Thursday, June 12, 2008

Part Three

The Current State of Publishing and Bookselling, Part 3

Continuing my overview of what has happened in recent months.


Ebooks are as much a part of the publishing scene these days as paper books. Most genre publishers offer the ebook version at the same time as the paper book, and backlist is being converted to ebooks at an incredible rate.

Ebooks continue to be the primary route of distribution for smaller publishers.

Most of the major book distributors have their own ebook distribution system, and Amazon is using its ebook reader, the Kindle, to make it as much a leader in ebook distribution as paper book distribution.

Ebooks are the primary growth area right now for most publishers, but the so-called "tipping point" in their popularity hasn't been reached according to most pundits.


Used book sales are a profit hemorrhage in the publishing industry.

The publisher and the author make nothing on used books so the industry is being starved by used book sales. This is a particular hardship for authors who don't have as diversified a number of titles as the publisher does.

This means that the author makes little money, the publisher loses sales on that author, and the author is less likely to sell another book to that publisher.

In other words, the big publisher and name authors with lots of backlist like Nora Roberts are hurt by used book sales, but the smaller authors and small publishers can be killed because they lose more than they gain.

Publishing is like investing, the more diversified you are, the better the chance for survival and profit.

The Internet has made used books an even greater problem because so many books can be found used.

The old belief that a buyer will choose new after discovering a new author through a used book is less true because it is so easy to find a used book within hours or less of the book hitting the physical shelves. Some books, courtesy of book clubs and advanced review copies, can be found used weeks or months before they hit the shelves.

Tomorrow, I'll continue my overview by talking about Amazon's less than stellar behavior toward authors and publishers.


The Dan Ward said...

Interesting comments about used book stores. I think it's the same thing with libraries, right? They let multiple people read a book that only gets purchased once. And I suspect "used eBooks" are even worse, because I can share a digital book without giving up my own copy.

But at the same time, I think used book stores (and libraries) don't necessarily hurt the author as much as it might seem, particularly in a digital age where it's easier to track the sales & borrow'ings.

If there's a big (used) market for a particular author, that could (theoretically) translate to greater name recognition, and a bigger audience for the "live readings and t-shirts" they're talking about on Nathan's blog. But that only works if the author is willing to put in the effort - and getting paid for expending effort is how it's supposed to work, right?

And there's always the old "write the kind of book people will want to keep and re-read" approach. If we're writing disposable, read-it-once-then-sell-it kinds of books, it shouldn't be a big surprise that fabulous wealth doesn't follow.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Thanks again, Dan.

In America, authors have to accept that they will see no profit from library book rentals, but in other countries, authors are compensated by fees. My Canadian friends receive a nice chunk of change every year because of those fees.

The economic factors of used books are many. The primary factors are

How many people who buy used would have bought new otherwise?

How many people who buy a new author used buy that author new afterwards?

I've never seen any survey that answers those questions.

From my viewpoint, the sheer number of used books now available for instant buying because of the Internet, the Amazon offer to buy used with the new book, and the higher cost of books in a poor economy all make it more likely that a book buyer would choose used over new in most cases.

Add to that a publishing industry that is already weak from many other factors, and used books hurt.

For the publisher, it's not about how many people actually read the book, how many awards were won, or how great the reviews were. The only thing they care about are the number of new books sold and the money they will make.

The author appearances to make money is a real joke for anyone who pays attention to the real world of authors.

Even name authors who aren't celebrities in some other field have trouble drawing in people to free booksignings.

Heck, Donald Trump had to pay a bunch of people to show up at one of his signings.

Most bookstores do very few readings and signings, and those often have the financial backing of a publisher for the event.

That's what the real world is like, and some folks believe authors can make money at events? Talk about imagination!