Looking for logic in the field

Poets & Writers March-April issue has an interesting article about publishing. There is an interview with John B. Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-first Century. The nice thing about an interview is the person doing the interview can focus on certain interesting points, giving us the  in-depth and an overview of information, as well as encourage us to think about getting a book, in this case.

The “three forces that have transformed the field of . . . American trade publishing” got my attention. The author goes into some detail about the growth of retail chains, the rise of the superagent, and the consolidation of publishing houses under the umbrella of large corporations. To many, some of this is not big news, or we may have been around enough to notice the trend, for instance not only for the publishing industry but media networks and other retail product companies becoming owned by huge corporations.

What Mr Thompson says about the processes of these forces producing a polarization of the field is again more interesting, especially to me. The small number of large corporations and the large number of small indie presses with very little in between. Well guess what, we small indie presses have the big challenge of competing with the large for economies in sales, distribution, and lots of money and staff to fuel the promotion and marketing. Even if we have a book become a popular title, it’s hard to hold onto that author. To make up for what we lack individually we have to make up for in collaboration and sharing of information, resources, and organizations. Thompson calls it the economy of favors.

Thompson sheds some light on the theory of growth by publishing more books and how that can make problems worse. Of course this does depend on the size of a publisher, but perhaps the principles are similar, bigger house, bigger problems. There is a hint at marketing a few books of promise to carry the others of which there may be more in numbers. You may find yourself giving a side glance to The Long Tail. And then the overall encouragement of a belief luring the audience, you can expect to find more, promises we believe, endorsements of authenticity, and so forth.

Will it be interesting to see what happens in the near future? Could be that the clout and leverage of corporations will prevail. I like to think that small is beautiful and can use innovation and some form of peer appeal to interest and engage audiences to their, the small press, much-needed benefit. In a time when most of us are finding or trying to find ways to keep things going, making books, forming new equations for business and marketing, I hope I am right. And in the mean time I think I will get this book Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century.


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