We’re in the middle of a publishing revolution, and people are behaving the same way they do when any great upheaval takes place. Some are jumping onboard enthusiastically. Some shake their heads and predict it will blow over and everything will return to “normal” – meaning, in this case, that traditionally published books will reign supreme. Others stand on the sidelines, having decided to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Those who deny what’s happening remind me of people who swore 30 years ago that they would never own a computer. Typewriters would never disappear. Yeah, right. Just like printed books and the stores that sell them will never disappear.
A few recent bits of news in the publishing/bookselling world:
In September, bookstore sales were down 7.7%, making it the worst month of 2010, while e-book sales rose by 158%. In the first nine months of 2010, e-book sales rose 190% over the same period last year.
The small independent chain Joseph-Beth Booksellers filed for bankruptcy protection and announced it will close four of its eight stores by the end of the year.
Barnes and Noble plans to close six to 10 stores annually for the next three years. Meanwhile, Borders continues its slow slide toward near-certain death.
I have to wonder where the optimists get their certainty that traditionally printed books and brick-and-mortar bookstores will survive. Those of us who buy and read books are a distinct minority of the population. If a million people watch one episode of a TV show on a major network, the show is an instant flop and gets yanked off the air. If a million people buy copies of a book, it’s a gigantic runaway bestseller. Relatively few authors sell well enough to support themselves with their writing. The vast majority sell fewer than 5,000 copies of each book. Books are not an important part of most people’s lives. They get their entertainment elsewhere. And people who do buy books are increasingly resistant to high cover prices.
Some in the publishing industry predict that e-books will make up 25% of all book sales within two or three years. (The current figure is around 10%.) What will the e-book share of the market be in 10 years? Fifteen years? Will print books be the expensive exception by then – collectors’ items?
The revolution is here. It’s happening. It’s not going away or slowing down. Why are so many people, even those who own Kindles and no longer buy print books, acting as if nothing much has changed or will change?
I have a million questions about the future. I’d like to hear more people talking about these issues, even if we can’t predict the answers with any certainty.
Will big publishers transform themselves into e-publishers just to stay alive?
With fewer print books being produced and sold, what will happen to bookstores? The indies have been dying left and right for years. Most people have already written off Borders. Can Barnes and Noble change enough to stay in business?
When will writers’ organizations, some of which currently have strict definitions of what “published” means, realize they have to adjust their criteria?
When will conferences start giving equal space on the program to e-published writers?
What will the “book room” at the typical conference look like in 10 or 15 years? Will it consist of lines of kiosks where conference-goers can purchase POD copies of books or instantly download digital books to their readers? Will signing times for authors be eliminated when they no longer have print books to sign?
How do YOU see the future for the small minority of the human population that loves books? What will the book world look like after the revolution?