Books as Produce

AUTHOR-PUBLISHER DEAN Wesley Smith, in his book The New World of Publishing writes of a produce metaphor for the sale of books from “traditional” legacy publishing houses. That is: books are treated the same way produce is — as though they have a limited shelf life, and thus can only be sold profitably for avery brief window in time before they have to be pulled from the shelf and destroyed. (If that doesn’t strike you as manifest evil, I … I don’t know what to say about you. Both from the perspective that it wastes resouces (“Save the planet!”) and that it destroys literature — regardless of value (Shades of Fahrenheit 451!).

I’m certain that there is a calculus in the publishing business that there are diminishing returns on the investment of keeping books in inventory for sale in the future. It may even bear some resemblance to reality. Such business calculations sometimes do.

Sometimes.

But, as DWS mentions, this practice does not bode well for the career of a writer. If a print run doesn’t sell out — and booksellers are not entirely sensible about business, especially when ordering stock — the next one, if there is a next one, will be smaller, and rats to eat them until it’s not worthwhile to spend the nut on a writer who didn’t sell enough books last time out.

And, of course, if the book isn’t on the shelf when the reader is looking for it, it doesn’t sell, and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling business plan.

Some of you may have noticed that I have taken up the practice of posting in the right column links to Amazon of books I’m currently reading. The idea is, if you’re interested in both the book and helping out a site you read regularly (hint-hint), you click through and buy the book from that link. Doesn’t cost you any more, but I get a slight commission. Get enough volume and you might be able to buy a cup of coffee. It has thus far netted me approximately (checks affiliate statement) zero. I suspect that has to do with my slight traffic. But I also believe the situation will not obtain forever. So, having the habit in place now may aid me down the line. I think strategerically that way.

And, today, when I pulled my current read from the shelf — a book I’ve had since it was first available — I, of course, surfed over to Amazon to pick up a link. Only to discover that the binding I have — mass market paperback — is no longer available (at least not through Amazon).

Having been schooled to the rogue by DWS, I recognized right away what’s happening. The edition is 3 years old. Doubtless the first print run(s) have either sold out (or not). It may be that a new edition is due out. The author’s work is being collected in omnibus volumes and boxed sets, so perhaps the MMPB edition will be available again shortly.

Or it may be past its sell-by date and the publisher has declined to continue offering it for sale.

The book is one in a series — the Dresden Files — which is without doubt one of the best selling series in publishing, let alone the fantasy field, earning Jim Butcher all kinds of well-deserved accolades.

And the book is still available, just not in the cheapest and handiest binding.

Which looks to me a lot like Dean Wesley Smith’s produce model in action.

And, if it can happen to Jim Butcher, after so short a time on the market, it can happen to YOU, gentle reader and budding author.

And your point, Alger?

>Seriously consider self-publishing. Ask yourself: what does a New York house have that I don’t — or can’t get? The answer, of course, is: nothing. So the follow-on: why should you give them as much money as they’ll take out of your sales for stuff you can do/get for yourself?

I realize, as someone whose pro-publishing credits might surpass James Woolcot’s in number, but certainly not any serious author’s, I don’t have a lot of standing to be spewing this blather. So I urge you to find this stuff out for yourself. When you do, you’ll see that my basic premise is not mistaken, even though I may be weak on the details.

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