September 25 – October 2, 2008 Edition

Magazine Article

Predicting “The End”

Has Publishers Buzzing

NEW YORK, NY/9/25/08–An article published last week by NEW YORK magazine boldly proclaimed: "The End: The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after," and had publishers and agents buzzing throughout Manhattan and elsewhere. Contributing editor Boris Kachka’s statement of doom drew anger and disbelief on several industry-related blogs.

Kachka describes the publishing industry as "foundering" and "full of dread" and says that "pretty much every aspect of the business seems to be in turmoil." He says that "Lately, the whole, hoary concept of paying writers advances against royalties has come under question." Citing the upsurge of auctions which bring $1 million advances to young, first-time novelists, Kachka points out that "The money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously. . ."

"The good fiction that does manage to snag a stratospheric advance is mostly either a follow-up or a knockoff of a break hit." He says overspending isn’t going away, even with a rotten economy, and that what he calls "the blockbuster era " makes retaining marquee writers an increasingly complex proposition. Kachka calls traditional marketing "useless" and the job of sales teams to force books into a shrinking handful of outlets. The writer also states that "Amazon lists publishers as it s competitors in SEC filings. "Editors and retailers alike fear that it’s bent on building a vertical publishing business–from acquisitions to your doorstep–with not a single middleman in sight. No HarperCollins, no Border,s no printing press. Amazon has begun to do end runs around bookstores with small presses. "

Kachka winds up by saying " Those owners who are genuinely interested in the industry’s long-term survival would do well to hire scrappy entrepreneurs at every level, people who can think like underdogs. . .

"It’ll be rough going in the meantime; some publishers will transform, some will muddle through, some will die."

On one major blog, The Book Maven blog, Bethanne Patrick, a member of the Book Critic’s Circle, said: If coming to "the end" means an end to endless stories about the golden age of publishing, the heyday of mom-and-pop bookstores, and closing down Michael’s, I say so be it. This article truly disappointed me, because instead of following HarperStudio (or someone else who is out there innovating, and there are others), it was simply Woe Is We As Usual. How much more can we all stand to read, given that we don’t have that much time to read, about how it was so glorious all in a golden afternoon? Does no one in publishing remember the lessons of "Ozymandias?"

Patrick adds: "There’s one thing Kachka got exactly right, re the ‘mom and pop’ publishing shops: ‘Their competitive advantage was not efficiency or low costs but taste.’ Here’s another old liberal-arts lesson: Chacun a son gout. Tastes change, and quietly weeping into teacups about how much more tasteful it all was back in the day gets us nowhere.

"It’s not about manners, or genteel ways of doing business, or people with ‘real’ passion for books. I have a real passion for books, I have an e-reader, I’m raising two avid readers, and I say: What’s next? I don’t expect anyone to have a single answer, or definitive answers. I just want us all to keep asking, seeking, pursuing instead of gazing into our own fusty novels navels."