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Old 12-20-2015, 03:18 PM   #1
fjtorres
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Blast from the past: Alistair Cooke on publishing in 1980

From the BBC archives:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/arti...lling-business

Lots of things have changed since 1980. But not the in the realm of corporate publishers.

Quote:

For even then, bright young men on the make were going into publishing not because they were consumed with a passion for literature, but because they had ingenuous ideas about how to spot, in a new writer, the making of a thumping bestseller. The word 'bestseller' hasn't been in the language very long. I should have guessed about 50 years, but the Oxford Dictionary just informs me it was coined or first appeared in print in 1912. Well, in the long, long history of the making of books that's practically yesterday, but since the Second War, especially, bestseller lists have not only reported the books that a lot of people find most fascinating; the lists do more than report. Like many another form of advertising, they can actually create the appetite they're pretending to take notice of.

Now this can lead to methods, tricks of marketing, which are far removed from the original desire to put out and advertise good books. For instance, there are two main forms of agreement between the publisher and the retailer. In the United States, a bookshop may order 200 copies of a new book but if it sells only 50, it can send back the other 150.

In some European countries, what the bookseller orders is what he has to keep and that makes for a much more accurate count, his count, of how well a book is selling. But, by the same token, it can also tempt a bookseller to report a better sale than he's enjoying, in this way: the booksellers report to the newspapers that compile bestseller lists which books are doing particularly well. Now if you ordered 200 copies and are struggling to sell only 50, I should think there's a very strong temptation to report that the book's doing wonderfully well, in the hope it will get on to the bestseller lists and then you'll get the sale you'd hoped for.

In the United States, the New York Times reports every Sunday the sales from something like, I think it's 1200 bookshops and stores, what they call 'retail outlets'. Because the retailer can return what he doesn't sell, he's under no obligation, no temptation, to fake the report of who's doing well and who isn't, but I've been told, on impeccable authority, that in Europe in some countries a book can hit the bestseller list because it's not doing half so well as the publisher had hoped. The report that it is actually gives a fillip to the sales and, after a while, the hoped-for bestseller actually becomes one.

You can now see that if a book has cost a lot of money to produce, the temptation to boost it as a bestseller is practically irresistible and today all books cost two and three times as much to produce as they did 10, 15 years ago. There's another development which, I imagine, a humble scholar and certainly the ordinary reader is barely aware of. When it was seen that a book is a product with a national audience and, once television made it possible for authors to go out and hustle their books – in the sense of talking about them on television programmes in scores of cities – not only the publishers realised that publishing had turned into THE book business but tycoons in other industries saw books as national products, like beer or lawn mowers.

The conglomerates saw the marketing of books as not business, but big business. And so, in the past dozen years or so, publishing houses have come to be owned by companies who were, in the first place, steel companies, say, and who had then taken over breweries and ball-bearing factories and Lord knows what else. Simpletons like me cannot shake the belief that if you buy a carton of orange juice, it's grown and packaged and sold by a company whose main interest in life is orange groves.
Lots more at the source.
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Old 01-03-2016, 10:24 PM   #2
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I wonder why the cost of making a book tripled between 1965 and 1980.

Was it really just the price of paper?
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Old 01-03-2016, 10:57 PM   #3
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That was the period of big inflation, if I remember. Everything trebled.
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Old 01-04-2016, 11:45 AM   #4
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Ink

Environmental laws required major formulation changes (and press adjustments)

and greed

Any time there is a real excuse to blame for a rise, they slide in a little extra (roundup the cents).
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Old 01-05-2016, 01:10 PM   #5
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The oil crisis.
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Old 01-06-2016, 07:25 PM   #6
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The oil crisis and the attendant inflation started around 1974.
Paperback prices had already doubled/trebled from $0.35/0.50 to $1.25/1.75 by the early 70's.

I have a bunch of used paperbacks dating all the way back to the 50's.
I could go digging through them to document pricing up to the 90's, when I started transitioning to ebooks. Once paperback prices hit $6 I cut back drastically on new purchases.
(Plus, the TBR closet was overflowing.)

Or, I can go see what Google/Bing cough up to back my recollections.

Edit: fbone already did the honors in 2010.
https://www.mobileread.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=102755

Last edited by fjtorres; 01-06-2016 at 07:55 PM.
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Old 01-06-2016, 08:08 PM   #7
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Also in 2010 Salon took a look at hardcover prices:

http://www.salon.com/2002/12/03/prices/

Of note, they point out that the cost of paper/printing/etc is at most 20%.
As documented all over, publisher overhead is the single biggest item in the hardcover cost structure.
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