This post, from Kassia Krozser, originally appeared on her Booksquare site on 6/6/09.
How can authors leverage change to their best advantage?
I have come to accept that our species is not fond of change. Some of us know it is inevitable and take the pain now rather than later, some simply refuse to change (I have seen this and it is awesome in its execution. Also, ultimately futile.), and some pretend to embrace change while carefully manipulating “change” to look like “same as it ever was”. It is that final group, I believe, who face the biggest letdown.
It is surely the rare soul in the publishing ecosystem who believes the business tomorrow will resemble the business of today. Change, being change, is messy stuff, best managed through experimentation. You can design the best process in the world, but until real people get their hands in the system, you don’t really know what will work and how. Change is iterative.
Mike Shatzkin’s article on evolving role of agents, coupled with his piece on the publishing portfolio reshuffle, focuses on key aspects of this change: the economics. You cannot unsettle an entire industry without considering and preparing for the financial impact on all the players.
There is no doubt that the physical retail environment is shrinking. The news about stores closing for good unsettles people in the industry. And outside. Many factors are behind this loss, from changing consumer behavior to high rents in bad economic times to “redevelopment”. The choice throughout the industry is clear: hope for a business-as-usual miracle or make the necessary changes to thrive in a new (sometimes uncertain) environment.
The booksellers who remain standing — and there will be many! — will react to these losses by changing their retail mix to accommodate new customers while incorporating new sales channels, such as digital. In the physical sense, there is only so much shelf space, and booksellers will, necessarily, be more particular and more aggressive about fresh product. The sheer volume of annual releases, with new titles coming out weekly, leaves the bookseller little room for chancy purchases and backroom stock.
Inventory management will be elevated to an art form as booksellers try to balance the slower reactions of customers who rely upon word-of-mouth with those who chase the latest and greatest. Factor in the enduring popularity of catalog titles, and it’s not hard to see that booksellers will be leaner and meaner (oh, and leaner and meaner indicates that booksellers will be purchasing fewer units because, well, managing returns for credit or cash is not a cheap endeavor).