Lost Book Sales

The publishing industry is going through now what the music industry has been going through for a few years: fast-changing technologies, risk-averse dinosaur suppliers unsure how and unable to adjust to the market, users fed up with being dictated the terms under which they are allowed to use content that are invariably un-user friendly, and technologies rightly or wrongly enabling users to wrestle back some of the control.

I had the (mis)fortune to work for Australia’s largest music retailer who shall not be named throughout most of my uni degree. I can say with assurety that they didn’t handle the music landscape changes well.

Remember region-specific DVDs? Yeah, well some clever chap (or chap-ess) created non-region-specific DVD players and we haven’t looked back. Remember windows (AKA, the industry term for staggering releases around the world)? Yeah, well piracy is fast putting paid to that.

Distributors have been super slow to react, but they’re finally starting to realise they need to release content worldwide and simultaneously or lose revenue as people share content in their own (free) way. They’re not there yet, but money not made is a language they know and understand.

See, region restrictions and windows are arbitrary rules and obstacles put in place by those who own the rights to control and ultimately maximise their revenue. Those restrictions aren’t in the interest of the people who are after the content.

While I don’t condone piracy, I do understand it. Especially when I cannot get Games of Thrones legitimately at the time it’s released in the US and then am being spoilered into the next universe by my internationally based social media friends. I mean, The Oatmeal outlined his I-tried-to-do-the-right-thing-then-f&ck-it-you-made-it-impossible-to philosophy much better than I ever could.

All of this is a long-winded whine is a precursor to a website I discovered via the ever astonishing Kate Eltham. Called Lost Book Sales, it’s a site where readers can tell the world (and, hopefully, the author and publisher) about book sale lost for reasons that may include price, region restrictions, or availability.

It’s a genius idea, overcoming that chicken–egg argument that publishers, bookstores, and the like present for not making books available: no sales history. But, as frustrated readers and authors know, you can’t develop a sales history when the book’s not available for sale. And if publishers don’t know readers are after said book, they might not even consider releasing it in, say, Australia in an e-book format.

Lost Book Sales is simple, crowdsourced, using freely available online tools and templates, seemingly volunteer-run for the greater good, and hopefully something that will help authors get their books into the hands of more readers*.** Excuse me while I spend the rest of my Sunday submitting books to it …

*If I had to make one suggestion, it’s that they social media it up—its reach and impact would go gangbusters if they got themselves on Facebook and Twitter.

**It’s worth noting that Boomerang Books is also tackling this lost book sales issues. You might have come across some listings where the book’s not available, but Boomerang Books includes it in the catalogue with the purpose of showing that it does exist, that it’s worth trying to contact the distributor to see if it can be made available here.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.