With seasonal lists that can reach up to 1,000 titles, rush and drop-in titles to accommodate an increasingly rapid news cycle, publishers are selling books beyond the constraints of the traditional seasons. Representatives from different aspects of buying and selling within the industry, a bookseller, a distributor, and publisher, gathered for another installment of PW's discussion series on the Future of Book Publishing to explore the relevancy of publishing seasons. The general consensus of the discussion, which took place on February 26 at the Random House offices in New York and was moderated by PW co-editorial director Jim Milliot, seemed to be that while its essential to be flexible and nimble, from both the publisher and bookseller vantage point, seasonal selling is still viable.
“We’re constantly considering ways to innovate, in the case of seasonal publishing, it works for us,” said Mary Beth Thomas, v-p of sales at HarperCollins, which operates on a three season schedule annually. “It helps keep everything in order, to look at the month, and not bump up against ourselves. It’s a nice way to balance things."
“Not all titles are created equal,” she added, “and the seasonal approach makes it easier for us to launch a debut, or an author who is breaking into new territory.”
The four-month time frame, according to Thomas, allows the publisher to achieve what needs to be done to get the book to market -- distribute the manuscript, develop the best cover package, and pitch to programs like B&N Discover and Indie Next. “We want to take the time,” she said.
“Seasonal publishing is still extremely relevant for us,” said Kim Wylie, v-p of sales at Publishers Group West. Releasing the metadata for each title into the “search engine world that we live in” happens six months before publication, according to Wylie, a move that requires the padding created by a seasonal calendar. In addition to their role in organizing PGW’s roughly 110 publishers, the seasons also drive marketing meetings with their clients where they workshop and tweak publishing strategies. “There’s a lot of editorial going on in those seasonal marketing meetings with publishers that feed into seasonal meetings with accounts,” she said.
Both Wylie and Thomas agreed that, even with digital catalogue services like Edelweiss, seasons are still especially crucial in the field. “Seasonal selling is the most time and cost efficient,” said Thomas. “How else would we do it, with the field in particular? Monthly would be cost prohibitive and we'd have a lot of really unhappy reps….that face to face [time] is critical."
The field is a “critical account base for us at PGW,” said Wylie. “They can’t see our reps on a monthly basis. The seasonal presentation and organization is what is required there.”
Despite the ways in which bookselling has shifted with the rise of digital buying, "it has retained this seasonal character,” said Andy Laties, store manager at Bank Street Bookstore in New York City. “There has been less leveling out than you'd expect…they're still buying in seasonal patterns."
One consistent disruption to the accepted publishing seasons is drop in titles seeking to capture of-the-moment cultural zeitgeists. “Hot topics” are one exception to the set selling calendar, according to Thomas, who noted that, on average, the company has 250 add-ons outside of the seasonal schedule. “[It’s] a real challenge,” she said, but with the new tools afforded by digital publishing, “it’s much easier to be flexible.”
When it comes to crashing a book, flexibility is key. Of the 2,000 new titles that PGW distributed in 2013, about 5% were add-ons within the company’s three seasons. “We have to be flexible," said Wylie. “And then we also have to organize that flexibility." When authors looking to crash a book, Wylie often asks them to consider how speeding a book to market would hekp it sell. Aside from being topical, most books do not need to be accelerated, he maintained. One reason publishers look to limit the number of add-ons is that it can be difficult to communicate to accounts what those titles are. Laties acknowledged that he is certain he has missed notice of drop-in books.