Having recently entered the publishing fray, I read with interest Mark Taylor's article, "The Values and Perils of Competition," for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. (Thanks to Justin Taylor and Al Hsu for linking the article.) Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale House Publishers, bemoans the effects of competition on his industry. It seems agents and large royalty payments, commonplace in the wider publishing world, have become the new reality for Christian publishers.
Taylor explains the process. An agent approaches the publisher with a can't-miss book proposal by a big-name Christian author. The publisher likes the idea. The agent lets the publisher know that other houses want the book. This project demands a serious advance. Perhaps against better judgment, the publisher bites.
"So we get the deal," Taylor writes. "We pay the advance. The manuscript comes in. We begin to wonder why we paid so much for this average manuscript. We edit it and market it and sell it and process the returns. And at the end of the day we take a huge write-off. If we're lucky, the book earns a net contribution to overheads. But in most of these scenarios, the book generates a loss even apart from overheads. Competition (and perhaps some greed) has nearly killed us."
What does all this have to do with theology? I won't guess which Tyndale books Taylor has in mind. But I can guess the genre. And it's not serious theology or catechesis for our churches. Al Hsu, an acquisitions and development editor at InterVarsity Press, explains the consequences. "[G]ood books (with less 'commercial potential') get squeezed out of the market and displaced from bookstore shelves ...1