It’s the F*** Backstop!

I suppose that when I ran a link to the NYMag article on “the death of book publishing,” I should’ve made it part of my F*** You, You Whining F*** series. I failed you, dear readers.

Fortunately, Kassia Kroszer is out there as my F*** You Backstop with a good post that bashes the living crap out of that article and its synecdochal contention that “literary fiction” is book publishing. Thanks, KK!

4 Replies to “It’s the F*** Backstop!”

  1. Amen! My very recent employer sure isn’t having any trouble making money in the book-publishing business. And — what do you know — the company doesn’t publish literary fiction.

  2. That was a pretty good post. It’s hard to get away from the fact that a huge presumption was made in the New York article, but I have to say I have some sympathy for when people invested in arts industries make that presumption, and I’m slightly horrified when “giving people what they want” is assumed to be a trump card instead of the first sentence of an argument that needs an equal amount of development. The Daniele Steele divergence struck me as particularly odd, because I’m not sure a Daniele Steele, or the next Daniele Steele, would necessarily be immune to the trends asserted in the New York article.

  3. True. I don’t like the “commercial success is the only criteria” vibe; I mean, I write this blog for zero pay. I think there are big problems with trying to manufacture blockbusters in book publishing, but the need for those blockbusters ties into what I see as two big factors:

    a) major book publishers being part of larger corporations that actually care about quarter-to-quarter performance, and
    b) major book publishers having to retain office space and staff in Manhattan, where real estate and staffing costs are astronomical.

    Sure, there are a lot of other structural problems with book publishing — first and foremost is the returnability of stock by bookstores — but I think the hit-or-miss cycles are just a killer, when corporate ownership need to show steady growth.

    This problem crops up in my day job, inasmuch as most pharmaceutical contract manufacturer organizations (CMOs) are privately held. There are a few that are a small part of large pharma companies, and several that are standalone, publicly held CMOs. The latter have it toughest, because the CMO business goes in peaks and troughs, and quarter-to-quarter revenues are very difficult to level out, so shareholders can get freaked and start dumping stock if they misperceive one of those troughs.

    For the CMOs that are part of larger companies, their performances rarely get remarked upon in their parent companies’ financial statements. Most of them simply put contract services money in the “Other” category, and it tends to amount to a rounding error.

    I guess that creates another set of problems, when your business isn’t too big a concern to your parent company. I mean, book publishing accounted for 1.8% of News Corp.’s revenues in 4Q08, and 2.9% for the year. So HarperCollins could revolutionize its publishing model, nearly double its revenues . . . and account for 5% of its parent company’s revs. Not too much of an incentive for News Corp. to take book publishing seriously. But now I’m rambling.

    That article still had its head wedged firmly up its own ass, in taking the problems with “literary fiction” and extrapolating them to cover all of publishing. It should’ve focused on the parallels between publishing and pharma-CMOs instead.

  4. Yeah, I think it could have been adjusted pretty easily, and I’m totally down with the line of thinking that says just because a current framework or infrastructure can’t be supported doesn’t mean that things are failing. There’s a bunch of comics stuff this relates to, Gil, such as the differences between the art comics publishers Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly — Fanta was originally set-up like a traditional comics publisher with a small warehouse staff and people to take catalog calls, D&Q like a boutique prose publishing house with two people in a room; they’ve both kind moved towards each other in recent years as the needs of the business and their individual profiles have changed.

    I suspect from what little I know about it that one thing that’s going on is that book publishing culture is diseased and crazy and gross, above and beyond whether it’s successful or not but in a way that informs what it does and how it does it. All those disgusting-looking parties and the hiring of attractive authors over ugly ones* and the collective bug up their ass when dealing with new media unless they themselves make some and then it’s like a proud kid making a poopy in the potty even if it’s the worst, crappiest on-line video ever. It makes me glad to work in proximity to comics where it’s just stale-air nerd stuff as opposed to full-on shaved and showered post-nerd acting out sprinkled with greed.


    * luckily, I’m hot

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