16 October 2018

Is the Gamble Worthwhile?

Harvey Miller, "Phaidon and the Business of Art Book Publishing: 1923-1967," Visual Resources, Vol. XV (1999), pp. 343-353 (at pp. 344-345):
Publishers usually set the price of a book by multiplying the unit cost by a factor — it is at least three, but may be as high as eight or ten, depending on the nature of the book, to allow for booksellers' discount, selling and distribution costs and production and editorial overhead costs. [Phaidon founder Béla] Horovitz had a different approach — the disaster theory. He reasoned somewhat as follows: If I set the price of the book at a popular level, and it is very good value I shall sell many scores of thousands. What would happen if there were a disaster and my estimate of sales were wrong? I would still sell some books, since they are good books. I would lose some money. Can I stand that loss? But if I am right I have established a book that will become a standard, and will be reprinted time and time again. Is the gamble worthwhile? What can I do to make the book more attractive, and more saleable?

Only a small independent publisher, who stands to gain or lose on his decision, can reason in this way. Modern publishing conglomerates with committees and specialized functions, find it difficult to apply this type of reasoning although, of course, they do try.