Where is publishing heading? This is an issue that definitely affects everyone from writers through readers.
The biggest problem in publishing right now is inventory. Every time you walk into a store and buy a paperback, you're actually paying for two or three. The average sell-through for paperbacks hovers somewhere around 50% or lower. Sell-through means the number sold of the number printed. What happens to the ones that don't sell? They get the cover torn off for credit, and then recycled. This can result in large losses for the publisher.
It is important to remember that bookstores are a retail business that can return the product, so basically it is a consignment store. Therefore the priority is to move product through shelf space, not necessarily to sell a specific book. The time that stores leave books on their shelves is growing shorter and shorter before they decide to replace it with something else.
Two things have been suggested to alleviate this problem. One is electronic publishing. The book is downloaded, where you can read it on your computer or on specially designed hand-held displays that open one page at a time on the screen. This is a good idea except for a major issue for authors. If a book is in electronic form and can be printed at the push of a button, publishers can rightly claim the book is never out of print. I talk more about that a little further on.
The second is print-on-demand where bookstores will be able to quickly print and bind books as they are needed. This will alleviate the problem of large inventory and returns.
Another interesting trend is the resurgence of small presses. As the larger publishing houses become more concerned with the bottom line and bestsellers, it opens the door for smaller houses to take over the mid-list. With on-line bookstores and the possibility of print-on-demand, the future is looking better for these smaller publishers to take a piece of the market.
Publishing is on the edge of a big changes and anyone who wants to be an author should stay on top of these changes, because they will affect everyone involved in the business.
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