Haaretz asks what’s happened to the backlist in the face of the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-hope-it-sticks publishing model.
In a very competitive culture that emphasizes newness and fashion, and promotes the reading of a current blockbuster which is forgotten in a moment’s time, the backlist is a vanishing phenomenon. The volume of sales of one-year-old or older books is shrinking, while newer books capture an increasing share of the market. Most major publishers realize that this ratio has changed. The scope of the decrease is estimated to be 20 percent: the backlist which once accounted for 60 percent to 70 percent of the sales volume now represents 40 percent to 50 percent, depending on the size and age of the publisher.
Thus good books, which are also fairly new, vanish from cultural memory. This is not only true of classic literature, which can always find someone to fight on its behalf, but it is mainly true of good books released two, three, or 10 years ago, which disappeared without leaving a sign. It appears that anything produced in the gap between Cervantes and Harlan Coben is likely to pay a price.
One suggestion for toning down competition in the industry and shoring up the backlist is a bill that would establish a stable price law for books. A law of that type would ban discounts of new books during the first year of their release. Publishers are still arguing the efficacy and potential damage of such a law, but most of them would support it.
If such a law was passed, it would to some extent contribute to the recovery of the backlist, based on the assumption that bookstores would continue to hold sales, but discounts would pertain only to books that are more than a year old.
The cultural price of such a law is that new books may be neglected, and Israeli publishers would, in general, release fewer new books making the industry less vibrant and current than it is now.