Backlist blues

A number of comments on backlist sales have been sobering for anyone involved in publishing. The NYTimes had this piece and Medialoper mused a little more cogently on the issue here and Booksquare has a piece here that directed me towards the Medialoper piece.

A taste of the NYT piece:

Publishers are forever searching for new ways to “revitalize” the backlist. Sometimes that means issuing a special edition, as Vintage did to fete the 50th anniversary of “Lolita” last year. (Sales rose to 100,000 copies, up 30 percent from 2004.) And then there are the movie tie-ins. In 2004, Vintage shipped about 50,000 copies of “In Cold Blood”; this year, after the movie “Capote” appeared, it shipped 400,000. Houghton Mifflin saw sales of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy rise 1,000 percent — to 25 million copies — when the movies were in theaters from 2001 to 2003. Surprise endorsements also help. When “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise,” was mentioned in an episode of “The Sopranos,” Penguin Classics saw a spike in sales of its edition.

It is not a bad piece to be fair and in fact has some nice flourishes. The Medialoper piece is as ever more insightful:

For years now, the smarter studios have been digitizing their backlist. This is an expensive — extremely expensive — and time-consuming process. Yet the industry has been moving toward digital with grim determination. They don’t like the free-wheelin’ ways of the Internet, but the lure of digital distribution, satellites and fast wires and sometimes no wires at all, is irresistible. Even now, as they step warily into new media markets via services like CinemaNow and Movielink, and even now, as the dollars are relatively small compared to the initial investment, they worry about piracy.

But they keep on moving forward.

This year, publishers like HarperCollins announced initiatives to start digitizing their backlists. It makes you want to bang your head against your keyboard. If we take 1994 as the dawn of the new age, then you’re talking about a dozen years wasted on the sidelines. In those dozen years, scores of movies and television series have been digitized. This is product ready to hit the virtual shelves. Why in the world is the publishing industry just now looking at backlist and digital and putting the pieces together?

I recommend reading both. It certainly gets my brain going into overdrive. How is this going to affect me I wonder? how will I be able to profit from it? I suspect that this will not be the last time I consider backlists

From the kitchen