(Originally published in slightly different form on the Mysterious Matters blog, 2009)
An old joke goes: The way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a large fortune. We do pay advances to our authors, and my partners and I generally end up with modest profits. The real problem with our bottom line is the number of middlemen who take bites out along the way. By the time a book is in the reader’s hands, it’s gone through several layers of wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. (The way books are shipped back and forth across the country, when you include returns, the people mainly making money from books are UPS, FedEx, and Yellow Freight—in my opinion.) We do need a large distributor for all kinds of reasons, and they take away many headaches in marketing (along with adding others). They represent us to the large wholesalers that bookstores prefer to order through, to bookstores themselves, and even to Amazon.com.
The Internet has been both friend and foe. Competition from online booksellers (along with chains) has probably closed many indie mystery bookstores and mom-and-pop businesses. (We love these stores, which have always given us great support, and couldn’t manage without them.) On the other hand, the online merchandisers have made it possible for any buyer to go online and obtain any book with only a few clicks. Furthermore, anyone can go to our website and view our forthcoming, current, and backlist books, saving us from the ongoing drudgery of print catalogues. (And customers can order directly from us with a discount.) Of course, Amazon’s Kindle, and others have made a whole new kind of reading possible. With steadily increasing sales so far through that medium, we’ll have to wait and see how we’re affected over all by electronic reading of books.
One drawback to the latter is the loss of our talented designer/typesetter’s attractive and meticulously crafted design. The book is just “dumped,” so to speak, into the electronic version. We’ve always taken pride in Eric Larson’s distinctive look for each book, but do readers ever notice? Perhaps subconsciously, I like to think.
Eric is still in Santa Barbara, where everyone else but me was living when we formed our partnership. John and Susan Daniel have moved to Humboldt County in Northern California, and Susan’s marketing/web assistant to San Francisco. I am in Palo Alto, and our distributor, SCB, is in LA. We cover the state, so to speak, and somehow make it work through daily communication by phone, fax, and of course e-mail—without which we couldn’t keep the company going no matter how hard we persevered!