Culture

In Which I Admit My Crystal Ball IS Broken

Managed Economies, Comrade!  Always the future of the past.

Managed Economies, Comrade! Always the future of the past.

(Hi, this is Sarah.)

Making predictions is hard, particularly when they’re about the future.

If you’d asked me in the mid nineties what was wrong with the book business, I’d have told you.  It was the top down, planned-economy model, where the big chain stores stocked according to the whims of their business managers – whims that were mostly based on degree of “confidence” (read supposed print run and ability to pay for better shelving) from the publisher.

I had reason to know that more often than not no one in that chain, from acquiring editor to bookstore manager had read the book.  In fact, while editors read proposals, often the only person who’d read the book was the copyeditor.  (Who was a just out of college kid, more often than not.)

So, how were books stocked?  Mostly they were stocked on feel, on blurb, on general “sense of what should sell” and on – of course – prior numbers.

Only prior numbers were often a matter of GIGO.  For instance, if you only got stocked two books per store, it was known it would sell at most 50% (because of the low visibility and also shoplifting) and then the next book would only print that much, and in three books your career was dead.  (Though often not, it’s just they got to reset your name and take you back to the beginner level advance.)

With one of my books, I was told my best shot at a good distribution was if someone made a movie about the historical period.  Then all the bookstores would stock me.

Think about this.  This was an industry that was, almost exclusively, relying on another industry to do its publicity for it.  And who was stocking not on the basis of quality of the written word, but on the vague feeling that the subject was trendy and therefore people would want to see it.

If you’d asked me in the mid nineties what that would mean for the book business, I’d have told you “nothing. Chains are now the only game in town.  So they’ll keep on keeping on, selling a little less each year, and when they go under in 20 years, they take all of the book business with them.”

I should turn in my crystal ball right now.  Oh, wait, I don’t have one.

Because Amazon came in and everything changed.

For clothing and electronics and automobiles, that workflow is in sync with consumer behavior. Consumers want new fashion, the newest flat-screen, the latest model car. Book consumers aren’t the same. Yes, new titles can drive sales, but book buyers also look for forgotten classics and hidden gems. That means poring over shelves, and that requires old inventory. The chains and their management could have tried to set investors’ expectations for higher unsold inventories as a healthy part of the specific business of buying and selling books. But they didn’t. They treated old inventory as a drag rather than an asset and began to trim their shelves of titles. (Alternatively, they could have tried to position themselves as larger, better-stocked versions of the independents, focusing on the particular desires of book customers.)

Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage. In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”

Or, in other words – readers prefer buying from other readers, and books aren’t pieces of fruit that go bad after two weeks.  Also, books (and authors) aren’t fungible.  Who knew?

Not I.  I could have told you five years ago to go long on Amazon, but the last thing I expected was a resurgence of indies.

So I’m not going to make any predictions – I’m merely going to say I’m very glad the misery and failure results of a managed economy have been curtailed for my field by disruptive technology.

And that these are interesting times to be alive in.


And interesting times to publish an independent book and get it plugged on Book Blug Friday! Send an email to [email protected] for submission guidelines


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The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
By L. Jagi Lamplighter

Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts—a school of magic like no other!

Who knew so much could go awry in one week?

Rachel Griffin has one goal. She wants to know everything.

Arriving at Roanoke Academy in the Hudson Highlands, she discovers that her perfect memory has an unexpected side effect. With it, she can see through the enchantment that sorcerers use to hide their secrets.

When someone tries to kill a fellow student, Rachel investigates. She soon discovers that, in the same way her World of the Wise hides from mundane folk, there is another more secret world hiding from the Wise. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel finds herself beset by wraiths, embarrassing magical pranks, a Raven that brings the doom of worlds, and at least one fire-breathing teacher.

Meanwhile, she’s busy learning magic, making friends and, most importantly, finding romance!

Curiosity might kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!


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Portals of Infinity: Book Two: The God Game
By John Van Stry

Will’s life has definitely changed since that day he went hiking in the woods. Learning about the portals opened his eyes to the wider reality. Being setup to become a God’s Champion was an even more startling event.

Now it’s time to pay for his ‘recruitment’. While Gods on a single world maneuver for power, the older Gods from the infinite spheres play a larger and more complicated game. The Goddess Aryanna has a quest she needs completed, and five Champions are needed to do it. Leaving Will to wonder, what could a Goddess possibly need?


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Memories of the Abyss
By Cedar Sanderson

Free novella from Sept 12-16

Violet is trapped in the prison of her own mind. Her body is dwelling in the insane asylum, but when her friend Walter is killed, she must make a decision to avenge his death, or stay safely locked in her own broken soul. He’d drawn her out of her shell, and she finds she still has honor left… But will anyone believe the crazy woman?


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Chosen of Azara
By Kyra Halland

Lucie, a pampered young noblewoman, has no idea of her true heritage and the power she holds to restore a lost land to life. When a handsome stranger appears at her father’s house, claiming to be a long-dead king and telling tales of a beautiful, mythical land, she fights to deny what he says and cling to the comfortable life she knows. But in her heart, she knows she must find the courage to believe Sevry and join him on his quest to defeat the evil that destroyed Savaru and bring the land and its magic back to life.