This is a slightly modified version of something I posted to DorothyL this morning.
Something I've come to realize lately is that in many ways, this isn't that big a business. Sure, we've know all along that there are many hardcover mysteries for which sales of five, six, eight thousand are considered good numbers -- successful, profitable, etc. At some companies at least; there are the Simon & Schusters of this world who say they won't stoop to that level. But on the other hand if every single St. Martin's Minotaur title were selling north of eight, nine thousand copies -- i.e. just a couple more thousand each -- with, of course, a few titles selling much more, that company would be happy.
Like I said, I've known this, but some of the implications of this have only become clearer to me recently. For one thing, it's now more evident to me than ever before that all we really need to do is to change the behavior of a comparatively small group of individuals in order to create a publishing business more to our liking. You know what I mean. We all hate the part of the business that throws too many resources behind books that aren't nearly as good as the books that are being overlooked and drowned out of the marketplace. We hate this, but we understand that we can't change publishers' behavior at the top of their lists: we're still going to see them spend way too much money to push bland mediocre generic marketing-department-driven books. Some of which we likely enjoy -- but even so, you know what I mean. That's just the way big corporate publishers are (no matter how foolish).
On the other hand, we ought to be able to affect everything else -- the "midlist" or the bottom of the list or whatever you want to call it. The reason we ought to be able to make a difference here is that the numbers really aren't that big -- again, just a couple more thousand copies per title, the movement of just a few dollars out of some distribution channels into other, more productive ones, etc.
There are 3,000 plus folks on DorothyL. Put together the customer lists of a handful of even the smallest of booksellers and you'll get to that number pretty easily. Add up the number of public libraries in 10 states and you'll get to 3,000. The point is that changing the behavior of 3,000 book buyers is all you need in order to create vast changes in the way that mysteries are published in the United States. And if you change just a few things about the way mysteries are published, distributed and sold, you open up many more opportunities for better, more substantial, quirkier, more interesting books.
So I'm reading all the various comments here about buying books in various formats, and why we're making these choices with all this in mind. And I'm asking myself what kind of business do we want this to be? What books aren't being published or aren't being published well? How do we want books to be sold? Can library buying practices change?
I have some vague ideas about all this, which I hope to have an opportunity to develop in the weeks and months to come. And, I except, each of you might have a few ideas too, if you stop to think about it -- which I hope you'll do.