Let’s face it. Most anyone with the slightest understanding of supply and demand, and even economics in general, can see the problems inherent in traditional publishing. These problems are legion and go well beyond the issue of editors choosing books they think we should read instead of those we want to read. After weeks and months of bookstores being closed and the supply chain being restricted (at the very least), we will probably be seeing some changes in the industry sooner, rather than later.
Don’t get fooled by all those reports that came out a month or so ago about how much more business publishers were getting during the shutdown. Sure, they saw an increase in online orders. That was to be expected when bookstores were closed. But what the publishers so carefully avoided discussing at the time was that pesky little thing called “returns”. Not just the returns by readers because the book they got didn’t meet their satisfaction. No, we’re talking about bookstore returns, a handy contract term that allows stores to return books that didn’t sale, putting the financial burden on the publisher rather than the stores that ordered those books.
Over at The Passive Voice, PG linked to an article warning about this very think with regard to Canadian publishers. For those who aren’t familiar with “returns” as it applies to bookstores, the article gives a great definition:
The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.
In other words, bookstores don’t have to worry about inventory control because they can return books that aren’t bought and not be penalized for it. Publishers, on the others hand, factor this in. What that means is they increase the price of books and keep payments to authors down to cover this roll of the dice. (Did you really think they can’t afford to pay authors more than the pittance they get as royalties?)
Now, add to the sudden influx of returns that will be winding their way back to publishers this month and next (and the impact that will have on the projected bottom line) and you will start to see things snowball. How many authors will find their options not being picked up because their book didn’t sell as well as expected? And don’t say the publishers will show a heart and take into account the current situation. They didn’t at 9/11 or any other crisis. so don’t expect them to now.
On top of that, publishers have backed themselves into a dead end alley with regard to the supply chain. Most publishers use Simon & Schuster as their distributor. Guess what? S&S is for sale. First, there is no guarantee a purchaser will come forward with terms Viacom is willing to accept. Second, even if that happens, there is no guarantee they will manage to keep the company solvent. While I can see this being a good thing–there is no reason in this digital age why publishers can’t print orders as they come in using POD technology and why they can’t have an accurate count of books shipped, books sold, books returned instead of having a third party involved in the process–publishing has proven it is one of the slowest businesses to adapt to change. If S&S goes under, you can guarantee we will see other publishers following suit.
As authors, the time is here when we must look out for our own best interests. Take a look at why you want to be traditionally published. Then take a look at what you get with that publishing contract and what you give up. Once you have, do your due diligence and see what you get by going with a small press or even going indie.
The world is changing. Tech is changing. Reader expectations and demands are changing. It is up to us to adapt and learn. That is something too many in traditional publishing have forgotten–along with forgetting they are supposed to publish books readers want to buy and read and not books they want us to read for whatever reason.
Supply and demand. Or, perhaps more accurately, supply to the demand.
On another note, there’s going to be a change coming to MGC later today (assuming the migraine doesn’t return and lay me low again). We’re going to add a new tab at the top of the page where our bloggers can snippet their works, do promos, contests, whatever. Those will be linked here on the blog’s home page as well. So keep an eye out for these special announcements.
Until later. Everyone have a great week!