Carpe Diem . . . or not.

September 27, 2009

An outsider’s perspective . . .

Publisher’s sales rose in July based on Literary Agent Laurie McLean’s blog post entitled JULY ’09 RESULTS: PUBLISHER SALES RISE 2% dated 9/24/2009. It only makes sense that in these times of increased financial burden, people turn to less expensive entertainment. It is actually a good time to be publishing, as opposed to the auto industry, manufacturing or banking for instance.

 So what’s the industry doing to take advantage of this slight upswing in sales? An aggressive brand marketing strategy? An advertising blitz? A company reorganization to streamline operations? A defined vision with supporting corporate infrastructure? 

Nope . . . nothing, and while even Wal-Mart is busy redesigning their brand so that when the economy improves, they can keep people coming back and permanently expand their customer base, the publishing industry does nothing to keep shoppers heading to bookstores as disposable incomes increase. With countless media sources competing for consumer dollars, sustainability in book sales isn’t possible without the proper nudge of top rate publicity. 

There is no evidence that I could find where any publishing company announced changes to their business models to keep the sales momentum going and for the life of me I cannot understand why the industry keeps doing business the same old way, but expecting better results. 

I’m no marketing expert, but if e-book sales rose one month by 213%, I, as a potential seller, would work hard to get my share of those sales. I’d also take a look at University Press e-books gaining momentum as more coursework goes online. That’s only the beginning. Does Scholastic really have a monopoly on school book fairs? I don’t think so and most of the books I see in the promotion flyers are gimmick books based on television shows and not books of real substance. This is such a missed opportunity. 

Instead, they wait for the next J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King to come along, but fail to create excitement in the media or promote the talented authors already in their bullpen. What if those next explosive best-sellers are already under contract with them? 

Bookstores are full of great books, but what media exposure do they get other than a few blog reviews, a small article in the back of a local newspaper and a few book signings? The sad part is that most of that exposure is either achieved by the author alone or an author/agent collaborative. 

And finally, there is the outdated and ridiculous practice of paying large advances. I’m completely for negotiating what I would call a “hiring bonus” in initial contracts, but the statistics show few of these sometimes exorbitant advances are ever earned out. Agent Kristin Nelson writes about this bleak fact on her blog post on EARN OUT

Even though the industry reports a downturn, they’re still willing to pay out obscene advances for work not even started. Here is an article about one author who was paid an eight million dollar advance. Something to ponder – why not put pay the guy a one million dollar advance and invest the other seven million into marketing initiatives and see which one earns out first? 

There are many articles on the internet regarding large advances vs. royalty percentages.  Here’s one worth checking out. 

Instead, this dinosaur continues to lumber about, awkward and without direction, seeming to rely more on word of mouth than a solid marketing plan and strategic product placement. It’s backwards, unsustainable and quite surprising that an old and important industry such as publishing is so slow to change. 

These are just small ideas from an unknown writer. Just imagine what a staff of marketing experts could do if motivated, millions of dollar in their budget and with a good legal team behind them.   








  1. And, of course, instead of partnering in the marketing with their authors, more and more publishers expect the authors to not only perform the bulk of PR, but pay for it.

    It’s frustrating.

  2. […] is done by the author or the author and their agent. See my Scruffy Dog Review blog about it here.  I’d planned to take the Buzz Your Book course that M.J. Rose offers anyway, if it ever […]

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