Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are Large Publishing Companies Dying?

New York, the place of the large publishing companies.

As a writer I often wonder what is happening to the large publishing companies at present. With all the changes occurring, will they survive? With the advent of e-books, readers, and print on demand, the old style publishing companies are losing ground. And as the large companies take fewer and fewer first time authors, individual self-published authors and small companies are gaining momentum. It is now quite simple to publish your own books if you wish to, and because at this stage, large companies have stopped promoting your book even if they accept it, authors see fewer and fewer advantages to going that route.
Besides, you don't need to send out massive numbers of queries to find an agent, or receive just as many rejection notes even if you are an excellent writer. A friend of mine once said, "Why pay a $1000.00 for paper and postage, then wait six months, just to receive enough paper back to cover my bathroom walls?" So guess what he did? He went to Create Space on Amazon instead. He published his book in a couple of months, not 1-2 years, like it takes after your manuscript is accepted by a large publisher. More and more, even prestigious writers are switching to self-publishing when their contract is up. Why? Because if they are lucky, their large publisher takes only 90 percent of the profits. If they publish the books themselves, they receive a hundred percent and have the freedom to do with it what they wish.

But whether the large publishing companies die or not, it seems to me that the more important question to ask is whether, at present, these companies truly serve us, the reader. Are the books they issue relevant to our needs? Will what they publish help create a better world?

When I sold my first book, Sandplay Therapy, to W.W. Norton in 2000, my editor bemoaned that Norton was one of the last large publishers still accepting books just because they needed to be out there. They needed to be read. I must confess that although I had worked with people for years and didn’t consider myself naïve, I was shocked.

Why did publishers no longer follow their hearts?

What I found when I investigated was that there were only approximately six, large publishing houses left in America.

“But,” you say, “I’ve seen the names of loads of different companies on the spines of book jackets.”

Most of the old companies have merged and are now subsidiaries of a larger publishing house that sets down the rules.

 “So what?” you say.

Of course this is merely a theory, but I propose, “It‘s all about priorities.” As the companies have grown, their priorities have shifted. When people, or a group of people, change priorities, their actions change as well. There was a time when you and I the reader came first. Profit came second. But I think that’s been reversed and money is now number one.

Because of this, publishing houses buy mostly known winners such as Stephen King and John Grisham, who are then pressured to write endless sequels to their first successful book or novel. I don’t blame the publishers. Many of the authors are excellent writers. But what happens to our reading options? They are narrowed to a few viewpoints. Where are the creative, original thoughts of the many that have in the past helped to make this country great?

I’m afraid I’ve probably brought up more questions than answers but I’ll leave you with one more. Can any corporation survive over time when it forgets about the people it serves? I’m not sure, but I hope not. Maybe this means that large companies will change. They are already publishing e-books and making some changes to stay relevant. Maybe they will go back to publishing the books we as readers all need to and want to read, instead of just books that make a lot of money. I'm hopeful.

 Madison Ave., Chicago, IL, ca. 1915.

                       The Good Old Days      Detroit Publishing Company 1915


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