Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thoughts on Publishing and Bookstore Troubles


I do think this is a great time to be a writer. We’ve got options and possibilities and an exciting future.

But the publishing industry (including the retail end of things, bookstores) are having a rough time.

My Borders recently closed. And Borders was a bookstore I visited about once a week.

Fortunately, we do still have Barnes and Noble here (our independent bookstores are too far from me). I was there on Saturday evening with my husband and we bought three books.

My membership with Barnes and Noble expires at the end of the month. The associate was explaining the renewal terms to me and I thought, “Uh oh. This isn’t good.”

That’s because they were decreasing the amount of the discount you’d get on a hardcover book from 20% off to 10% off (this is just the regular hardcovers, not the bestsellers, where you still get a substantial discount.)

The associate explained that, since they’d decreased that discount, they were offering renewing customers $25 off Nook Color e-readers and $10 off regular Nooks.

So…basically, they were rewarding readers who want ebooks. The bookstore was, actually, encouraging readers to get ebooks.

I thought about this a little more (and, I’m a Kindle person…I don’t have a Nook.) My teenage son—an avid reader—is one of the reasons I’m at a bookstore once a week. He wants YA books constantly thrown his way (and the library isn’t able to acquire them at the pace they’d like.) I’m buying brand-new hardcover books for him. They are not on the bestseller list, but they’re hot books.

So, the YA books he likes won’t be out in paperback for a while…maybe a year? And the bookstore’s discount has gotten punier for these hardcovers that cost an arm and a leg.

But, on my Kindle, I can immediately purchase these books without driving across town (spending precious and costly gasoline), and at a discounted price. And, unfortunately, without going through Barnes and Noble (since I have a Kindle.)

This worries me a little. Because you know what I’m probably going to do? Buy my son a Kindle. In the long run, we’ll save money and he’ll get all the books he wants. Bottom line, I want him to keep reading and that means supplying him with a steady stream of the books he wants (without going broke.)

But what will happen to the bookstore? And the publishers who aren’t rethinking pricing and formats?

I think we may already be seeing some of that. Publishers Weekly reports that ebook sales for June rose 167% while print declined sharply:

E-book sales rose 167% in June, to $80.2 million, at the 15 houses that reported figures to AAP’s monthly sales report and closed the first half of the year with sales up 161%, to $473.8 million...
...Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%.

I have several books for sale at the Barnes and Noble, myself. I’d like for the store to keep selling books and I’d like for my publishers to keep thinking of me for projects and putting physical books out. I’d like for them to do well. They’ve been good to me.

But I worry over some of these decisions I see being made—the pricing of different formats (publishers) and fewer discounts for hardcover formats (booksellers.)

What are your thoughts on the ebook revolution and what it means to publishing and book retail? (Again, I think it’s a great time to be a writer and a reader…it’s just the other side of the industry I’m concerned about.)