As far as Boris Kachka‘s big New York story on the so-called “end” of book publishing goes, it’s hard to come up with a better summation than that offered by Michael Cader in yesterday’s Publishers Lunch:
“Books sold to stores are nonreturnable, and sometimes publishers have to pay display fees, the same way every other manufacturer deals with retailers. A prominent author left his old publisher after decades of support to get more money somewhere else after his sales flagged. Sometimes books with seven-figure advances don’t earn out. The tooth fairy may be apocryphal.”
We will say this: Kachka’s list of “this year’s big gambles” is a blatant example of what is known in the trade as “stacking the deck,” an overdetermined echoing of the “books gone bust” list that immediately precedes it. A more balanced list might have included high-advance “gambles” from earlier in 2008 that appear to have rewarded their publishers’ hunches, like The Art of Racing in the Rain and, possibly, The Last Lecture.
Also, as Cader hints, it is amusing to see the wanderings of old white men from one house to another treated as a barometer of anything, let alone an entire industry. You didn’t see all this hand wringing over the destabilized state of affairs when Haven Kimmel changed publishers in May, that’s for sure. And, frankly, she may well prove a better investment for Hudson Street Press in the long run than Tom Wolfe does for Little, Brown or Richard Ford for Ecco…