Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some People Might Find This Discouraging

I rarely buy The New York Sunday Times. I don't have any objection to the NYTimes but, for me, it's a week long job to read the Sunday version. And that's even with dumping parts of it directly into recycling because I don't live in New York and just don't care about some sections.

For the first time in years I bought the Times on Sunday. Here it is Thursday, and I still haven't found the book review, the reason I bought the whole thing in the first place.

I have read an interesting article in the Business Section, though. The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller is all about how unbusiness-like the publishing business is. By unbusiness-like I mean unlike other businesses. Agent Eric Simonoff is quoted as saying that when he talks with people in other businesses "they're stunned because it's so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research."

According to the article, 70 percent of mass market titles don't turn a profit. That seems like a lot, but how else should I interpret "with an estimated 70 percent of titles in the red?"

For a number of years now I've heard things about how much publishers favor debut authors. A second or third book is a hard sell if your debut wasn't big. Well, this article explains why. Publishers don't make huge amounts of money on big selling books by star writers because those books cost the publishers a lot of money. Those authors get big advances and those advances have to be covered by book sales before the book starts making money for the publisher. Where publishers really make money is on "surprise best sellers" by unknowns who accept smaller advances. They don't have to sell a million copies just to cover the big advance.

I had a much easier time understanding this article than I did the Economics section in An Incomplete Education.


Kate said...

I didn't think anything could make me feel sorry for Big Publishers, but that 70% in the red statistic actually gave me a sympathetic twinge. It certainly helps to explains some of their less desirable behavior patterns. I wonder if it was equally true fifty years ago.

Gail Gauthier said...

I was thinking about this again today. It's hard to understand how publishers stay in business if that figure is accurate.