Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Elephant in the Living Room

The Publishing Industry vs the Economy

I’ve been asked to do a short program on this subject in a couple of weeks at Glorieta. Why didn’t they ask me to do something easy, like picking everybody a lottery winner?

Trying to second-guess the publishing industry is hard enough in normal times, but now with the economy doing a belly-flop off the high board it’s even harder. I know what I think about the state of things, but I decided the conference attendees deserved more than just my opinion, so I set out to gather all of the input that I could. And where do people express their opinions? Either in a letter to the editor or in a blog.

I don’t have access to a lot of letters to the editor, but I do have an extensive list of blogs of editors, publishing houses and agents, and some sites that industry professionals use to try and keep tabs on industry trends. I spent a couple of full days going right down the list. It would be foolish of any of us to think as hard as everyone is being impacted by the economy, personally and in our businesses that the publishing industry would be exempt. But then I found that few people in the industry are talking about it.

What? How can that be?

I went from blog to blog and site to site and finally rounded up enough information to be able to say it was more than just my opinion, but for the number of sites I visited to do it, the scarcity of comments was astounding. They ranged from a New York Times article entitled “The End” spouting gloom and doom and predicting the end of publishing as we know it, to a Publishing Trends article that simply says patience and staying calm are all that is required.

Even though no publishing sites admitted houses were feeling the pinch there were ample statistics that showed they were being impacted and talked about layoffs and steps being taken in the industry. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, did talk about the fact that there was “no silver bullet” or no single magic solution but rather a lot of incremental steps to solve a big problem. He didn’t come right out and say what the problem was.

I only found two agents talking about it, Chip MacGregor of course, and Lori Perkins. Both basically said the same thing, that acquisitions were sure to slow down, but publishing houses are in the business of selling books and it would soon pick back up again. That’s where I was positioned to start with, so maybe I didn’t have to do all this research after all.

I watch all the stuff on the economy ad-infinitum in the media. I see the steps various people are talking about taking but no matter who wins the election or what steps are being taken it is still going to take months to start seeing significant improvements. I do have a strong opinion that it matters very much who wins the oval office too, but I don’t want to get into that. If everybody just spent a lot of time in prayer before they vote that problem might resolve itself.

For those at the conference I’m going to have a lot of support for the things I’m saying here and I hope I don’t prejudice the experience of seeing where industry people stand by giving away the ending, but I don’t think so.

For now I believe there is a need for an even greater degree of patience in the business of writing. It never is a very quick process going from writing to publishing, but even more patience will be required. We should keep doing business as usual, writing our stories, making our submissions. Only at this point in time good may not be quite good enough. We should take the time to polish it even more. Right now good will lose out to excellent, and a good proposal demonstrating that excellence and showing a terrific platform and a willingness to help the publisher make a success of the offering could tip the scales.

It’s funny how many people are talking about the economy in public forums but how few are talking about it in regards to our industry, but we shouldn’t think that means it isn’t a factor, it is. It’s like the elephant in the living room that nobody is talking about, but he’s there, he most certainly is there.


Alison Bryant said...

I appreciate your thoughts, Terry, and I look forward to hearing this at Glorieta.

Edward Hancock II said...

It's a sad reality that the publishing industry will survive as long as there is a vast amount of tabloid "tell-all" books waiting to be written and an audience hungry enough to read that kind of stuff.

janamarie said...

Let's stay positive. During the 70's when I sold magazines door to door, my boss, who started selling them during the depression once said that people buy reading material during economic crisis before any other entertainment because it lasts longer than a movie or a night out.