Book publishers are trying hard to argue that e-books cost almost as much to produce as printed ones, and therefore prices for e-books should be higher — but the bottom line is that consumers don’t care what a publisher’s costs are, nor should they.
This is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks, driven largely by the absolutely deserved attention cycle given to Robert Caro’s LBJ biography and volume 4, THE PASSAGE OF POWER. It’s not just that Caro is a throwback, someone whose career was the product of a time when publishing took risks, didn’t really care about P&L statements, and were only starting to be chained to the yoke of multi-conglomerate expectations, but that it’s impossible to imagine a next-generation version of him carrying on with multi-volume biography.
The literary agent Andrew Wylie once remarked that 'in the long run, the most valuable author of all is Shakespeare.' The well documented short-termism of major trade publishers has created a market congested with meerkats and strictly-come-novelists. In an industry obsessed by market share and short-term sales, month-long bestsellers will always take precedence over serious literature which, if it sells at all, does so steadily over time. In a depressed market, this nervousness of unpredictable long-term investment is understandable. And yet ultimately the value of a publisher is in owning rights in great literature. Publishers won't be selling One Direction: Our Journey for the full term of copyright.
'The world is a peculiar place, but it has nothing on the world of books. This is largely a fantasy world in which the pecking order goes as follows: If you can't cope with life, write about it; if you can't write, publish; if you can't get a job in publishing, become a literary agent; if you are a failed literary agent - God help you!'