Writing in Publishers Weekly on January 5th, Peter Olson, the former CEO of Random House, painted a bleak picture for book publishing in 2009 and beyond, citing the economy (still referred to as a “deepening recession” in the media—who seem skittish about calling it “the early stages of the second Great Depression”), with closing bookstores and publishers cutting back on staff and content. The New York Times on January 28 had a headline on their front page echoing Olson’s article, pointing out that “Almost all of the New York publishing houses are laying off editors and pinching pennies,” trimming their lists and relying “on blockbuster best sellers,” while the only people in the industry making a profit are self-publishing companies [IUniverse being cited] who charge authors for things like cover design and printing costs.”
The realization that big corporate publishers and chain bookstores would fall on hard times shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In fact, one can draw an analogy between large corporate publishers and chain stores with the large commercial banks that need bail outs. And in this nose diving economy and negative balance sheets, these houses of cards are collapsing and, unlike failing banks, there are no book bailouts.
How, then, to account for my optimism today? Actually it’s been going on since Barack Obama’s inauguration. Starting then I realized that by downgrading serious fiction, the conglomerate publishers have opened the door ever wider for a small press like ours. Never looking for best-sellers, but just having a passion for discovering 12 manuscripts that excite both Judy and me (from among the 6,000 submission we get every year), and then wanting to share these novels with others who also enjoy discovering quality fiction by gifted newcomers and relative unknowns who, as my musician friends say, “have the chops” for it, has become much easier. At about the same time, the response to my last blog posting, SAVING QUALITY FICTION, has increased our awareness of the tens of thousands of people served by some exceptional online bloggers and internet reviewers who share our aesthetics. What this means is that there is an alternative route to “getting-the-word-out” for quality fiction that need not rely exclusively on traditional newspaper and magazine coverage.
Then, today, there was an even bigger boost to optimism when, at the time of this posting, I discovered that Efrem Sigel’s The Disappearance (a novel about a couple whose lives are shaken when their 14 year old son disappears one day) -- which will not be delivered from our printer until February 2 -- has skyrocketed in ranking to #715 at Amazon.com by virtue of advance orders. This is a milestone that we’ve never experienced before. My publishing partner at Blackstone Audiobooks, Haila Williams, tells me this is an incredible number and that we should start reprinting immediately.
I believe I will remain a cockeyed optimist at least until my next blog posting in mid-February.