The OF Blog: Want to know why I'm so cynical about the publishing industry?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Want to know why I'm so cynical about the publishing industry?

After reading posts like this one at Editorial Ass about how at least 40% of books in most categories are pulped, is it really any wonder why it can be so damn easy to acquire review copies and/or arrange for book giveaways?

Always amazes me to read bloggers who talk about how they received books from publishers in such a way as if it were some sort of special favor, rather than overworked and (I suspect) underpaid publicists trying to get any sort of rise in sales, since the likelihood of around half the books printed for most authors will be pulped. Might as well try sending out one of those possibly doomed copies (which are pulped at the publisher's cost, not the bookstores') to blog review sites, since there's the chance that there might be increased sales of perhaps a couple hundred to a few thousand, right?

I'm not usually this cynical and I do appreciate the people I've come to know over the years that have to deal with this rather unforgiving (and sometimes asinine) business model, but when I read things like the link above...yeesh.


Charles said...

Larry, while there a lot of things wrong in the publishing industry (the pulped books isn't really news to me), it's a different situation when it comes to receiving review copies:

1) Review copies tend to be separate from the actual batch of printed copies. They're usually more expensive so if you get an ARC as a reviewer, the publisher/publicist did take great pains to procure it (in addition to the time and expense of shipping it to you).

2) If you received an actual copy of the book (i.e. for prizes), again, it still took time and effort from the publicist to procure/send them.

3) Most of the marketing happens either before the book's release or in the first few months. The publisher, at this point, wants the books to be moved. Pulping only happens in the later stage of publishing life cycle (i.e. after a year), so the pre-release promotion shouldn't be mixed up with the pulping cycle (and usually has little to do with the publicist).

Larry said...

Yeah, I know Charles and while I do agree with your points, I still have at times (like when I wrote this piece) the attitude that it's all a business at the end, one in which my cooperation is being solicited in order to help spike sales. I think I acknowledged some of points 1 and 2, but yes, point 3 is one that I didn't address.

I'd say more, but I just woke up and am likely nearly incoherent now :P

Foreverlad said...

If only a percentage of to-be-pulped books could be sent out for reviews/contests for the sake of second wind sales.

It'd be great, but would likely do little more than add additional costs to the publishers.

Jeff C said...

Maybe I am naive, but to me, this is another reason ebooks could be good. Nothing to destroy if they aren't sold. If they really do destroy 40% of printed books, seems like that is another big expense that print books have that ebooks don't. I wonder if this could be used as another argument for why ebooks should be cheaper than print books (not free, just cheaper). Or am I missing something with this argument?

Andrew Wheeler said...

First, the fact that not all copies of a manufactured commodity are eventually sold is not at all unusual. What's different about the book/magazine industry is the ability of retailers to return unsold product; most retailers just have to eat unsalable goods. There's no such thing as "returns" in consumer electronics or evening wear, but there definitely is a percentage of unsold and unsalable goods on every single consumer product. Many are marked down in place, but many more are destroyed.

(And, yes, a book is a consumer product. It may be other things, but a consumer good it always is.)

Second, this is not cynicism; it's realism. Newspapers and magazines are vastly reducing their coverage of books; they were even before the economic crisis, and it's gotten much worse. Publicists and marketers are trying to get their books into the hands of people who will talk about them to a reasonable audience, and bloggers are such people. This might not be business to you, but it's business to them -- you're getting that book because The Ann Arbor News went under, and those marketers and publicists would really like someone to see and appreciate their books.

Also, unless your numbers are much higher than I suspect, or your response rates are vastly through the roof, any one (non-superstar) blog will probably move a dozen or so copies of a novel, at best. But, then again, The Ann Arbor News probably didn't move more books than that, either.

And those now out-of-work newspaper people were just as passionate about books as any of us. Sure, they were usually paid (badly), and we aren't, but otherwise it's mostly a different of format and preferred genres.

(Also, what Charles said -- I won't repeat it, but it's all true.)

Charles said...

Jeff: Yes, you're missing something with your argument but it's too long to discuss here. Mainly, eBooks are a vastly different business model from print, so while it might not pulp books, it has a different set of problems on its own. As to whether this is a good reason as to why eBooks should be priced cheaper, that's also a different debate.

Larry said...


I pretty much agree with what you said, but one little quibble: the bit about the "hundreds" was in reference to several blogs as an aggregate. I would be surprised if I convinced a dozen people to buy most anything based on this blog alone (I am also active on a few forums, but I'm realistic there).

As for the realism/cynicism, I chose cynical to describe myself in relation to those who have a more idealistic view of the publisher/reviewer relationships. I agree that it's a business (one of my regrets from writing this as a reaction piece more than anything else is that I didn't make that point clear enough) and one that can involve mutual interest.

So I guess my post is almost stating the obvious, huh? ;)

E. L. Fay said...

I did a publishing internship in college. I was told that the only way to make money in publishing is to start out with a lot of money.

And here I am thinking it was such a privilege to get free books. . .

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