Friday, May 26, 2006

The State of Jazz Publishing

Speaking of Nat Hentoff, his latest Jazz Times column discusses the commercial outlook for jazz book publishing. Hentoff points to the successful publicity campaign for Peter Levinson’s biography of Tommy Dorsey. He takes publishers to task for their lack of faith in jazz publishing:

Another alleged fact is that “jazz books don’t sell.” As I can attest, this is an increasing reaction from book editors, including some of those who used to be more welcoming to jazz proposals but now go back to their in-house committees for approval and are told to offer minimal advances if any. My response, out of my own frustrating experiences with some of my published books, is that jazz books indeed don’t sell if they’re not promoted with knowledgeable skill and determination as others of mine have proved.

Having seen the numbers on some jazz books published by our sister companies, I can look at this issue realistically. Sell-throughs are usually not bad, but you never really see large quantities shipped on jazz books. They are often profitable, but only marginally so. Of course, as a vanguard art form, jazz does not have a lot of constituents in publishing companies, to build in-house buzz and to provide insight into the potential audience.

Obviously, I believe jazz is important, so jazz writing in books and magazines is important as well. That’s why I have started reviewing recent jazz books from this year, and I will try to catch up with some from last year. Many thanks to cooperative publishers, because from what I have read, and the look of what I received in the mail, I can report there is much vitality in the current state of jazz writing. One can hope commercial appeal will follow.