For hundreds of years the
book industry saw little change. It evolved slowly, from books handwritten by
monks to books produced on a printing press, which opened the doors to
information for more than just a wealthy few.
And then presses evolved, from
those that worked with metal type handset letter by letter to today’s equipment
that handles electronic PDFs.
Literally hundreds of years went
by between some steps in the industry’s evolution. Now change in our industry
today is occurring at warp speed, and the publishing process–from
interaction with our authors through distribution of our
products—sometimes seems like a dervish whirling out of control.
Just the other day, a publisher
asked, “When does a book go out of print in today’s world?” What with the
ability to produce one copy at a time whenever the demand occurs, a title can
stay in print forever. However, author/publisher contracts don’t seem to have
kept up with this new reality (PMA’s general counsel, Jonathan Kirsch, will be
covering this subject in an upcoming issue of the <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Independent). Like many, many other
contractual agreements, this one needs to be amended to stay current.
Remember when there were remainder
dealers that would buy your overstocks? I can recall attending many trade shows
where those dealers would walk up and down the aisles on the last day, trying
to negotiate a good deal for themselves and you on your exhibit stock. But in
today’s world, with so many new publishers hitting the scene and new electronic
ways to sell hurts and remainders, the remainder dealer is becoming a dinosaur.
I can’t recall the last time I saw one at BEA or ALA.
Many PMA members have told me that
they are selling their hurts and remainders themselves through Amazon.com,
eBay, Abebooks.com, and other venues that accept this type of sale. And, in
many cases, they are making more money than they would have if they had sold
the same stock to a remainder dealer, which, typically, would have paid an
amount based on weight, rather than on cover price.
Now Available Everywhere
Change is apparent in bookstores
and other sales outlets too. At one time, the bookstore was the primary, if not
the only, place people could purchase a book. Now options cover a vast
territory. Bookstores are part of the mix, but just part. Almost every store
you can walk into today carries some type of book product. Specialized book
And the Internet . . . ah, the
Internet! . . . has really leveled the playing field for so many publishers.
While a bookstore can offer a fraction of the available titles, the Internet
can offer the whole world of books. Want to read Tom Clancy or John Grisham in
French? You can probably have the translations delivered to your doorstep in a
day or so by searching the Internet.
Libraries have embraced the new
technology more vigorously than any other part of our industry. Have you
visited your local library lately? I must admit that I hadn’t for years, but
the other day I did. Although once the library was a quiet, almost deathlike
place, where the only sound seemed to come from the man in the corner turning
the newspaper’s pages, it has become a beehive of activity. From people on
computers, to children in a corner having a boisterous story hour, to the
author giving a seminar for the locals, today’s library is truly an interactive
community—warm, somewhat noisy, and electronically savvy. No Starbuck’s
yet, but I wouldn’t be amazed to see them in libraries one of these days.
The purpose of this column? To
acknowledge the independent publisher who is so ready both to accept and to
embrace changes in our profession. The challenge? Learning how to keep up
with—or maybe even get a few steps ahead of—rapid and constant