Monday, February 13, 2012
The future of bookselling? Bookman Beattie ponders this and what it may mean for authors.
This story was first published in the February/March issue of NZ Author
The Economist reported recently on the problems of Kodak suggesting it was the Google of its day. In 1976 they accounted for 90% of film and 85% of camera sales in America. Then came digital photography to replace film and smart phones to replace cameras. The rest as they say is history.
Is there a warning in here for publishers and booksellers? And what about authors? I am just back from almost a month in New York. While I was there Amazon announced they had sold a million Kindles every week in December. The Nook and Kobo also reported huge sales, well above expectation and in all cases more than 40% above sales the previous year. In the UK it was suggested that one in 40 Brits were given an e-reader for Christmas.
In New York I was one of many millions each day who used the city’s astonishing subway system to travel about. My informal & unscientific survey taken on 48 subway rides suggested that twice as many commuters were reading e-books as opposed to those reading print books. Admittedly e-books are especially convenient when travelling. Sales figures of print books declined some 10% in the US last year but that figure was more than offset by the rise in e-book sales. Most of the growth is in the fiction area.
So for authors at this stage it would seem that the digital revolution is having a positive impact in terms of sales. It is not yet entirely clear how it is impacting their incomes although early reports suggest that with higher royalties on the lower priced e-books the impact may largely be neutral or even positive.
I do worry though about publishers and booksellers, especially booksellers. I believe the bookshop as we know it today will go the way of Koday and the blacksmith and that by 2050 there will only be a handful of them left in New Zealand. The most effective of those indie booksellers that we know and love should survive if they continue to adapt and provide specialist book information services and advice but chains like Whitcoulls in New Zealand, Barnes & Noble in the US, and WH Smith in the UK will have vanished without a trace.
The challenge for traditional book publishers will also be one of adaption to new technologies. Author self-publishing and upstart newcomer publishers like Amazon are clearly already having a significant impact and I fear the days of some of our venerable older publishing houses are numbered.
For the author my advice is if you have an agent make sure he/she is keeping up to speed on all the digital changes going on and if you don’t have an agent then make sure you are keeping yourself well informed. I scour the world media everyday for stories on changes in the book world and provide links to these stories on my blog. That is a good starting point.