But the real reason why books are going to vanish is the remarkably un-business-like business model of the publishers. Think of General Motors — decades of inefficiency, but without the federal bailouts.
In no other industry do producers actually wait passively to see what products are suggested to them, instead of doing market research to see what people really want to buy. Yet publishers seldom generate book ideas; instead they wait for literary agents to submit proposals. Houses decide which book to publish based on little more than a gut feeling that says, “I think we can make money selling this!”
Yet the books that publishers choose are almost entirely of zero interest to actual book-buyers. After 9⁄11, there were a ton of books about 9⁄11, which nobody bought. Same thing with the Iraq War, the rise of Obama, the economic meltdown, and even, inexplicably, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Or the books are rehashed business lessons, religious truths, sports clichés, motivational babble, exercise fads, weight loss techniques, or pandering to the political left or the right. Who wants these books? Almost no one.
Most of the major publishers today are owned by international conglomerates who, at some point, will awaken to the realization that English majors in their employ are spending millions of dollars on books that no one wants to read.
As a result, few trade books earn real money for the publisher (and certainly not for the author!). That’s because the publisher bears the entire risk of buying, editing, printing, and shipping copies of the book to bookstores all over the country on a 100% returnable basis. If your local Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell a particular book, it goes right back to the publisher, at the publisher’s shipping cost, for a full refund. Especially in the Internet era, you can’t make money putting books on trucks and hoping someone buys them.
At BEA next week, the attendees will solemnly discuss the latest trends, discuss how to get 70-year-old authors to use Twitter, and generally party like it’s 1989. But for traditional publishing, the party’s over. They just don’t want to realize that it’s time to turn out the lights.
Всё это напрямую касается и больших российских издателей. Издавать горы фигни, быстро превращающейся в стоки, и тайно уповать на закон Парето, что сработает и на этот раз и что-нибудь да выстрелит — бесконечно невозможно.
Какой процент сокращения продаж нужен, чтобы издатели задумались о том, не ждёт ли их судьба метранпажей?