Sunday, December 5, 2010

Yeah, I Was in a Bad Mood

OK, so I have bitched about antiquated and at-this-point inexcusably unprofessional business practices among book publishers. Now it is only fair to balance that assessment with this one: the answer to why we put up with it is that unlike in most industries, publishers absorb essentially all the risk in the publishing world.

Let's look at the supply chain for books. It starts with the author. In traditional publishing, the author invests no money in the per-unit cost of production. She pays for her wordprocessing/internet/postage and other "R&D", but her primary investment is time. The same goes for the agent. Like the author, the agent is risking intangibles such as reputation and opportunity costs for time spent not selling something else, but essentially the agent risks no cash. It's the publisher who pays both the author and agent AND their own editors and designers and artists and printers and sales force and PR and marketing and legal/accounting to create and track a gazillion different contracts. Then there are the distributors, who get paid in any case. Then there are the booksellers who can return unsold books or keep them and sell them on clearance. Sure, there are costs associated with inventory and risk that they are giving too much shelf space to the wrong books, but again, the real cash risk lies with the publisher.

THIS is why we let publishers have their eccentricities.

But there has to be a better way.


  1. With the advent of ebooks there is now another way to get your work out there and maybe even get paid for it.

    I don't have an ereader but Adobe Digital Editions and Kindle for pc are both free and I'm reading more books this way these days.

  2. Between my nook and my iPhone I read a lot of eBooks too, but that's a whole 'nother issue.

    I think that traditional publishers continue to have real value in this ecosystem. I think the editorial process alone is extremely valuable.
    But I think this value could be preserved while also making the system as a whole more efficient. I think I even have a glimmer as to how. But that's a post, not a comment. Stay tuned.