by Fern Reiss, CEO, PublishingGame.com/Expertizing.com
In the same way that it’s always easier to parent other people’s children perfectly, it’s easier to criticize the publishing industry from the outside and see what needs to be done. Still, as an ‘outsider’ who’s been in various segments of the publishing industry for over 25 years, here’s my top five list of changes the publishing world needs to implement in order to survive the current economic downturn–if the industry is to emerge at the other end intact.
Give up on returns
It’s ironic that the policy of bookstore returns started during the last economic Depression, when Simon & Schuster decided it was a great way to allow bookstores to take chances on books because there was no downside. Today, however, the cost of allowing returns is strangling the entire publishing industry. Now’s the time to introduce economic incentives for booksellers who are willing to forego returns—or just eliminate the option unilaterally, across the industry. Like gravitating away from hardcovers to soft, eliminating returns will bring book prices way, way down—and change the economics of the entire business.
Put galleys online
Distributing hard copies of advance galleys four months before official publication date is a practice that should have died out with the advent of instant printing several years ago. Why should publishers do headstands to get advance galley copies of books (books that are already in final form, mind you) into the hands of opinion makers four months before the books are officially released? It’s time to put galleys online where they belong. Not only will this save mega bucks and mega time, it will eliminate the fake ‘four month window’ during which you have to sit on your books, as well as the plethora of galleys available for sale on Amazon. Done correctly, it might even generate advance buzz amongst readers.
Market the books, dammit!
When McDonalds introduces a new burger, they do a PR campaign. When the Hilton introduces new amenities, they do a PR campaign. It’s hard to even think of an industry where products for the general public are not marketed. But usually the publishing industry only markets books that seem to be taking off already. As an industry pundit once said, publishers would wait to see whether the infant survives before bothering to feed it…
And market the books online, too
The publishing industry hasn’t evolved most of its practices in decades, but the rest of the world has changed. Most particularly, where potential readers congregate and buy has changed. Newspapers are dying; magazines are going out of business; and it’s not just the independents, but all the brick and mortar bookstores too that are in trouble in this economy. For publishers to really thrive and compete, they need to be where the readers are. And that means Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. Hire some literate college kids and let them loose, but do something with social media and and Web 2.0 and do it fast! With bookstores dwindling and without an online fan base, it’s hard to see how even the biggest publishers will survive the decade.
Rethink the whole book model
It’s not only the publishing industry that needs to change. Books have to, and can, change in several fundamental ways. One hundred years ago, a book had a beginning, middle and end. Today, books can be sold in smaller increments profitably (think: cell phones). Books can be tailored to specific niches, or even specific individuals (think: Michelin Guide replaced by three page guide to restaurants near my business meeting in the North End; or 200-page tome on knitting replaced by a single-page summary reminding me just how to cast-off.) Also, consumers today, perhaps sadly, watch and listen more and read less. They crave interactivity. Smart publishers will find ways to deliver that. Supplement your books with audio, video and new media. Think out of the proverbial box.
There’ll always be writers and (I hope) there’ll always be readers. The smart writers and publishers will figure out some way to propel their stuff into the world. But if large publishers don’t start making some radical changes, the publishing landscape may have to continue without them. And that would be a shame.
Fern Reiss is Director of the International Association of Writers (http://www.AssociationofWriters.com) providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She’s also CEO of PublishingGame.com (www.PublishingGame.com) and Expertizing.com (www.Expertizing.com) and the author of The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days. She consults on branding and positioning to small publishers and businesses. Her Expertizing® Publicity Forum enables businesses to pitch directly to journalists; more information at www.Expertizing.com/forum.htm. Sign up for her free email newsletter at http://www.AssociationofWriters.com