Book in a Series

I’m seesawing between two books, both published as part of a series. Cosmic Constitutional Theory by J. Harvie Wilkinson III is part of the Inalienable Rights Series, while In Search of Jefferson’s Moose by David G. Post is part of the Law and Current Events Masters series. Both Inalienable Rights and Law and Current Events Masters are published by Oxford University Press, which commissions hundreds of other series in the US alone. So the natural question: how is the publishing of books gathered under a single series heading attractive for publishers?

The following is plausible: publishing series is a way to build a brand that isn’t centered around an author. A successful series generates predictable demand for books released under the series name. For instance, somebody who bought one book in a series and liked it may be expected to receive other forthcoming books in the same series favorably as well. This means that editors who have sale records of previously published books in a series can reasonably predict how others will fare. This predictable demand helps publishing houses to operate more profitably since they can decide on print runs, authors’ advances, marketing budgets, and the likes with more certainty.

In addition creating predictable demand, a brand built by a series also pools valuable resources like advertising and thus may increase sales for books within a series over what they would garner were they published singly. For example, a consumer may be more willing to buy a book in a series because he or she recognizes other authors who are contributors to that series. The sense of “likes among likes” may also help publishers convince people to accept a commission to write for a series since these potential writers may be persuaded by the distinguished company who are authors of previous books in the run.

Operationally, series also function as “well run ruts” that streamline production workflows. This routinized workflow reduces costs and boosts the bottom line. I would make the uneducated guess that this is probably the least important factor out of the three, but it may play a role.

Naturally, all these factors come in to play most strongly when the series is prominent. For instance, the series can only influence consumer behavior if the consumer is indeed aware of that the book is part of a series, and better yet, if the consumer can recall experiences with other books in that series. Despite the “Other Books in the Series” information included in various books, I would guess that series names and series inclusion don’t pierce the consciousness of many consumers. (I count myself among these since I’m usually oblivious of such things.) Thus, it may be that the value of books published in series comes from not the average retail consumer but institutional buyers, e.g. library subject selectors who may be expected to pay more attention to such details in making their purchasing decisions (or approval plans).

What are your thoughts? Do you have insight into the publishing world that may confirm or disprove the myriad speculations I’ve made?

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One Response to Book in a Series

  1. This “books in a series” business is working wonderfully well on me. I’ve now read not only Wilkinson’s Cosmic Constitutional Theory, but also Epstein’s Supreme Neglect, Bollinger’s Uninhabited, Robust, and Wide-Open, and — a rare event for me — bought Tushnet’s Out of Range (on sale until 6/24 as part of Amazon “The Big Deal“).

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