Our Continuing Series of Helpful Advice for Publishers

April 1st, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Everyone celebrates April Fool’s Day in a different manner. Last year (and we wish we were kidding), the husband called us into his office, oh pretty much every five minutes, to share yet another example of wacky CSS gurus having fun. The joke went over our head. This year, in lieu of geek fun, we have two headlines from the Canadian press.

On one had, we learn that Canadians buy a lot of books. On the other, we learn that a major publisher is scaling back for economic reasons. We are pleased that Canadians are spending more on books than on live sporting events. And the numbers don’t even count those who use the library.

This doesn’t seem to help The Porcupine Quill whose editor expressed his pessimistic mood:

In response to a recent query letter from one hopeful author, co-founder Tim Inkster wrote back: “I doubt this company will survive past fall of 2007, so we are not in a position to consider new commitments.”

Because of what we like to call the Wal-Mart Effect*, Porcupine’s literary offerings are lost in bigger stores. Their critically acclaimed books no longer reach the intended audience.

This leads to a conundrum: how can books that reach a very limited audience (the projected sales for a volume of poetry are 250 units) create a sustainable business model? It is not enough to suggest that the reading public needs to change its tastes. Big chains are a fact of life, though communities are realizing that big and cheap is not always the best answer for local economies.

Porcupine Quill could enter into a subscription model, we suppose. Or develop a customer mailing list (call it modern hand-selling), using literary journals and other sources as a conduit (note: we are not suggesting spam here; opt-in only). Direct marketing might actually be a better approach. Heck, why not turn the distribution model on its side and sell the books in non-traditional venues; it’s not like the patrons of independent bookstores have disappeared off the earth. They are surely shopping in other places. This might actually achieve the goal of building the Porcupine Quill brand as well.

Publishing needs to be more nimble and modern. There is no question there. Traditional approaches to selling need to be reexamined, especially in those cases where tradition means getting lost in the mix. Nobody in publishing likes the idea of limited shelf life, but that is the reality of business today.

* – Where a big chain obliterates smaller businesses.

File Under: Publishers and Editors