Updated: 04/05/2012

The Print Media



Part  IV


Present and Future

>>Now that we've put some of the major issues in book publishing into a historic perspective, we can look at some present and future issues.

World book sales are estimated at more than 30-billion dollars a year.

The so-called "Six Sister" conglomerates in book publishing are Bertelsmann, CBS Corporation, Hachette, News Corporation, Pearson and Verlagsgruppe.

In the United States the six large publishers, all with offices in New York, are

1. Random House, Inc.
2. Penguin Putnam Inc.
3. HarperCollins
4. Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings
5. Time Warner
6. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Four of the six are foreign owned.

Beyond these there are 300-400 medium-sized publishers and 86,000 small publishers.

  • California has six times the number of small publishers than any other state.

  • Half of the high income small publishers earned over $1 million in 1997 working out of home offices an average of 40-hours week.  They published an average of seven titles each.  Most of these publishers earned about $400,000 a year.

  • It takes an average of 531 hours to produce a book—422 hours for fiction, 550 hours for nonfiction.

  • Other than writing costs, small publishers spend most of their fiction title development budget in graphic design and illustrations.

  • Advertising consumes most of the small publisher’s marketing costs (36.5% for fiction titles, 29.8% for nonfiction titles).

The Book Publishing Process

>>If you are an aspiring author you need to know that today most of the larger book publishers refuse to look at unsolicited manuscripts. They simply don't have the time or resources to sort through the mountain of manuscripts they would receive.

Instead, they rely on submissions from trusted agents who represent established or highly promising authors. Thus, the first hurdle authors can have is to interest a respected agent to represent them.

For representing an author agents receive 10 to 15% of the royalties paid to the author. Royalties paid to authors by the book publisher range from 10 to 15 percent of the selling price of the book. For example, if an author receives a $3 royalty on each book sold, the agent would receive 30 to 45 cents on each book. 

Although it is said that given enough time almost everyone can produce one novel, agents are looking for writers who have demonstrated that they are dedicated writers  — writers who over a period of time will keep producing quality work.

A good agent knows the literary field, as well as the needs and predispositions of specific publishers. An agent can also provide important guidance to an author.

To ensure their own success and credibility with publishers agents understandably want to represent authors with a track record of success. Barring that, they look for authors that are well known to start with. Occasionally, they will take a chance on an unknown author who either evidences exceptional talent or is in a position to tell a unique story. A famous person who proposes to write a "tell-all" book is an example of the latter.

>>When dealing with smaller publishers authors may propose a book idea directly to publisher's acquisitions editor. The acquisitions editor works for a publisher and is responsible for finding new projects and acting as a liaison between authors and publishers.

The typical book proposal consists of a book outline and one or more sample chapters. In technical fields and with textbooks the acquisitions editor will typically have this material reviewed by paid experts in the field before making a final decision.

If a decision is made to publish the book, an in-house editor (who guides the overall project) and a copy editor (who catches writing errors, checks on research, and gets the manuscript ready for typesetting) will be assigned to follow the manuscript to publication.

>> Deciding to publish a book is an expensive and time-consuming process, and the chances of a book failing to make a profit are very high. In fact, most books lose money. It is only the books that end up being highly successful that compensate for the losses.

In the case of novels that seem to have real potential the acquisitions editor and agent may negotiate subsidiary rights, or the right to make a film based on the book, or to sell products based the book's concept or characters. For successful books the profits from subsidiary rights can exceed those for the actual book.

Books In Today's Life

>>In addition to representing the world's most extensive record of ideas and information, books provide us with enjoyment and relaxation.

For example, during her lunch break this office worker can escape into the spy world of author John LeCarre.

Unlike TV or movies, books allow us to use our imagination when we "see" the characters and situations depicted. We can mold them according to our personal tastes and inclinations.

Books are also highly "portable"; we can stuff a paperback novel in a pocket or purse, in case we need to pass some time at an airport, during a lunch break, or while taking a bus or subway to work.

>>Books have been around for centuries, of course, and although new media innovations such as tablet computers, Kindle readers, etc., have definite advantages,  it's doubtful that any one of them will completely take the place of books any time soon.


