Publishing: 'Not Like Any Other Business'
"When people say publishing is a business--actually it's not quite a business. It's part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It's not like any other business, and that's why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, 'Right, I'm going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,' two years later you find they're bald because they've torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, 'It's not like selling beer. It's not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.' You're selling one book--not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let's say, 'Graham Greene' almost like a brand. You're selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It's very specific."
--Margaret Atwood in an interview with the Globe & Mail.
I haven't read much by Margaret Atwood, but this quote will make me check her out! It was published in Shelf Awareness on March 21st, and I had put it aside to post here, but I'm just getting around to it...
When I first joined the publishing industry, after several years in the independent bookstore world, I learned that there were really only 300-400 people in publishing, and they all just moved around from company to company, position to position. I clearly remember the day one of my sales reps changed companies -- I felt so much a publishing insider 'cause I could track him from one company to another! I was working for a woman, at the time, who'd been in publishing for a few years and seemed to know everyone who was anyone, but it turns out that all it takes is a few years in the business and you, too, could "know everyone."
I've been in publishing long enough, too, to have seen how it changed from "publishing" to "a business." Big companies swallowed up small companies. Instead of moving up to an executive position from a lowly sales rep position, bean counters were hired from outside our industry to turn publishing into a profitable business. That's when we lost a lot of the passion in publishing. Back in the day, when there were a lot of small, independent bookstores, before B&N took over the world, the employees in those indies knew books. They knew authors. They knew their customers. There were several employees in the small bookstore in which I worked. We knew who to call when the new so-and-so came in 'cause that customer would be in the next day to get it. We knew to put away all the new Harlequins 'cause Ms. XYZ would be in to pick them up, no matter the cover, no matter the author. We knew if something would sell the minute it was pulled out of the carton, and we knew who would buy it.
Today? Not so much. Sure, if you ask B&N management if their store employees know books, they'll say yes. And to a certain degree, I guess they do. But they don't know me. Hell, I'm in there once a week and the employees, not a one of them, would recognize me if they were about to run me over with the book cart. They don't know who I read, they don't know who I won't read, they don't even know my first name!
That's a business.
That's NOT publishing.