Richard Charkin’s Mensch Publishing has reached its first anniversary. They published one book, well received and sold, and Mr Charkin asks “If a book as successful as this only just manages to cover its costs over time, what’s going wrong in our industry?”

Mensch sold 3,270 copies of Guy Kennaway’s Time To Go earning £16,389. This almost covered costs, and future sales will probably get there.

Mr Charkin reports that, on UK sales he got about £7 a copy; and as he put it “In other words, the retailer is on average receiving a potential, before discounting, of £9 a copy, by far the largest element of the value chain with no stock risk attached.  Can this be right? Can it be sustained? Can our industry afford for it not to be sustained?”

Not easy questions to answer, though right and wrong probably don’t come into it. Surely to suggest that something has changed and has started “going wrong in our industry” is historically inaccurate. Hasn’t it always been like this? Most of the books which get published will lose some money; many, like Mensch’s one, will break even, and a select few will breakout and pay the rent. If you only have one book it’d be nice to think it might become a bestseller, but as there’s probably something less than a 1% chance this happening, it’s not too surprising that it doesn’t. Publishing has never been an easy way to make money: it can of course happen, but it’s hard to plan for continuous bonanza. We work on the basis of throwing masses of spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it will stick. I once worked for a company where the call come down from senior management that we should publish fewer books and they should be only bestsellers. You need not ask how that went.

Sure, the man in the street assumes that the publisher gets the vast majority of the money the punter spends when buying a book, but this, as we in the game all know, is just miles from the truth. It is what it is. If bookstores start going under the situation will only get worse, as Amazon grows from its current 50% (?) of the retail book market towards 100%. That way just guarantees demands for bigger and bigger discounts. Maybe we need to go back to the beginnings of our industry where him as printed it sold it. Sure it’d be a loss to give up all the showroom space provided by bookstores around the world, but making the retail sale yourself does have a dramatic effect on the profitability of the sale.

See also Start your own publishing house.