Saturday, June 14, 2008

Part Five

The Current State of Publishing and Bookselling, Part 5


For authors, in the short term, all the news is bad unless you are already a "name" author. Midlist paper books are disappearing in bookstores and box stores.

According to my writing friends, a novel at Walmart accounted for almost thirty percent of all their books sold. Now, their books aren't available there. Their publishers are also losing out on those extra sales.

With bookstores also taking fewer titles in a publisher's line each month, some titles are available nowhere but a few independent booksellers and online.

If already established bestselling authors are the only ones sold at the major venues, where and how can an author build an audience big enough to join this exclusive club?

With most of the time and expense of promotion falling on the author's shoulders, how will the author manage financially? How will the author be able to produce the number of books needed yearly to grow their audience?

For publishers, if they can't find many places to sell that month's entire line of books, what can they do?

Do they drop most of their authors and only print "names?"

Where do they grow their talent to add to that list of names?

Do they start a farm system similar to major league baseball where new authors rise up through the ranks via ebooks?

Do they only recruit authors already building a name with small publishers?

I imagine we'll see a number of different "solutions" to these questions as authors and publishers try to survive this new hostile environment to selling books.


Any solution to this problem depends on what the readers will do.

Will readers be willing to only buy the name authors they see at Walmart and other places where they usually shop, or will they start depending on physical bookstores?

Will they be willing to buy online?

If they can't get paper books, will they move to ebooks?

If history is any indication, a majority will stop buying paper books. When science fiction disappeared from those dimestore racks years ago, the market plummeted, and the market has been rebuilding ever since.

On the other hand, when readers discovered erotica which was almost exclusively available as ebooks, the market expanded to the point that publishers like Ellora's Cave became multimillion dollar companies, and authors made money envied by their paper-published contemporaries.

Readers of erotica and romance are voracious readers, though, and smaller markets like science fiction haven't had the same online success even proportional to the number of readers of paper books.

Those of us who love to read and write can hope others will follow us online and into digital format, and I imagine some will, but will the numbers be enough to support the publishers and the authors?

No one can guess.


In Part Six of this series, I'll discuss the role of epublishing in publishing.

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