Sunday, December 07, 2008

Publishing & the Future

About a week ago I blogged on the the news that a major publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had advised their editors stop acquiring books.  This news signals that the economic meltdown has come to the publishing houses as well.

Another sign is renewed talk in the industry of the pitfalls of the book return policies by publishers. Allowing book stores to return unsold books is a costly expense. It requires the books to be transported multiple times and has become a hefty drain on publishers profits. Many of these unsold books will eventually be destroyed.

Booksellers resist changes in the credit arrangements that essentially guarantee that a book sells or will be replaced with another one which has the potential to sell. Many booksellers would dramatically reduce their inventories without such credits.

Such changes in the retail sales model could have negative consequences on a growing number of new writers that will find it increasingly challenging to find their way onto bookstore shelves.

Japanese publishers may be ahead of the curve. The Japanese publishing house Shogakukan Inc. has introduced a two-tiered distribution system for retailers.  Under this plan Booksellers can take books on a consignment basis which would be returnable at no cost or they can choose a non-consignment option, which offers a better profit margin for the retailer, but carries an charge if the books are returned. Such changes may be inevitable in the U.S. as well as long as consumers continue to prefer ink on a page they can hold in their hands.

Reports that the Kindle electronic book reader is sold out for the second Christmas season in a row would be positive news for those who believe the future of publishing is e-publishing. That future may still be some distance away.

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