Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I call May and June Convention Alley. Three major events that focus (mostly) on books occur one after the other: Book Expo America (BEA), which is the largest of the shows, focuses primarily on general market publishing; International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS), which hones in on Christian book publishing; and American Library Association’s(ALA) annual convention, which brings together librarians of all stripes.
With all these bookish people rubbing elbows in large conventions, many discussions regarding publishing’s present direction and future possible directions occur–some planned as part of the conventions and others spontaneously. That makes Convention Alley an important space to ponder: What’s up with publishing?
e-books’ continuing impact
A bookseller at BEA made this statement that appeared in Publishers Weekly’s report on the show, “If I sold an e-book to every customer who came into my store, I’d be out of business in a week.” That’s a pretty disturbing statement considering the slow erosion of print book sales by digital sales. And the comment points out the importance of e-book selling for a comparable price to print books–if we care about bookstores staying healthy.
Many general market bookstores are discovering what Christian bookstores have known for a long time: You have to sell–and often emphasize–product that goes way beyond books: gifts, garments, music, jewelry, etc.
Also experiencing the significant impact of e-books are libraries. Publishers and libraries have yet to work out a relationship that enables libraries to stay relevant and able to easily loan e-books. Libraries are an important and steady source of books sales. But if publishers make it onerous for libraries to loan e-books, which generally is the case today, is publishing acting in its own interest?
The need to find innovative ways to reach the reader
Both bookstores and libraries do something that publishers have been hard-pressed to figure out: gain access to readers. Pundits have been telling publishers for several years that they have to figure out how to reach niche groups of readers and to do so directly. But the industry is having a hard time shifting to that paradigm. And maybe it’s not what publishing should be doing. But what about finding creative ways to connect with readers through a space they already occupy: bookstores and libraries?
Another possible way in which publishers could increase sales is possibly offering annual digital subscriptions. That would serve two purposes: It would make readers more aware of the publishing houses they buy their books from (“I had no idea I liked so many HarperCollins books!”); it would bring regular sales since a buyer would turn to his or her subscription source before looking around at what else was available.
Or here’s another thought: Studies show that many digital book purchasers also buy the print version of books. Why not offer a package deal that would cost more than one format but would be a saving to those who want to buy both? This could encourage more readers to buy companion formats. We know people like to do this; how can we encourage them to do it more?
Or what about a reader having the opportunity to buy in collections. Say, purchasing all the mysteries in a series or even a series of cookbooks at once? This could be a way to give a boost to a completed series (sell that backlist!); or the publisher could make this more of a subscription-based approach with a discount offered to those who subscribe when the first book releases. What if the publisher could automatically upload the next book onto the subscriber’s e-reader? Any of these prospects could provide publishers with the assurance that a certain number of sales would sustain a series rather than the publisher anguishing over whether a series was coming to its natural end or could go on for several more books.
Help the mid-list author
The segment of authors who have been hit hardest by the myriad of changes in our industry is the mid-list. These authors have had 10, 20, or even 30 books published, but they haven’t “broken out” yet. That doesn’t mean they won’t. It often takes having a hefty number of titles available for readers to discover an author and then decide to buy all of that author’s books. Generally authors require (okay, get ready for this) a decade or more to move out of the mid-list range and into the top tier. Obviously a lot can go wrong in that decade, including the author running out of steam. But publishers find it increasingly difficult to justify continuing to invest in that building process, which could be to everyone’s detriment. A publisher has put considerable resources into an author who is mid-list. Might it pay to provide another push to see if the author can become a best-seller rather than deciding to stop publishing someone who could just be coming into his or her own rhythm of writing and development of voice?
What could that publisher support look like? Teaming a mid-list author’s book in a special offer with a best-selling author who writes in the same genre is one option. Or creating a series that includes top-selling authors and mid-listers. Brainstorming with the mid-list author ideas for a new series that has a tremendous hook and then having that author tag-team writing alternating books with a best-selling author. This idea would work especially well if the publishing house selected a mid-list author and a best-selling author represented by the same agency. The agent would recognize that such a plan could boost sales for two clients. Another possibility: When a best-selling author is making an appearance at a bookstore, add a mid-list author to the event. As the long line for the best-selling author discourages some buyers, they’ll stop by to check out what the author with the shorter line has to offer.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about traditional publishing, what would it be?
An agent suggests publishing innovations. Click to tweet.
Ways publishers could increase book sales. Click to tweet.
How publishers could help mid-list authors. Click to tweet.