Are Books An Endangered Species?

Are Books An Endangered Species?
Michael Levin is an eight-time best-selling author, a former member of the Authors Guild Council and a business writer. In the following piece, he writes that the disappearance of books is not because of Amazon or the Web, but because of book publishers themselves.


Makes sense that a former Authors Guild pres would write crap like that. Yes, the big New York publishers may be in trouble--actually, I rather hope they are. Yes, the "return 'em for full credit if you don't sell 'em" model is fundamentally broken.

But, you know, there are literally tens of thousands of small publishers, not to mention the many clients of Lulu and CreateSpace. Already, more than three-quarters of new titles published come from somewhere other than Big NY Publishers. A change to a more distributed model probably means the end of huge advances for a handful of wealthy writers and may make Authors Guild even less relevant; it does not doom books themselves.

...there will still be a market for books and, thus, someone (an intermediary between the smaller publishers and readers/libraries/online services) to supply them. The big publishers are pursuing a business model where they (in overstatement) declare the pulp book dead, push e-books (a promising, steadily growing but not yet nearly as dominating a market force as they would have us believe) as what everyone REALLY wants and hope the market responds according to their wishes. They can tell us (through press releases) what they wish the market to do but as long as there remains a demand for pulp books, someone will supply them and see that they reach the market that demands them. The market knows what it wants. If a publisher won't supply it, someone else will.

>>The big publishers are pursuing a business model where they (in overstatement) declare the pulp book dead, push e-books

I disagree. The big publishers are working very hard to slow the adoption of ebooks. They are purposely keeping prices high on ebooks to slow sales of ebooks and maintain profit in their hardcover and softcover markets. The big publishers still earn most of their money from paper books and they are scared by the transition because if it happens to fast their cash flow will be messed up. No cash flow no publisher.

You describe the interesting facet of the present situation accurately, I believe. In the near term, publishers are faced with the challenge of keeping print book revenue as strong as possible while uncertainties in the future publishing landscape (digital copyright, royalty arrangements, publishing timelines, business models, number/variety of reader models etc.) become more stable. However, current efforts by publishers to slow sales of ebooks and continuing to promote print books is just a temporary tactic to maintain a comfortable level of revenue while these uncertainties sort themselves out. Ultimately, publishers see ebooks as an opportunity whose benefits (lower production costs, lower distribution costs, greater flexibility in presentation, lease vs. purchase arrangements) will eventually outweigh current limitations. It's entirely possible that as the situation matures, print runs will decrease as demand ebbs, resulting in higher per unit costs (though not necessarily the total demise) of print books.

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