Friday, February 09, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Publishing Industry

In her blog, agent Lori Perkins said this:

"When I started as an agent in 1987, there were 23 publishers."

Reading that reminded me that I recently came across the sheet of paper on which I listed all the publishers I planned to send my first novel to. The one that bought the novel, Pocket Books, is outlined in red with "2/25/76!" written next to it in big, red letters, and if I understand my cryptic marks, I had queried four publishers on the list before Pocket, so I'm guessing that I made up the list in the summer or fall of 1975.

I don't remember where I got the names from, but I do remember that the publishers on the list were all independent and all said, in some reference book or other, that they were willing to look at science fiction. Many of those names no longer exist at all; some are still in business, but only as imprints or divisions of other publishers. I think there are also a few on the list that still exist but no longer publish fiction. There are 71 names on this list. Probably, an agent of those days, having much more knowledge of the market than I did, would not have been interested in some of those houses, but it's still a long list.

This illustrates how far the number of available markets had shrunk in the twelve years before Perkins entered the business. In her post, she says that it has now shrunk considerably more.

So here's the list. (Some of those names are guesswork, because I can't read my own handwriting!)

Antheloon(?) Press
Ashley Books
Atlantic Monthly
Branden Press
Charles Irwin
Coward, McCann
Thomas Crowell
John Day
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Frederick Fell
Harcourt Brace
Harper & Row
Holloway House
A. E. Knopf
Seymour Lawrence
Lester & Orpen(?)
J. B. Lippincot
Living Books
Longman Canada
Mason & L(?)
New American Library
S. G. Philip
Prentice Hall
San Francisco
Simon & Schuster
The Smith
Stein & Day
Walker & Co.
Weybright & Talley
White Star


Anonymous said...

This is really depressing. We know the market has shrunk, but to see this list -- there are names on there I totally forgot about until now.

And yet, at the same time, there are more books published than ever before!

Since it's gone so far in one direction, perhaps the pendulum is swinging back. Several friends have sold to small publishers. The advances aren't there, but it's almost like an investment on the writers' part -- that the publisher will succeed and grow, and once again there will be a thriving market.

David said...

I gather that the way the number of books being published is counted is iffy and often inflated by including as books what would not have been included decades ago.

Be that as it may, it must be the case that the number of new titles published by the major publishers has decreased.

Yes, I had forgotten some of those names, too. Some of them were famous and old houses.

I think we're all hoping that the small publishers will take up the slack. The problem is distribution and exposure. There are only two(?) major distributors now, and there really is one bookstore chain -- Barnes & Noble -- that determines what the public sees. Well, plus the racks at the supermarket, but those have shrunk recently.

As for Amazon and other online stores, people don't browse those. I have the impression that most people go to those looking for something specific. To find it, they don't wander down aisles of books!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, B&N has a compelling self-interest in publishing their own books.

Also, try to find something in B&N these days beyond the NYT list -- after you enter, you walk through all of their own products, then cds, videos, "stuff" (stationery, etc.). And oh yes, there's Starbucks. Very profitable, that.
Where people come to sample the books as well as the coffee, and the store doesn't care about the dribble because of course, books are returnable.

There are a couple of different store layouts. In my local B&N, besides those books being promoted (paid for) by publishers, you have to go upstairs for books. You must seek out what you're looking for. So much for a spur of the moment buy! Hard to fall over something you can't see.

I'm not fond of the big stores. As well as the small presses, I'd love to see some support for the independent bookstores.

David said...

The independents that are surviving are doing so by becoming big and by being local institutions -- Tattered Cover here in Denver, Powell's in Portland. But when they're that size, are they really independents?

At least they carry books by local authors and from small presses. The centralizatin of B&N works against that, as does the reduction in the number of distributors.

At one time, people were talking about POD machines in every bookstore and virtual cover displays in the stores as the salvation of the biz. I'm still waiting for that to happen. For that matter, I don't know how satisfying it would be to browse through bunches of virtual covers.

Lahdeedah said...

This just makes me sad.

Lahdeedah said...


I added you to my prestigious (okay, small, very very small) blogroll. If you don't want to be there, just let me know. I just added blogs I read regularly.

David said...

Thanks! I have returned the favor.

I think I need to change the font on the blog links. As the list grows, it's looking odd.

Or probably I should divide it up - writers, agents, general, or something like that.