Jill Barshay at National Public Radio did a great piece on Marketplace today summarizing the challenges facing the book publishing industry. In summary, book publishers are getting hurt by book stores that take advantage of 90 day return policies to buy more books than they know they can sell and then return unsold books for full refunds, only to turn around days later to re-order the same books again, restarting the 90 day return window (in other words, never having to pay for books until and if they sell through). Under mounting profit pressure, publishers are employing fewer editors and fewer publicists to shephard more books through the system. At the same time, notes Barshay, book publishers are failing to adapt to new digital publishing realities in which authors can self-publish without a publisher. So in other words, publishers are being forced to do less of what was previous their raison d'etre (developing and promoting talent), thereby diminishing their overall value proposition. The NPR piece leaves listeners wondering, if publishers can't support authors, then why shouldn't authors bypass publishers altogether?
Don't miss the comment by April Hamilton that follows the printed online transcript of the story. April correctly summarizes why authors should aspire to remain independent rather than assign their rights away to a publisher.