Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's Down to Selection not Age

So there is little value in those lost orphans and out of print books that Google are fighting over. Many soldier in the belief that the front list publishing fixation will continue, with that 13 week window deciding success and failure. However, others believe that the value lies not just in the bestseller punts of tomorrow, but also the wealth of material already published.

Some continue to believe that books rarely get a second chance and that if they have failed once, they will fail again. Also if the were successful first time, then they have had their 15 minutes of fame. This fixation on the front list often flies against all reason and the consumers continued interest in back lists and classics. We only have to look at film, music and other media, to see that there will always be a second new audience. Consumers rarely skip straight to the copyright page to see when a book was published and the publication date is irrelevant to many.

So why so many have books fallen by the wayside? Over time lists have often been exchanged or bought, publishers cease to trade, authors become impossible to trace and rights records become hidden in cupboards and filing boxes under thick layers of dust. It is therefore difficult to establish the rights owner and get permission to reprint. The truth is often as easy to publish a new title, than revisit the old and the print and distribution economics were often against a punt on a second life.

However, today’s digital technology changes this, offering low risk print on demand and short print runs, internet marketing and ecommerce to a viral audience from a virtual warehouse. The ebook extends this opportunity and now every book has to compete not in 13 week window, but against every title ever published. The key to re publishing is the same as with new titles – picking the winners. However, unlike new titles who’s visibility depends on marketing and placement, older titles can have a sales history which may also help in their selection. They also may be relatively cheap to acquire.

We have recently seen the success of Cambridge’s print on demand programme, Faber and Faber’s new classics and Penguin’s continual programme of refreshing the back list and keeping it imprint. We now read that Barnes & Noble will republish out-of-print books in redesigned hardcovers. The first 33 titles in the series, include works by Loren Eiseley, Norman Cohn, Ted Hughes and Owen Barfield.

Barnes and Noble have long be publishers, reprinters and packagers. In the eighties they had talented scouts such as John Kelly and Jeanette Limodjian who fed their successful mail order business with their Dorset imprint of highbrow selections. Remember titles such as, 'The Verbal Art of Self Defence' and 'The Mabinogion?' Now under the stewardship of Sterling Publishing we believe it is a return to proven ways. Importantly they are booksellers with a history of knowing what sells and have multiple sales platforms form which to promote and sell these new editions.

We believe that Barnes and Noble’s move is very wise and also significant in that it starts to return us to those early 18th century days of the likes of Robert Dodsley, when booksellers were bookbinders, booksellers, rights owners and publishers

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