Time for publishing houses to retail up
The average price for the latest softcover novel retails around $35 be it online or in store. A hardcover, full-colour, two hundred page cookbook in large department stores, however, sells for $10. A telling equation that epitomises issues plaguing the publishing industry today. Someone, or a multiple thereof, is making a detrimental fortune along the way.
It is an industry where the manufacturer is willing and able to supply limitless product for a moderate income and a chance for credulous consideration. Publishers, editors and agents have a notorious reputation within the writing communities for their bombastic and contemptuous attitude toward potential clientele that often results in poor experience. Sure they are inundated with sub-standard copy but does that justify the mismanagement of the wordsmith who after all makes up the backbone of an invaluable base? The exclusive demeanour drives a practice of low risk, high profit and a dictatorial environment where the populace is constrained to a prescribed formulae. So too the manipulation of famous names and ghost writers to mass produce content of scant veracity and ingenuity that adds little value.
The conspicuous decline of the Ebook is a clear indication the public seek the real deal because nothing supersedes the intimacy of ink and versatileness of the book. Cyber sales are a crucial channel but will never replace the sensuous joys of browsing through a bookstore that caters to the modern markets. Nor the pseudo bookseller who restricts their undertaking to a narrow range of predetermined ‘popular’ fiction tucked well away from the trappings of their core business. Likewise, the haughty confines of a supercilious book boutique cannot hope to serve the wants of a broader constituency.
It is time for the publishing world to retail up and offers that which it fails to do – the inspiration of language, the subtlety of reading between the lines and above all the emotional intelligence of diversity. Change is imperative to transform a fickle monopoly deficient in social coherence and in embracing individualism by isolating itself in tarnished ivory towers in an effort to create convenient genres and squeeze them into comfortable pigeon holes.
Conceptualise modern and relevant outlets – owner operated, joint venture, corporate or franchised incorporating current merchandising ideas with traditional tactile stock at prices everyone can afford? Achieved by eliminating unproductive associates, pretentious freeloaders and forging a cost effective logistic process. Allow the public to decide the Hollywood blockbuster or discover the next J K Rowling instead of splurging on dated publicity tactics to do so.
Beyond the realm of possibility? Perhaps but it will require an austere review of objectives, a committed revision of culture and consequential identification of a wider market. An opportunity to share the immense repertoire built up over the decades and invest where it matters – people.
There is a moral obligation to ensure the masses have access to affordable literature via profitable customer-centric retail chains.
Eradicate or curtail the human factor and expect the repercussion of irrelevance while always remembering in whatever form retail presents itself, it is about people for people by people.
Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on [email protected].