Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why the publishing industry is making me angry, of late, or a long list of complaints

I buy books a lot. Really a lot, as it is not only a hobby but an occupation.

Lately I have become angry, and since it is relatively effortless to move me into a rant of any sort, here we go...

1. Copyright law is annoying, though necessary, but international copyright law is enough to make one scream.

When I went to England, I noticed tons of amazing books that we hadn't had at the bookstores I'd visited while prepping for the trip. I purchased tons of these books and took them home. Months (maybe longer) passed before I found the same books in the states. This brought me humor, but I didn't think much of it. But this creates a problem.

You see, in many cases, if a publisher from another country, let's say Britain, releases a title, it comes out in that country first. Then, if the book does well, editors scour it, remove the "British" lingo ("tyre" becomes "tire", for example), and they slap a new cover on it and send it to the states.

Setting aside the fact that they have effectively dumbed down a book that readers would most likely have had no difficulty understanding, thereby changing the author's original text (meaning that you haven't really read Harry Potter, even if you think you have), this slows down the process of sending a book to us for our enjoyment and makes us wait for the book to be shockingly successful in other markets first.

I can deal with all of this.

But here's the thing...

When a book gets published in the states, our publishing industry prints off tons of copies and markets the heck out of them. In addition, booksellers like Amazon or Barnes and Nobles pop that item up first when you search for the title online, because they assume that you're looking for the US title, in American English.

We'll pretend I don't feel patronized by that, and assume that others without the family background I have, might have trouble with British slang.

That being said, there is another bigger problem this produces, because other countries have a publishing industry too, and they don't make as much money if our publishing industry sells editions of books published originally in their homeland to them, thereby making money off of their readers instead of the reverse. Maybe I could make that sentence sound better...

Say I make an apple pie, and it's amazing. It's so good, in fact, that my friend Bob from India (real guy, name changed) decides he wants to have that pie in his country, but it won't fly well, as its pastry is delicate. So I give Bob the recipe so he can make it in India, and he's all happy.

Meanwhile, I am selling that pie by the slice in my hometown, making a killing in the pie market that will allow me to retire early and knit all day long while I watch reruns of The X-Files and gripe about how every show Joss Whedon puts on television gets cancelled just as it starts to be amazing.

But Bob has since gone back to India and started selling his version of my pie too, and he's set up a little factory and the workers are churning out pie faster than my workers are churning out pie because his workers aren't used to having apple pie this good in India, due to the old adage "as American as apple pie." So people start getting really excited about it and they set up a website and start selling Bob's version of my pie all over the world--which is amazing--so Bob becomes a kagillionare and uses the funds to do amazing things for his people in India, like he is already doing in real life because he is such an amazing person. Plus his kids are cute.

The act, though, of putting the pie out to the international community has created an imaginary problem for the imaginary me with her imaginary life of sitting in front of her television with her knitting. This me with the fake-but-perfect life must now deal with her own pie competing with her pie business, and the fact that the pie is so internationally famous now due to some other person's use of the pie comes back around and destroys my pie business, leaving me with only the masses of yarn I have purchased as a memory of those perfect years of knitting round-the-clock.

The initial product competes with the international version of the product, and in publishing, the U.S. version often wins out, crushing the international competition in an evil way that comes from the sheer size of our publishing houses and the money they have invested in snapping up rights to documents and all that.

I don't know how bad this really is, because I pay so little attention to the publishing industry at large. I only know that Australia wasn't happy about it. So if an Australian author puts out a book that we want to publish for American audiences, we have to wait for a set period of time before we can make that American version available for Australian audiences.

And so I have to wait super-long to get a copy of Melina Marchetta's new book, The Piper's Son. I am blaming the international publishing industry for this.

I get why, really I do, but I am still depressed. And now I want pie.

2. And as if I didn't have to wait long enough, where have all the paperbacks gone?

It's expensive to publish a book, because of all the work of the initial investment. You've got to find the writer, get the editing and spiffing-up of the text done, pay the writer and the editors, design a cover, the text, the layout, pay all of those people, and print the books to sell them.

The huge investment, though, is all at once. You tunnel a large quantity of money into getting one book, but printing them isn't all that pricey, especially if you're doing it in China, which you are (because John Green told me so). All the books you print after the first one just keep getting cheaper.

Publishers can make more money of hardcover books, and they like making money (so do I, for that matter). So they keep the book in hardcover for as long as possible, then make it snazzy again in paperback (preferably trade paperback and not mass market).

Then they make more money. And more. If there's going to be a movie, they make even more.

But poor Laura is stuck waiting two years for her paperback edition of Pies of India, the imaginary book she made up just now because she wants pie and figures other people will too, contributing to the popularity of the imaginary book.

I think e-books and the new e-book reader boom will have some impact on all of this, but I could be wrong.

3. Some people are being snobby, and not putting out their books on e-reader.

Let me just say, you will just make more money doing this right away, because people like me who wait until a book is in paperback (for the most part) will snap up your book on its day of release in order to be certain of reading it when they want to read it. Which I do. Want to read it, that is.

Send me The Piper's Son!

4. I don't know anyone in Australia.

That's a real problem, and pretty much the root of all my complaints thus far. I could be reading that book come March if only I knew some random Australian person who would send me the book and some of those little biscuits I love so much. It would also be cheaper, I'd imagine, than trying to get it shipped myself. Especially if they wanted American things I could send them, like Oreos with double the filling.

Granted, my not knowing any Australians is really kind of my own fault, living as I do so far away from Australia and not having gone out of my way to find and meet Australians traveling in the U.S. I chose not to be a stalker. That was a good move, I think, on my part. But I have no book to show for it.

Why do I care so much? I imagine that you would ask me this, because I imagine that you will care about the price of pies in Pathanamthitta*. The reason is this: I love Melina Marchetta's books. She is amazing, a genius, and I cry every time I read Jellicoe Road, no matter how many times I read it. It's just that good.

I love her books so much that the instant I could pre-order Finnikin of the Rock, I did it. For me, and for the library collection, because I didn't want to have to share my copy of the book with other people and their grubby (they could be grubby) hands. I also wanted--want--to be able to carry it around with me and hold it, because I am just that excited about it. Really.

Why doesn't Penguin Australia want me to have The Piper's Son? Don't they like me?

*Pathanamthitta is a real-live city in real-live India, just like Bob is a real-live person (name changed) who may well make pies from time to time, in between his missionary work.


  1. I had something written out and my browser decided to croak because there was some sort of error, so of course it's gone.

    Anyway, I'm having the same problem with Unicorn Road, by Martin Davies. It's been out in the UK for a full year, but the only way I can get it here would be to order it through the UK version of Amazon, which I won't do because that's ridiculous and I would like to be spending that money on other things.

  2. I know! Think of how much yarn we could buy instead of paying international shipping fees!