There are quite a few eyebrow-raisers in the article. I'll quote some of them:
Publishers...put up Web sites where, in some cases, readers can sign up for announcements of new titles. But information rarely flows the other way — from readers back to the editors.
“We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers,” said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books,” she said.
Why not? How hard would it be to ask?
Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.
That's an interesting observation. But it's a "bad business" all around, as few published authors are able to make a good living, either. I lay that at the door of publishers, who make money purely by accident and who lose it by sheer stupidity. That's some business model you've got there, friends!
Eric Simonoff, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, said that whenever he discusses the book industry with people in other industries, “they’re stunned because it’s so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research.”
Why haven't publishers made any discernable effort to get a handle on what makes readers buy some books and not others? How is selling books different from selling potato chips or running shoes? Can't somebody interview a few bookbuyers and find out why certain books are bestsellers and others aren't?
They could, but they don't. I mean, they really don't. There is no business in the world like publishing. Here's more:
The industry does follow trends to pursue growth, but when it comes to acquisitions, methods have not changed much in hundreds of years, says Al Greco, a professor of marketing at Fordham University.
IT’S the way this business has run since 1640,” he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. “It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot,” Professor Greco said.
“It’s guesswork,” says Bill Thomas, editor in chief of Doubleday Broadway. “The whole thing is educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. You just try to make sure your upside mistakes make up for your downside mistakes.”
Yet publishers still stubbornly avoid doing even the most basic market research.
Some experts wonder if book publishers might uncover more [successful] books...if they tried harder to find out more about their buyers and what they want.
“The Newspaper Association of America has a staggering amount of data on people who read newspapers. The book business has, basically, nothing,” said Professor Greco. “They’re not going into the marketplace and doing mall intercepts and asking people, as they leave the bookstore, ‘What did you buy? Did you find what you’re looking for? What motivated you to choose that book?’”
An exception is the consumer research gathered by the Romance Writers of America, a writers’ association that publishes a regular market study of romance readers. It reports survey information on, for example, demographics, what respondents are reading, where they are getting the books and how often, and what kind of covers attract them. Romance authors and publicists use the information to create promotional campaigns.
Most publishers, though, continue to gather data on sales and not much else, though past performance is certainly no guarantee of future results, even from the same author.
I've always found the RWA stats interesting but not particularly helpful, as the depth and breadth of the surveys is limited by financial considerations. But at least the romance writers are trying to figure out what people enjoy reading and why. The publishers are doing nothing at all.
Unless gazing into crystal balls counts as market research.