Coming Back from Beyond? Booksellers and Ebooks

“In this market, you could actually pick up market share simply because you’re the only major bookseller left,” ~John Tinker, a media analyst at the Maxim Group

The above quote is from a July 22 article from The New Yorker, entitled "Ebook vs. Pbook" by James Surowiecki. (Great article! follow the link).

Ultimately, I prefer to browse the shelves of a bookstore, roaming among the aisles and picking up books at a whim. I confess, I have a Kindle. I actually love it, but a few things became abundantly clear to me when I started purchasing books for it.

1. Having an ereader appeals to the hoarder, or the instant society that has overtaken us all. No longer do we have to wait in anticipation for the next installment when we find a new author. We are able to browse amongst their backlog and find something else to ease that need for a read. But am I alone by saying that I will probably never read half of the books I downloaded. Once I got a look at the first page and was able to get a feel for a writer's style, I found that many of them were not to my liking.

2. Not all ebooks are created equal. Just as not all paper books are of the same quality, the same could be said for ebooks. Enough said.

3.Nothing can replace contact, human nature and good-old-fashioned communication. This is the true gold behind any successful bookstore, their ability to connect with the readers and give them what they want. No matter how good the marketing material, nothing beats good word of mouth. And if you can get an enthusiastic bookseller behind you... you can ride it to the bestseller lists. This is what the smaller bookstores do well. They don't have the money to back them or the distribution, but they do have the ability to connect.

I tend to think of the downsizing of the bookseller trade as being much like the end of the push, or the 80's more-is-more, that so many company's had to find a way to recover from. Barnes and Noble is not dead. I don't believe that the Independent Bookseller is dead. I think there is room for everyone. We just need to figure out where that is. And there are lessons to be learned from both the demise of big chains like Borders and the nail-biting hanging-on that B&N has managed until now. There are lessons to be learned from all those smaller stores that closed. And there are lessons to be learned from Amazon, the consumer, and the authors. Starting over is always an option. You only fail if you don't keep trying.

I don't believe that books will ever become obsolete. There will always be those who prefer the joy of holding it, turning down the pages and reveling in the anticipation of an adventure. There's room there for all. We just have to find the common ground and learn from those around us.

The State of the State (Or The Current Business of Books)

It's been awhile since I've posted on the business of books, but recently I started reviewing my past experience and how the business has changed since I got into it 20+ years ago. Here's just a few of the revelations that I've discerned.

In the beginning, (read: pre-internet) so much of the contact between authors and booksellers was a carefully constructed dance that required the help of multiple personages at the publishing houses. Promotion was based on previous sales and often those authors in the dreaded mid-list and (gasp!) below didn't qualify for much in the way of help from their publishers. It may still exist today, but for many it is a catch-22. Sales= $valuable sales promotion dollars and new authors with previous sales record = $0. From a business plan standpoint this idea makes sense, put the dollars where they will be the most effective. But somewhere along the way the authors that had to work hard for their sales and put blood, sweat and tears into promoting their babies came away with some hard won knowledge now that there has been a shift in the market, opening up new avenues with indie pubbing, etc.

With the amount of BIG booksellers, chains such as Borders and Barnes and Noble, experiencing dwindling markets, there is once again an opportunity for local venues to gain ground again and in some cases see the return of the local bookstore. Those that held on despite the presence of big box stores are seeing resurgence from customers who long for the friendly bookstore next door to get their addictions fed. But this is also the opportunity for those large chains to take a step back and appraise market needs. Clearly their sales are touched by the emergence of alternate publishing methods, but that doesn't rule them out entirely. Adaptability is the key to any business and perhaps taking cues from the rotating market will enable them to once again gain ground. Personal relationships, quality product and services and attention to detail. These are the things that hinge a great business together.

An eye on the future is what is needed if both authors can continue forward. It seems that no matter how many times I say it there is still a need to put it out there. This is a business and authors who aren't willing to learn the business take the chance of being left behind. It's more than setting a brand for yourself in this market. It's about taking the time to research and understand. I know authors who run the gamut between not wanting anything to do with the business side and those who understand it better than the experts themselves. Nina Pierce would be an excellent example. She understands markets, trends and best of all... cause and effect. She gets it better than most I've talked to and better, she's willing to share her knowledge if you ask.
So the question remains... where is the market today? It is still evolving and clearly if I knew what the answers were I'd have the keys to the kingdom. But for those with their eyes open, there is a big wide world out there waiting.

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