New word alert: Theresa Nielsen Hayden has a great observation on the publishing industry – saying that the important thing is not to search for the elusive bestseller but rather to have many "okaysellers".

Makes sense from an economist’s view, I suppose – with low marginal cost, easy distribution and no expiry date there might be more money in finding new books at low acquisition and marketing cost than in the ad-driven lottery tickets we call best-sellers.

One of Theresa’s commenters points out that the original Wall Street Journal article actually does not say what Theresa says it says, but rather the opposite….at least in the conclusion. Another commenter says that it is what is in the beginning of the article that is important, since nobody reads the article to the end….

As my friend Eirik has pointed out in his discussions (can’t find the link) of the Norwegian publishing industry: What is fascinating is how the whole industry discusses markets and economics without introducing numbers. It should be trivial to get a view of what books are selling over time – Tim O’Reilly can show the way – and then the discussion could start from fact rather than feeling.

Then again, most publishing employees seem to be in it less for the numbers than the words. They like it like that.

1 thought on “Okaysellers

  1. Eirik

    Nice term, okaysellers. Sort of like “midlist author”, but with an economic twist. Most of my books have been okaysellers, which is probably why I still find it easy to sell book ideas to publishers. I wasn’t able to locate the link to my statement about publishers and numbers either, but I’ve said it often enough and stand by it.
    As an okayseller I see the result in the binary marketing approach of many publishers: they work from the premise that a book will either break through in the mass market or be ignored – if it doesn’t get full exposure in mainstream media it might as well have none. Niche markets are hardly ever discussed outside textbook publishing, and the lack of hard numbers (even basics such as who buys what kind of books) would make it almost impossible to target specific groups anyway.

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