Book publishers have long been criticized for the following:
· Being elitist gatekeepers as to what gets published
· Failing to put publicity or marketing muscle behind most of their titles
· Being late in meeting publishing deadlines
· Failing to brand the name of the imprint or house
· Underpaying and overworking its employees
· Giving out advances to books that will never earn out
· Not giving big advances to more deserving authors
· Being slow to change and respond to the new marketplace
· Not printing enough copies of a book and then being too slow to reprint
· Seizing editorial control of the cover, title, and content and then not listening to the input of authors
The list goes on, most of it true, with of course exceptions to all of them. But the big issue facing publishers is now about how they will sell directly to consumers.
On one hand, selling to consumers directly gives them a chance to cut out the middleman – wholesalers – and offers a chance to build a brand and customer base by skipping the retailer.
On the other hand, bookstores will get pissed off and struggle to survive.
Amazon’s ebooks won’t be impacted because only Amazon can sell the kindle version and the vast majority of ebook readers are Kindles.
Publishers should sell directly to consumers, but hopefully it is in a way that doesn’t hurt bookstores. For instance, Random House sells physical books directly to consumers but offers no discounts. Obviously, they won’t sell many books this way, but if they do, it won’t injure stores that offer discounts. Penguin offers its website shoppers to buy books, but it provides options to use six traditional retailers.
Hachette, in a battle royale with Amazon, is the only big publisher not to sell directly to consumers.
Simon & Schuster, for the most part, sells to consumers without discounts but does offer free shipping for orders of $25 or more.
Harper Collins just relaunched its website, featuring a bigger emphasis on direct sales to customers.
What would make sense is to see bookstores owned by publishers. Why not go to Times Square and enter the flagship store for Penguin Random House? The store would only feature titles published by PRH. Of course, the danger is that consumers aren’t being exposed to a diverse selection of titles. Bookstores like B&N sell titles of all publishers – big and small – even self-published ones. Perhaps there should be a new chain of bookstores that have investments from publishers, but still, would such stores give a disproportionate share of shelf space to its investing companies?
What we need are reading centers – places where we can have a sense of community for those who congregate. We think of bookstores this way but should the retail market continue to erode, we would encourage governments, charities, publishers, and schools to form an alliance to encourage the creation of reading centers that combine the lending of a library, the learning environment of a college campus, the retail of a bookstore, the recommendations and reviews of a newspaper/magazine, and a place where authors can speak, readers can interact, and anyone can just come and feel welcomed.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Before stores go under and publishers die out, we must determine how publishers should sell to consumers and ensure the book ecosystem remains balanced, fair, and supportive of all the key parties and their interests.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014
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