May 7, 2009
Eat Your Book
I was talking to an author who had worked for a multinational food company and had recently switched to a not-for-profit organization. She had a book in mind and wondered how many copies we typically sold for a book in that category. I gave her a five-figure range.
"Oh, I guess I'll have to get used to that," she said, "because where I came from, we talked about selling millions of boxes."
"Yep, all we need to do," I said, "is convince people that they should eat their book every week!"
She got a good laugh about that. But I was serious. Kind of.
One of the great things about publishing is that a book can last a hundred, two hundred, even five hundred years. One of the difficulties with publishing is that a book can last a hundred, two hundred, even five hundred years. Once readers buy a book, they usually don't need another one--ever. Oh, maybe it gets damaged, maybe they give it away, maybe they loan it (never to be returned), and they want another. But those are the exceptions to the rule.
Dogs may eat books, but people don't. Book publishing is not like making soap or car wax or microwave dinners or windshield wipers that get used up and then repurchased. Publishing is much more challenging.
But books can somewhat emulate consumables. Certain categories of books get repeat buyers. Curriculum and textbook publishing, for example. The same "consumer"--the teacher--buys the same material over and over again . . . or requires new groups of students to buy it each term. Also some people buy the same book over and over as gifts for friends and family. Libraries will sometimes buy multiple copies of a book--if it is very popular.
Books in a series can function the same way. I liked the first one. I want the next. Coloring books or puzzle books are similar. I literally use one up and want another.
Books last--a lifetime or longer. That's what I love about publishing. Good publishing strategy, however, can also include a mix of books that get used up regularly.
Just some food for thought.