Friday, August 28, 2009


Kate Stine was kind enough to send me a link to a very interesting piece from the PW website. Go to Commentary to check it out.

Why scaling down is good for publishing

by Douglas Rushkoff -- Publishers Weekly, 8/24/2009

The corporate consolidation of publishing over the past two decades has finally maxed out. Borders is verging on bankruptcy; Barnes & Noble is closing stores; and major media conglomerates are closing imprints and ejecting talent faster than they gobbled it up in the 1990s. While this makes for some bleak headlines in the short term, it bodes well for the future of a publishing industry that operates on a scale more appropriate to the medium we're all creating and selling.

Publishing is a sustainable industry—and a great one at that. The book business, however, was never a good fit for today's corporate behemoths. The corporations that went on spending sprees in the 1980s and '90s were not truly interested in the art of publishing. These conglomerates, from Time Warner to Vivendi, are really just holding companies. They service their shareholders by servicing debt more rapidly than they accrue it. Their businesses are really just the stories they use to garner more investment capital. In order to continue leveraging debt, they need to demonstrate growth. The problem is that media, especially books, can't offer enough organic growth—people can only read so many books from so many authors.

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

for the rest go here:


Christopher said...

I managed a bookstore for seven years before going into teaching. I started with a small independent that got swallowed by a big box store.

I worked for the big box until I couldn't stand the bottom line of book selling.

Now I teach in the day and write at night. I miss selling books but I am glad that I left.

Anonymous said...


Interesting premise, and one I agree with. I think publishing became a commodity, rather than the means to produce something an editor or publisher loved. I believe that's why so many small presses have such a hardcore and loyal audience. Rich over at CD is an example. Most of his audience is with him on most of his projects. He (and I'm making an assumption without having spoken to him about this in a long while) can generally count on a range of sales for each project. It's because, I think, he doesn't have to fill a particular number of slots to keep X number of sales and dollars rolling in so that the shareholders' statements look good.

Tangentially, I've argued for years that huge advances and celebrity-size sales (which are used, I believe, to gin up publicity and hopefully sales) were completely unsustainable. The book industry simply isn't that big. Truly, how long has it been that even moderate numbers of people can make a living doing nothing but writing? I could be wrong, but I believe that to be a fairly modern development. I do believe that more writers should be able to make a living doing it, but as long as the corporations give $1 million to one writer, rather than $50,000 to 20 writers, then that simply won't happen.

And I've seen this conundrum happen to friends of mine. They're given vast amounts of money with absolutely no chance of selling through. They're excited about the money, but don't think about how many books they have to sell so that magic tracking system considers them a good risk for the next book.

I think the industry could use a good mental enema about how it conducts business. And I say that as someone who, right now, is having a helluva hard time selling novels.


Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

I agree that in the long run this will be good for the industry. Those houses (and writers) who adapt to the changing times will do so and find success.

As a professional writer myself I am seeing more and more magazines, both print and online, are accepting email submissions. There are still some dinosaurs out there. It will be ever thus. But most publishers are starting to get with the script and modernize.