More Perspectives on Publishing

Samuel Johnson’s birthday today.

Here’s a link to some thoughts from Daniel Menaker on the publishing industry, including “Publishing is often an extremely negative culture,” and “Genuine literary discernment is often a liability in editors.” Those are the cheeriest bits.

Mike Shatkin responds here, pointing out among other things that —

“Each new book today is competing with millions of other book choices quite accessible to the consumer; 20 years ago it competed with about 100,000 other books. Forty years ago it competed with fewer than 50,000. Used books are offered right alongside the new ones online — a development of the past 10 years — and will increasingly be in the stores over the next 10 years. The amount of shelf space available for books at retail is shrinking for the first time in our lifetimes, while the number of titles competing for space is mushrooming. Menaker says 150,000 titles are being published annually; counting by the new ISBNs each year, the number is actually two or three times that large. Industry output was about 10,000 titles annually in the 1960s… It’s not just in people’s imagination that the business is getting harder and it is also becoming more depressed. People in books are not as happy as they used to be, because success, as measured by dollars in over dollars out, is not as ubiquitous as it used to be… It is characteristic of an industry that is getting smaller after several hundred years of only getting bigger…”

Another Shatkin post contains this striking observations —

“Not one major publisher has different product descriptions for the trade than they do for the consumer. Not one. When you’re talking about a book to a consumer what you want to say is ‘you need this book because…’ When you’re talking about a book to a bookstore you need to say, ‘X number of people need this book because…’ It’s a different pitch, but we’re using the same content for each.”

From the same source —

“…value moves to scarcity. This is immutable, you cannot change this. Content creation and distribution are no longer scarce. Anybody can do them. Distribution is not an issue. I can type something on my computer today, I can flip it to my website, it is distributed. Any body in the world, on the web, can get it. The problem is, will they know about it? That’s the problem. Marketing is the problem. Distribution is no longer the problem. And you’re going to do your marketing niche by niche, and nugget by nugget, and it does require scale. If you don’t have enough content, or clout in a community, you won’t be heard. If you don’t pay enough attention or put enough labor into a community, you won’t be able to command the attention of that community.”
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