Market slot and your publication – how, why and when

Self-publishing for writers is decidedly in these days, as we discover that 21st century computing isn’t about psychotic AI mainframes – it’s about connectivity.  A brave new world for those with a yen to write books. But some things haven’t changed – such as when to publish, and how often.

“Hmmn…books. New fangled rubbish. They’ll never replace scrolls, you know”.

This is about best exploiting a market which, when it comes to getting people to part with hard-earned cash for your product, hasn’t changed with the advent of e-books.  Exactly how the book is published – traditional, self-publish, print or e-book – is irrelevant. The issue is getting around the fact that books – even at 99 cents – are still discretionary spending. The only thing that has changed with the new e-book world is the price level, and extra sales from lower cost have to be set against lower returns per unit.The principles of market slot, timing and opportunity still apply.

So let’s look at how the main houses do it – they’re old hands and know how to make it work. Typically they’ll plan production ahead of time, often annually.  The schedule is guided by criteria such as:

1. Significant dates
Anniversaries, key national days or holidays can all be linked with a particular title. In New Zealand, there is always a rash of military releases around 25 April, our anniversary day. Mother’s Day gets – well, mum books. Father’s Day usually comes with a crop of blokish titles.

2. Market slot collisions
Market slot is defined as a price point, content and appearance.  A coffee-table picture book won’t be in market-slot competition with a trade paperback on the same subject. But two picture books will. Most publishers manage their lists accordingly. Typically a book gets six months or a year to sell through before a similar title is released.

Competition can derail the plan – both authors and publishers keep quiet about their intentions; and sometimes that market slot gets full.

3. Book series
Same principle as market slot collisions – each title in a series gets six months or a year. I wrote a series of transport books in the 2000s which were spaced variously 1 and 2 years apart. That’s typical.

4. Production resources
Most publishers run lean, scheduling production to fit resources. One of the bottlenecks in New Zealand, is printing. Local printing is expensive, and the main houses usually contract the jobs to Chinese companies. Lower cost, but has to be booked way ahead and time allocated for sea transit.

Best laid plans, of course, don’t always pan out. Sometimes something happens that is too good to miss. Last year, for instance, New Zealand suffered an unseasonal snowfall in August. Penguin New Zealand were on the ball, producing a quickie photo book of the one-in-50-year moment in just three weeks. It hit the best seller lists.

If you self-publish, do you ever plan your release schedule?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

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6 comments on “Market slot and your publication – how, why and when

  1. kenebaker says:

    Thanks for the article. I would assume on Point 2: Market Slot Conditions, the Big Six would have a better overview of the current trends to better plan for the right slot. If I translate this into self-pub terms, how would a self-pub author, or someone who wants to self-pub, be able to maintain a similar overview – in practical terms?

  2. Yes, in the sense that the big houses have a pretty good idea, from their own sales records, of what’s hot and what isn’t. But it’s impossible to really second-guess what is going to be released by a competitor. That’s true for authors like too. Books sometimes collide anyway – often, because a particular genre has become popular and everybody is getting on the bandwagon. Sometimes there are ways around it. There’s a book I’m writing, right now, for Penguin, which I actually contracted 9 years ago. Then we discovered there was a competing book about to appear. It did – filling that market slot – and Penguin agreed to hold my contract until it had sold through.

    • kenebaker says:

      Releasing at the same time can also be a benefit – if done properly. It’s called competitive interference, and it’s a clever technique by where certain ‘brands’ can share the fame of another brand’s attributes. However, probably a technique best left to marketing departments than Indie authors :)

  3. ljclayton says:

    How’s ‘Convicts’doing?

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