Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
I love the books Dawn Cook writes under the pen name Kim Harrison. I really, really do in that bone-deep way that defies my meager attempts at description, so let’s leave it at that. But when I read her post today about Loyalty, Trust, and Pixy Dust, I just couldn’t sit on my hands.
Dawn is brushing over many of the recent horror stories authors have experienced as well saying that the industry is in it for the love of books. She says that we should show loyalty to a system that brought us so many wonderful books in the past. She “bristles at the notion that the traditional publishing industry is in it only for the money.” Why does a company go into business except to make money?
Let’s take the warm fuzzies out of this and look at the industry in a more critical light:
The book store industry is built on bottom-line numbers, not a love of books, and those numbers tell a grim tale. While the US economy is expected to grow over the next five years, the book store industry will not follow suit. Revenue is expected to decline at 1.6% per year on average to $16.5 billion by 2017 (IbisWorld 2012). The recent failure of Boarders and Barnes & Noble’s announcement they will close a third of their stores is a clear sign that this is an industry in decline. Competition with mass merchandisers, such as Wal-Mart will also continue to be a challenge for them.
The book publishing industry is also greatly distressed, but recent restructurings by publishing houses, operational savings in digital printing technology, and expansion of internet and digital media outlets have created some savings for the industry. However, these savings are not repeatable every year and only stem the hemorrhaging. The industry is still desperately seeking solutions.
46.7% of the book publishing industry is composed of textbooks and academic books. Adult trade fiction compose only 18.6% of the industry (IbisWorld 2012). Additionally, textbook profits are higher than trade fiction profits due to lower advertising costs.
If I was going to make changes that I would hope would save my company, which part of the market would I focus on? The biggest piece of the pie, of course. I think traditional publishers are happy to let Amazon wrangle independent authors, especially after Amazon announced it was acquiring GoodReads yesterday.
However, I sense that Dawn is talking about the people who have found employment in these industries, not the companies themselves. Book publishing is a labor-intensive business, and we should value the expertise of the employees. I’m sure most of them are decent and caring, and they really love books and hope to share the best ones with the world. That is admirable, and I respect it.
The good old days really were good, shoot, they were great. But those days are also gone, like so many of our favorite bookstores. Those stories have come to an end.
But we need to wake up and see what is happening. If a company is going to be successful in this market, they need to focus on their key factors of success (IbisWorld):
As bookstores continue to close and publishers continue to consolidate, the attractive convenience of e-books will only increase. IbisWorld estimates that e-book sales will generate 26.2% of industry revenue in 2013, and is projected to expand rapidly to 32.8% of revenue by 2018. The ease of self-publishing and self-marketing will provide additional competition in the marketplace and take away profits from book publishers. In response to this, publishers will continue to control as much of the distribution channels as possible.
Independent authors are in direct competition with traditional publishers. There is only so much disposable income from consumers to make purchases each month. If they buy my book, they may not buy yours. It is in publishers best interests to limit independent authors as much as possible and buy up any that are “proven winners.”
I’m sorry Dawn, I respect your viewpoint, but I can’t see it from where I’m sitting. The employees of the publishers may love books, but companies love money, and publishers are out to eat my lunch.