Schadenfreude lives! In the comments section of yesterday’s post there were several people only too happy to urge the publishing industry to look in the dang mirror already in the face of a (ahem largely universal) retail downturn that is leading to all sorts of chaos. This has led me to believe that all we need to do to cure the recession is bottle up the schadenfreude going around and sell it at a profit, because schadenfreude is a booming market. Get it while it’s hot!
I want to address a few things that have been discussed here and elsewhere around the internet expressing antipathy toward the publishing industry. Now, I try and sort out the sorts of comments that are thinly veiled variations of “the publishing industry would be making money if only they published MY book” vs. actual constructive criticisms that should very well be absorbed and can be learned from. Tomorrow we’ll have a big ole You Tell Me about all this, but in the meantime I thought I’d frame the coming debate a bit.
A lot of people feel that the publishing industry needs to publish new and varied voices rather than the supposed same old stuff that you see on bestseller lists. No more same old same old! The publishing industry would make more money if only it didn’t publish commercial schlock.
Or to distill it still further to show precisely what I’m getting at: the publishing industry would make more money if only it didn’t publish and promote the books that sell really well.
Now, let me say that investing in new, talented voices and sticking with them is something I can really truly get behind. As the industry moves to a blockbuster model, it risks missing people who don’t break out in a major way on the first try. That’s a shame. Jason Kaufman at Doubleday stuck with a little author named Dan Brown, who then wrote THE DA VINCI CODE, and now he owns like seven countries.
But it seems to me that if you think the publishing industry should publish more books with artistic merit… that isn’t exactly a sure route to a better bottom line. Either the publishing industry should focus on the bottom line and it should publish what sells, or it should cast profit to the wind and publish what it feels are the best books period.
Or, better yet, a mixture of the two. Which is basically the industry you have now. Is it perfect? Nuh uh. Could the publishing industry be smarter? Yuh huh. But better commerce through lack of commerce is not a very appealing path to restoring the health of the industry.