Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Today's main post is at since it's mostly of interest to that constituency.

But for the sake of bloggers, I will say that I took my "Twelve Blackfeet Indians" POD generated books to Barnes & Noble, knowing that they would not accept my table-top published books because they had no ISBN and therefore couldn't be managed by the B&N system. Since this particular book DOES have an ISBN, I thought it would be acceptable, but no. Now B&N has a NEW policy which is not to sell non-returnable books. Ingrams marks them on their database.

There are two factors: One is that print-on-demand has partly become so popular BECAUSE authors and publishers go broke when bookstores stock their shelves with returnable books -- wouldn't it be nice if all the groceries that spoiled or became outdated could be mailed back to the producers?

The other is that quality-control has always been the job of the publishers. Now that the publishers have abandoned quality as a criteria and only accept market research that indicates fat profit, they no long provide the bookstore gate-keeping which used to keep out what Wheeler calls "sludge." No one has time to actually read the book at the book store level.

But since it is not only bookstores that sell books, I took mine on down to the History Center, where they were acceptable even without ISBN. They were taken on a "consignment" basis, but I previously sold table-top books there, found it a good brisk place to sell, and always received prompt and accurate book keeping reports. I suppose you could say that the big chains, by insisting on returnability, were also taking books on consignment. The difference is that the History Center actually looks at the books and evaluates them personally.

The B&N manager, a handsome young man, felt badly. He wanted to carry the book. I told him POD was part of a plot to destroy his book chain. That didn't cheer him up. I told the clerk (overweight, goatee, young, many pierced earrings) the same and then told him that I was going to go use my corporate-sellout gift card at Starbucks, since the one in the B&N is a false front that won't take the card. He laughed at the irony. The manager did not. Managing a large book chain store is a thankless job.

Now I'm thinking about the new strategy of allowing authors to create shell "publishers" of their own and order their ISBN that way. I don't think Ingrams will be able to pick them out. Hmmmm.


Richard S. Wheeler said...

The idea that established publishers have abandoned literary quality as a criterion and only publish "market-researched" books is as far from reality as one can get. I can't imagine where such a notion comes from.

The book chains usually won't sell vanity books because so few of them are worth carrying. But both Amazon and permit vanity publishers to create a market page and sell through them, last I knew.

There is a shakeout in process. Brick and mortar stores that were initually willing to display some of these vanity titles are retreating, and more and more are sticking with books from known publishers, for the sake of protecting their consumers from bad product. Pretty soon, the internet will be the only venue for vanity books.

Anonymous said...

Barnes & Noble DOES in fact sell POD books, by pre-paid special order. They can't accept every unedited dream-come-true. There is not enough real estate/self space for B&N to carry every POD title. Come on, that's just common sense.

And regarding the "false front" cafes. No, they are not Starbucks; and they are not trying to trick you. They are Barnes & Noble Cafes licensed by Starbucks to carry some of their product. B&N cafes serve several other vendors' product in their cafes as well. I guess B&N should start taking Cheesecake Factory gift cards, too, since they offer a few of their cheesecake selections? Shouldn't be too hard to find an actual Starbucks. They were pretty ubiquitous last time I checked.

prairie mary said...

The books in question were not vanity publishing but needed materials for teaching Native American history in Montana classrooms. No New York publisher produces such local material. The store manager looked at the book and did not consider it unworthy. He is a literate and intelligent man, one of those Garrison Keillor English majors, I expect.

The manager did not know about the "prepaid special order" wrinkle.

There is not even enough shelf space for the B&N in Great Falls to carry Westerns.

POD is "print on demand," which is a technology not a press. The U of Nebraska Bison Books are in print today because they use POD or print on demand technology. They cannot afford to keep a supply of the books in a warehouse. This is a step towards "Espresso," that machine that makes a book while you wait.

Is THAT where those cheesecakes come from?? They're wonderful. Too bad I'm diabetic now and can't eat any or I'd head right over to Cheesecake Factory if there WERE one in Great Falls.

Great Falls is eighty miles from me. They do have a "real" Starbucks and I went there to max out my gift card.

Great Falls is the closest Starbucks and B&N. Also, MacDonalds, Wendys, Hardees, and so on. I'm guessing you haven't been there and probably don't live in Montana.. In the Sixties there were wonderful indie bookstores and one of those is only fifty miles away.

Prairie Mary

Steve Bodio said...

"The idea that established publishers have abandoned literary quality as a criterion and only publish "market-researched" books is as far from reality as one can get. I can't imagine where such a notion comes from."

Ummm-- how about because I have been told so?

My (universally) well reviewed boks are going out of print and I have been told they will not be reprinted because the "money people" say no.

My old Wilder Places series of reprint classics at Lyons was cancelled according to Nick Lyons because the marketing dept "didn't know how to sell it", though two were repackaged and at least one is in print.

I have been asked in the past year to make three proposals, all about 50 pages with marketing plans, and had them rejected because they are not commercial enough. What the hell do I know about marketing?

I have taken on a project in England with the assurance by my agent that finding illustrations would be "cheap and easy" and find it is so hard and expensive that it may cancel my earnings. My agent still insists it is a good move and all nature books must be "packages" now. If so I am going to POD.

Peter Bowen had his whole brilliant series dropped.

Annie Proulx says so too.

Alston Chase had his agent drop him because he wanted to write a non- commercial (wonderful) book. He finally got it published for a pittance. Luckily he could afford to.

If you have been luckier good, but not everyone is.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

None of Mr. Bodio's examples support Mary's assertion that publishers have abandoned quality and publish only market-researched books.

The business model still operating in NY is to publish as many best-sellers or strong market contenders as possible, and use a portion of the profits to publish works of excellence that are not likely to do as well in the marketplace and are likely to lose money.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Mr. Bodio's comments, while valuable, do not support Mary's contention that established publishers only support "market researched" book projects and reject quality as a criterion.

The business model still operating in NY is this: they do attempt to publish books with great market potential, as many best-sellers as they can, but some of the profit from that basic source of income is spent upon publishing books of great quality but little likelihood of profit.

Is there a better system? Make the publishing system philanthropic, with grants for books that will lose a pot of money? Bring in Bill Gates?

prairie mary said...

"Publishers" (esp. "established" publishers) used to mean gentlemen's businesses conducted by highly educated and well-respected persons, so that their readers were pretty much the same sort and therefore the authors were presumed to be like that. It was a source of personal prestige and honor.

No more.

Publishing is a business and there are MANY kinds of publishers. The task of the author now is to find the kind of publisher with the kind of readers that fit the writing. Publishing is not even limited to paper with ink impressions. It might or might not be copyrighted. Probably the greatest amount of writing is those notorious directions that no one ever reads.

Prairie Mary