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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sorry for the Delay

Mea culpa. Several other matters of import have intervened to throw my mostly regular blogging off the rails, including a couple of my own writing deadlines and prepping our "out of the blue"--and potentially most successful volume ever--for Book Expo 2008 in Los Angeles.

(Yes, more on that in mid-May.)


Saturday, April 19, 2008

An Unappealing Byproduct, Part 1

A recent poll I conducted asked this question: "Where do you buy most of your books?"

Here is the breakdown for that poll:

From the Publisher: 5 (16%)
Bookstores: 11 (36%)
Amazon: 12 (40%)
Other: 2 (6%) (primarily eBay)

I will explore this in several posts.

The results dovetail exactly with our own internal data, which is that buyers in ever greater numbers are turning to the least expensive (and often most hassle-free) option to buy their books. This is completely logical. Why pay more?, as the Target slogan asks its customers. Like most of those who read my blog and patronize Savas Beatie, I too am a lover, buyer, and collector of books. Saving money makes sense and is a factor in deciding how, whether, and what I purchase. Most who buy directly from us do so because they want a first edition, want a signed author book plate or a signature in the book itself, or like to patronize the hand that feeds them (so to speak).

But hidden inside these poll numbers is an unappealing byproduct most book buyers do not fully appreciate: The natural tendency of buyers to gravitate to discount books chokes off the dollars necessary for publishers and authors to continue producing them. This is especially true in niche areas like the Civil War (or Revolutionary War, or . . . pick a category).

The consolidation taking place within the publishing industry at all levels over the past decade is not the result of simply poor business decisions (although that accounts for some of it). Mergers, bankruptcies, and the trimming of staffs and budgets is the direct result of the confluence of technology and buying habits. The development, implementation, and availability of the former has dramatically influenced the latter. One need only think of the Internet, Amazon, and Print on Demand (POD) to understand why.

The following example applies to most niche-type titles, and not just the one I will use. Eight or ten years ago, it was an easy decision to accept and publish a well-written and deeply researched regimental history. Niche titles are typically more expensive to produce than general titles (they are usually longer, need more proofing, and include more complex formatting issues), and they require a higher than normal retail price because the market for them is smaller.

But only a handful of years go, a very sizable percentage of buyers purchased these books at full retail price. The balance left the warehouse via traditional book trade sales or were sold to authors for resale. The money generated in this manner allowed us to stock the refrigerator, pay overhead and salaries, and produce the next similar manuscript, and also earned for the author a royalty check that did not induce heart-stopping dismay.

The advent of improved technology, which in turn made Amazon and eBay possible, has turned this revenue model on its head.

I will explore why and the ensuing ramifications, together with specific examples in how this impacts our own internal decision-making, in my next post.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Recent closed Poll

The result are quite interesting, and confirm what our own internal numbers demonstrate. I will be writing more on this soon, because it is something all publishers (and book buyers) must understand and deal with. The poll results have a much more significant effect on buyers than most understand or fully appreciate. This is especially true for niche buyers.

-- tps

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Website, New Reasons to support Civil War Preservation Trust

As most readers of this blog are aware, this publishing house sprouted its earliest roots in Civil War titles. Long before it was fashionable in many circles, we raised money for preservation, tried to raise awareness, donated books and money, and did all of it proudly.

Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), with its own roots largely seated in The Association for the Preservation of Civil War Battlefields (read about its genesis here), has been at the forefront of preservation for many years. It has saved thousand of acres of priceless land that, once lost, can never be replaced. We partnered with CWPT last year in the very successful effort to save the core of the Champion Hill battlefield, and look forward to working with that wonderful organization again in the near future.

CWPT has a new cutting edge website, which you can see here. On it, you will find hours of reading material, and one of the best flash presentations of a battle anywhere. The current action depicts first day of Chancellorsville here. If, like me, you have never quite fully understood Day 1 of that important engagement, watch the map.

Savas Beatie is pleased to announce that, after a phone conference with CWPT's Rob Shenk, we have agreed to provide content (articles, excerpts, interviews, etc.) to CWPT to help attract visitors and hopefully, help them raise money.

TEN PERCENT: We also have an arrangement with CWPT to forward 10% of any book purchased through our website. Just make sure you put CWPT in the coupon code box.

Please support this worthwhile organization any way you can.

Thank you.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Publishing Options

On average, we receive one manuscript submission each day, either in the mail, via email, or on the phone. A call almost certainly means the author has not read our guidelines. See here and here for more on that.

Sadly (or thankfully, depending upon your perspective), we receive many more publishable manuscripts than we can produce. That means we must often write the infamous rejection letter.

Other sources for publishing are available. Here is an article that discusses and disects the pros and cons of many of them. As a consultant to the industry, I am often asked about these options. I am a big fan of getting information out to the end user however that is possible. But . . .

Caveat emptor.

Or in this case author beware.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

No Author Advances, and No Returns Accepted?

In an unusual (the article uses the word "radical") change of direction, HarperCollins Publishers is turning over a new leaf, so to speak. Its new book publishing company won't accept returns from retailers, and will be paying little or nothing in advances to authors.


Read more here for the full article. (The first link I provided required a subscription; this one does not.)

Highly recommended.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What are you Reading, and Why?

What people reads fascinates me. It always has. So forgive me as I take a small detour out of our own business and into . . . yours (so to speak).

I was at baseball practice for my son yesterday, and one of the parent coaches asked what I did for a living. When I told him, he proceeded to tell me how much he enjoys books, and so the discussion centered around what we were both reading, and why. Another parent chimed in, and an interesting discussion followed. I thought I would bring it to the blogosphere.

So, if you are inclined, list the current book you are reading (or just finished or are about to begin), and a couple others you recently finished, explain briefly why you picked each one up, and how you rate it. (For the sake of ease, let's use the Amazon 5-star system.)

Here are my books:

Current: The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (vol. 2 of The Liberation Trilogy), by Rick Atkinson. These books are masterfully written, groundbreaking studies. Avoid if you do not like deep discussions about strategy and tactics. I picked it up because I love to read about WWII, I loved his first volume in the series, and I did not know as much about Sicily and the Italian Campaign as I should have. I pause nearly every page to marvel at his ability to turn a phrase. His first volume won the Pulitzer. Find out why by picking it up. *****

2. Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison, by James Riordan. I read it because the author is a friend and we are co-writing a techno-historical thriller screenplay. (We have very serious interest from a major Hollywood producer who has read it, called a meeting, and discussed it with us in person. Keep your fingers crossed, please). Jim and I swapped books, and I promised to read this one. It is a fascinating story, very well told. I never liked The Doors, but have a better appreciation of their music now. ****

3. The Reach of Rome: A History of the Roman Imperial Frontier, 1st-5th Centures AD, by Derek Williams. I read a lot of ancient history, and have a fairly extensive library on the subject. This title covers the hubristic attitude of Roman emperors, and how the establishment of its borders helped knock down the empire and eventually impact the modern Western world. Fascinating. ****

So, what are you reading, and why?

-- tps