Are Announced First Printings Make-Believe?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

In Russia, publishers deliberately minimize announced first printings; in the USA, they inflate them. On this point, publishers just can’t be trusted.

By Edward Nawotka

stack of books

As noted in today’s feature story about authors, books and advances in Russia, it is customary for Russian publishers to state the print run on the back page of a book. Yes, says one critic, it is also commonplace in Russia for publishers to announce a smaller than expected first printing in order to lower an author’s advance, and one would presume, potentially hide sales from an author to minimize their royalties.

In the United States, it is quite the opposite, with publishers announcing wildly inflated first printings in order to generate marketing buzz and buy-in from the booksellers. In reality, fearing returns, publishers often under print from the announced number in order to hedge their bets.

The fact is that it is simply impossible to believe publishers announced printings. The consequence is that it can make quantifying the market saturation/penetration and, further along, sales of a title all the more of a challenge. The fact that the publishers cannot be trusted — on this point — means the editors who compile bestseller lists rely on real data to compile their lists, have only their ad-hoc information, BookScan numbers, and their own guesswork to rely on. This often means the list reflects as much the priorities of a particular newspaper or journal as it does the actual sales figures.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.