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Re: Bad luck?

> Now
>seeing that Ballantine is a big publisher and they probably do their own
>printing/binding, one would think (price::cost) that if a book can be
>produced at one fifth its cover price, why oh why can't they (the press)
>ensure quality control when four fifths are being realized as profit?

I absolutely agree that quality control should be ensured, and I'm glad our
attention was pointed to the thompson shore web site for some information in
that regard, thompson shore being, among short run printers (editions of
10,000 or less, generally), one of the best in terms of quality control as
well as in terms of environmentally sound practices and concern for the
working conditions of its employees.

But I'd like to correct one misconception here. It is not generally true
that a "big publisher" does its own printing and binding. In fact, generally
only the smallest publishers, and letterpress ones at that, do so.
Publishing is one business; printing is another. Rarely in contemporary
times are the two joined as one. And the bigger the publisher, the bigger
the printer is required, and the more chance for something to slip through
quality control (I'm not sure about this, and certainly don't think it
should be true).

It's interesting to see various estimates at cost of producing a book. This
one, that a book is produced at one fifth its cover price, even if true,
leads to some false presumptions about profit. I don't know what you mean by
"production costs," but if you only mean printing and binding, then one also
has to figure in royalties, promotional costs, salaries of editors,
designers, and others, as well as some portion of the rent unless a
publisher owns its own buildings. Then there are taxes, warehousing costs,
costs of filling orders of various kinds. Plus, the bigger the publisher,
the smaller the chance that any sales at all are direct. That means that
sales go through distributors, who generally demand as high as a 60%
discount. Also, it's a rare book that sells out, so publishers may have to
deal with many returns, unsold books, and what to do with them (and this
all, too, can become expensive). So, if 20% of the book is production cost,
and 50% of the cover price is actually income, and if only 50 to 75% of the
edition is sold, and if one figures in all other costs (overhead & inventory
& salaries, etc.), then we begin to see just how difficult it is for a
publisher to make any profit at all, much less the 80% profit which has been
predicted here.

Charles Bernstein has an essay in the book, TALKING THE BOUNDLESS BOOK,
edited by me, forthcoming from Minnesota Center for Book Arts (it should be
back from the printer tomorrow, and orders will be filled immediately -- if
you haven't ordered it yet, please express your desire to do so, and if
possible include $15.95 plus $4 shipping & handling, & sales tax if you're
in Minnesota, to Ann Somers at MCBA, 24 N. Third Street, Minneapolis, MN
55401), in which he makes the point compellingly that most publishers of
contemporary poetry invariably lose money. He states convincingly, in fact,
that a blank piece of paper has a certain value, and that as soon as one
prints a poem on it, one has lessened that value (I'm strictly talking
marketplace here, not some other and more important sense of value).

So, yes, let's demand quality of the publishers, the printers, and all
involved. But let's be realistic in how we think they operate financially.
It is no secret why, of the major commercial publishers in America, almost
all are owned by three companies (two of which are Time Warner and Viacom,
multi-faceted entertainment megacorporations -- I'm sorry but right now I
forget the third) and not independently owned and operated. These are not
pretty times for publishers.


Charles Alexander
Chax Press
P.O. Box 19178
Minneapolis, MN  55419-0178
612-721-6063 (phone & fax)

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