Sunday, November 11, 2012

The state of the publishing union

By: Joelle Charbonneau

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some interesting developments in the world of publishing.  I admit, that in the grand scheme of events (Hurricane Sandy, the snow that hit the north east and the presidential election) the publishing news hasn’t been on the front burner. And it still isn’t.  There are bigger issues at the moment.  However, since this is a writer blog, I figured I’d take a look at some of the interesting news to hit the publishing waves. 

First, as our own Steve Weddle chatted about, Amazon has been busy taking reviews for books off their website in an unusual manner.  If you are an author and you have reviewed the book of someone you know – your review could be deleted.  Not all reviews by all authors have been removed.  Just some.  Which is frankly odd.  Either you allow authors to review books or not.  Remove them all or don’t remove any of them.  Personally, I’m not sure how they could identify all the reviewers who are also authors, so I’m on the camp of leave the old reviews up and go from there. 

Do I think all reviews should be honest?  Sure.  Do I, like Steve, think reviews with disclosure of whether you know the person you are reviewing would be more honest.  Yep.  But Amazon has made it known that LOTS of reviews for a book help bump up the visibility of that book and positively affects the book’s ranking.  So, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some authors and their street teams are using the reviewing tool to help boost the chance of their book being discovered by more people.  I am told that the “LIKE” button and book tags also bump a book’s visibility.  I’m not sure if Amazon plans on dealing with LIKES and tags in the same way they are dealing with reviews, but I think it will be interesting to watch and see.

Another book story has been the disappointing sales for the big titles that have been released this fall by the traditional publishing arm of Amazon.  They bid high and hard for a number of titles, but due to the lack of stores carrying the books, many titles have underperformed.  Perhaps that is the reason for the earnings stories we have been seeing where Barnes and Noble has actually increased their earnings and Amazon’s earning have declined.  Got me. 

Third, if you have been paying attention at all you will have heard about the Random House/Penguin merger.  If it goes through, the big six publishers will become the big 5.  Or maybe the medium 4 and the REALLY big 1.  Regardless of what they will be called, the merger will cause some ripples in the publishing industry.  Imprints could be consolidated.  Some editors and staff may no longer have a home.  Authors could find the editor they love shifted to a different department.  And that’s just the beginning of the internal workings of a merger.  However, I have seen speculation that the consolidation of these two publishers – two publishers with the largest mass market programs – is designed to combat the ever-growing power that is Amazon.  (Funny how that name keeps cropping up in publishing news!)  A publisher with so many books listed on the retailing giant’s website could possibly have more negotiating power.  I have even seen it argued that it would be much harder for the retailing giant to pull buy buttons for so many titles without causing a major disruption to their clients and possibly directing discontent from those clients to themselves.  That argument is made more interesting after the glitch that was seen Thursday night to Friday morning.  A glitch which made the buy buttons for a lot of big 6 titles to disappear.  Maybe it was an honest glitch.  Technology is not always my friend, so I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.  But I do find it interesting that only those 6 publishers were impacted by the technological bug.

Regardless, I find the state of publishing fascinating and would curious to hear your take on the news we’ve been seeing.  What do you think is next for publishing?  What do you think the book world will look like in ten years?  I’ll put the observations in a time capsule and dig it up in 2022 to see if you are right!

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