A lot of what goes on at ALA is catching up with friends and an extended network of colleagues. I haven’t been in reference publishing for all that long–12 years now, since soon after I returned to the States–so I can only imagine what it feels like to have been in the same industry for one’s whole career. One of my current projects is an article on the ‘business of reference’ for Against the Grain magazine. I’ll have to interview people who know the business better than I, of course, but I’ve decided the past year’s baptism by fire gives me a fresh perspective that may also be useful to librarians. If someone’s been in the business for decades, some things become invisible, just the way this world works.
But nothing is obvious to me! I’ve had a crash course in marketing, sales, and distribution, as well as book production, over the past 12 months. Almost all of this was new, some was a big surprise, and I have a lot of questions about the business models we’re using at the moment. Here’s one example: there are quite a number of library sales company that ask for a huge discount from publishers (50-70%), on a non-return basis. They take the books to school libraries and sell them to customers they’ve built a relationship with. This sounds the old Britannica model and I had no idea it still existed to this extent. I would love to know more about how librarians decide whom to buy their books from. Cost is obviously not the only factor.
By the way, this kind of arrangement is not feasible for us–we couldn’t afford to publish on that basis. I’m frustrated, though, because I would love to be able to show our titles, the physical books, to librarians in every school in the U.S. Here at ALA I’ve seen the surprise on people’s faces when they open the volumes. More than one school librarian has said, “The kids will love this.”