Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Mulching of Books

The Sunday, June 29th, issue of The Washington Post has an interesting article on how publishers choose books and why, as well as on what happens to books after their shelf life is done.
Amazingly, authors rarely ask what happens to their unsold books; perhaps they don't want to know. What seems abundantly true to me, however, after almost 20 years in the publishing business, is that an increasing number of their books will be -- and should be -- mulched. We are living in the age of the disposable book.
When talking about what publishers can do to increase their bottom line, the author Jonathan Karp offers suggestions, among them:
Diversify your "product line." Which is why there are six new diet books and presidential biographies every season: Publishers are engaged in an endless war for market share in the same limited categories, despite the fact that there's not much demand for new books in many of them.
Karp envisions a day when disposable books, as he calls them, will be limited in their scope.
The barriers to entry in the book business get lower each year. There are thousands of independent publishers and even more self-publishers. These players will soon have the same access to readers as major publishers do, once digital distribution and print-on-demand technology enter the mainstream. When that happens, publishers will lose their greatest competitive advantage: the ability to distribute books widely and effectively.
Then what will happen?
Many categories of books will be subsumed by digital media. Reference publishing has already migrated online. Practical nonfiction will be next, winding up on Web sites that can easily update and disseminate visual and textual information. Readers of old-fashioned genre fiction will die off…
The result?
Consequently, publishers will be forced to invest in works of quality to maintain their niche. These books will be the one product that only they can deliver better than anyone else.
It’s an interesting article. You’ll want to read the whole thing.


  1. Hi Helen,

    Good blog topic. It's important that authors stay informed about publishing trends--and boy do things keep changing in this industry. The news isn't always good, though. And this makes us want to remain in denial.

    As hopeful authors, we want to believe that there is an audience for our amazing books and that we will be able to retire on sales or royalties.

    As I see it, this is the decade of the split publishing industry. There are the traditional royalty publishers and the independents (self-publishing authors). It's like two different worlds; and one doesn't really understand the other. But through blog sites like yours and mine, understanding one another is possible.

    Keep up the good work.

    Patricia Fry

  2. Thanks Patricia. To blur the lines even more, some traditional publishers are considering doing no-advance deals, which have always been standard for the big publishers. http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com/2008/04/no-advance-book-deals.html

  3. That link to my post on the no-advance deals should read:


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