Over the last six weeks or so, we have examined the various aspects of the publishing industry, and assessed how the different parts are functioning (or in most cases, malfunctioning) in the face of the changes brought about by the internet. As any travel agent will tell you (if you can find one), the internet is an unstoppable force which revolutionizes every single business it comes into contact with. In publishing, change hasn’t seemed as quick, but the internet has been quietly eating away at all the pillars of traditional publishing.
The publishing industry is in the throes of some pretty major changes, and the full effects will take years to play out. Hardly a week goes by without distressing headlines. Publishers are downsizing, booksellers are going to the wall, even distributors are feeling the pinch. The roots of publishers’ woes can be traced back to the Great Depression when booksellers insisted on a returns policy that would allow them to ship back unsold books. This policy kept booksellers (and some publishers) afloat during some tumultuous economic times. When the economy rebounded in the run up to WWII, and expanded in its aftermath, this policy remained in place, and still exists today. This has had a number of important effects.