ITâ€™S the way this business has run since 1640,â€ he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. â€œIt was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot,â€ Professor [Al] Greco [at Fordham University] said.
“This business” is of course the book industry, a huge but not particularly profitable industry whose producers - the publishers - go on little more than intution and rough sales figures to understand what books readers are clamoring for, as an article in the New York Times describes it.
It is of course somewhat similar to blockbuster movies. A studio can invest heavily in expensive sets and ground breaking special effects, and hire big name producers, directors, and actors, as well as spend lavishly on elaborate marketing campaigns, predicting exactly which movies are going to become hugely profitable or devastating busts remains elusive. Similarly, a publisher can the rights to a book believed tobe coveted and roll-out a grade-A marketing campaign, but at the end of the day it’s pretty much just guess work trying to figure out which book will become a bestseller and which one will collect dust in the clearance bin.
From a reader perspective, however, there’s no partuclar reason to wish for a more scientific approach to book publishing. The way to higher profits by increasing knowledge about customers is a road down predictability. There’s not much upside, to use a business term, for readers in that scenario. In fct, one could argue that the book industry’s poor profitability is a result of so much value being retained by readers rather than publishers. Since so many people dream of becoming writers, editors, or publishers, the low profitablity doesn’t pose much of threat to the availability of a wide range of books.