By Joe Moore
In her post yesterday, my friend Kathryn Lilley asked, "I'm also wondering how the book publishing business is going to survive in general?"
Like so many other segments of American business, publishing is hurting from the economic downturn. Publishing houses are downsizing, merging, laying off employees, and in some cases, temporarily halting the acquisition of new titles. Assuming that a congressional bailout is not in the cards, are there any other ways publishers can take action to save money and stay in business? Here are a few suggestions I think could help.
During the Great Depression, Simon & Schuster was the first publisher to offer booksellers the privilege of returning unsold copies for credit. The idea was to allow bookstores to take chances on new titles and help get unknown authors onto the selves. The practice has been in place ever since. With another possible depression on the horizon, maybe it's time to change that practice. What if publishers offered stores incentives not to return books? Or eliminated the practice altogether? It would greatly reduce cost on both ends; the house could cut down on the costs of handling returns while the bookstore could take advantage of deeper discounts and rebates to increase their margins. Just because that's always the way it's been done, doesn't mean it's still the right way.
How about eliminating ARCs? Rather than facing the small-run, high printing costs of advance copies, put the galleys online and send an email to the reviewers with a private link to download a PDF to their computers. Even better, give the reviewers an ebook reader like the Amazon Kindle and let qualified advance readers download and read as many galleys as they want for free. You only have to give them one reader but it would be good for hundreds or thousands of downloads. It’s a cheap, green solution to the high cost of printing ARCs.
And to attract more readership cheaply, what about publishers using inexpensive social networking to market titles to increase their market share? Set up Facebook or MySpace pages with links to sample chapters of new titles and catalogs along with author interviews and book trailers using YouTube-style videos. Include the ability to click to purchase ebook or order a print version on the spot.
The bailout isn’t coming, but tweaking the publisher's marketing and selling business model could reap results right away. Any other ideas out there to help publishers survive the hard times?