Really nice post this by Kassia over at Booksquare. I totally agree with her on the trajectory and have some slight quibbles (which I’ll blog about soon) on the outcome, but nothing terribly major.
As readers shift to digital, the economics of book shops will become skewed, favouring online emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant, in the way that Raven Books in Blackrock, Co Dublin, has. (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in). No doubt this will mean concentrating on older, out-of-print, and second-hand books, titles that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand works (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).
Whatever way you look at it, as a big book-buyer I should be a chain store’s best customer. Instead, like many avid readers, I’m what’s killing them.
Then today I read an interview with Luke Johnson who ran Borders for a time. this is what he said:
I bought Borders thinking we could turn it around. I believed wrongly we could reverse the downturn in high street book sales. It’s a great sadness that we couldn’t. In my opinion, the high street book store is doomed.
He did say, that there was hope for stores like Watersones and that:
Publishers I’ve spoken to agree that the one-size-fits-all bookstore doesn’t have a future. But there is still room for independents that know their customers.
I agree the local independent have a chance. But the utterly depressing reality is that at least in the UK and Ireland, big high street stores are in trouble. Eason remains dominant here and may well gain some advantage from that, especially as supermarkets have been slower to take big steps into books (though Tesco is having an impact) but the slide is inevitable.
It contrasts fairly remarkably with the confidence of Barnes & Noble as pointed to in the last post.
One point that struck me yesterday was Waterstone’s belief in the power of ebook sales to drive their growth in their press release they said they had and ‘Excellent start for e-books at waterstones.com, approaching one million downloads.’
That makes two major booksellers on different sides of the water with hope of decent sales of ebooks. Interesting news I think anyway. perhaps if they can peel some of the sales away from Amazon in print, drive for sales in ebooks and slowly but surely wind down their bricks and mortar stores, they can avoid the downfall scenario I had originally envision and emerge as slimmer chains selling mostly virtually.
Declan Burke has asked for reader feedback on whether he should self-publish his book:
The basic idea is that I set up a project with a total amount that needs to be raised (€2,570). I let people know where and how they can pledge their €7, and hopefully 367 people buy into the idea. If the amount is raised within a specific time period (three months, say), then your pledge is accepted and transferred to my bank account, and shortly afterwards you receive your copy of A GONZO NOIR; if the total amount isn’t reached in a specified period, all pledges are cancelled and it costs nobody anything, except possibly yours truly’s pride. For more information on the Kickstarter project, clickety-click here.
So there you have it. Any takers?
I’ve read Declan for some time now and love his style and think he has been unfortunate not to a much bigger star. Please go tell him to try this out and when he does, please pledge him some cash!
I’ve posted a short essay on where we are and where we are going, publishing wise, over at EoinPurcell.com:
The means of publication and distribution have been opened up to many, many millions. Digital printing has been slowly but surely reducing the barriers to print publishing and the impact of that has been felt mostly at the bottom of the publishing ladder as self publishers flourish and wither, succeed and fail not always because of merit or flaws but with impressive determination and in large numbers. But digital PUBLISHING, using the Internet as the platform, this is quite a revolutionary thing.
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Everyone is off writing prediction posts for 2010 (follow them on George’s wonderful tracker), I thought I might take a brief minute or two to consider the heroes of 2009. At least my heroes. I tried to keep it to a small list (5) and I chose them for personal reasons, they may grate with some (and yes I kinda broke my own limit with one of them).
Dominique Raccah – The Innovator
When I saw Dominique speak at TOC Frankfurt I was blown away. She was the breath of fresh air that I had been waiting for in the industry, she is passionate, articulate and insanely clever. She grasped the challenge of publishing in the present age brilliantly and has responded in kind. Her discussion of the publishing continuum has revolutionised my thinking on digital offerings and content and her passion for her company and its future is manifest and heartening. She is at the core of the discussion about how to respond to the challenge of digital content from the publishers perspective and I think she has the answers. She is a hero for 2010, and I suspect for many years to come too.
Mike Cane – The Writer’s Advocate and Alarm Bell
Cane provides solid analysis (caked as it can sometimes be in vitriolic hyperbole). His vision is not even remotely tainted by the fact that it comes solidly from a writers perspective, in fact in many ways that is his strength. Too much for some, he is never shy with his opinion but willing to respond when challenged and corrected.
The Quartet – The Try-ers
They briefly excited the online e-vangelist echo chamber with their hopes and ambitions for a digital only press. They failed. Trying something big and scary and failing publicly can be disheartening, dispiriting and depressing. But the Quartet have dusted themselves off and moved on with a speed and alacrity that is impressive.
James Bridle – The Inventor
James continues to amaze with the work he produces and the ideas he brings to fruition. I heartily recommend following him if only for the sense of wonder you have when you read about his latest project or the awe you feel when looking at the pictures he produces of them.
Jose Afonso Furtado – The Source
A seeming unstinting dedication to reading and linking out to the best stories online in the media, publishing and book sphere, is Jose’ great strength. If you follow his twitter deed you will be connected and in the loop on just about all the trends you might need to monitor.
It’s not a long list, but I think it’s a good one!
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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
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.
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!