Only a short post on a rainy Sunday, a little folksier than usual. But I did think of something sort-of analytical at the end.
But when I write about my Dad, nice things happen. Last week I got this link sent to me by a friend in London, reminding me of the disclaimer in In Cold Type. Dad was actually pretty proud of it. I also got a call from a retired CEO who encountered him early in his career and was permanently influenced. And next week I’m having coffee with a literary agent who started her career working with a dose of his mentoring at Doubleday in the 1950s.
Dad’s book is a tour de force. Nobody ever thought more analytically about every single process in trade publishing or brought such a comfort level with technology to their thinking. He should have gotten more attention for correctly predicting the inevitable decline of mass market publishing at a moment when few saw it: very shortly after what remains the biggest paperback deal in history. (That was Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, from Crown to Bantam Books, for $3.1 million, in 1979.)
It was a real struggle for Dad to get the book published. Although, as Dad pitched it, this was a book for everybody in book publishing and anybody interested in book publishing, that could only be true in the Cliff’s Notes version. Indeed, this is a book only for people with a deep interest in publishing. But time has proven that, for those, it is compelling.
David Replogle was the head of Houghton Mifflin’s trade department in the early 1980s and he had worked for Dad at Doubleday in the 1950s. All of the big houses had turned the book down. Was it because it wouldn’t sell well enough? Maybe. Was it because they didn’t want their authors and agents and shareholders asking them whether they did things the Len Shatzkin way, which they usually didn’t…? (What were those? Standardized trim sizes and text designs, much larger sales forces, statistically-driven print and pricing decisions, publishing companies encouraging retailers to allow them to manage inventory at the point of sale…) I believe the nuisance factor crossed more than a few minds. Anyhow, Replogle, in a decision that was X parts business and Y parts sentimental favor, signed the book.
It sold well enough in hardcover to warrant a trade paperback edition. And when it reverted, Dad was one of the first to sign up for Lightning Print, almost two decades after he wrote In Cold Type. New technology always did appeal to him.
Clicking on a few links that I hadn’t for a while for this post made me realize something new about The Long Tail. While Dad’s book is in Lightning, there’s hardly any reason for somebody to buy the POD version anymore. The combination of the ones we’ve sold over the past 10 or 12 years and the relentlessly-increasing efficiency of the online used book supply system means there are probably enough copies in circulation to require bulk demand — for, say, 25 or more copies — for it make sense to do anything but shop the net for used. This is happening book by book. It would mean that the valuable shelf life of many scans for POD purposes might be considerably shorter than forever and that some books probably sell their very last newly-printed copy every day. That’s a new thought to me.