You have to admire that Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin is CEO of MacMillan and a blogger. His blog is here and for anyone interested in publishing you should grab the feed, read his posts and visit the site regularly to read the comments and participate.

He has posted today on the non-fiction market which is a market I, first and foremost, work within and secondly buy most of my books from (as you will see if you visit my bookshelf on librarything.com). While the Irish market is quite different in some ways for the UK one it has similarities and it is sad to hear his lament:

Quality history, biography, politics, economics hardbacks sell between 2000 and 20,000 copies in hardback. UK sales of totally brilliant books such as Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat are a tiny fraction of US even allowing for population differences. It appears that Americans are more prepared to purchase and read challenging books than the British.

His post is full of questions and perhaps that is why it has sparked some very good comments (despite there only being four to date). The author Susan Hill says:

Non-fiction sells sometimes. If it is price at a tenner and catches on. Of course if there is a TV tie-in and it is written by David Attenborough, it sells. But publishers have only themselves to blame for desperatelly seeking ANYTHING. They are coming unstuck.

The most comprehensive response is from Ann Michael of Manage To Change a blog i have only recently discovered but which I added to my feeds immediately on discovery. She says:

What needs to change in the business model (great suggestion from Susan about print-on-demand and on-line options) for publishers to be successful the way they are performing now?

And

As many industries are learning, the mass market that warrants big marketing budgets isn’t even there anymore – why not focus (or at least experiment with focusing) marketing money on more viral campaigns. Get your fans to work with you.

All in all it is an amazing conversation and one I hope will continue for some time. You have to admire Richard for having the time, energy and chutzpah to kick off a discussion like this one. He is after all in a senior position within a huge company which must take a bunch of his time. If only the rest of the publishing industry was as open and frank in their dealings it might be a more efficient and open on.

Head over and check it out.

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