Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is Publishing Dead?

According to Richard Laermer in his two-part article in the Huffington Post, publishing is dead. As someone who has worked at three of the biggest publishing houses over the course of seven years, I've read the article numerous times in an attempt to decide whether I agree or not. Like the industry in general, I'm kind of all over the place.

Laermer's first questions who is in charge. I've sometimes asked the same thing myself, but his theory of 22-year-olds running around bidding on books is a gross misunderstanding of who is running the large houses.  Sometimes I wonder whether publishing, especially children's publishing which is where I work, would be better off being run by recent college grads. Sure, they'd need some business training but really, if we're publishing books for teens and kids, wouldn't it make the most sense to get input from the people who were teens five years ago not two decades ago?

Laermer goes on two wonder how publishers can expect consumers to pay $25 for a book. I agree -- especially in economic times that call for less travel because gas is too expensive. If someone can't afford to get to and from work, isn't charging 4 times the cost of a fast-food meal for the privilege of reading a bit exclusionary? But from the publisher's perspective, selling fewer books that have a higher profit margin is a better route to follow as it cuts down on potential inventory and returns. Truth be told, there are a handful (at best!) of authors who I'd pay that much money for.

Over the course of the article Laermer goes on to complain that in this digital world one should be able to edit his or her work to the last minute. While this is theoretically true, most books are printed on paper, which costs more to print on in this country versus overseas, so it's not the printing that is timely, it's the shipping. 

Shortly thereafter he directly targets the marketing department (in which I work) for promoting the big-name authors and overlooking others. Hey, I agree. Nothing upsets me more than knowing that there isn't money to do anything for a fabulous new author, book, or series. But what Laermer fails to mention is that those same agents he rails against, basically calling them "sissies," only agreed to allow their big-name client to publish with said house because they agreed to spend XX (usually an exorbitant amount) dollars on marketing. Therefore a house is contractually obligated to spend that money and yes, agents have been known to check that the agreed-upon amount was actually spent.

Don't get me wrong, though. Laermer has his points. Yes, risks should be taken. In the age of the Internet people would rather pull out their paper-thin Mac Book than a thick volume of pages and publishers need to address this fact. I love the smell of new books and the feeling I get when I'm so into a book I can't wait to turn the page, but others are just as happy to read their news on a computer screen and peruse grammatically incorrect stories on 

Like Laermer, I have often questioned why large bookstore chains have final say on a book's cover. Why is it that once a "type" of cover catches on every book of a similar nature have the same cover? Why can't the publisher use their words to persuade a buyer, who in the case of the mass market chains may not have even read a book since high school, that this is the new cover, or the new look?

As I sit here and wait for Barack Obama to speak, with his message to change, I can't help but wonder if politics isn't the only "industry" (and let's face it, politics at this point is a sad extension of the boardroom) that needs changing.

What do you think? Is publishing dead?

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