An article in Publishers Weekly posed the question of whether publishing seasons are dead, reasoning that print books now have to compete with ebooks, which are essentially seasonless. Originally determined by the physical shipping schedule of books, publishing seasons may not be relevant anymore. However, this change in publishing seasons concerns mostly trade cycles—educational and academic publishers, regardless of the format they are publishing, still adhere to cycles determined by learning institutions.
NPR weighs in on ebooks, discussing how they have greatly influenced the publishing business model, including the ways books are sold. Books that are only in e-form do not require the same rigid sales structure: Little, Brown and Company has experimented with digital one-day sales, which consequently launched books like An Unfinished Life, a JFK biography that is back on the best seller list. With the traditional sales seasons essentially eliminated for ebooks, high sales can prove difficult, which is why unique ideas such as Little, Brown’s can be very influential.
With publishers wanting to keep up and be current in today’s instant information society, traditional publishing seasons may be hindering. There are several reasons for the blurring or combining of seasons: online services for publishers, the constant news cycle and the changing roles of sales representatives. Edelweiss, “an online, interactive cross-publisher catalog service,” has made it possible for publishers to continually add to the lists of books from which bookstores buy their stock. This online process allows for more “drop-in” titles throughout the year, diminishing the need for strict-scheduled, seasonal purchasing meetings with publishers’ sales representatives. The service also keeps track of information for each title from Twitter, Goodreads and blogs, making it easy for a publisher to quickly glance at a book’s media exposure. Many bookstore buyers rely on information from Edelweiss to determine purchase figures before a sales representative’s appointment.
While many see the need to buy and sell seasonally fading, many publishers and booksellers still favor the idea. Some like seeing trends and changes through the different seasons, and seasonal selling also makes overlooking a book less likely. Eliminating seasons would essentially mean constant drop-ins for buyers, who find it challenging for scheduling purposes as well as limiting for potential sales, causing some booksellers to be worried. The convenience of Edelweiss and blurred seasons both pose a danger to the distinction of a book’s individuality—a list covering countless titles throughout the year can make all books look the same. Without the in-person scheduled meetings, it is harder to distinguish books and their various strong points from one another, which could result in difficult purchasing decisions for booksellers as well as lower book sales if important selling points are never introduced. The buying departments of most booksellers rely on the information provided in seasonal meetings with publishers’ sales representatives because it can help them in better forecasting the potential market for a title.
One bookseller for Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee summarized the questioned necessity of publishing seasons well, stating, “What [publishers] define the season as has kind of gone away. You have the fall/Christmas season and the rest of the year.” While this certainly seems to be true in the sense that books are no longer purchased simply in the traditional seasons, it does not necessarily mean they will be eliminated any time soon. That sense of structure that comes with an expected season makes scheduling easier for publishers, booksellers and readers alike. But an understanding that the market has changed leaves room for more possibilities, including flexibility in seasons and new approaches for ebook sales.
Did You Know?
The immediate reaction to the word “seasons” is to think of fall, winter, spring and summer—the four calendar seasons representing the changing weather. But in the world of a publisher, only two seasons usually exist based on catalog releases: spring and fall. Even though books are published year-round, Bunkerhill Publishing argues that summer and winter are just interludes between the other two, as the majority of books are still released during these the spring and fall months. Although this may no longer apply to all books since the advent of ebooks and ereaders, it is still a general guideline followed by trade book publishers. Each season, publishers release a front-list catalog that they send to potential buyers, investors and media representatives. The catalog for the spring issue is decided well before fall even rolls around, and publishers distribute them in plenty of time to create buzz around the books they will be releasing in the upcoming seasons. This gives the media time to schedule interviews, receive galleys (bound pages of books that have not been copyedited or proofread, used as means to market and to gain feedback) and to write stories and reviews for their publications.