Friday, September 9, 2011


Publishing is always a risk for the writer and the publisher, but not publishing means the work has no chance at all.

It is easy to see the metaphoric Titanic of the legacy publishers, trying to bluff its way through the icebergs, easy to see the panic and the desperation in a pas de deux across the stage.

You remember the time when you were in middle school, discovering at the Thrifty Drug Store on Wilshire and Cochran in midtown LA a coin operated machine next to the cigarette machine.  For twenty-five cents, you could buy a massmarket paperback book, only it was not called massmarket then.  For twenty-five cents, you bought a copy of Microbe Hunters.  A few years later, well a few more than a few, you told Ian Ballentine, the man who'd done his London School of Economics master's thesis on the paperback book, and he told you he'd invented the concept and picked the books that went in the machines.

The paperback book has always had a high rate of returns--many more copies being returned than sold.  A few years later, still, you were able to sell Bantam Books the paperback rights of a book you'd pulled out of the slush pile and published to a kind of financial and critical uproar.  The Harrad Experiment was Bantam's first million-copy seller.  Now the massmarket paperback is vulnerable to the advance of the ebook.

Given the choice between legacy and a new venture you chose the new risk, and the risks, you have now experienced the new risks.

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