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    Friday, June 03, 2005

    Lost Dumas novel hits French bookshelves

    I am a great fan of classical books. Sometimes I feel the true art of writing was lost after world war II. So many books fly through Barnes & Noble these days that I feel like sifting through all the junk mail for my pay check every time I go to a bookstore and try to find a truly great book.

    A large part of this rests on the antiquated model of book selling publishers adhere to. Today, in the Wall Street Journal, there's a good article addressing this dilemma.
    Returns are the dark side of the book world, marking not only failed expectations, but the crippling inefficiencies of an antiquated business. It's a problem that's only getting worse. The industry's current economic model pushes publishers to generate a small number of blockbuster hits. But picking winners is a quixotic enterprise, and as publishers ship an ever-increasing number of books to stores, hoping to hit the jackpot every time, stores are sending an ever-increasing number back.

    In 2003, 34% of adult hardcover books were returned to publishers, compared with 28% in 1993, says Albert N. Greco, a professor at the Fordham Graduate School of Business and a leading industry statistician.

    ...Worst of all, the increasing rate of returns has helped ignite a destructive cycle. So many books come back that publishers say they have raised prices to compensate for the anticipated lost revenue. That in turn makes many books harder to sell, creating more returns. Between 1985 and 2003, hardcover book prices rose 118%, far outpacing the 71% gain in the Consumer Price Index during that period, according to Fordham's Mr. Greco.

    ...his kind of retailing has led to an ever-shortening shelf life for bestsellers. Most stores promote new books for only one or two weeks. Authors who might have remained on the best-seller list 10 to 12 weeks a decade ago now often stay only six to eight weeks. This phenomenon has been exacerbated by publishers themselves, who are publishing ever more books each year in search of hits. That pushes other titles off the shelves more quickly.

    Ultimately, unless a book comes highly recommended, I turn the the old authors, and Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, has a new book printed in French. As soon as it comes to English, I'll buy it.

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