Tuesday, July 25, 2006

bookselling in america

The future of retail selling is changing.

I saw a fascinating interview on Charlie Rose last night. Most of his interviews are just that, but this was particularly of interest because of the subject. Chris Anderson is the award-winning editor of Wired magazine. He has authored a new book titled “The Long Tail.” He contends that we are looking at the end of the increasingly desperate search for the mega hit. And the implications that descend therefrom are interesting. If he’s right, there are new business models to consider, and since every author is a small business person, his POV is something to seriously consider. Here’s what he believes: “The future of business is selling less of more.”

In other words, the hit television program or movie, the hit record album or the mega-seller book, is becoming less important to the financial health of the musician, the author or the producer than is a larger quantity of a smaller number of whatever it is.

Here are some approximate figures:
New titles every year in the US-200,000
Number of titles in print-4,000,000

How many does B&N or Walmart stock? A thousand titles?

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Nielsen’s Bookscan reports that in 2004 they recorded 1.2 million book sales. 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies each.

Only 25,000 titles sold more than 5,000 copies each.

The average title in the US sells around 500 copies annually. So if your average mystery is in print for two years, sells 1,000 copies the first year and 500 the second, and then essentially disappears from the shelves, you have a sales record of 1,500. But if it is in print for five years and the author continues to promote and the book averages 500 copies annually after the first bump, the sales record is 3,000 copies. Meanwhile, a second book is now available. A year later, perhaps, a third.

One obvious answer to all this for authors at least, is to be sure the publisher will keep your book in print long enough to sell widely and steadily.

Quite possibly the answer is niche marketing, because finding the right book is often difficult to do. If you write a mystery that appeals to necrophilia’s who love vampire fantasy, you need to figure out where those people are and build a contact list.

Authors ought to look at the actions of bands and independent producers who seem to be building a fan base through widespread merchandising of their products on UTube, Myspace and similar outlets. Book publishing appears to be behind the curve in making use of these outlets, although some bookstores, notably Powell’s and Barnes & Noble are becoming more aggressive at offering books via the internet and I am of the opinion that independent bookstores will need to develop strong on-line presences in order to stay in business.

This is certainly not the whole picture. And I’m sure I don’t understand the entire picture. What about warehousing? Why do distributors HAVE to buy quantities from a publisher? There are upside and downside elements I haven’t considered, but I thought it was all worth a conversation. Just maybe the present business model in book publishing, anyway, is in need of reassessment. What do you think?


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