The conclusion: despite the economic Armageddon, the book is still monstrously popular. But skulk in the corridors of publishers and on the shop floors of bookshops, and you may get the feeling the book is heading in the same direction of Eldorado. So, why the discrepancy?
I would suggest a couple of issues: one in the system and one of perception and understanding. Firstly, despite as yet unrealised dream of mass mainstream direct sales (all publishers are dreaming of it, whether they admit to it or not, or at least should be), the publisher isn’t selling to the public. Instead they are selling to a buyer, who very often works with a completely different buying criteria to the public.
As a result, who do you package and promote to, the buyer or the customer? Concentrate on the customer and the book won’t be stocked and so any potential for the public will sadly become an irrelevance. Concentrate on the buyer and, get excited, big orders… that won’t sell and the books will be on their way back before a speck of dust has settled on the covers. Tried to appease both…? Outside of today’s politics, the middle-ground is always underwhelming.
This then links into point two – the book world exists in a bubble and is miles behind being in touch with today’s public. Its unique environment was one of the reasons I got involved, but as a good friend said to be me it does appear to be an industry dreamed up by English graduates (of which I’m one). That's when the consumer world could still maintain cliques and mystique – but not anymore. The internet has opened up everything and what was once magic going on behind closed doors is now being viewed as cut-off and aloof.
I believe the industry is trying to catch-up, but we need to be braver and smarter. As a start: 1) we need to stop chasing departed bandwagons (‘a new TV Book Club?! Gather our eggs, we have a basket’); 2) coming up with good promotional ideas and playing it safe with titles selected (a great idea! And what better to use than a book that’s already reaching market saturation); 3) accept that the public, generally, couldn’t care less about us (are there other manufacturers in the world that so desperately want 'kudos’?)
Hopefully if we can start to better understand this, rather than hiding within a straining industry, we can move the whole system closer to the public and all will benefit. Publishers and buyers working through the thoughts of customers and being braver should mean taking advantage of the huge market there is out there, rather than suffering within it.
Photo credit : Eddie 07