Jeremy Wilson, Publisher of Castle Hill Press, has been closely following the changes in the publishing industry in the years since Amazon and other Internet retailers came on the scene, and offers these thoughts on the strength of the fine press book (and fine press publishers) in these changing times:
‘I subscribe to a couple of email lists that link to online comment about the publishing industry. Yesterday, one contained a thought-provoking quote:
“Amazon, by doing its best to disconnect works from their publishers, has nearly completed the deterioration of the value/meaning of publisher brands, a process that started with the rise of the big aggregator bookshops. In order to survive in the networked era, publishers will need to reverse this trend and forge much closer connections to their customers.”
On the same day, I received the latest issue of The Author (the journal of the Society of Authors). It contained depressing reports about falling sales in general trade publishing.
A bright spot, however, is the Independent Alliance of small publishers (Faber and others), reported to have increased sales by 60.4% in the first 24 weeks of 2009. Elsewhere, I have heard strong rumours that fine-press sales are holding up. Our own experience seems to confirm that. For the past 18 months we have been expecting a crash, but it hasn’t yet happened.
Taken together, the two reports suggest that “brand” (forgive the marketing-speak) is a key strength of fine press publishers. A successful fine press has such a strong brand that many customers buy all its books, regardless of author or subject-matter. Since so many fine-press sales are direct, booksellers cannot break that link.
There is also a second factor, harder to understand: the “flight to quality” that takes place during a recession. The Economist recently referred to it, in a comment on the strong performance of Louis Vuitton. It seems that when times are bad, people who can still afford to spend turn to high-quality products with enduring value. Maybe the rationale runs, “I may soon have much less money, so I’ll buy things now that I’ll enjoy owning if I can’t afford them any more.” Or do they simply feel, “If we don’t support these guys, they’ll disappear.”?’ — Jeremy Wilson