This is another series of questions about NY that I get asked a lot. Why do some publishers put out the same old thing? Why do they resist breakout books? Why aren't books from established houses being edited? Why do they resist change that would make them more profitable and reduce the waste and at least a portion of the losses of the industry, today? This post is an amalgam of the answers I've given to these questions and a few more.
IMO, you've missed the interference of the money men in creative endeavors. Now...mind you, NONE of these things are meant to be generalizations. Not all NY publishers are doing these things. There are some publishers avoiding parts of this and some striding headlong in, but these are the trends of what I'm hearing is happening...and some of it, I'm seeing.
Years ago, the editors chose what books to sign. Now, the editors are overridden by the bean counters (no offense...I am a bean counter by training), who are trying to run numbers on what's worked for them before and accepting weaker books with elements that have worked in stronger books OVER fresh books without those elements. It comes out to the rule of diminishing returns, like you see in movies. The worst part is, they report to the press that they don't understand why their figures just aren't calling the bestsellers. Hand up. I think I know.
Worse, they are overplaying what works, until people are sick of it. Glutting the market on a handful of things isn't going to help, IMO. And, it's certainly not going to help, when you've got misrepresentative and carbon copy covers and blurbs, because they've worked well before. NO! For pities sake, you speed the readers' boredom factor along, when you aren't telling them what's new.
Worse, they adopt what's working in indie/e, with the announcement that they want to cash in...then they try to fit what was working in indie/e into their own cookie cutter version, which doesn't work. Why? Because... DING... You've just changed what worked in indie/e. If you want what works, don't screw around with it. Now, some are loosening the reins and allowing it to simply work. That's good. I wish they'd do it more often.
Years ago, the publishers took pride in making sure a book came out well-edited. Now, they are pressed for production on a schedule by the money men that leaves the editors short-handed and swamped, fighting for time to do it all...and sometimes without the ability to push the schedule back, if a book just isn't ready yet. In short, the editors are expected to toe a line that works fairly well in mass production, but it doesn't work well for a creative project being polished. Holding them to 4 books from that line a month (or whatever) isn't always a good thing. I'd rather see 3 one month and 5 the next, if the book pushed back comes out edited well. But, the editors are not given that leeway.
And, they allow big names to slide in edits, because they figure they are going to sell anyway. Or...the big names are sick of editing, and they don't want to lose what they see as their "cash cow" author over edits, so the author is allowed to negotiate edits out of the contract. Anytime they allow this, they compromise their company name, to some extent. Knowingly allowing quality to dip, ESPECIALLY on the cash cow, isn't good for the goodwill with readers.
Years ago, as long as there was an existing genre or subgenre to market a book to, the publishers marked them correctly. Now, you have some that don't LIKE the way they should be marketing what they've got, so they are playing bait and switch on readers and mismarking books ON PURPOSE to try and force cross-readership, upset readers be damned. For instance, erotic romance sells well, so let's market this straight erotica or this dark romance genre book (with no HEA and lacking a few other essentials of a romance genre book) as erotic romance/romance. No one will mind... Yeah, right.
All said and done, they are following the numbers into territory that is not effective in producing quality then wondering why there are quality complaints.
And the one time they aren't following the numbers, they are still following what used to work for them, sticking in the rut they have dug over years of circling the same territory. The companies are afraid of change. That's their problem, all the way around. For that reason, they aren't willing to crash the behemoth of a system that has stood for so long, a system they still doggedly insist works, despite their own complaints in the media that it's not working.
Eventually, the waste will become too much, and the industry will have to make a move to a POD system. The affordability of POD machines will make this move less painful, as time goes on. The big boys will be able to have several of these units in-house. NY already DOES use POD for backlist, in some cases, so they see the value in it, but they stick to the old system of offset printing, warehousing, stripping and such for new releases.
Basically, while I understand that corporations live and die by the bottom line, putting the money men in charge of an "art" business isn't going to get them what they want. The industry was in a lot better shape when editors had more say in what happened, IMO.