In this week’s death watch, the publishing business is going the way of the Edsel. E-books have won. Traditional publishers don’t know what to do with themselves or their lists. Agents are unnecessary. Anarchy reigns among authors. And, oh, yeah, Amazon is getting closer to world domination (tricky bastards). There is no leadership. The darkness is encroaching. The center cannot hold!
Let’s see, that about covers it, I think. Except, does it?
The afore-linked-to New York Times article contains a quote from Russ Grandinetti (whom we’ve met a few times at Amazon seminars we’ve attended and whom the Times refers to as “one of Amazon’s top executives,” leading me to believe they don’t know exactly what he does) which I actually loved: “It’s always the end of the world. You could set your watch on it arriving.” It also mentions some other shady (unnamed) Amazon characters twirling their mustaches while claiming that “publishers [are] in love with their own demise.” As wary as my colleagues and I are about Amazon and their plans to expand into publishing, I tend to agree with their assessment that traditional publishers can come across as a self-indulgent, hand wringing bunch who’d rather blame the big bad corporate entity for poaching their authors and re-drawing the battle lines than take effective steps to compete and prosper.
Enough, already. If the model is broken or the times have changed and there’s a new model out there, then learn it, adapt your systems, and make it work for you. Publishers are sitting on gold mines of backlists. They seem to be unable or unwilling to competitively price and promote the e-books they are putting out. They’re still paying too much for that “sure thing” Jane was talking about earlier this week. Most of all, they are loath to innovate at the speed the new paradigm requires.
Gerry Howard writes movingly in this week’s PW about how you really can’t apply the principles of Moneyball to publishing because you’d be ripping out its heart and doing away with all that wonderful serendipity that made The Bridges of Madison County, Tuesdays with Morrie, The DaVinci Code and countless other “small” buys into huge bestsellers. I agree. But, the thing I take away from Moneyball (the book and the film) is that you’ve got to look at your game differently if you are up against a rich behemoth who outpitches, outhits, and outfields you because they can buy all the talent out there. Whether you’re talking about the Yankees or Amazon, I think the lesson is the same: you can win playing smart small ball too.
Thoughts? Comments? Angry rebuttals?