The Book Publishing Game
With no other products in the hopper to sell, his fledgling business was DOA.
"Don't you want to hear about my product?" the person would ask plaintively.
"There's no point in hearing about your product if you don't have a business."
"What do I do?"
I used to suggest the design and testing of some small space ads in magazines or newspapers to see whether the product had legs. A number of catalogers built huge businesses this way—Lillian Vernon, John Peterman, Richard Thalheimer of Sharper Image and Mel and Patricia Ziegler of Banana Republic to name a few.
Why This Model Cannot Work for the Book Business
When a book is purchased in a bookstore, at Amazon.com or at the local Wal-Mart, neither author nor publisher knows the name of the customer.
That means every new title is a new product in search of a new reader.
If a publisher can create the equivalent of a best-selling brand (e.g., Harry Potter, James Bond, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew), it is economically feasible to promote the brand in the hope that satisfied readers will hear about the newest book by that author or in the series.
But with 100 million households in America, the challenge of finding a likely reader for one title is daunting—and economically impossible.
Book reviews result in sales. But with 200,000 new titles published each year, the book editors at Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune receive somewhere between 500 and 800 new books each day. Unless a book comes in from a major publisher, is written by a celebrity author or a high-priced freelance publicist is cashing in a marker, the chances of getting a review are zero to none.
The Answer: Affinity Publishing
An 18-page children's book about tugboats could never have been brought out by a mainstream publisher for a retail price of $5. But the author and illustrator were lucky to have found Crowley Maritime Corporation, a huge shipping and logistics company with a Web site and a company store that sells all kinds of nautical and other consumer goodies—clocks, safety equipment, golf accessories, office and automotive items and beverage ware.