It’s certainly a great age of uncertainty for publishers. These are the days when publishers, scared silly by Amazon’s price-chopping tactics, (allegedly) band together to try to put an end to them—and then get told that’s a big no-no and the Department of Justice will see them in court. Falling margins, the uncertain future of bookstores, changing public tastes, piracy, scanning, self-publishing…sometimes I think it’s a wonder there’s any Pepto-Bismol left in New York City.
These are the days when you would think that publishers would be desperate to smarten up—to develop some better judgment about the kinds of things readers want, and figure out how to sell it to them as economically and with as little waste as possible. But it turns out that these are also the days when a publisher decides to make a book out of a Tumblr blog of made-up text message conversations between a man and his dog.
On TechCrunch, John Biggs writes an open letter to publishers in general, taking them to task for what he sees as only the latest in a long chain of bad publishing decisions.
You’re about to be flattened. Book piracy is about to smash your top shelf revenue while books like Text From Dog are going to kill any respect we once had for the big six. You guys clearly have no idea what you’re doing and you’re depending on your recent Yale-grad philosophy major Assistant Editor to bring you some hot, hot web trendz to capitalize on. Real fiction and non-fiction? Blah, that’s for old people and nerds. What the kids want to do these days is go into a book store and buy a book based on a Tumblr blog. Because kids are stupid. Also vampires. And sex.
(To be fair, I’m not sure whether Headline, the publisher mentioned as putting out the Texts from Dog book, is even part of a big six company. But why let that get in the way of a good rant?)
Biggs suggests that rather than this funny-for-a-few-moments humor stuff, publishers should be looking for quality writing on the web, be it fiction or nonfiction. It should focus on championing good authors, putting them on book tours, building their audience. More of that stuff, less of Text from Dog and ghost-written celebrity tell-alls.
But while Biggs accuses publishers of going for low-hanging fruit in publishing books like this, I have to wonder whether Biggs himself is going for low-hanging fruit in making fun of books like this. It’s definitely an easy book to send up, but there will always be books like that. As many books as are published in a year, some of them are always going to seem ridiculous to someone.
But by the same token, these books continue to get published because they make the publishers money. If they didn’t, then publishers would stop publishing them. So perhaps if Biggs doesn’t want to see publishers publish more of this kind of book, he should be scolding the public, not the publishers.