How to Weather the Economic Storm: A Q&A with Eric Kampmann, president of Midpoint Trade Books and Beaufort Books
Extra: What about longer-term strategies?
Kampmann: During my career in publishing, I have watched many events take place: companies buying companies; divisions coming and going; jobs appearing and disappearing. But through all of this helter-skelter movement, I am not sure I observed any truly revolutionary changes in the publishing community, at least not in the larger companies. On the other hand, I have witnessed enormous change in the world of bookselling. And the engines of these changes are not difficult to identify: Book superstores, national wholesalers, Internet retailers and mass merchandisers all have positively changed a publisher’s ability to reach much wider, national markets.
Publishers have adapted to this new world, but have they really changed? As a result, I would suggest that there is no aspect of the publishing process that should not be examined. The model has grown creaky, and retooling needs to take place.
Extra: What about that old supply chain albatross, returns? Is now the time to try to weaken that practice by putting pressure on distributors?
Kampmann: To understand what makes returns such an epidemic problem, you must trace back to where the problem begins, which, more often than not, is with faulty editorial judgment. When a book is bought for a large sum of money, every financial/publishing decision that follows must proceed from the first assumption. If you make an investment of $500,000 in a particular book, then you are not going to attempt to sell just 5,000 copies. The economics of the royalty advance demand appropriate responses down the publishing line, including advance sales into bookstores and supporting marketing budgets. But are these numbers supported by the realities in the marketplace?
Since the highest returns come from failed front-list titles, it is clear that the numbers game approximates gambling with the house odds weighed strongly against most individual titles. New-book releases resemble first-weekend movie releases, but without research or testing. As the window of opportunity has tightened for new-book releases, so returns have increased because the books do not have enough time to reach their full market.