Publishing at the Point of No Returns

In a conversation CSPAN taped at the Brooklyn bookstore of the publisher Melville House, Colin Robinson, co-founder of the new publisher OR Books, noted that publishing has come to a point of no returns. OR Books is eliminating returns of unsold books from booksellers by selling e-books and printing books on demand in response to orders. Of course, technology has led to a point of no return for writers and publishers.

Publishers started allowing booksellers to return unsold books during the Depression to encourage them to stock more books than they could otherwise afford. Now returns symbolize the dysfunctional state of the industry. Forty percent of new books are returned to be pulped and become new books.

Robinson was having a moderated discussion with Richard Nash, the founder of Cursor Books, another new house that does e-books and POD books, and relies on building online communities to reach readers.

Nash feels that the role of publishers is to connect writers and readers. He and Robinson believe that they can connnect with book buyers better than big houses by using the money they save by not giving more than half of the cover price to the chains in discounts and promotional allowances.

Robinson believes that it’s getting harder to read while it’s getting easier to write. He feels that the number of choices readers face confuses them and turns them off. Nash mentioned another aspect of the competition for books: the ways people can spend an hour besides reading: listening to 18 songs, watching two sitcoms or half a movie.

Nash lets his communities vote on cover designs. He finds that people feel valued by being asked, even if he doesn’t take their advice. Nash admitted that he caters to people’s passions. He wants to publish what people love to read.

What does all this mean to writers?

  • Write what people love to read because they help, inspire, enlighten, or entertain readers so well they’ll forsake the other ways they have to spend their discretionary time and income.
  • Start building communities as soon as you start writing your book.
  • Choose the right publishing model for you and your book.

Comments and questions welcome.