Thursday, July 28, 2011

Changing Times

I was reading an article in The Wall Street Journal called “Borders Succumbs to Digital Era in Books,” when I came across two lines that said so much about the state of print publishing. The article focuses primarily about how the demise of Borders bookstores is changing more than just the lives of readers for whom the local Borders was the only bookstore nearby, although that aspect was addressed with this line:
The closures will make Barnes & Noble the only national bookstore chain in the U.S., leaving some Americans to drive long distances to find the largest collections of new bestsellers or wile away the hours among the stacks.
But to me, the real telling line that affects writers was this one:
Publishers, already grappling with seismic shifts in their business, including the demand for e-books, now are trying to gauge how many fewer books they should print, both in terms of physical copies and the number of new titles.
A writer’s advance is most often associated with how many books the publisher thinks you can sell. Fewer print stores mean fewer print sales. If there’s no store near you, you’re more likely to buy via an online store or not at all. And fewer convenient bookstores will most likely lead to higher sale of eReaders, which lowers print sales.

What do you think? Will remaining bookstores focus on high-selling celebrity books? Who will get hurt the most -- midlist authors, newbie authors, small press authors, or …? Will this lead to more eBooks and eReaders or possibly more online bookstores?


  1. I wish I knew. I go out of my way to patronize an indie bookstore, but most of the members of my book club buy e-books. When I try to talk to them about the state of publishing they either don't get it or don't care.

  2. I think this is just another brick falling in the already crumbling wall of the old ways of publishing...

    Judy, South Africa

  3. Bermudaonion, I think those who worry about the demise of print books are primarily writers. Readers, most of them, are not.

    Yep, Judy, I believe you're right.

  4. ...interesting article, Helen. If betting my paycheck on it, I'm thinking the majority of newbies will forego waiting for a traditional publisher and head straight to self-publishing online. The high-dollar established writers, and those on the walk of fame who up and decide to write something in order to fatten up their bank accounts will always have Random House in their back pockets, and those midlist authors...well, those might actually be the ones who get stung the most, fighting the urge to self-publish while waiting for a phone call that may never happen.


  5. I'm already buying only eBooks and I won't spend over ten dollars for one. The big publishers putting out more expensive books aren't getting my dollar, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who balks at the high price.

  6. Tough questions... Even some well-established authors are jumping into self-publishing. If the big six continue to concentrate on celebrity books and big names, they'll eventually sink.

  7. Borders crumbled because they were horribly mismanaged! The internet and ebooks just sped up the process.
    Since the big publishers own the bookstores, I think they will hurt the most. Smaller publishers have always relied on niche outlets for their books and can adapt faster to the changes.
    And come September, when 400 bookstores return two-thirds of their inventory - ouch!

  8. I think Elliot is right in that it's the midlist and those of us still trying to breakthrough who will b hurt the most. With less big outlets, publishers will be even less willing to take risks on untried authors or concepts.

    Not that newbies have no outlets - ebooks and small publishers are creating opportunities. The nature of the publishing game seems to be dramatically changing, and where it finally ends up will be interesting to see.

  9. Elliot, I fear you're right.

    Alex, I don't have an eReader, but I will soon. I'm looking at Christmas, but my husband is tired of me coveting his and may talk me into sooner.

    Laura, I think you're right. They're going to get top heavy with the celebrities and crash.

    Oh, man, Diane. That will be a huge ouch!

    The change seems to be almost daily, Katie.

  10. I truly have no idea. What I thought yesterday no longer applies, and what I will think tomorrow may be miles from the reality of next week. For an industry that in the past would've been left in the dust by the tortoise, changes are coming at warp speed. I never know what new changes I'll learn about when I wake up every morning. Thanks for keeping us posted.

  11. I think what everyone else said is true. I think ebooks are here to stay and print books are going to fade away eventually. It makes me so sad.

  12. Yep, writers will squawk ... readers will walk.

  13. Big name authors will not be hurt, but it will become harder to break into Big Time - as if it hasn't been hard enough for like, forever. But the rise of self-publishing venues and ease of internet marketing will hopefully at least in part help to balance out the "E-Effect" on the literary world.

