Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Economy, Publishers And The Librarian

Ever since the US economy took a long walk off a short pier, speculation has been rampant on what it means for the current state of publishing and romance readers in particular. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure, but that doesn't mean I'm above wild speculation and relaying anecdotes.

One thing we've noticed here around my office? The Rise Of The Cold Call. Publishers who never (and I mean never) used to make such calls are now. One of my colleagues was floored when a big, huge publisher in the world of children's literature surprised her with a phone call recently. Blood is in the water people.

Part of me sort of feels like New York had it coming. The trend in publishing the last several years has been to Pray To The Big Book Gods. Yep, they put all their eggs in one basket, hoping for that one big blockbuster to push them into the Red Zone Of Profits Heaven. The Harry Potters and Da Vinci Codes of this world. What I think they all failed to realize is that Big Books do not grow on trees. You have to throw some money around first (hello, PR departments!) and hope that word of mouth will carry you to the promise land. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't. I can't tell you how many times I've thought a book would be "big," only to have it sink like a guy in a designer suit and cement shoes.

I'm not sure what, if anything, this will mean for romance publishing. Romance readers are by far the fiercest and most loyal readers on the planet. They're the kind of readers who will scrimp on other expenses (they'll clip coupons, go longer between hair cuts, drop premium cable channels) before they'll even think about taking a hack at their book budget. Even if it comes to that, they'll get creative before they give up too many of their precious books. They'll visit the library more regularly. They'll be on the look out for promotions and sales. They'll share books with friends and family.

As for what I'll do? I plan to keep chugging along. Even with my massive and insane TBR pile, I'm an incredibly frugal book buyer. I rely on the library for my audio book fix and 99% of the hard covers I read. My "every day" credit card is a Borders Visa, which earns me gift certificates for Borders. I can't tell you how many times I've walked out of Borders with 5 brand new paperbacks and I maybe spent $3 and change out of my own pocket. I get a giddy thrill every time it happens to. Which probably means I need to get a life.

As for authors? Well, it could get dicey. We've already lost so many great midlist writers, I'm wondering if we lose even more. Also, expect more paranormals. Yeah, I think we haven't begun to see the last of the bandwagon. I know, I'm not looking forward to it either.


Amie Stuart said...

It's definitely going to be interesting and you're spot on on the "big books".

PS LOVE The librarian pic--that's hot!

Bookwormom said...

I, too, agree that all of the eggs were in one basket, which was dropped. The big box bookstores are in trouble. The majority of indie bookstores are gone- two in my area in the last year alone. That was before the Great Crash. V. 2.0 Things aren't looking significantly less rosy now. I think we're in for turbulence (sp?) ahead.

As for me, I'm doing all of those things you mentioned: more library visits, thrift shop/UBS buys are up, promos, etc. Even so, my TBR continues to grow, albeit more slowly.

Bookwormom said...

Correction: that should read-
things are looking significantly less rosy..

Sorry for the typo. :)

Kristie (J) said...

Well -- for me it means I'll buy even MORE mid-list and new authors. And you're right - romance readers are loyal and if publishers don't over react and panic, I think the romance genre will suffer the least of any.

Rosie said...

Dude! The current economy and state of publishing has to be so discouraging for new writers. Am I crazy or is it getting harder and harder?

Oh and ditto on the loyalty thing. Even in our skimpiest of budgets there was always a little bit of money for me for books.

Evangeline Holland said...

I just blogged about my predictions. At the top, I see publishers being more selective on what they choose to acquire, but not the in the way I hope they will--they most likely will continue to buy the same old Regency Historicals just to be safe.

Ana T. said...

Hi Wendy, that's a very interesting post. I must say the crisis hasn't stopped me from buying new I trade a lot more than I used to.

Btw left you an award on my blog!

Jennifer B. said...

Just think of how long our romance reader community will be able to tread water--if it comes to that. Our combined TBR stacks likely match or exceed the number of books printed in small countries. We could share the books, share the love AND eliminate the TBR plague.

joykenn said...

