MJ Rose Elaborates on Publishers’ Lack of Marketing

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Re: “reality check” by MJ rose–

In her article, Reality Check on Publishers’ Dismal Marketing Efforts, MJ Rose is saying a publisher invested $175,000 in an author’s book and then failed to market the book? – that is difficult to fathom.

Can MJ Rose provide more details? – First, $175,000 seems like a lot of money. How did this author achieve such an advance? by reputation? expertise in the field? past experiences as a best seller?

Who is the publisher? Have you asked the publisher how an investment of $175,000 can be written off without a plan to recoup such a sum? Have you asked the publisher if books of this (whatever this book may be…) nature require marketing?

Let’s say the book will sell for $20. Printing costs are, say, $6 per book. Distribution is another $1. So, 10,000 sales meets the advance fee. But that is $70,000 in costs, so approximatley another 7,500 must be sold to make up for other costs. That means – and this is rough – about 17,500 books must be sold to break even. And the publisher was not planning to market this book?

If this publisher regularly advanced nearly $200,000 without a plan for ROI – it would be soon out of business.

Please clarify with more facts. thanks

Damien Roohr

I can’t provide the details for the public – but I have talked to the writer and the editor. And I know it happened. More than that. I have talked to a writer in a similar situation who got a $500,000 advance and the publisher only spent $14,000 in marketing and another writer who got a $400,000 two-book deal and there was less than $7000 put into each book. And another writer who got $250,000 and $5000 in coop, nothing else, and on and on. In fact, in the last two and a half years I have talked to well over a dozen authors who got over $150,000 and who had nothing or only the most minimal coop done for them.

It’s not even news in the publishing business. It happens all the time.

A publisher writes the $175,000 or $200,000 off over a two- to five-year period. And when you are talking about the publisher’s I’m talking about – with income in the triple digit millions writing off two or three million on books that didn’t earn out is not a big deal.

For some of the numbers see this link – http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA155434.html?pubdate=9%2F10%2F2001&display=archive

But in general – if you are bringing in 600 million dollars, then writing off a few million in books you change your mind on is no big deal. When you look at that link above, you will see how low in general the profit margin in the publishing industry is. For more of an explanation, read my article in the Nov/Dec issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Basically ,so you understand the biz – 70% of all operating costs and profits in a publishing company comes from the backlist – the books they have been publishing for years – from Dickens to Louisa May Alcott to the back list of authors like Stephen King and Nora Roberts. Each big house has thousands of these “classic” titles that paid off their advances years and years ago, and now are money makers. For instance, Ayn Ran’s The Fountainhead sells 250,000 copies a year. And no advance is paid out, no marketing is done, no co-op space is bought.

So, of the other 30%, non-fiction accounts for most of the profit. And then there are the one or two big fiction bestsellers each house carries that bring in steady cash. The new Janet Evanovich. The new John Grisham.

That leaves up with the front list – all the titles a publisher buys each year and puts out. They don’t expect to market most of those books. They don’t have the money to do it. What happens is an editor falls in love with a book in August 04 and goes to auction and spends 150,000 for the book which is sheduled to come out in October 05. It all looks good. And there are promises of money for marketing.

But three or four or five months later, the editor falls in love with another book and loses interest in the previous one. Or a book the editor bought, but didn’t think was going to be a big book, starts looking good to everyone in the house and they switch budgets around.

Basically, you can’t apply other business models to publishing because there are few brands and few ways to market other than getting the books in the store. If you want more informaton or doubt me still, there are many books and magazines and articles on the web written by other people that say the same thing and in more detail.

I’d start with Jason Epstein’s The Book Biz and then Michael Korda’s Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999. I’d go to the library and get old copies of Publishers Weekly and read some of the articles about front list and backlist and profits, etc.

There is a blog called Bookangst by MadMaxPerkings that talks about what’s wrong in publishing.

And those are just a few things to start reading.

Also – re: costs – a traditional publisher of this size does not pay $6 to print a hardcover $26 dollar book, but rather about $2. Just FYI.