Let’s face it. The last two-plus months has impacted the publishing industry unlike anything else in a very long time. Oh, we’ve heard the noises from some of the Big 5 that their numbers are up, but a close look at the numbers and you see something doesn’t add up. For one, the numbers they are touting can’t include returns because bookstores aren’t open. They also, if true, put the lie to the old formula publishing continues to push–that they need brick and mortar stores to survive. Those stores they’ve said must continue have been closed. Customers have, at best, been able to order a book and drive up to the curb to have it delivered to their car. There has been no browsing the stacks, no impulse buying. Even so, don’t expect a change in the business model when we are no longer being told by the nanny state that we have to stay home and our businesses can’t open. Publishing has proven over the last several decades that it is perfectly happy living in the past and has no desire to change things just because our lifestyles and reading habits are changing.
It was a post on The Passive Voice that got me thinking about the industry this morning. Mind you, the original story comes from England. But still, telling me that in this day and age of Covid-19, book prizes matter more than ever leaves me scratching my head and wondering what the original post’s author was smoking.
Let’s face it, if the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that book prizes have little to do with what the average reader wants to read. Most of us couldn’t name the latest winner of the Pulitzer for literature or the Hugo or even the Dragon (or any other award for that matter). Part of it is because we had to read too many prize winners in school and hated them. So we have been taught to avoid prize winners with a passion. Part of it is because we’ve grown tired of having politics and social agendas determine who win and who doesn’t. Part of it is because we want to read something that interests us or entertains us. We don’t want to be lectured to.
Mind you, not all prize winners fall into those categories. But we’ve gotten such a bad taste in our mouths from those that do we aren’t willing to risk it yet again.
so why, in the name of all that is holy, would book prizes matter more now than ever?
That’s a question the article really doesn’t answer in any great detail. Oh, we get the general spiel that the final prize lists help “book bloggers, or booksellers with online stores to consider: the same for virtual festivals that are being organised now.”
Gee, I don’t know about you, but most of the bookbloggers I know, and those with large followings, don’t blog about prize winners (except to maybe point and laugh). They blog about genre books or non-fiction books that are actually readable. As for online sellers, sure, they may be offering the prize winners. But if they want to make money, they are also selling–and probably at far greater numbers–genre books that people want to read. And don’t get me started about “virtual festivals”.
Where the author of the post really lost me was when he commented that his favorite “rite” is book signings. Now, I don’t know about England, but here in the States, book signings have been going the way of the dinosaurs for decades. There was a time when publishers paid to send their authors on signings and even the small neighborhood indie bookstore was included. That’s how I first met Anne McCaffrey. The store was smaller than my house. But there she sat, one of the grand dames of SFF, in the middle of the store, holding court with those of us who came out. She came to that small store at least twice.
Then we started seeing signings being limited to the chain stores. Then we started seeing fewer and fewer mid-list authors being sent out. Now, if we’re lucky, there is a signing every quarter at the local B&N, usually by either the “next big thing” the publishers are pushing or by a best seller. Mid-listers get signings usually only on the local level (local to them) or if they foot at least part of the bill.
But, as PG points out, the return on investment for the store, for the author and, to be honest, for the publisher, is little to none. At least if you aren’t talking about a best seller like Larry Corriea where his fans will drive hundreds of miles to see him.
Yet there are still those so attached to the old publishing business model who see this as a viable form of promotion.
And it might be if we weren’t basically limited to two major bookseller chains in the US.
As for seeing the return of such events in a post-Covid world is iffy at best. Publishers are going to have to find ways to cut costs and, as they have proven in the past, they will cut in ways that will hurt authors before cutting out the fat on the upper management level.
As for this particular article, all I can say is either things are very different in Great Britain when it comes to publishing or this author is one of those who really, really doesn’t get what readers want and doesn’t understand that Covid-19 is showing the weaknesses in traditional publishing and its market chain. The next year is going to be interesting as we see the fall-out from the months of no bookstores and only on-line sales. How many publishers will close their doors or merge? What will B&N look like when this is over? Inquiring minds want to know.