Norman Spinrad just emailed me this link to what appears to be the first of a series of posts about The Publishing Death Spiral, the core of which is this:
Here’s how it works. Barnes and Noble and Borders, the major bookstore chains, control the lion’s share of retail book sales. They order centrally for all their outlets together, for instance there is a single buyer for all science fiction, all mysteries, etc. How, you may well ask, can these buyers read and pass judgement on, for example, the over 1000 SF titles published in a year?
Of course the answer is they can’t. Instead, an equation makes the buys of most of the books on the racks or blackballs the ones that don’t make it that far. It’s called “order to net.”
Let’s say that some chain has ordered 10,000 copies of a novel, sold 8000 copies, and returned 2000, a really excellent sell-through of 80%. So they order to net on the author’s next novel, meaning 8000 copies. And let’s even say they still have an 80% sell-through of 6400 books, so they order 6400 copies of the next book, and sell 5120….
You see where this mathematical regression is going, don’t you?