Spot on, Wendy! I'm getting sick of yet another vampire-werewolf-super duke/dame. Just about the time we all get sick of a particular theme some new author comes along to start the next big trend. I worry that publishers KNOW the readers are loyal and will just keep publishing the same old thing. Bad ultimately for readers since new authors and out-of-the-ordinary books won't get much of a chance. How long will we muddle through with yet another angst-ridden vampire, savage but sweet shifters, etc. before some other kind of alpha hero/heroine comes along. Too long I fear.

By the way, has True Blood continued to push the books its based on? I predicted that the minute I heard it was coming out. Happy for Charlaine Harris whose Shakespeare series I had liked. Been a fan since the first of her vampire with a twist series first came out.

Wendy said...

I definitely think we're in for more "playing it safe" when it comes to what will get published - which means, yep, more paranormals. It's interesting though. I've been burnt out for at least 3 years running now, and I know a lot of other online readers who are burnt too....but dang, my library customers are still gobbling them up.

Thanks for the award Ana!

Jennifer: Tell me about it! I could not add any new books for the next 10 years and wouldn't be in danger of running out of anything to read.

Joy: True Blood has pushed up demand for the Harris books, but it's not what I would call "off the charts." It's been a steady increase. My work was pretty well set with the later installments, but I did have to pick up more copies of the first 3-4 books in the series.

Maria said...

I'll continue to buy mid-list and new authors - because there are some very good reads out there. It is harder for newer authors, particularly in romance, to break through the pack - but I've noticed that readers are looking for something new and different, so they'll troll through the net to find it.

I've always gotten my fair share of books from the library - and with the current economy will continue to do so.

Jessica said...

Sorry to be dense, but I'm not savvy about the business of romance publishing: can you give me an example of a midlist author, and explain the comment that "we've lost so many". Do you mean that if someone doesn't sell in the stratosphere, she won't get offered a contract for her next book?

Also, speaking for just me, True Blood did pique my interest in Harris and I am just finishing Dead Until Dark as a result. But one person hardly constitutes a trend!

Wendy said...

Jessica: That's it exactly. The author's book(s) don't sell well and the publisher drops them - then they're sort of left in limbo. A recent example of this is Sara Reinke, whose third book in her Brethren series didn't get picked up because the first two books had low sales. Also, Michelle Jerott, who underwent a name change (Michelle Albert) after sales of her Jerott books were sluggish.

Do I have that right? I can't recall all the details on the Jerott/Albert saga. Someone chime in and correct me if I'm wrong!

Once one publisher lets you go because of low sales, it's not always easy to find a new home....which is why some authors adopt a pen name. It's a fresh start.

Bookseller Chick said...

Wendy, the idea that the big name publishers are feeling the need to cold call I find very interesting. One because cold calls never seemed to work at the bookstore level (I don't know how it goes at Libraries) and two, that this the marketing ploy they've defaulted to. It seems a little work harder, not smarter.

Up until our last recession, bookstores traditionally had higher sales due to the fact that people were staying home. But in our last economic dip this maxim didn't hold true, and it was believed to be due to the fact that people could still entertain themselves on the internet, watch movies/tv or rent etc which cost much less than going out. That trend will probably happen now as well.

As for the romance community, your predictions are probably spot on: more vamps/etc, maybe a few more cowboys since Sarah McCarty is doing well (but not to be counted on), and fewer deals for lesser knowns. At the same time, must publishers survive thanks to their midlisters as their lists consistantly pull in money even if it isn't one big explosion of cash.

Wendy said...

Bookseller Chick: At least from my experience, cold calling doesn't work all that well in the library world either. Especially since publishers love to push high-price reference books on us. Um, hello?! What part of our budgets have been slashed for the past 5 years do they not understand? Also, the world of reference is changing - which is a whole other blog post, believe me.

Right now I think book sales will dip, movie ticket sales will dip, but TV ratings will go up. But that's just my theory.....

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I totally think we're going to not only lose more mid-list authors, but mid-list-authors-to-be.

It's going to be interesting. The industry is starting to really change.