Scarcity and abundance re book marketing

April 3, 2015

Last year I heard Richard Nash speak about publishing and learning to manage abundance. Several times in my teaching this year, I have quoted his memorable comment “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does.” The excerpt below, from Giles Clark and Angus Phillips,  amplifies Nash’s idea and sets it into the specific relationships among publishers, authors, and readers.

However, scarcity is still present and comes in different guises, especially in respect of the resources needed to publish. Readers and institutional buyers have limits on their purchasing power. There are also and importantly individual limits on the amount of time available to read, be it a novel or a scientific paper, versus competing media and activities: time is a scarce commodity. Good authors who people want to read are scarce, whether their writings are paid for by readers or available for free. From a publisher’s standpoint, it costs money to find, select and buy such authors. It takes resources to develop the author’s work for market needs, and to produce the book in whatever formats the content is published. The marginal cost of a digital file may be close to zero, yet there is still a cost to the publisher to create a book and then distribute it through channels to market that are controlled and charged for by others. The sales and marketing costs to capture readers’ attention, to help them discover books, do not disappear in the transition from print to digital publishing.

In a world of abundance, the publishers offer a vital service in selecting authors and developing their content to meet readers’ needs. They manage the authors’ brands and focus readers on the books they have selected. That service is worth paying for when time is scarce. (20–21)

This is a key point for me when I’m teaching book editing: until students have worked in the business as publishing professionals, it’s difficult for them to understand how abundance works against consumers and how scarcity works in consumers’ favour. And Clark and Phillips add an important additional consideration: the scarcity of time. Very well observed!

Source: Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (London and New York: Routledge, 2014).