PVWG met yesterday in our now usual meeting location at the Boutique Theatre that has been kind enough to host us since November of 2013.
The topic under discussion : the current struggles of publishing houses and of aspiring individual authors seeking publication.
I´ll summarize how I heard it. Big publishing houses are merging leaving fewer options for authors to peddle their work. If you are lucky enough to get published don´t expect to make a financial killing, instead consider yourself very fortunate to have been scouted and to have made it into print with a reputable publisher at all.
Why are publishers struggling? Lots of reasons. These include the cost of offices in New York and other big cities, staffing, printing, warehousing, transportation, technological support and advertising make it to this incomplete list of expenses. Advances in the e book industry are challenging printed copy especially in Canada and the US. Europe is still hanging on to the hard copy reading experience. Childrens books are still selling well as hard copy although children are increasingly using computers as educational tools.
I admit to being very old school. I like the convenience of using a computer as I am at this moment and use it as a means to an end. A book however in hard copy is a sensory experience. The trip to the book store. Leafing through the fresh pages, scanning the words, and breathing in the smell of the paper. An e book can never capture the same pleasure for me and besides when you buy a book: it then sits on the book shelf as a reminder and offers the opportunity to revisit the pages that were most puzzling or thought provoking. Suffice it to say I am not an e book reader yet! But I am aware that a ruthless e book giant Goliath is leading the literary Philistines. It makes a terrifying prospect.
So why are the middle sized publishing houses facing so many challenges. It seems to me that publishing as an industry is almost as bad as farming. In other words, you hope for rain and a good price for your crop. In publishing I don´t know the exact stats on how many books are published per year and how many are real winners and how many are losers. I heard once that 95% of published books sell less than a hundred copies. So even the publishers don´t really know which books are going to sell a million copies or more. But the irony to me is this that even really well written works with significant literary merit may not sell multimillions of copies. On the other hand a certain shade of grey has sold 50 million copies. There are a lot of readers out there with an appetite for the banal and the media band wagon gathers momentum and then the book is a huge financial winner. Ellen Greene who belongs to our PVWG group has written a delightful book called “Remember the sweet things”. In spite of all her hard work she does not consider the book a publishing success when it comes to the number of sales. Too bad because remembering that the smallest things in life are the most precious is something we all need to embrace now.
So to summarize both publishers and writers are gambling when they put a book in print. It is no more than a literary lottery.
Tastes in books have changed a lot in the 50 years or so since I was a small child. I cut my teeth on Ladybird books and God Bless her Enid Blyton and the famous five. I read Charles Dickens, George Elliott, Thomas Hardy, and I loved and still love the works of the English poets (William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and John Keats). Today poetry has almost no commercial value yet it represents I believe a higher consciousness and a taste for the erudite things in life.
But as we like to say with such eloquence in North America “It just aint so”
Publishing is in a state of flux. The future does not look great but there is still opportunity for success and in spite of the challenges some of us in the group are going to succeed. Some will be lucky and others through persistence will make their own good fortune.
Personally I would like to wish everyone the very best: publishers and writers alike. At the end of the day we need each other in order to survive.