Death of the Midlist

In the mid 1990’s, most of the major New York publishers were bought by huge conglomerates—some of them foreign owned. Literary people were no longer in charge. They were replaced by the long knives accountants—bottom line bean counters extraordinary. I’ll never forget when one of these major publishers canceled the contracts of 100 new books. They told the authors to keep their advance; however, their books were not going to be published after all. At the same time, mid list authors—the ones whose books were selling ok but were not considered to be best sellers—were being dropped and their books were going out of print.

Blockbuster became the watch word. All marketing and editorial resources were to be directed toward the works by the known top selling authors. This created what I call the old warhorses. They were urged to pump out as many books as possible. When these authors began running out of creativity, the publishers began pairing them up with young turks destined to be the next generation of blockbuster authors. They shamelessly drew on the old warhorses’ reputation to pump up the volume of sales.

The downside of this was the elimination of publishing opportunities for many new authors. The output became predictable and lamentable. The long tail of the marketing curve (more on this in a later blog) was completely ignored. Many long-loved authors lost their forum.

The upside was the opportunity for medium and small publishers to grow and fill in the sudden vacuum in the book marketplace. It also opened up the market for canny self-publishers. For example, a mystery specialty bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ called The Poisoned Pen was concerned about the sudden disappearance of many midlist mysteries. They decided to buy up their rights and created their own publishing house, Poisoned Pen Press, which has become one of the top mystery publishers in America. They now take on many excellent unknown mystery writers.

How did the death of the midlist affect some of you?

This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear’s Book Trends blog.

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