It is hard for me to decide on what to call this blog post…
- Are publishers turning back the clock 80 years and becoming elitist…again?
- Mass Market paperbacks vs Trade Editions?
- Why book sales are in decline. And what publishers should be doing?
- Publishers NEED to read this blog post.
and I then decided to go for option 1.
Mainly to draw people’s attention, and hope it gets to the attention of the publishers.
1, 2 & 3 are all interesting questions. And all need to be looked into.
Are publishers turning back the clock 80 years and becoming elitist…again?
In a sense, yes.
Here is why I think it is starting to become true.
Before the Second World War, the only people who could afford to buy books, were the people who had expendable income/money to spare. As books before 1937, were mainly published in Hardback and out of the range of what the “General Public” could afford.
Now, 80 plus years later, the clocks seem to be turning back…again.
Publishers more interested in “creating” Best Sellers to make Big Money, and pushing “genre” fiction completely out of the door. With the price range of Hardbacks and Trade Edition at a higher cost than what the majority of the “General Public” can not afford, with “Mass Market” paperbacks being cut dramatically.
With the cost of living constantly going up and incomes coming down. Companies are slashing their work force down, not because they don’t need them, but to increase their profit margin. Which means there is less expendable income in most homes to afford Hardbacks and Trade Edition at there present prices.
Hence book purchasing IS becoming elitist, in the fact that the only people who can afford to purchase hardbacks and trade editions, are people with expendable incomes/money to spare.
NB: Publishers in question in the above, are the BIG major league players…you know the ones I’m talking about.
The smaller ‘Boutique” publishers are tending to sway more towards the “genre” fiction, but for the most part are dealing in Trade Editions. Which is in the higher price bracket that most buyers of “physical” books are struggling to find.
Mass Market paperbacks vs Trade Editions?
Lets start this piece with a quick look at how “Mass Market” paperbacks came about (and yes, it is an important piece of information for you to look at and understand).
*As mentioned in the previous piece, before the mid 1930’s books where mainly published in hardback.*
The only soft covered reading material at the time, was newspapers, magazines and pulp magazines (known now days “Pulp Fiction”, no not the movie! or “Penny Dreadful”).
Then in the mid 1930’s a gentleman called Allen Lane, who worked for a London publishing company, came up with an idea of producing a lighter weight book that could fit inside a mans pocket or a ladies handbag. But the publishing company that he worked for, were not willing to take on the cost of the project.
So Allen Lane set up his own publishing company…and that is how Penguin Books was born. Producing paperbacks that cost no more than a packet of cigarettes. Some of the first authors published, were Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie.
They became so popular, that they sold in the millions and had to be reprinted many times over. Hence the term “Mass Market” as they could be purchased anywhere, from railway stations/platforms, bus stations, book shops, news agents and small corner shops.
What about “Trade Editions”? Look at the name, as it gives you a clue.
“Trade Editions” were produced mainly for the trade, ie Book shops. They are bigger in size than a mass market paperback, normally the same size as a hardback (sometimes a bit smaller). Printed on a better quality paper, that doesn’t age as quickly as the mass market books, hence increasing the cost of production and the cost of purchase.
For the reader, a Trade Edition is more bulkier and heavier to hold, and for many difficult to manage, including myself. The only good points (from my personal view, is that the print size is better for the eyes…getting too old now for the very small print! Has more space on the cover for better graphics. And looks nice on the bookcase). Everyone has different views, and it would be interesting to see what the general consensus is on the subject.
So which one would the majority of “physical” book buyers chose? …the jury is still out!
So to point #3.
Why book sales are in decline?
There are multiple answers to that question…but I think one of the major answers is PRICE.
Publishers (Major Leaguers) – don’t for one moment think you are dealing with a bunch of idiots. We have brains and intelligence, that why we are READERS!
If you can sell to a large Supermarket by the pallet load and still make a profit. And the Supermarket then sells @ £3.50 each, still making a good profit from each sale. We can see how much profit you make on a book priced @ £8.99 in a normal book shop/store…and that’s a BIG profit!
Other answers to why sales are dropping are…
The cutting back on genre fiction, because well hey, nobody reads that stuff anymore do they!
So lets give them utter crap like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, because lets face it, we are not allowing them to have what they want to read, they will have to read what we give them…like it or lump it!
Basically, we don’t like….so we are lumping it and are cutting off the supply to our hard earned cash.
Hence why book sales are down in the major quarters.
NB: The yearly book sales stats are taken from the sales of books from the major league publishing companies, not the smaller independent publishers.
And what publishers should be doing?
How much time do you have? As my list would be endless!
One thing they can do is…dropping the price to make the books more affordable to the masses. And I’m talking “physical” books here, as not everyone is comfortable with using ereaders.
Secondly…stop all this “Trending” rubbish, it’s what got you into the decline in the first place!
Here’s what “Trending” does in a readers world.
You county library buys 25 copies of a so called “Trending” book. But only 10 copies get issued to readers. So the library has wasted tax payers money on 15 copies that will end up on the sales shelf within 12 months. And that accounts yearly to several hundred wasted books, that the general public/library readers are not interested in.
With the decline in libraries at an alarming rate in this country (the UK), it is money that could have gone on to buying copies of other books that people have requested but have been declined, because they don’t have the budget left for buying these items in. Bad book buying decisions…yes. And at the tax payers expense. This is what “Trending” does.
“Trending” readers tend to people who only read whilst on holiday/vacation, buying 2 or 3 books. The read them and leave them type of reader.
Publishers: Ever hear the saying “what goes around, comes around”? Know what it means? It means what was popular once, will become popular again. So stop “cutting off your nose to spite your face” because unfortunately you will soon learn to regret it.
Here is a prime example of “Cutting your nose off”:
The UK publishing world in the 80’s, decided that because there was a slump (as they saw it) in sales of the genre books, they would no longer take submissions for them…hence literaly wiping out entire genres. What they didn’t take into account was the rise and fall in the economy, where the public were struggling with job losses and try to keep their homes and families fed, and did not have the cash to purchase such luxuries like books. Now they are trying to make a resurgence of these lost genres, on newer generations, that haven’t got a clue at what they are or about. and very few are buying them.
Basically what they did back then, was killed off potential sales for the future.
And Basically this is what you are still doing today. Looking at slumps in sales, but not taking into account the economy of the everyday buying public.
Your Best Sellers are your profit books, but your genre books, are your ‘bread and butter’.