Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Same crap, different day

Over at Publishing News, our friends across the pond discuss the current state of publishing in this ominously titled article:

Random House addresses future with agents
RANDOM HOUSE IS holding a series of meetings with agents to discuss a wide range of issues pertaining to the current and future state of the industry. CEO Gail Rebuck has instigated the initiative, which Gill Coleridge of Rogers, Coleridge & White describes as “admirable – sharing information like this is very helpful”.

Although confidential, it is likely that the polarisation of the industry between the big-name, front list authors, and mid-list or second-rung writers, will be among issues discussed, as well as the implications for all players of an increasing reliance on sales data, something that was ever thus but which is now more important, given the current obsession with market share.”
“One agent said that lower advances had been mentioned by two major publishers “because they’re simply not making the money on the books because of everything they’ve given away in discount”.
“ Mid-list authors, and even some established writers, are finding it increasingly tough. The emphasis on the top 50 by all retailers “means many good books struggle to make it”, according to Mark le Fanu at the Society of Authors. “Previous sales are determining whether an author gets published again”.

Emphasis mine.

In other words, the writer’s gonna get boned again.

The ‘death of the midlist’ been predicted for the last 20 years or so, ever since Crown Books paved the way for discount bestsellers and the focus on the Top 50. And look where they are now (hint: they went bankrupt). And the midlist still exists, the only difference is, the writer gets paid less.

Writers and their agents understand that publishing is a business. We want the publisher to make money, because when they make money, we make money. Perhaps, just perhaps, ramming the same ten authors down the reading public’s throat isn’t such stellar business model after all.

Here’s a radical thought: maybe a better way to make money at selling books is NOT to discount the bestseller. Instead, discount the midlist. The reading public will feel comfortable taking a chance on a new author, which gives the author an opportunity to find their audience before the miserable sales sheet of their first two books convinces the editor to drop them; the pool of viable authors grows (Tony Hillerman, for example, wrote several books before he crawled his way up the bestseller list—ya think he’d get that chance in today’s climate?); people will still buy the bestseller author, because they write freakin’ bestsellers; everyone’s happy. JK Rowling or Dan Brown are not going to miss the million or so.

Hat tip to Booksquare.


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