Another Voice from the “Publishing Is Dead” Crowd

By Neal Comment

Last Sunday, over at the Huffington Post, Richard Laermer posted what is touted as merely the first half of an article pointing out everything that’s wrong with book publishing today. “In my book Punk Marketing one particular thought appears incessantly: don’t do what you’re doing because it’s the way it’s been done forever,” Laermer writes. “Publishing industry needs that advice in an overt way… It’s starting to make little sense why I would write something that while widely read could be given out in a ‘cleverer’ format. Doing a book with a major corporation just starts to seem…odd, given the proclivities in which I do everything else now.”

Odder still, perhaps, when outlets that report to Nielsen Bookscan have only shifted 7,000 copies of Punk Marketing (frequently referred to in promotional copy as a ‘bestseller”) since it was published by Collins in March 2007, which indeed seems like a rather poor return on investment, though it’s of course entirely possible that the 30 percent of bookselling outlets not reporting to Nielsen had disporportionately larger sales on the title. (Laermer placed his latest book, 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, with McGraw-Hill, and announces at the end of the article that the book after that will be self-published.)

Anyway, Laermer’s complaints are frequently, shall we say, interesting: “How can a 22-year-old editor bid on a book?” he starts off. “What does a post-graduate $32,000-a-year fresh-out know what will hit with the public?” Good questions—and just as soon as a real-life 22-year-old editor making $32,000 a year who’s bid on a book all by herself shows up, she can answer them. She’s probably the one who’s been dealing with the agent who’s so “beyond frightened of pissing off the editors,” he’ll actually tell his authors they’re lucky to get whatever paltry advances the publishers deign to offer. If you were dealing with a 22-year-old who could strong-arm an entire editorial team into approving her bids, you’d be scared too!

Also, did you know small publishers exist only as a marketing gimmick? And that big publishers are a bunch of wussies who spend all day in meetings afraid of offending each other and don’t know how to work the bookstores? Which isn’t to say he doesn’t hit some nails on the head—publishers do spend too much money to acquire too many books that they can’t market properly afterwards—but what do you think about his broader critiques?