“I can’t believe how broken this industry is,” said moderator Praveen Madan, co-owner of The Booksmith in San Francisco, Calif., by way of introduction to Saturday’s panel on the things booksellers and publishers perceive that the other could do to repair the book business. Publishers Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks and Bob Miller of HarperStudio critiqued booksellers, while Madan and Carole Horne, general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., looked at publishing practices.
More often than not both sides agreed, especially when Miller described the current trade publishing model as in a death spiral. His call for nonreturnability was much more contentious, with booksellers on the panel and in the audience saying that they would need a greater discount than HarperStudio currently offers to make that viable for all their buying. Raccah sided with booksellers concerned about the impact nonreturnability might have on first fiction, poetry and even some political books. She suggested a backlist-oriented plan in which books would move from returnable to nonreturnable 12 months after publication. In addition, Raccah made a pitch for booksellers to devote more time, money and shelf space to books that don’t come from the big six conglomerates. Those titles, she said, get a disproportionate amount of all three, even though they constitute just over half of all sales, or 54%.
Some suggestions that involved much nodding of heads in agreement by both booksellers and publishers included Madan’s call for large houses to simplify their co-op programs and small and mid-sized publishers to establish co-op policies and Horne’s request to do away with poorly edited and badly published copycats. No more Tuesdays with Marley? quipped Miller. And booksellers in the audience agreed with Raccah that independents and chains should work together.
Among the more provocative proposals were one from Miller that booksellers start publishing and Madan’s request for a good clean data feed, or virtual catalog of all publishers' books, so that independent booksellers could effectively sell books online. Fifteen years after the rise of Amazon, he said, there is no such catalog, and independents have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ingram or Baker & Taylor for data that should be free.
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