Saturday, October 24, 2009

Afternoon delight

The gathering takes place on a wet and chilly afternoon in a gloomy bar somewhere in midtown Manhattan. It's fall 2009 and the chickens have come home to roost. Drinks all around -- scotch, chardonnay, stout, vodka. Peanuts and pretzels. Pallid faces hovering above the gleaming bar. The TV is tuned to CNN -- thank god it's close-captioned. Outside the city pulsates like a primitive life-form pressing against the window. Who knows? Maybe we're all free-floating avatars in some elaborate sci-fi movie.

Call us the Society of Recovering Publishing Executives. Everybody in the bar knows what's gone wrong, after all, we are not dodos, we are intelligent, articulate, perceptive critters, long on experience, beflummoxed but not bitter, unfortunately still tethered to the childish belief that words make things happen. Even the poet said that was a crock. When it comes to publishing, we know everything there is to know, especially after the first coupla drinks go down the hatch. Maybe we couldn't see eye-to-eye when we were employed, but sitting here on these stools, we're all on the same effin page.

Lydia starts out, "Gotta sell all name-brand frontlist and all established backlist with a predictable sales track on a non-returnable basis. You may get ulcers waiting to see who blinks first, but once the blinking is done with, you will have established a new and necessary paradigm." We all raise our glasses. Hear, hear.

Big Gee gives a heave and says, "Here's what you do: eliminate co-op advertising and increase your retail discounts by a couple of points. Unless you think retailers are really using
your co-op to promote your books." The Helmsman likes this one, starts to clap. Then he says, "And let all backlist titles selling under 500 copies a year physically go out of print. Keep 'em available only as digital files which can be transmitted to anyone with a POD machine -- including bookstores and libraries -- or formatted as e-books downloadable to any device. At a fair and equitable price!"

"Yeah! Love it. Right on, bro." People are standing up now. The juices are starting to flow.

"Shut down any imprint that doesn't have a distinctive and immediately identifiable editorial POV." Yeah!

"You gotta make your online catalogs better, prettier, and more useful than your printed catalogs which are obsolete anyway. Make all of your metadata available electronically to anyone who needs it for free...and not just in ONIX feeds that only the big guys with IT departments can handle, who then charge independent bookstores and libraries for it." P. shouts out, "You said it! One of the reasons Amazon has grown into a monster is because their information about your books is easier to find and read than your own. That’s why everyone in publishing and bookselling keeps their site open all day."

The Society of Recovering Publishing Executives is in the groove now. They've been dreaming about this stuff. It feels so good to get it out. "Lower your prices and increase your effective discounts on books by new and lesser known writers." Yes! "Financially reward booksellers who carry your whole list -- or a significantly high percentage of it." Yep! "Take the resources you’re currently putting into supply chain improvements and put them into building a literary community around your books." Gotcha!

Even The Gardener pipes up. "Yeah. Hire more editor-marketers, sales reps, and publicists. You’re not a logistics company, you’re a publisher. Shoot, if you’re really good at logistics, go ahead and take that business and start a new company." Yes!

Dee gets a real serious look on her face. "Here's what you do. You get your editors off the island of Manhattan. Let them drink and socialize with booksellers, librarians, salespeople, bloggers, book groups, and ordinary readers across the country." This gets a big cheer. Right on!

P. gives her a nod, "You are so right. And if you find a worthy book on a hot topic of the moment, just publish it as an e-book. Only if it achieves a significant rate of sale over a long period of time should you print and bind it." Beautiful!

JK smiles his crooked smile and adds, "Abandon all attempts at ‘brand management’ since no one on staff really knows what it is anyway. And if a celebrity comes to you with a book idea, tell them you’ll gladly publish it if they pay you for the services you provide: editorial, design, marketing, sales, manufacture & distribution." Belly laughs and high fives.

At this the bartender chimes in, "How youse all doin? Need another round?" You can tell everybody is still thirsty, but drinks cost money and this crowd ain't flush. There's an uncomfortable pause. Finally, The Roller speaks up, "Hey this round's on me." Everybody starts thanking him profusely as the bartender goes to work. T. lowers his voice and says, "You know what you gotta do? Cut off any account that has an annual returns rate greater than 30%. If the majority of your accounts fit this category, shut down your business."

He gets a couple of assenting nods but no cheers. Everybody's tuckered out after spending so much effort. We can't get our slurry thoughts into focus again. Oh, but such camaraderie! Such a sense of belonging! Hey poot, you gotta hand it to us, the Society of Recovering Publishing Executives is still looking for answers. We haven't given up. We're still out there dreaming.

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