Leading Article: Who is going to buy all these S-reg books?

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The Independent Culture
BOOK PUBLISHING more and more resembles car manufacturing, in that about half of all the books produced in a year now seem to be published in September. There are all sorts of reasons given for this ridiculous log jam, and almost all of them are false.

It is said that people go on holiday in July and August, as if we were like the French and shut down the entire country on the same four weeks each year, or like the Lancastrian working classes off to Blackpool for Wakes week. Holiday patterns are a bit more varied these days, and the book-buying public is just as likely to be on holiday in April or October.

It is said that books need to be published now in order to be entered for the big literary prizes. That might be true of bad novels, which need to be bounced onto the shortlists at the last moment, but good novels stand a better chance of winning prizes if they are given the chance to sink into the collective consciousness over a period of some months.

It is said that books need to come out now so they can get on the "books of the year" compilations, in time for the Christmas sales boom. Do they think readers have not got wise to those networks of cronyism?

Political books, it seems, have to be published just before the party conferences to give lobby correspondents something to read on the train to Blackpool. But, unless a publisher has something of the scale of Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street Years, leaked extracts from which ruined one of John Major's conferences, they are going to get lost in the welter.

It has even been said that big non-fiction books have been held until September because publicists are desperate to get the author onto Start The Week, which is off the air in summer. Which is a sad commentary on the state of publishers' marketing departments.

Indeed, the lack of marketing imagination in publishing is alarming: the industry seems to be in thrall to superstitions about dates and notions of the British holiday which would be of more use to historians than a modern profit-making business.

The wind of change is starting to blow through the business, as Internet book shops start to work wonders on the backlists. But that only points up even more the extent to which this branch of British industry is in need of modernisation.

Surely anyone with marketing gumption should be able to sell good books at any time of year. This year's S-reg car sales rush was the last August binge, as the letter is going to start changing twice a year, in March and September, next year. Publishers should take their cue and likewise abolish their annual jam.

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