There are of course many other views about how shareholders' longterm interests might be as well (if not better) served by the publishing divisions of these larger companies--one that comes to mind is that we make sure to support the up-and-coming writers of today to ensure that we will have bankable "brands" capable of getting around without canes and wheelchairs ten years from now. When one considers recent full-page "milestone" advertisements in the New York Times for books like THE DA VINCI CODE, BEL CANTO and THE KITE RUNNER--books that have sold (according to the ads) in excess of 10 million, 1 million and 1 million copies respectively--one can argue that such ads are good for the publisher's profile, and perhaps crucial to author/agent relations. And--perhaps--celebrating such "breakout" successes is good for the industry, in that it sends signals to those outside the typical book-buying demographic that "reading is fun." (Whether that demographic is found reading the New York Times is debatable, but even so...)
This approach, though, seems to come directly from the current Administration's theory about the proper allocation of scarce resources, which has as its theme song (mother of all ironies...) Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child"
Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose
What if, instead of the Bush/Chaney/Rove allocation of those resources, we were were to employ something like a WPA approach? Let's take the $150,000 ($50k per for a full-page black & white ad, more for color) those three ads cost and stread it around some--toward "emerging stars"--$30,000 each, say, for six writers "on the verge." To me, whether spent in additional co-op or in a series of small repeater-ads (the more impressions the better...), this constitutes an investment in the potential brands of the future.
Another double-page NYTBR ad for Danielle Steele? Full pagers for James Patterson...John Grisham...Nora Roberts... Robert B. Parker...Lisa Scottoline...Michael Connelly...Jackie Collins? They're done because, well, because that's what's done. But--and meaning no disrespect to any of these fine individuals--where are we as an industry going to be a decade from now if we're still promoting the same authors we've been promoting for the last decade? Brands eventually do lose their lustre (anybody know what John Gray's up to these days?), plateau, and fall off. So if Job #1 is reinforcing the brands that are working, Job #1A should be building the brands of the future.
Which requires being encouraged to take the the long view. The problem is, such planning is in short supply when Publishers' performances are measured not over a five-year span but, rather, quarter-to-quarter. They have to "make their numbers" each quarter, certainly each fiscal year, or they'll soon be on the street. Which places an almost impossible burden on the shoulders of these few individuals. There's your own private survival on one side--and then there's the responsibility of the very future of our business on the other... You publishers/eds-in-chiefs--Michael Pietsch and Michael Morrison and Gina Centrello and Bill Thomas and Jamie Raab and Will Schwalbe and John Sterling and Brian Tart and the rest of you--are walking an incredible tightrope. Because the constant scrutiny of your performance relative to your budgeted tagets functionally discourages you from engaging in what we might, in other industries, call R&D. And yet, for the business to sustain itself--and this is why your jobs are so incredibly stressful and demanding--you've got to be able to do exactly that: take chances on writers, and stick by writers, who won't necessarily become bankable brands (if they ever do) within three months, or even three books. With the fate of your kids' college educations on the line, you've got to be able to say to those people above you--the ones who talk to the suits above them, at Viacom and NewsCorp and Time-Warner and Bertelsmann and so on--that sometimes real money must be invested now on "product" that won't really come to market for five years. CEOs--and even shareholders--in pharmaceutical companies understand this. Why not in our industy?
It's a virtually impossible position you're in, and I admire and salute you for undertaking it. I wish you bravery and great success; that you're able to leverage the success (and even some of the assets) that a Sandra Brown or a John Sandford brings you to make sure that the 30 year-old second or third or fourth novelist has the time, and the support, to become the next-generation of hitmakers; and that you are blessed with CEOs with the long-term vision to match your own, CEOs with the vision and guts to explain to their shareholders why a 4% return is sometimes preferrable to an 8% return, because the difference has been reinvested into the piece of infrastructure most essential to our business: talented writers, the next generation of rainmakers.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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