Bookshops Are Dead: And I Killed Them

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=bookshop&iid=7119995″ src=”b/f/4/1/Victims_Survey_The_2bd3.jpg?adImageId=8791690&imageId=7119995″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]
2009 was a weak year for me in book reading terms. I read perhaps 26 or so (with some extra I’m fairly sure I have forgotten):

    1) Europe Between The Oceans
    2) A Fire Upon The Deep
    3) The Ascent of Money
    4) Blood of the Mantis
    5) The Training Ground
    6) Dragonfly Falling
    7) The Blade itself
    8) Millennium
    9) Before They Are Hanged
    10) Ireland in 2050
    11) Gutenberg Revolution
    12) Empire in Black & Gold
    13) Empire of the Sea
    14) Edward I: A Great & Terrible Kind
    15) The Last Argument of Kings
    16) The Steel Remains
    17) The Dreaming Void
    18) The Adamantine Palace
    19) Defying Empire
    20) The Darkness That Comes Before
    21) A Shadow in Summer
    22) A Betrayal in Winter
    23) An Autumn War
    24) Young Miles
    25) The Stars My Destination
    26) Earthman, Come Home

On the other hand I bought quite a few more than that, perhaps something like 50 or 60 books. I’m hoping to push the read figure up towards 45 or so and if I’m really lucky, I might even average one a week.

Serious thoughts
I was thinking while calculating this poor reading effort of the changes that Seth Godin pointed to in a recent post:

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

He drew a comparison with books and Amazon’s recent somewhat questionable Kindle news, that they sold more books via Kindle than in paper on Christmas day:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I think Seth is right and yet wrong. He is right, bookstores as we’ve known them are dead. But Amazon killed them long before they released the Kindle. Cheap books delivered through the mail are the way forward for those of is who buy in large numbers (I’m probably a medium rank buyer of books).

The Book Depository sucks up a good 60% of my book buying at the moment and accounts for almost all my new book purchases with 10% or less spent in chain stores or supermarkets. The rest is spread very unevenly as follows: 25% in second-hand and car-boot sale locations (Ravenbooks features here and I suspect in 2010 will feature even more) which is made up almost exclusively of out of print and pre-2000 books, the last 5% or so gets spent fairly randomly everywhere from good independents, to local shops with self published titles and random online direct purchases and ebooks (I’m still primary print and suspect I will always be so, despite a belief and passion for digital text).

He is wrong, however, when he says that the top rank of book buyers are gone for ever from print, because many of those buying books on Kindle will buy some, get some free and eventually return to print books, many more of the top buyers will simply ignore digital books in favour of print because they like it.

This is not a defence of print against digital (like this op-ed from Jonathan Galassi president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux) as, ultimately, I believe the bulk of books will be read digitally before the end of the teens, but it is not as simple a case as music when whether or not you had a cd or an mp3 makes little difference to the listener, the quality was just the same and the process of using it fairly similar too. Books on the other hand are usable on their own without input from a device of any kind and with the proviso that there is light. Those readers who, like me, still enjoy the experience of reading in print will still buy in print even as the price of print books rises.

So there will be demand for print books but at a much reduced level (because many others will shift to digital as will casual readers and new readers) and the economics of bookshops will become completely skewed favouring the online Emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant as Ravenbooks has (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in) and no doubt this will mean concentrating on older books, out-of-print books and second-hand books, books that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand books printed directly on site (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it though, by not buying in chain stores, and rarely enough in independents, I killed the chain bookshop and I got away with it!

More to come today!
Eoin

Ebook first publishing might work

UPDATE: The Huffington Post carried an article by John Oakes (co-founder OR Books) last week which I missed.

I’m quite surprised there isn’t more news about this deal. Publishers Lunch* (apologies for the enormous robbery of content) reported on the sale of paperback rights for Going Rouge by OR Books:

Among other start-up muckrakers, John Oakes and Colin Robinson’s OR Books has sold paperback rights to their first title, GOING ROUGE, to Michele Matrisciani at HCI Books–which is reissuing the book today. Under OR Books direct-sale model, the book had not been available in traditional stores or online vendors, limiting sales despite the wave of Palin-related publicity. HCI president Peter Vegso says in their announcement “this title, although outside our usual publishing perimeters, presented an exciting and interesting challenge.”

Next up for OR Books is Norman Finkelstein’s book on “Israel’s Growing Isolation After the Gaza Invasion,” set for January, in which he “looks at how the reckless and disproportionate military action against the Palestinians in Gaza a year ago has led some of Israel’s closest allies to question their support for the country,” while “offering the possibility of something hopeful emerging from the tragedy of what occurred in Gaza.”