    Marvin D Wilson

  14. The publishing industry will begin to follow the model and trends of the music industry and many of the same things that occurred in music during the 00's will begin to happen in publishing.

    Large 'labels' (i.e. publishers) will take less risk on unknowns and reduce the amount of new works produced. They will also overcharge for electronic products.

    Artists and indie labels will begin to compete directly with the big producers, as there will be fewer new artists signed. They will begin to develop and sell to a smaller, but more loyal audience and it will become their main stream of income.

    The music scene is still playing out.

    Ebooks are just as valid a publishing medium as MP3s are for music albums. People rarely even buy CDs anymore. They buy MP3s for convenience, low cost and instant gratification. Vinyl is reserved for very dear and special favorites.

    This trend will also play out in book publishing.

  15. Publishers seem to forget that once upon a time there were no book superstores like Borders or B&N. Books went to independent stores and newstands. The article also does not mention that Walmart, Target, and grocery stores have become the new book stores and sell vast amounts of books. There are many well known authors who leap with joy when their books are sold in Walmart and other megastores like Sam's Club and Costco. Though the devoted bookstore, which wasn't really devoted just to books (video games, magazines, music, coffee, etc.), may go the way of the dinosaur so many other avenues have opened or, in the case of independent bookstores, reopened. Publishers will have to send their wares to many more places, but bookstores remain, just not the giants that could no longer carry their own weight.

    Digital is a game changer, to be sure, but not a fatal one. Bookstores remained during the depression (and we're still living with the sop thrown to them to keep them open) and will always remain. Readers will find a new place to buy books, like the indies, and will continue to buy print as long as print is sold.

    There is some truth in the numbers of first run prints of novels, as evidenced by the lack of books available from the newly announced long list for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Some of the books had a print run of only 3000 books, with a couple topping out at 6000 books. Since they made the list, publishers are rethinking their short fall and gearing up to print more books, and 2012 is still a few months away. Publishers are short-sighted, always have been. Good thing authors and readers are not so myopic.

  16. It seems to me that the celebrity books are already pushed to the front. I heard that it costs $5,000 to have your novel/book at an airport store, but anyone can jump in and set up their own marketing strategy. Although having a big publishing house is a plus it's no longer a necessity to get your name out there. It is doubtful that an author without a well known name will get on the shelves of any of the remaining stores though.

  17. Carol, it sort of matches the rest of the world. Things seemed to move at glacier speed until the invention of the computer. Now everything is in fast mode.

    Karen, I'm not so sure print books will fade away, but I think there will be fewer made and they'll be sort of treasures.

    Christopher, you are so clever!

  18. You're right, Marvin. It is hard to break into the Big Time, but quite a few authors are doing it via eBooks, where they couldn't have in print.

    Thanks Fawn. I have to admit, I haven't bought an album in years. On the other hand, I've only bought a handful of songs online, too. I assume I'm an anomaly, though.

    JM, I know that my husband, who loves his iPad rarely buys print. He did recently buy one, a hardback, though. I still love print books, but do see the convenience of ebooks.

    Cozy, local authors can sometimes get in the big stores if they've made an effort to get to know the store employees. And some small publishers have contacts that can get your foot in the door. It's not easy, for sure.

  19. Who will be hurt the most by this are those publishers who are too big to make quick changes in their business model. Or who are too stubborn and locked in past publishing traditions to accept that small digital print runs and online marketing approaches are crucial while distribution to bookstores is becoming a non-issue.

  20. Borders closing has me very, very worried. I read an excellent article about Borders's lack of adaptation (as KarenG points out), but I don't recall were it was. Sorry!

    I hope there's still room for me to break in.

  21. I think it will make it more difficult to discover new authors. I love browsing and reading a little of this and a little of that until I find something I like.

  22. I hope to see a rise in indie bookstores and more books in stores like Walmart and Target and drug stores.
    I luv e-books and think e-readers are on the rise, but my readers have used their $ to vote for flip page books from me. That's where my sales are. Not my e-books. So I hope we have book lover entrepreneurs who fill in spaces left by missing book chains.

