Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How To Make a Besteller: NY Times article

Check out this story in the New York Times about the book business.

I like this quote from an editor:

“People think publishing is a business, but it’s a casino.”

I'm continually puzzled as to why no one has come along and found a way to make the book business work better for everyone. It's a complicated business, with a distribution and retail chain that's insane (booksellers can return books to the publishers for the full price, which takes too much of the risk off the retailers).

Part of the problem is that it would lose the lottery feeling, and the people who earn the big bucks would have to give some of them up. It doesn't make any sense (as you'll see in the article) for publishers to lavish huge advances on big name authors, on whose books they will lose money. But, as I read somewhere (I can't remember where)--bookselling is a business that doesn't really make sense in a corporate environment. If a publisher is privately owned, the owners can make a good living. But there is a fairly constant number of eyeballs out there, so the corporate desire of steady double digit growth in revenue and profit, isn't sustainable, long-term.

Anyway check out the article.


Dan S said...

I think the casino metaphor works as well in the general business world as it does in publishing. Wildly successful business people like to point to the good decisions they made, but it is a bit tautalogical. They place bets and events swing one way or another, and they ended up making good decisions because things went their way. If events had turned out slightly differently, it would be a different group of people patting themselves on the back for having made predictions that turned out their way.

I'm not saying success is completely random. It takes talent (usually) to be successful. But I think *which* talented person wins big vs which other talented person goes unnoticed depends a lot on simple luck.

Actually, it depends a lot on social policy as well, but that's a different discussion. :)

patrick said...

Good point, Dan. In general, I probably like to think that the business world operates in a thoroughly ration manner, despite the fact that I see evidence to the contrary all the time.

The luck factor plays out in writing all the time. Talent and hard work are essential, but I know lots of very talented actors busting their asses who have yet to catch a break. (And who need to not think to hard about the fact that they might never.)