I went cross-border shopping. In all our travels, I saw one bookstore and it was an empty, boarded up Borders. In the huge (and I mean huge) shopping centres we wandered through, there was not one bookstore. Not. One. I am not celebrating the shrinkage of the paper book market. I will miss bookstores and what they were. As their bookshelves shrink to bestsellers-only and mid-list authors find no (non-virtual) place for their books, we have lost shrines to knowledge and literature. When they’re gone (or when I have to travel many miles to get to one) I will feel the same nostalgia I feel now for friendly garbage collectors and milk men who brought their products to my door when I was a child.
How many years will it be before the economics of book production don’t make any sense at all? Economies of scale will, at some point, require that all books go digital unless they are specialty items for very high-end books, hobbyists with very low-end books or novelty items. Paper books are still big, but as the gifts, candles and coffee spaces in bookstores grow and book return times shrink, anyone can see where this train is going.
I still run into people who think a mid-list author should pursue paper book deals within traditional publishing to the exclusion of the electronic marketplace. Unless an author holds his or her e-rights, though, in most cases that math won’t make sense. John Locke held on to his e-rights. Locke stuck to what he was good at and the publisher acknowledged that by making the unprecedented deal. (Joe Konrath wrote convincingly that the deal was an admission of industry failure and was, in effect, a sign of End Times for trad publishing.)
Naysayers object, “Any self-published author would jump at a traditional deal.” Uh. No, that’s not true. A traditional deal will often yield the author about a buck after a book sale. Self-publish digitally, sell for just $2.99, and you’ll get about $2.00 with each sale. For those who would jump at traditional deals, authors may well make that decision for personal, emotional reasons, not as a pure business decision. The math doesn’t change but people are variable and are welcome to their (informed) choices. Video on demand, PVR and satellite replaced Blockbuster, but movies are still getting made.
As bookstores shrink and collapse, consumers are already turning away from the old model, even when it’s available.
For instance, I’ve noticed my buying habits have changed.
Here’s my shopping habit arc:
1. I bought books in bulk. Even though I sold a bunch, my many bookshelves are still groaning under the weight of shelves packed with books in double rows.
3. If it’s a reference book, I’d still prefer to read it in paper for ease of use. I picked up a tech manual for my computer last week because I wanted instant answers.
4. If it’s fiction, it’s on my Kindle. I love that I can download so quickly and easily. It’s so easy, in fact, I don’t know when I’ll get to read all of my purchases.
5. I’ve pretty much given up on magazines because of all I can read on the web (on blogs, for instance.) There’s just as much expertise and good deal more depth in many blogs than magazines have space for.
6. Shipping: Paper books at a bookstore are more expensive. If I order them straight from Chapters or Amazon or download to the Kindle, I’m paying for the same products at a discount and the shipping is free, right to my door.
7. The local bookstore is for recon missions to find books I’ll order electronically. When our bookstores can’t afford looky-lou sessions and close, I’ll be doing that research exclusively by going through catalogues, watching for recommendations on book blogs and on sites like Goodreads. And my friends will tell me what they enjoyed. And I’ll say, “I used to get out of the house more.”
8. There will still be bookstores in the future. You’ll have to travel a long way to get to them and most of them will be specialty bookstores. The big inventory will be on the web. Just like now.
The eventual end of the common bookstore is not the end of the world.
It’s only the end of the world as we know it.
- Bookstores in Our Future? (storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com)
- Death of the bookstore, film at 11? (teleread.com)
- Physical bookstores serve as a conduit to ebooks (teleread.com)
- B&N Retaliates After Kindle Gets 4-Month Exclusive On DC Graphic Novels (paidcontent.org)
- The Disaster Bookstore (recoverydiva.com)
- Self-Published Author Shows No Signs of Slowing Down, Releases I Feel… Children’s Series (pr.com)
- The new rules of publishing (thecontentlab.icrossing.com)
- End of Bookstores?! (frootbat31.wordpress.com)