Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tension between publishers and authors

We received this as part of a reply message this morning.

We are using it as our Sunday School literature, this fall. Coincidentally, our pastor is Jim Evans, who wrote this volume. The publisher will not allow him to purchase author copies to resell, however; so we must depend on the Episcopalians in Seattle for our ten copies.

My reply included a brief mention that publishers are having tough times these past several years. Copies of an author’s book were usually quite readily available to the one who wrote the thoughts that became the book. Not any longer.

Here is a longer answer for them, and perhaps for you.

In my humble opinion, from what I have read, not all, but much of the problems for publishers have been the result of Amazon.com, and later to Barnes and Noble and perhaps Borders. First, Amazon did it to the independent bookstores by selling books below the price that bookstores, including Amazon, could purchase them. They did that long enough (several years) to drive out of business tens of thousands of independent bookstores across the country.

Then they did it to the publishers. For a moderate book with a print run of 1000 copies, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and a couple of others, would purchase more than half of the print run. Within a few months they would return thousands of unsold copies to the publisher for a full credit that they would use to purchase other books. During those few months the publisher may have sold out of that title and ordered another print run because sales looked brisk. Then the huge returns arrived and the publisher had way too many books. If they sold the overstock as remainders at pennies on the dollar, the bigger stores would purchase them and price them and sell them well below market price. Once again cutting into the profit margin and stock of the publisher, while reaping large profits for themselves. Alternatively, the publisher could send them to a recycler to make scrap paper out of the books that they had published and thereby losing all of their investment in that book.

Recently, publishers are trying to keep up with the surge of interest in electronic books. Old established book publishers are well practiced at creating books. Adapting to the digital world has been exceedingly challenging for them. You may have seen some of the turf wars where a huge bookseller, like Amazon, sets their price for a new digital book at a specific price, like $9.95 for a book that would sell as a new hardcover book at $25.95, and demanding that publishers sell them digital copies well below that price, that results in not enough margin to pay for the cost of creating the book.

These business decisions have been immensely difficult for publishers. One small result is not allowing authors to obtain copies of their own books without purchasing them at retail price.

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