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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 5: The Publishing Industry is Broken

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


(Update at the bottom.)

(Before I get started, allow me to express my gratitude to everyone who has said kind things about this series and spread the word about it via Twitter. If you're new, please see Part 1 for a disclaimer and background notes. In a nutshell, these are opinion pieces. While the focus is primarily on fiction authors, there will be some info - like this article - that others may find interesting. Enjoy.)

There is perhaps more than a shred of truth to this particular myth, and given the latest rounds of layoffs, imprint closures, delays (including an anthology containing a story of mine), and general attitude of "holy cr@p" that seems to be pervading the industry, there's perhaps a dollop of truth. A certain amount of the finger pointing in the general direction of the slumping economy is certainly justified. It's not just the publishers who are hurting in this respect. Book sales are off, and that hurts everyone along the line from the authors to the publishers, distributors, retailers, and so on.

The myth? The "broken" refrain has been sounding for a good long time. One major issue (and I won't call it a problem) with publishing houses is - like any other business - they have to make money. This means they can only publish a select number of books per year. The books (particularly at large houses) get editing, cover design and marketing support among other things. They're a business with expenses - rent, utilities, and so on. They have to pay for printing, warehousing, employees, and - ta da! - the author's advance and royalties. From a practical standpoint it stands to reason that they can't take on every manuscript that gets submitted, even if they're all very good. And that's in the best of times.

From the above standpoint, the industry isn't "broken." Yet, there are practices that suggest otherwise, such as the inability of the majority of publishers to grasp the concept of digital books. I saw a comment somewhere today (which I could remember where) that they're in the same spot the recording industry was years ago. They need to learn from those mistakes and move forward. They can't stop piracy, but they sure as heck can reduce it by making e-books affordable and free of crippling DRM. Ask Steve Jobs Tim Cook how it's working out for iTunes.

I'm not even going to get into the whole distribution mess. That's a great lumbering operation that won't be changed overnight, in spite of lawsuits and threats, IMO. I'm not saying that change shouldn't happen, but I am saying that it will take some time and ought to balance the interests of all parties concerned. At least that's the way it looks from this messy desk. Perhaps someone else has a better perspective?

So, is the publishing industry really broken? Well, they haven't asked for a bailout yet. By that measure at least, things could be a lot worse.

(Update 3/12/2015: The anthology referenced in the second paragraph was eventually published and did very well. Now I have another anthology story stuck in the works. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Struck Steve Jobs' name and replace it with Tim Cook. And it's still not easy to get books on iTunes.)

Thanks for reading, and check out the previous parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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Filed under: Publishing Myths            
2/11/2009 4:50:53 PM
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