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Publishers rush to get crisis books out

Piles of new books

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Kai Ryssdal: A friend in Germany sent a note this morning, which I figured we had to pass on. Seems "Das Kapital," the classic from Karl Marx, is selling more copies since the global economy went kaput. Eight times its usual rate of about 200 a year. Publishers of business texts all over must be pleased to hear financial fare is still popular. Because warehouses are full of books explaining how to get an edge in the markets, that is the markets from before the financial crisis.

Sally Herships reports from New York that with a few nips and tucks, they could still make it to store shelves.


Sally Herships: Times like this Phillip Rupel wishes he had a magic wand. He publishes business books for McGraw Hill Professional. He values a timely title. One that's on top of the news -- something that's been close to impossible recently. For example . . .

Phillip Rupel: Who would have thought that Iceland was the big problem of the world? Why Iceland?

Rupel can console himself with the fact that Iceland's collapse wasn't on anyone's radar until a couple of months ago. It takes at least that long just to get a book written.

Rupel: It can take a year; the great American novel can take 10 years. And that's not the controllable part of the process. It's as long as it takes to write the words. I've always said you can't publish a book without the words in it.

And then there's editing, printing, proofing -- typically production takes eight to nine months. Peter Knapp works at Wiley, another business publisher. He says making a book that was written a year ago relevant to the public is something of an art.

Peter Knapp: A few adjustments can actually make a big difference in how a book is perceived and how timely it seems.

Knapp is working on a book which until recently was titled "Contagion: The Coming Crash of the Global Markets."

Knapp: It's actually going to be called now, "Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That Is Sweeping the Global Economy."

Marketing magic: change the title; change perceptions. This alchemy isn't confined to new books. It can turn back-titles into gold as well. Phillip Rupel again.

Rupel: I don't think there is a publisher in New York City who isn't going into their deep back list saying, what was the book that I published five years ago, four years ago that maybe is relevant today and that we should be looking at and maybe updating for today's market to make it even more relevant.

Doris Michaels: Basically, I'm recession proofing my books, if that's a good way to look at it.

Doris Michaels is a literary agent. One of her books called "Rain," is about a paperboy who worked his way up to become a corporate rainmaker in the boom times. In marketing it, she's given it a twist.

Michaels: Now, the way you can look at how to become a rainmaker is you want to make the most of what you have, Making sure your that customers are happy and making sure that you're getting the business done.

But repackaging can't save every book. When the e-commerce bubble burst, no one would touch a book about e-anything. McGraw-Hill's Rupel says the same thing happened to books on real estate when that market went South. To avoid being saddled with books that miss a trend publishers hustle to get books published within months, chapters written within weeks. In this business, that's like breaking the sound barrier. There's even a name for it -- "crashing." And Wiley's Peter Knapp says publishers better get used to it.

Knapp: This is the new normal. I don't anticipate that this is going to go away. Whatever the next cycle is, we're going to continually need to accelerate our response to market conditions and what people want.

And people appear to want business books. Which still hold an 8 percent share of the book market. Despite the downturn. But McGraw Hill's Rupel says tastes are changing again. Instead of volumes on finance and investing, he's looking for books on finding new jobs.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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