"But while I’m here, I might as well tell you all about the lunch I had last week with my friend, one of the most intelligent people I know in the business.
Or MIP for short.
MIP, who was admittedly in a bad mood that day, told me that all the marketing ideas I could come up with from here to kingdom come, were never going to get authors what they really wanted.
“Really? What do they really want?”
“A bestseller. A BIG BOOK. A HIT!”
Well, MIP’s right.
Probably nothing I or my esteemed colleague and partner in crime, Doug Clegg, can come up with will make a book A BIG BOOK. Only a publisher can do that because that takes cash, baby, and a lot of it.
At least $250,000.
We were standing on the corner outside the restaurant, and before he crossed the street to go back to his office, MIP left me with one final bon mot that I’d like to share with you.
The real issue, the saddest part of the story, the mess, is that we do not have enough readers for the number of books we are publishing to all do well. We do not have enough readers for even one quarter of all the books we are publishing to do well.
And NO, NO, NO, MIP does not think there are too many books.
Quite the opposite.
The problem, he says, is we do not have enough readers.
'I think that the larger issue of static/declining readership is the real heart of the matter. It's pathetic that, as an industry, we refuse to really deal with what afflicts us. The obvious way to sell more copies of books is to raise the level of the water. Right now we're battling over a little pond, and instead of noticing that the water is draining and doing something about it, we just keep talking about how each of our little pieces of the pond could be better managed.'
The idea of the industry taking on that challenge is -- and not with something as lame as a print ad campaign that is now in it’s what? sixth or seventh ineffectual year, a campaign, no less, that positions reading as an illicit or illegal activity up there with high crimes and sexual demeanors...
No, the idea of the industry really taking on that challenge…. now, that’s a dream."
An essential post. Unfortunately, the way your publishing pal sees the relationship between the number of books and readers makes it clear that even when the proverbial 16 ton weight of evidence hits them on the head, publishers won't come to their senses.
Reading for entertainment is a minority interest. Always has been, always will be. It's a fantasy to think that the number of readers will significantly increase. It'll probably decrease incrementally. What ideas do publishers have to create a dramatic increase in readership? I haven't heard any. And it would take resources to implement, if there were any ideas worth trying. M.J. Rose’s MIP says that it takes at least $250,000 to try and make a bestseller. If publishers are so parsimonious with their funds that they give that push to only a handful of books every year, they would be loath to commit a multiple of that to a campaign to get more customers.
Short of a miracle, the only answer is to drastically reduce the number of books being published. And for some reason, publishers just don't seem willing to consider that.