Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Does anyone care who publishes a book?

Amazon has recently moved into book publishing. It's not entirely surprising - they've already bought a print on demand service, and a very successful at 'publishing' Kindle ebooks. Yet some have reacted with horror. 'Would anyone buy a book published by Amazon?' they ask.

Frankly, I think this is a response seen through the misleading eyes of the publishing business. I want to take you back to the old days at the massive Foyles bookshop in London. They used to (for all I know, the still do) have their books arranged by publisher. So you would have a bookshelf of Penguin books, another bookshelf of Random House books and so on. It was a nightmare. No one goes into a shop saying 'I want a Random House book.' They either want the latest book by author X or a book in category Y. No other way of organizing a bookshop than authors within categories makes any sense. The only situation where you might want to group a publisher's work together is where they effectively define a category (and that's pretty well limited to Mills & Boon).

So why would anyone even realize they're buying a book published by Amazon, let alone have it influence their buying decision? This, incidentally, is why publishers waste their money putting a lot of effort into their websites. Just like bookshops, you should concentrate on authors and categories. So set up author websites, certainly. And category websites (like www.popularscience.co.uk) absolutely. But it really isn't work working too hard on publisher websites.

Here's a quick test for anyone who still feels that who published a book is important. Who published these books in the UK?:
  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon) paperback
  2. The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) paperback
  3. The Ascent of Man (Jacob Bronowski) hardback
  4. Notes from a Small Island (Bill Bryson) paperback
  5. American Gods (Neil Gaiman) paperback
  6. Lord of the Flies (William Golding) paperback
  7. The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown) hardback
  8. Inflight Science (Brian Clegg) paperback
If you got most of them right, and you don't work in the publishing trade, you're in the wrong job. I would imagine the vast majority of people would get zero out of eight. And that's something that publishers forget at their peril.


(Answers a bit further below)
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(Isn't this exciting?)
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(Nearly there...)
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  1. Vintage (Random House)
  2. Mandarin (Reed)
  3. BBC Books or Book Club Associates
  4. Black Swan (Transworld)
  5. Headline Review
  6. Faber
  7. Bantam (Transworld)
  8. Icon Books

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you're so right - my score was zero!
    Large publishing houses are also going to have to compete with the self-published authors (and those from small presses) in terms of prices. I'm a little scared the public is going to opt for cheap £3 books from a poorly edited self-published book instead of £15 for a traditionally published book.

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