And what the hell does that have to do with writing and publishing?
I tend to make strange connections in both my writing and in business, which is one of the reasons I like Freakonomics. My observation is that there is a similarity between my observation of how many small restaurants open for business and then go belly up and writing (and publishing).
A huge number of really smart and often successful people try and open a restaurant. Have you noticed the number of celebrities who open up restaurants? New immigrants? “Retired” business men and women? Others? It’s the low barrier to entry. You really don’t need any special skills to open a restaurant, nor do you need huge amounts of capital (some, but not huge).
You do work your ass off. If you are a great chef, your odds of a favorable review go up and this increases your odds of success, but neither guarantee success.
Yeah, you’re smart. You are starting to see the analogy (imperfect though it may be). In a down economy I actually see more restaurants starting up, not less. And more of them fold. The competition heats up. Randomness, like location, or some gimmick help determine success.
What makes for a great restaurant? (You figure out the application to authors, I trust your intelligence).
There are inspired chefs, who never had training and are still just incredible and there are those who go to culinary school and are technically really good, but something is missing and there are those who have both the training and inspiration to some degree. The little restaurant in the neighborhood I used to live in was run by an Czech woman who had 1 item on the lunch menu each day, 1 soup, and a choice of pastries. She made them all herself. Very nice, food. Seating for 4 total. ToGo available. You were never going to find French food there. The food was plain, simple, but Czech (similar to German or Austrian). The restaurant folded, but fortunately because her pastries were doing so well she concentrated on those and sold them at farmers markets (this is all in Seattle).
She found her niche and she stuck to it. She concentrated on her strength and never got formal training. She is never going to get rich, but she makes a living.
What all these successful restaurateurs have in common is that they work hard, they are professional, and they either perfect their niche, or they are constantly experimenting. New fusion of old ideas. After all, food has been around forever, how many new ideas can there be? Yeah, same thing with stories and novels.
What strikes me is that in a down economy, there is less of a market for restaurants – less people eating out – yet more restaurants than ever are opening. And closing. The restaurants that are successful in a down economy are not exactly the same as those in an up economy. Cheap is good. Simple. Comfort food. Value. The smart restaurateur will adapt. Some will open up another restaurant, with a different theme. You might not even know they were owned by the same person. Many, seven out of eight, will go bankrupt. Many owners will try again.
Colonel Sanders, as many know, didn’t get successful (really successful) until he was almost 50 and he started out serving food out of his gas station. Ironically, his path to success really started in the great depression. It wasn’t until he was 65 that he, due to failure, managed to get franchises going.
So, in this down economy, be aware that there will be more, not less competition, and what you serve may need to change over time, but you can still be successful.