Today's Book Publishers

>>As we've previously noted, from 1970 to the present we've seen major consolidation in book publishing.  Today, book publishing is primarily run by media conglomerates that may also own film studios, magazines, newspapers, and broadcast outlets.

The major ones include Paramount Publishing, Reader's Digest Association, Time Publishing Group, Random House and HarperCollins.

Since they are conglomerates, they can take advantage of the relationship between their holdings. For example, a book can be picked up by one of their film studios and then promoted on their broadcast outlets and publications.  

To promote the book, authors may be interviewed on their radio and TV stations, and book chapters or reviews may be included in one of their periodicals.

As an example, the Star Trek movies are made by Paramount Pictures, which is part of Paramount Publishing. Since Paramount Publishing is also a book publisher, it has published numerous Star Trek books  — selling about 70-million copies. In addition, the company has also created Star Trek CD-ROM's.

The Da Vinci Code>>One of the most successful book-movie combinations has been The Da Vinci Code, which, despite a debatable  premise and vocal opposition by some conservative religious factions, was a best-selling book for several years,

It was subsequently made into one of the most successful movies of the era. (Note photo.)


Departments and Staff

>>Most book publishing companies have four divisions:

  • editorial, which primarily involves dealing with the authors.  This includes selecting the manuscripts and with the help of reviewers, editors, and proofreaders, preparing the manuscripts for publication

  • production, which encompasses the basic design of the book, including the selection of type, paper, format, layout, cover, typesetting, and binding
  • marketing, which involves sales and promotion

  • general administration, which includes accounting, order processing, bill payment, and long-range financial forecasts

The Impact of Broadcasting and the Internet

>>Television and radio have greatly aided the book publishing business. Today, almost all books -- especially non-fiction books -- are promoted on TV and radio by authors. Interview shows often center on an author and his or her new book. Books that would otherwise languish in anonymity, rather consistently see a boost in sales after one of these interviews.

The Internet has both helped and hindered the book publishing business.

While the Internet has stolen some available free time of potential readers, it has also introduced readers to new avenues of interest. Through outlets such as Amazon.com the Internet has opened up a direct link to book sales.

Rather than travel to a bookstore, potential buyers can sit at home and with a few mouse clicks check prices for new and used paper versions, or download a book into their Kindle or Nook-type electronic devices and start reading it within a few minutes.

 Before they order a book they can also read what other buyers think of it.  If they decide to buy and read the book, they can then add their own review.

Since these Internet outlets can stock millions of books, buyers don't have to worry about not finding what they are looking for at their local bookstore.  If the book is out of print, (which means that new copies are no longer available from the publisher), it can generally be found at one of the many associated used book dealers. The disadvantage, of course, is that unless you are willing to pay for expedited delivery, you generally have to wait a week or more before receiving the book.


Electronic Books

>>As the readers of these modules know, the Internet and electronic displays provide the opportunity for animation and even film clips and sound files. Plus, when new information becomes available, electronic materials can be updated within a few days, or even a few minutes. Since books typically spend a year or so in production, parts of them can be out of date even before they are published.

>> Amazon's Kindle, the most popular electronic book (e-reader) system to date, is shown on the left.

This device can't be stuffed in a back pocket or a small purse like a paperback, but is has some significant advantages.

These devices can hold 1,500 or so complete books, they remember where you left off reading each book and will start at that point when you bring up the book again. 

They also allow you to "bookmark" pages within books and bring up those sections again. You can collect and store sections (snippets) of of books for later reference. They typically have built-in dictionaries for words you aren't familiar with, and they allow you to adjust the size of the text on the screen. They will even "read" pages for you out loud in either a male or female voice at a speed you select.  

Some units act as a simple Internet browser (no computer required) and, as we've noted, you can download available books in less than a minute. You can get (for a fee) daily versions of the day's newspapers and magazines. The incorporated rechargeable battery will get you through a week's reading or more.

On the downside, to date, most of these readers show only black and white images and fine detail in drawings may be difficult to discern.

>> Will electronic books take the place of hard-copy, paper books? 

Right now many people say they prefer the "feel" of traditional books. But the younger generation, which is used to reading text on computers and even on cell phones, may start preferring the many advantages of electronic books.  

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