Monday, September 29, 2008

Prospectus

I'm interested in writing about increasingly pessimistic developments in print publishing, specifically about the ways Amazon is changing the landscape of literary publications. Their consignment program lends a sense of corporate legitimacy to small presses that previously would have been relegated to something closer to zine status. At the same time, Print-On-Demand services like Lulu and Blurb make possible not only a new niche market, but new business models that actually influence the big publishing houses. As an example I will point to HarperStudio, which is taking a page from the small press playbook by asking authors to forego advances in exchange for a larger slice of royalties.

My paper will focus on the ramifications of Amazon's policy change (in March 2008) which requires POD publishers to print through Booksurge, the Amazon-owned POD service. I think this will beg certain questions about quality assurance and the ways consumers determine legitimacy in a Web 2.0 world. That is to say, considering the relative ease of being a publisher and the increasing number of small presses, what basis will modern readers use to determine a book's quality, pre-purchase? Whereas a few years ago having a product listed at Amazon indicated that it had gone through several levels of review, that filter has been removed and, accordingly, an Amazon listing is rendered meaningless. Furthermore, the universalization of Google-based searching means that, from a consumer's perspective, the entire Internet is Amazon, so users Googling by title or author are as likely to purchase books through a distributor's website, or from the publisher or author's websites directly. I think this indicates a radical re-prioritization of traditional methods of distribution.

Along the way I will do case studies on BlazeVOX books, who recently accrued a crippling $9,000 debt to Amazon because of unclarified invoicing terms; small presses who charge authors for publication in order to stay solvent; and the author Tao Lin, who recently earned $12,000 by selling an "IPO" on his forthcoming novel, which is a just-recently completed manuscript slated for publication by Melville House, a leading small press founded by an early and important literary blogger. I'd like also to share a top-level financial analysis of (my own, non-POD press) Publishing Genius's P/L with Amazon.

I understand that some of this will need to be honed, which I think will be natural as I prepare and annotate my bibliography. A possible complication is the lack of scholarly writing directly related to the topic, but I'm confident I can find some journal articles that will bolster some aspect of the paper. Additionally, I think it would be an easy thing to schedule interviews with industry professionals and small press afficianados (to give at least anecdotal perspective on pre- and post-POD numbers of small press offerings). I think this is a topic that has yet to be explored in an academic way and should allow for a rich blend of practical information as well as some econo/ philosophic theory about how corporations set terms on what can be published and how this affects who can afford to read it.

Ah grad school. Please feel free to suggest reading material in the comments.

7 comments:

ryan manning said...

the next night we ate whale

Adam R. said...

I was hoping you'd say that.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

i am interested to read this essay

BlogSloth said...

I already like it. And that Tao Lin move was kick ass. I like his mind.

Adam R. said...

Thanks Blake, thanks slothy. I'm not wicked eager to write like this but I think I got to, and I got to use whatsit, MLA documentation.

Michael Kimball said...

Didn't you just write it? Isn't that it? Don't we all know what is going to happen next?

Adam R. said...

Michael, I have to add a section about how you will call bookstores who don't fulfill orders. That's the newest development in bookselling.

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