Monday, November 24, 2014

THANKSGIVING


At the Frankfurt Book Fair this past October, I passed the Poisoned Pen Press booth and got into a conversation with Robert Rosenwald who, along with his wife Barbara Peters, started the press 17 years ago. We talked about how fortunate we were to still be in the game, able to publish exactly what we ourselves loved reading, without having to consult marketing people, or salesmen, or cater to some senior editor’s taste. In short, both of us enjoyed being able to find, publish, and promote good fiction that the five major conglomerates had little or no interest in.

I asked him about financing, given the fact that book publishing is such a marginal profession. “We’re starting our 37th year in 2015, and there have been times when we’ve barely kept our nose above water. Has it been that way for you, too?"

Robert paused, smiled, and said, “It’s the least expensive hobby I could possibly have!”


This is a line I will not forget, spoken with sincerity as well as humor, and a perfect way to give thanks during this Thanksgiving season.


Viewed in one way, publishing is not that different from politics, where major media attention is given to the big parties—democrats and republicans—while independents get scant attention. Just as politicians make passionate speeches trying to cloak themselves as both morally and socially responsible people (and many of them surely are), so do those in our industry. But if you can rise above their statements without becoming partisan, it’s easy to see contradictions, absurdities, and propaganda at work.


In publishing, the media covered Hachette’s big-name authors who complained that Amazon hurt their income before their dispute was settled. Yet there is no word from Hachette authors—or those of the other four major conglomerates—complaining that their publishers are hurting their income by only giving them 25% of
 e-book sales, rather than the 50% that so many independent publishers pay. 

Before the settlements with Amazon, the various Big Five publishers complained that Amazon was such a large and powerful bookseller that it put them at a distinct disadvantage. But now, as
Publishers Weekly reported in their November 17 issue, it seems that they are putting the screws to independent bookstores aided and abetted by their authors. All of them have been in the direct-to-consumer sales business for some time, offering titles online, through direct mail and at book fairs. But HarperCollins upped the ante this fall by giving authors a strong incentive to link their websites to the harpercollins.com website. When their books are sold directly through these links, the author will be credited with an additional 10% royalty rate, despite the fact that if this catches on with authors, neighborhood bookstores will be endangered, just as they are by Amazon supplying lower prices for printed books.

There’s nothing new in this, of course, for everyone and every business—from bookstores to authors to wholesalers to publishers, to newspapers, to magazines—has both a right and obligation to be profitable if they wish to stay afloat. But the righteous clamor coming out from all these competing segments of the industry can be deafening as each tries to rally public support to what they believe to
be righteous, even if they commit these same “crimes” against other groups in the book-biz.
 
So this is another thing we give thanks for: that we are
of this confounding and squabbling and fascinating business, but have the freedom not to be involved in these goings-on.

I welcome your response.

Marty

3 comments:

  1. Still wishing it could be more than a hobby, but thank you for reminding me of many reasons to give thanks. If my tree falls and no one else hearts it, at least I know I made it land gracefully, in the perfect spot I chose for it, and its paper made the pages I chose to write.

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  2. Dear Martie and Judy: Thanks to you both for keeping The Permanent Press alive. There are some jolly good benefits in being an "Independent." You go your own way and publish what you want without obsessing over the bottom line. Best always, Marc

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  3. Well said, Marty!

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