WHERE IS PUBLISHING GOING …

There has been a lot of discussion recently about where our industry is heading. Joe Konrath, Robin Sullivan, Michael A. Stackpole and others have talked intelligently and at length about the various possibilities.

On the other side of the coin there has been an almost desperately regular batch of counter arguments from the ‘New York’ set and other previously mainstream types trying to downplay the current trends and obvious conclusions that stem from them. For the purposes of this piece I’m ignoring the naysayer’s efforts as they are ultimately and deliberately, I suspect, diversionary tactics.

I would like to lob my two cents worth into the blogpond and see what ripples result. My areas of concern are bookstores and libraries.

BOOKSTORES

I desperately want bookstores to survive.  I’ve spent too much of my life browsing their shelves, losing myself in the smell of paper and plot summaries.

Unfortunately, I think I may be disappointed and there will be a cataclysmic shift in the next few years as the publisher/distributor model collapses and the ereader uptake reaches saturation point. Paper books will become boutique. And bookstores will contract to what we currently perceive as the extremes i.e. the bigbox department and the fiercely independent.

But these will not be the bookstores we currently know. Both extremes will tend towards the same business model.

Bookstores will;

-       still have shelves but they will be display only or very, very limited stock. The power of browsing should not be underestimated and booksellers abandon it at their own risk.

-       be portals to the digital world. They will attempt with varying degrees of success to take over the gatekeeper role subsumed currently by publishers et al. For big box operations this is likely to be linked to a POD setup that would allow customers to select their book from either the shelf or screen display and have it made then and there. For the independent operator who can’t afford POD the stage managing of the digital browsing process will be essential as they will have to charge a fee for the service. This type of setup is easily sidestepped by the consumer but I believe the low cost of ebooks will make it unattractive.  Combined with greater in-store promotion and bookclub type activities this could establish the independents as community focus points in ways that they only rarely take advantage of presently.

As an example let me propose the following scenario;

You’ve devoured everything you can find from your favourite author/s in the true crime genre but are hesitant about trying new ones or some of the foreign translations because of mixed reviews. The next time you’re at the mall you drop in to your ‘local’- the little hole-in-the-wall bookstore just down the road from the carpark in the lower rent area and have a chat with the strange little man there who just seems to know every obscure website on earth and can get you free samples for the that crazy Kindle thingy the grandkids bought you last Christmas. So, you ‘discover’ Barry Maitland and Henning Mankell’s back catalogues and go back to the bookstore and buy everything they ever wrote. And you’re happy to pay the bookstore $1- per book for the privilege because they only costing you $3-4 each anyway.

Similarly for obscure back catalogue books in sub-genres that some of us have never heard of. I would pay a premium for digital copies of E.C.Tubb’s Dumarest saga if I could get all 33 of them in one go. In a few years I might but I doubt that I’ll find them on Amazon.

LIBRARIES

This is a tougher nut to crack.

I think they’re doomed.

Because libraries are publicly funded it will become impossible to get stock either because availability evaporates or because physical books become too expensive. Library lending of digital books is undercut by ebook pricing – it is just too easy to sample and/or buy.

The exception to this – a way out - might be that libraries specialise in those books that ebooks struggle with i.e graphics heavy non-fiction. Although even this seems to be less a possibility with the current advances made by the Nook with textbooks.

The community portal option similar to independent bookstores may also offer some opportunities that if expanded could generate income and help libraries survive.

All a bit depressing really and only my best guesses at this time. The next few years are certainly going to be interesting.

iDM

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