Oakes says eliciting a paperback partner will “certainly be a goal for each published work of ours.”

This is the almost perfect example of how one might expect a pure ebook play to develop over time, publishing ebooks to a time sensitive market while selling the rights to someone else for a paperback edition, enabling them to keep stock costs lows and cash flow high and letting someone else worry about the odd economics of the traditional model!

Mike Shatzkin has written quite a bit on these topics so it’d be worth reading one or two or even three of his posts.

We live in the most interesting of times!
Eoin

*A service of Publishers Marketplace a site that anyone interested in publisher should pay for.

Amazon Encore: Again, Again, Again

You have to wonder just how many books Amazon Encore has to publish before we consider it a fully fledged book publisher? I wrote a long post about the implications of Amazon Encore here some time ago. In it I said:

Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.

But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.

And now, quelle surprise, Amazon has expanded the encore program by 300%! I’ll admit from 1 to 3 is not a huge leap, but if every season (twice a year say) they leap 300% by the end of 2012 they would be publishing over 2000 titles. Of course that is an exaggeration I doubt that Amazon will expand the division at that speed but even at a lesser pace they could easily be publishing 100, 200, 300 titles a season.

Are we ready for that? I don’t think we are.
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 15/09/2009

Just under a month to TOC Frankfurt & the Frankfurt Book Fair. If you twitter, search using the following hash tag and youy’ll see lots of people are talking about it #fbf09. There’ll be a TweetUp (Which I’ll miss, but there you go) at the fair this year and I’d nearly put money on a European publisher acquiring something Twitter related for their list, though I’ll wait and see!

There have been a few interesting stories bouncing around the web the last few days on writing and publishing and where we are at with them. The Bookseller has a feature on how the downturn is affecting Author Pay, David & Charles have made a radical decision to realign themselves along a vertical basis, the result is layoffs in the short term but something else in the medium to longer term. In the same week I stumbled across this fine article about GeoCities and online communities in the American Prospect, lessons we should note and think about as we embrace the idea of verticals. Speaking of Verticals, Filedby.com was chosen by CUP to expand an author promotion platform in which they use some of Filedby’s premium features to help authors develop an online presence.

Digital publishers (and aspirants) everywhere were saddened by the news that Quartet Press has been disbanded after running into a string of problems too insurmountable to continue. The site carries the message, but Mike Shatzkin and Kassia Krozser (in two [1,2] excellent articles) carried on some detailed discussion and analysis. I’m not happy about this outcome for the founders, but I’m sure we will see more from them soon.

And then there was Dan Brown and his latest book the Lost Symbol which is variously being hailed as the ruin of us all (DJ Taylor in the Independent) or something of a saviour (Jeffery A. Trachtenberg in the the Wall Street Journal). Amazon and Waterstones have been selling it at half price for about three months, and don’t they look like genuis’ now that The Book Depository and the Multiples have launched a massive price offensive?

And in sad news, it’s bottoms up to Keith Floyd who died today, the video above shows him at his somewhat slowed down more mellow best. For a decent interview of recent origin, try this Daily Mail article!
Eoin

Tor.com is a publishing.com

Tor.com gets even smarter
Thanks to Digital Book World (haven’t had time to read my RSS fees today) I learned this by twitter:

The Tor.com Tweet
The Tor.com Tweet

Tor.com are launching Year’s Best Fantasy 9, POD only through Tor.com rather than Tor! The long and the short of it is this:

Tor.com is proud to announce the immediate availability of David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s definitive anthology, Year’s Best Fantasy 9.
This highly anticipated release also marks something we’re particularly proud of: Tor.com’s debut as a publishing entity, distinct from Tor Books and as a separate imprint under our shared corporate overlords at Macmillan.
YBF 9 is available only as a print-on-demand book, in keeping with our mission of always exploring alternative forms of publishing. Similar to the launch of the Tor.com Store, this title is one of our various publishing projects that seek to experiment with the available alternatives to publishing’s traditional sales, distribution, and delivery mechanisms.

You can buy the book in their online story here.

How smart are they?
Very. This builds on their nicely and still quietly and matter-of-factly launched Publisher Agnostic Store (links goes to my article on that development).

This also reinforces the concept of the Digital Vertical Niche that Mike Shatzkin likes to speak of and which I am also a fan. I’m intrigued and I really hope this works becuase in terms of new business models, this move is pretty much at the forefront.

Looking forward to good results, saddened by other news though!
Eoin