changing face of book publishing
publishing used to be a genteel profession. Those who entered
it weren't seeking big salaries and profits, but the opportunity
to spend their lives editing and promoting good books, regardless
of the size of their projected audiences.
Prize Winner David Wisniewski displays one of his illustrations
during the "Children and Families Evening" March
Glassbook Inc. distributed small compact disks free at a
book panel. The disk contains software for reading electronic
books on a computer.
becoming difficult. With most of the major publishing houses having
been bought by media conglomerates such as Bertelsmann and ViaCom
in recent years, the industry has become increasingly more market-driven.
Virginia Festival of the Book
panels discussed this climate, and the concentration of the retail
market into a few large bookstore chains, and ways to resist it.
One featured seasoned editors seeking to publish the kinds of
authors they have always championed, despite the growing vociferousness
of their marketing departments. The other included advocates of
Internet publishing as a way to distribute books the New York
publishing industry rejects.
Barber, vice-chair and senior editor at W.W. Norton and Co., the
last major publisher that is independent and employee-owned, said
that the media conglomerates that bought publishing houses didn't
realize that book publishing is different from most other businesses,
given the difficulty in predicting which books will sell and the
typically low profit margin.
of the pressure to make publishing houses perform like other types
of businesses, marketing departments have greater say than formerly
in determining whether a book should be acquired.
people determine which books are suitable for [the large chains],"
said Random House editor Jason Epstein, who has worked in publishing
for 50 years. "Marketers don't read. They sell authors, not
books. ... They use the word 'brand' to describe a product, which
has nothing to do with serious books."
it has always been difficult for editors to predict which books
will do well, he added, many great books started with small advances
and marketing budgets.
emphasis on marketing has gotten so excessive, there's a rebellion
by readers," said Carol Janeway, editor-in-chief at Knopf,
a formerly independent publisher that is now one of 25 imprints
at Bertelsmann-owned Random House. "They take pleasure in
finding and [popularizing] books that haven't been shoved down
placing too much emphasis on marketing, she said some of the conglomerates
have rearranged publishers so each imprint handles a different
type of book. "It's a recipe for disaster. ... They destroy
the chemistry of the list" each house publishes, failing
to note the importance of a kind of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization
editors need to stay vital.
"terrible mistake" made by some conglomerates was selling
the publishers' college departments, which had generated a reliable
income, Barber said. "They're drawing an artificial distinction
between trade and college publishing," he said, adding that
many trade books are taught in college courses.
panelists also deplored how the large chain bookstores, which
sell 75 percent of books bought in this country, rely on previous
sales figures in determining how many books they'll order. An
editor might be certain that an author's third novel is a "breakout
book," but if the figures for her previous books are too
low, he may not be able to convince his company to publish it.
McNamara, editor and publisher of Archipelago, said she was motivated
to create this online journal by her frustration with the way
trade publishing in New York had gotten "conglomeratized and market-disoriented.
started seeing estimable mid-list authors, the backbone of American
good reading, who weren't being published because their sales
projections weren't high enough."
saw the Web as a way to distribute these writers, as well as those
published by small, independent presses, expanding their range
feel the industry is on the verge of a radical transformation.
The possibilities of electronic publishing mean a whole new world
is on the horizon," Epstein said.
have entered that new world in droves since March 14, as they've
rushed to buy or download for free a 66-page novella that best-selling
author Stephen King made available electronically. Over 500,000
people requested it from online booksellers, and sales of other
electronic books have soared.
proves there's a market for e-books," said Mary Ellen Heinen,
co-founder of Glassbook Inc., which creates software for reading
electronic books on a computer.
foresees a burgeoning market for e-books. "We want to improve
on the experience of the paper book. One of our programs has a
built-in dictionary, so you can click on any word in the book
and its definition will come up,² she said. "Someone going
on a trip can take 25 books in a [two-and-a-half pound] e-book
books also offer possibilities for authors initially rejected
by the print world to eventually sell their books to it. Novelist
M.J. Rose, who was in the audience, described how she published
her novel, Lip Service, online in 1998, after New York publishers
bypassed it for being "a little too erotic, a little too
intelligent, a little too different."
spent months marketing her book online to female-friendly Web
sites, and, after four months, it was the best-selling book on
Amazon.com's Advantage program, which makes available the works
of unpublished authors, filmmakers, musicians and video producers.
An editor at Doubleday saw the book online and bought it, publishing
it last August.
rejected by the New York publishing community is no longer a big
deal," she said. "If you're willing to spend time looking
for your audience on the Web, you can sell your book."
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