently, Wonder Wife and I attended a seminar for booksellers and authors. We came away with the feeling that the book publishing industry must either change it ways or face a rather bleak future.
Here’s the traditional method of putting books into libraries or into bookstores: The author writes the book, finds an agent to get a publisher to publish it, the publisher makes an estimate of how many copies the public will buy, prints that many copies and puts them in a warehouse, the marketing department tries to create a public awareness and appetite for the book while sales representatives go out and try to get bookstores and libraries to buy the books. Whew.
Obviously, the system is fraught with uncertainties. The pubic may not like the subject matter. Or, readers do not like the way it is written. The publisher’s costs are all upfront with no return income until the books are sold – if they sell at all. Moreover, many publishers agree to buy back any unsold books (called remainders) which they have to sell at fire-sale prices. In big discount stores such as Wal-Mart, one sometimes sees books by famous authors piled on tables for sale at loss-leader prices.
If some bright student at the Harvard Business School were tasked to invent a sure-fire profitable new business, it would not be the book publishing industry. Well, at least not a book publishing industry operated the way it is now.
So, here’s a possible new approach: For example, instead of guessing as to what readers of mystery novels want to read, why not conduct focus groups among mystery novel readers to learn the key story elements that attract them to the reading of mysteries? Find what they like and don’t like about how well-known authors deal with the key story elements and characterization.
Seek out authors who know how to produce mystery novels that will meet the criteria learned from the focus group research. Store the completed novels in a computer. Print only enough copies for promotional and marketing purposes and turn the sales and marketing staff loose on book wholesalers and retailers.
Based on initial orders, print enough books to meet that demand, but no more. As demand for more books builds, have the books printed in regional print plants close to where they needed. This is called: print-on-demand and just-in-time delivery. These methods achieve these results: Eliminates excess inventory that might not sell, keeps warehouse costs to a minimum, reduces shipping expenses and virtually eliminates the possibility of having to buy back remainders.
Granted, there will always be book lovers who must hold a book in their hands while reading; however, more and more people are willing to read books on-line via the Internet. And those Internet readers who still want to hold a book in their hands can have the option of printing out all or selected portions of a book. Travelers can already buy small, portable e-readers that can store several entire books for reading on planes, trains or in cars.
Three huggers should love e-books because e-books spare the forests. Again, if one just has to have a paper copy to hold and page through, it can be printed down on regular copy paper.
E-book publishers have already figured out secure ways for customers to pay for books using credit cards. Once the vendor has the credit card information, the e-book is “unlocked” for downloading to that particular customer.
Moreover, posting a book’s photographs and illustrations on the Internet for viewing can save both time and money. This is what Wonder Wife and I did with our novel The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn.
Fortunately, traditional book publishing will always be with us. But, to be profitable, it must embrace change and be willing to abandon some of its hide-bound ways. The technology to insure profitability has already been invented. It just needs to be adopted.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn.
©2001. William Hamilton.