A publishing meme I can get behind

Tomorrow Museum starts their article on how self-publishing can make sense for some authors with this quote from Virginia Woolf:

Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do. Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years. The life of the average book is perhaps three months. Why not face this fact? Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time? If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound. Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so. No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected.

The article cites it via Snarkmarket via The New Yorker. The original quote comes from a 1927 BBC radio broadcast between Virginia and Leonard Woolf. A quick search shows that the broadcast or script isn't readily available on the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or the BBC.

I once tried to propose this concept to some publishing people and they proceeded to inform me that it makes very little economic sense for the book as the first 12 months of publication are when publishers need to make back as much money as possible on the first edition of the book. Publishers need to sell hard covers at as high a price point as possible to recoup the advance and cost of labor and shipping (oh and sending out all those ARCs and finished copies for review). They also proceeded to tell me that most book buyers want the hardcover to showcase on their bookshelf after reading. A paperback or cheap edition would look horrible on a bookcase. Of course I should point out, in order to cut costs, most of the paper trade publishers use is a little better than the 3-months Woolf talks about.


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