Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Complaints from within

Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs and general publishing gadfly, has written this piece for The Century Foundation, where he is a Fellow. The headline is "Harry Potter and the Rest of the Book Business." How provocative.

In fact, it's just a rant about him not being able to get a book that he read about, and then it becomes criticism about the limitations of modern publishers who cannot fulfill potential customers' desires by having enough copies of books available. HP7 was the exception, hence the headline. I can appreciate what he's saying but this seems a bit cheap and easy. He is taking off his Publisher hat and putting on his Customer and announcing loudly, "I'm ALWAYS right! That's the expression!"

I guess I clam up anytime someone pushes for publishers to chase customers this hard, even if I understand that publishers cannot just rest on their laurels and expect readers to come to them. It's a new age. But can't he see, as a Publisher, that it's not always beneficial financially to print more copies? In this case the book got amazing publicity which translated into demand. First of all, what if that publicity didn't pan out? A lot of media is unreliable like that. And secondly, I'm here to tell you that not all publicity generates sales. You can get great publicity and not sell many books, so printing 30k because the Washington Post is a sure thing is not always the best idea, especially for a smaller house with more limited resources.

And how did he manage to write this li'l article without criticizing the chains at all for their buying? In fact, it becomes a celebration, this article, or rather a commercial - for Amazon. But if B&N and/or Borders shuts out a book for whatever reason, the publisher can produce 8 million copies of a book and it doesn't mean it will necessarily be easy to buy.

I just think he should have sat on this for one more day, perhaps, and widened his critique.

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