Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Bloated World Of Publishing

Did I say tomorrow? Well, it's been three days now but I'm finally getting back to writing about the London Book Fair. I got busy writing my next novel and researching my next history book. Sue me.

One thing that really struck me at the London Book Fair was the sheer immensity of the publishing world and how much it repeats itself. I'm not talking fiction here, because while there may be plenty of publishers churning out fantasy novels or mysteries, at least those all have somewhat different plots. One would hope. No, I'm talking about nonfiction, my forté. I saw half a dozen publishers coming out with heavily illustrated histories of World War Two or the monarchs of England this season. A dozen different coffeetable books on the castles of Europe or Hollywood's greatest stars. Tens of "timeline histories." Countless cookbooks.

It seems the publishing world flows in comfortable grooves. One publisher comes up with an idea and the rest do their own spin on it, only the spin isn't all that unique. This is less noticeable in the average bookshop because all these titles aren't under one roof like they are at an international book fair, but one has to wonder about the economic viablility of such a replication of effort. The smart move for publishers seems to be to find a niche and dominate it, like Osprey does with its short, narrowly focused, heavily illustrated military titles. Or Taschen does with its gloriously beautiful photo and art books.

The redundancy is especially noticeable with guidebooks. Having written my own guidebook to London, I flipped through every London guidebook I came across. I'm not sure how many there were; I lost count after a dozen. Besides slightly different layouts, there really wasn't much to differentiate most of them. Mine had more text and background, plus a bigger museum section than most, but the same venues came up in title after title. Is it any wonder that many guidebook publishers are jettisoning titles in the face of recession? I got the distinct impression that half them could go under and it wouldn't make the least bit of difference to the consumer.

If the publishers figure this out, freelancers like me are going to find it tough to find work.

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