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What It Would Take to Disrupt the Publishing Industry?


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What It Would Take to Disrupt the Publishing Industry,” is an article by by Brooke Warner in Publishers Weekly (Oct 08, 2021).


The article highlights several recommendations to improve the industry.  I agree with the spirit of the article.  One weakness of the article is that is fails to explain who the main culprits and how because of their might and greed, have been holding the industry back despite advances in technology that promised to democratize the industry.


Of course when America has a cold Black America is on a respirator with Covid -- in other words all of this hurts Black books, and their readers, the most.


Brooke's main points in bold, with my comments, are below.  Visit PW to read the full article.


Print fewer books, and find ways to print what we can sell. 

This is of course easier said than done, but as she indicates in her article improved print on demand technology will make this possible, but that technology does not exist today.


Find better ways to distribute books to the marketplace. 

Ingram has an effective monopoly on book distribution in the US. This combined with Amazon's virtually integrated business (they handle everything from publishing books to delivering them to the customer). Because there are essentially two companies with their fingers in the sale of every book, change is very difficult.  The are certainly better models, but the the dominant players currently have no incentive to change, they won't.


Cancel returns. 
The ability to return books to Ingram is a fundamental weakness, and booksellers exploit this by ordering more books than they need or expect to sell, only to return them for credit on the purchase other books.  Of course royalties have to be held up for months as publishers wait for returns which will offset sales and what the author is ultimately paid. This overhead is what increases the inefficiency in the business and lowers margins for publishers and ultimately booksellers.


Sell more digital and audio. 

Again, easier said than done.  You can not talk about selling more audiobooks and ebooks without talking about driving more business to Amazon's Kindle and Audible products, which are far and away the dominate formats sold, and the negative impact that this will have.  Also, I prefer physical books and I'm not an unusual consumer.


Raise the prices of all books. 
$30 for a hardcover book is plenty, given the cost of production.  If the inefficiencies and monopolies in the did business not exist, there would be plenty of profit at this price point.  The other problem is that books have a set price, this notion needs to change. Brick and mortar stores can't charge more than the price stamped on the book by the publisher.  Amazon does not let the price set by the publisher stop them for charging whatever they want for a book.


Empower authors to work with and support bookstores.
Authors don't need to be "empowered" they already are.  Authors, like publishers, booksellers, and consumers, need to be educated to understand what is in their best interest. This could not be more true for the Black author/publisher/bookseller/consumer.


In 2021, there is no real reason for there to only be a handful of publishers who court the best authors and command the most attention and respect in the industry and media. The dominance of Amazon and Ingram has contributed to stifling competition and lowering margins for the remaining competitors in the book industry. 


The "disruptions" needed to improve the book industry can be addressed by changes our collective behavior.

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