Preamble: These are my own opinions, not my employer’s. They’re also pretty similar to all the other griping in the industry, but I wanted to add my two cents this week.
Leon Neyfakh’s Observer piece on publishing’s plans for the freakish Fall 09 glut of established writers’ new novels – which includes Vladimir Nabakov, Richard Powers, and Thomas Pynchon – points to another form of fiction: the industry’s belief that putting out literary fiction at hardcover prices will save us. Former Grove/Atlantic editor and current agent Ira Silverberg acts as the voice of reason: “The big question is, will people buy that many books? …All these books are coming out in three months, and there’s overlap in their core audiences. Also, these are hardcover books– at 25 to 30 dollars! That’s tough.” He goes on:
“Look, you want an enthusiastic statement?” Mr. Silverberg said. “I think it’s fantastic that there are so many great writers coming out in those months. I think it speaks to our cultural activity as a people and the fact that these publishers, many of whom are douchebags, have not totally foresaken literary fiction.”
I plan on reading at least four of the books mentioned in the article: Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, Lethem’s Chronic City, Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, and Eggers’ The Wild Things. The first three are by big houses, the fourth by Eggers’ McSweeney’s imprint.
- If I pay list price (or close to it) at my local independent bookstore, that’s $119.
- If I buy them from Amazon, it’s $78.50.
- If I buy the Kindle ebooks it’s $40.
Disregarding all the “smell of books” vs “portability” arguments with the print/ebook dichotomy, this is what the industry’s real problem is. They’re fighting for eyeballs just like everyone else. At a certain point the blockbuster business model makes sense – throwing all your marketing money and resources behind Dan Brown, for instance – but only in the short term. In the long term, you need to follow your fiction readers. In my ideal marketplace, the houses would simultaneously publish hardcover and paperback (like the UK and, increasingly, the music industry), and allow you to read the ebook for a nominal incremental fee. I would pay $2 more to keep reading Lethem on the weekend subway ride into the Lower East Side. I’m certainly not lugging a hardcover around all night.
What about you?