Over at the Times ArtsBeat blog I posted about Random House's staff-cutting and reorganization. The general take is that as long as the publishing industry keeps doing the same old outmoded things, it's going to continue being gobbled up alive, and vast swaths of the very things I love to read will vanish.
My own take: get rid of hardbacks. I know that they are a "prestige" item, and that many name authors demand a hardback printing as part of their contract, but they constitute one of the biggest money sinks right out of the gate. When a hardback printing of a book bombs, it takes a whole slew of other possible contenders with it no thanks to the amount of money needed to justify a single hardback title. It's also exorbitant from the POV of the buyer: $25-$40 for a single volume? Not when there's trade paperback editions that go from $8-$15.
So here's my x-point plan for reworking the publishing industry.
- Dump hardbacks. Go with 6×9 trade paperbacks with cardstock covers, something along those lines (e.g., Black Sparrow Press's Bukowski editions), for a "prestige" printing.
- Go digital. To a degree this has already happened, but I'd love to see more publishers do what Tor Books have done and offer back catalogue titles as digital items either for little cost or nothing. Paradoxically, they stimulate sales, whether through print-on-demand or otherwise. Offering digital editions through Kindle isn't a bad idea, but it's still constrained by the fact that the Kindle is so damn expensive all by itself.
- Drop the stupid perks. Stop giving celebrity authors the indulgent-rock-star treatment. Stop throwing advances at flash-in-the-pan celebrities for titles that'll simply end up turning into remaindered items at best and landfill at worst. Every $500,000 advance you shove into someone's pocket is five other books you can't publish.
- Go broad, not tall. Respect the fact that the people who do read, read aggressively and broadly. Diversify your titles. Create new imprints that take risks and look for creative markets to address. Use print-on-demand and other technologies to make these things work — not just with the little indie publishers, but the big guys.
- Build bridges. Find out what people might be hungry for, and cultivate that. Do "taste tests" with possible new writers; solicit translations of first chapters from works not in English and see if they excite readers. There need to be more people in the publishing industry who act more as ambassadors to readers and less as marketing experts. Most of this work is left to critics or people who run blogs — chaps like me, in other words, who love to do that kind of thing independently but lament the fact that it's not being done in a more systematic way by the publishers themselves. (Note that I am not suggesting substituting such things for independent readers and critics, just expanding thing a bit.)
Additions welcome, but let's start with these.