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In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson December 8, 2017

In a resonant moment of the conference, Jeff Norton, the author and television producer (Awesome Media Entertainment) recalled a 2013 moment in the FutureBook conference’s “Big Ideas” session–missed this year–when Canongate’s Jamie Byng (who was on another panel this year) announced that he would publish only as many books in a year as he had staffers. Publishers, Byng asserted, simply were publishing too many books.

Today, more publishers are aware of this. Simon & Schuster UK’s Ian Chapman told Publishing Perspectives at Frankfurt that his company will produce 100 fewer titles this year and focus more on strong marketing. And for his part, Norton said that imprints should cap their output at 14 titles per year. That arbitrary figure was a joke, but the concept was not: Norton knows that the problem of over-production in many of today’s publishing markets is a real one.

And in case anyone needed to hear more on Richard Johnson’s message about publishing being “in the entertainment business,” the conference obliged during the afternoon session on video-on-demand when Norton spoke about how pervasive the rise of excellent television has become.

“TV is now the dominant medium of culture,” he told the audience.

“Film is dying a slow, painful death. Books are at risk of becoming ‘niche products’ or simply intellectual property source material” for the burgeoning television production industry that has recaptured its audience with superb storytelling, production values, and streaming delivery onto every device in the digital arsenal.

“Netflix knows me,” Norton said. “Amazon knows me.” And yet, he said, he’s been trying for five years without success to get Hachette, his publisher, to correct the reader age-range on his Metawars books’ online listings.

“TV dominates the cultural conversation,” he said, through subscription formats like that of Netflix, Prime membership’s offers to Amazon consumers, the major cable studios’ roll-outs of direct-to-consumer distribution. And co-ventures, he said, hold the key to sustainable rights arrangements.