  23. Yeah... I'm going with midlist... I think eBooks are paving paths for a LOT of people to sell eBooks (some of them also available POD) and this market can take a lot of authors and books, but I think the lack of SHELVES to see books and browse covers means it is far harder to break out from TINY distribution to mid, and even HARDER to break from midlist to best-seller, as I think the best-sellers will get the limited shelf space available.

    I also really worry about the increasing power of the big box stores--groceries and Target and Wall-Mart all sell books, but FAR fewer titles. Yes, they sell the best selling author, but they also seem to have a really wacked out view of what other stuff they should carry. I think the best sellers will benefit a lot from being 'the only thing available'--just like America--the fat cats get fatter and the rest of the pot is spread thinner and thinner as the middle disappears.

  24. It is a bit sad for all of us writers who grew up hoping to get picked up by a big publisher.

    I agree Susan. It will make it more difficult. I meet you authors online and often suggest some to my husband who has an eReader. Otherwise, he relies on his group of authors where he buys their books or orders them as soon as they're listed online.

    Nancy, I'm seeing more books for sale in my grocery store! But I have to agree, Hart. What's available in the grocery store are the name books. Not even any local authors. Although I do know an author who does book signings in grocery stores.

  25. As a reader I worry about the demise of print books. I know e-books are are becoming more popular. but I hate to see fewer print books offered. An e-book is not something you can pass down to future generations.

    Thoughts in Progress
    Freelance Editing By Mason

  26. Very true, Mason. But I feel like it's too late to stop the takeover by eReaders. Print books will still be around during my lifetime, but then I didn't predict the demise of the typewriter. Although, I do believe some electric typewriters are still around and being used. The problem is getting them repaired.

  27. It probably will mean more eBooks, and although I know it’s good for the trees, I’m going to miss those beautiful spines gracing my bookshelves and our home.

    P.S. I’ve left a response to your comment on Bird’s-eye View at

  28. Hi Helen

    I for one do not have a bookstore near by. The closest one I know of is over an hour away from me. Yes, I've gotten a couple of eBooks but am still using my PC to read them. I prefer the paper because I can sit anywhere with it. There is a 2nd hand bookstore in this little town and I can tell you that it is quite popular.

  29. We have a B&N in town, but I miss the small indie that closed its doors.

  30. Reading this your entry I have even noticed some new information which I haven’t known before. Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting post and I will be waiting for other great news from you in the nearest future.

  31. Hi Helen .. then there's all the professional books - research books, study guides, etc etc .. yes some will be broken down into guides - but detailed books can't easily be read on an eReader or pc/mac ...

    I don't like buying clothes without seeing and touching them .. and I'm sure a great many books will be the same - the Readers will be overloaded with downloads - which to start reading ..

    A way will be found .. somehow! Cheers - Hilary

  32. Perhaps something new may appear in the publishing and book world.

    Chemical Fusion

  33. When I was in Texas, I lived three hours away from a wonderful borders in Austin. Then, I moved to a larger town with two of them, two B&N and a few local stores.
    I still found myself going to online retailers plus with a larger library system - I have more options. I love touching books and my library may be the only place I can do that in a few years.

  34. The mid-list author has been the one to suffer most in the past twenty years, and I see hurt increasing for those in that category. The e-book revolution has turned publishing upside down, and as Judy said, this is just one more brick falling. The good news for writers is that a good book that has been professionally edited and designed, can sell well enough digitally that financial survival is not totally dependent on paper books.

  35. It might be, Stacy - your public library or my closet, which is overflowing.

    Hilary, since I don't have an eReader, do you know if they have a search feature? I would think that'd be necessary for students using them the read textbooks. And bookmarks.

  36. Hi Helen .. I have no idea .. not owning one - but my thought was serious researchers look through books and dart between x number .. and those books aren't easy to read .. they're to be studied ..

    I can't believe the only we're going to be able to read will be via a screen ..

    Don't ask me re bookmarks - I'm a complete Dummy!!

    I think there must be a search feature ..but darting back and forth .. not so sure .. and are they online writing their essays at the same time, or making their notes ..

    I shall be interested to see what comes out in the wash! Cheers Hilary

  37. It will be interesting indeed. I do know that more and more instructors are making their book available to college students in e-form. If they can't already highlight and make margin notes the way I did in college, they'll make it available soon.


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