Day: June 13, 2006

Publishing is about profit . . (Oh and books!)

It should not really be a surprise to people that publishers make decisions on a commercial basis (at least most of them) but it seems to be. Even the sites that we laud for opening up publishing to everyone are commercial operations and based on returns. Lulu.com offers great services and charges accordingly. By the look of its book costs Blurb.com is targeting a more up market field gift books for self publishers. iUniverse.com, booksurge, Xlibris and all the rest of that crowd will happily publish your book so long as you pay and they make their money.

Mick from rockwatching posted a comment last night on my blog and I have taken a small section of it:

It is in my opinion an industry that looks to hard at how to wring the greatest dollar amount from the consumer and is as of late providing the least back. Case in point, it is so very hard to find anything but generalities at my local Chapters. Is that because the public only wants to read fluff? I dont know. Is it the struggling publishers fault? Probably not, no doubt they are just trying to make sound economic decisions . . .

It might make me unpopular to say so but damn right publishers are trying to take the most money the can from the market, that’s what a business is meant to do. If the publishers are providing the least back then why do people continue to buy books? I am not for a second denying that some dreadful books get past the press and some truly wonderful books don’t. But I do resist the notion that every book currently on the market is “fluff”.

Everyone has their own definition of interesting books, for some it’s fiction, for some it’s non-fiction others love literary endeavours some are mad about poetry. Personally I love quality history and current affairs and the selection at the moment in this field is truly mind boggling.

While I do not judge the value of books solely by this method, I’d challenge someone to look over the New York Times Bestseller List for Hardback Non-Fiction. If you cannot find a book of interest to you there maybe non-fiction is not your thing so try the Fiction list.

Publishers will publish what makes money. If that mean publishing books that challenge the reader then challenging books will be published, if it means publishing fluff then fluff will be published. What the opinion expressed by Mick ignores is the challenge of making money with any book in the industry. With high discounts, price pressures, massive competition and industry changing technological shifts ongoing and constant it sometimes seems a miracle that any books get published.

But the reality is that opinions like Mick’s (And I don’t mean to pick on him, he is just the current exponent of a theme in society) are wrong. Publishers are releasing excellent books, by brilliant authors containing fascinating content. And shock horror they make money too. That is the great thing about markets, bad books make money if they can grab hold of a readership and great books can make money in exactly the same way.

I don’t think publishers should say sorry for publishing “bad” books; people enjoy them. I don’t think publishers should be praised for publishing “good” books either. Publishers should be judged on their records as companies. Are they innovative? Do they sell lots of books, good or bad? Do they connect with authors and readers? Most of all they should be judged like any business, do they deliver value and profit?