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S&S CEO Calls for Innovation in Publishing to Meet Economic Downturn

Carolyn Reidy addressed publishers at the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association CEO Symposium and Publishing University in Illinois last week.  She stated that because of a combination of things "significant decrease in retail traffic, less consumer purchasing, a gloomy economic forecast, declining backlist sales, brand name authors continuing to sell but 'everything else is far off normal levels,' and retail partners who demand more favorable terms and concessions 'as if we are the answer to their problems…'"

Reidy suggested trying to eliminate returns (not customer returns by retailers returning books to publishers) and a "consortium model for the distribution part of the supply chain."  She noted that marketing would need to change.  "[N]ow we have the chance to actually find the reader where they are spending their time—in front of a screen—and cement a relationship with them through e-mail newsletters, viral marketing, mobile delivery and other tools.”

Other interesting things Reidy pondered was the threat of self publishing.  When would a major author go out on his or her own.  Distribution is always a problem for self published authors but could a major brand name author take the 60-70% royalty she's giving to the publisher and use that to advertise and sell her own self published books?  It's an article worth reading.  

Can publishers harness print on demand, digital services, and other technologically advanced business practices to meet the changing economy?  One thing I've thought would be smart would be for publishers to buy a number of digital readers and loan them to reviewers (taking a credit card number for deposit/security purposes) and then send the reviewers efile copies of review copies.  Publishers spend an enormous amount of money on postage and printing for review copies and print marketing materials that it would represent a net savings for them. Digitizing their inventories can present a win for the print side of publishers by providing print on demand capabilities for any book for which the publisher holds a copyright license.  I'm sure that there are other ways in which publishers can trim the fat without reducing quality or content.

Via Publishers Weekly 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ann Somerville
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 00:51:11

    Digitizing their inventories can present a win for the print side of publishers by providing print on demand capabilities for any book for which the publisher holds a copyright license.

    But this might not be a good thing for an author whose contract can only be ended once their novel goes out of print – because in theory, it never will. Contracts will need to be renegotiated, which could be an expensive and lengthy business.

    I’m all for publishers revamping their business because publishing is seriously broken right now, but they need to revise business models and royalty schemes to make it attractive to the writer.

    I can’t see self-publishing catching on for big authors. Unless they form their own collective, even authors like La Nora would have trouble matching the advertising and distribution set up of the big name companies. For small authors, it’s definitely a waste of time.

  2. DS
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 10:44:40

    I’m not a POD fan, but I would love to have authors’ backlist digitalized and available for purchase. Yesterday I ran into an author whose books I really enjoyed a few years ago. When I checked Amazon I found that she had a nice backlist but they (mostly) weren’t available except used– and some were wickedly expensive. Of course I spent a decade tracking down a copy of G. K. Collier’s The Golden Web so I probably should just bite the bullet and buy them– but I would like the author to get a royalty.

    I’ve read about the contract issue before but it seems that maybe some renegotiation would be in order given a significant change in publishing.

  3. Jane
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 10:49:23

    @DS: I think that floors can be set for rights expiration (i.e., a certain number of copies must be sold in successive years or the rights expire) but at some point, the author has to decide whether being part of the distribution is worth not letting the rights revert back.

    @Ann Sommerville: The self publishing model issue was aimed at “major” authors. Ie, if Janet Evanovich decided to self publish how many bookstores would refuse to sell the books? How much more money could she recoup by making her own deals with distributors? It’s obvious that the existing model of publishing is not going to be viable in the next 10 15 years, maybe less. Publishing isn’t going to get a gov’t bailout like the auto or financial industry so it’s adapt or die.

  4. Ann Somerville
    Nov 12, 2008 @ 22:24:32

    Jane, I realise it’s only the major authors who could make a go of it. I’m just wondering how having to set up and manage one’s own distribution and marketing machine would be of any benefit to an author in that league? Setting all that up is a lot of time and work, and if the authors I’ve read on the subject are anything to go by, they really don’t like the stuff involved in selling books that isn’t about writing.

    Seems to me you either sell books for a living, or you write them. And since the returns system is built into the book selling end of the chain, no matter who does the distribution – author or publisher – until that system is reformed, no one is going to win.

    It's obvious that the existing model of publishing is not going to be viable in the next 10 15 years, maybe less.

    Agree 100%. It needs an entire new model of how books get from the author to the reader, but simply replacing the publisher with the author’s own efforts doesn’t seem to me, at least, as the way forward. The publishing machine comes with things authors needs – cover artists, editors, marketing specialists – and fixing that machine so it works well would, in the end, be best for all authors, big or small.

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