Books are dying. Actually, if you believe the pundits, almost all of print is dying.
As someone who used to work in print publishing, I see many friends looking for new jobs. So, yeah, I tend to agree with the pundits on this one. Books are dying, and I am not happy about it.
As Borders closes the book on their business as booksellers, you can’t help but wonder what’s next for the entire publishing business. As an author of four books (and a fifth one coming!), I am more than just a little concerned about the untimely but not entirely surprising demise of this significant retailer.
Year after bloody year, we’ve seen sales of books slip. Even the venerable comic book industry — fueled by hit movies and collectors — cannot slow sliding print sales. (Try reading that sentence out loud.)
Amazon and Barnes & Nobles took relatively large gambles releasing the Kindle and Nook on unproven technology in a largely unproven market. They are selling more ebooks than print books (in certain categories) and more titles are moving in this inevitable direction. (My most recent book is available as an ebook on BN.com, Amazon, and even iTunes as a download.)
Based on what we’re seeing in the market place, I’d give Barnes & Nobles a 60/40 chance of surviving. In this case, 60% chance of survival because they are now the last standing super retailer. Publisher and consumers have few choices, so they are going to go to Barnes & Nobles for most of their brick and mortar purchases. And while many people are shopping online, there are still many who prefer to shop at a physical store. Here, Barnes & Nobles has a true advantage.
The Nook is also an excellent ereader that brought a sharp color screen and a snappy Android operating system at a surprisingly affordable price. BN.com will likely keep serving this market with downloadable ebooks, which will keep the online business active even if the retail stores struggle.
Amazon, I give a 110% rate of surviving. Not only do I think they will survive the print downturn, I think they will thrive with the Kindle and ebook publishing in general. Even if people don’t use their Kindle hardware, they may like using the Kindle software on iPad and Android reading devices.
Amazon is a scary good competitor with an unbelievable online selection of books and ebooks. They have incredibly competitive prices and a reseller and affiliate network that is generating big, big sales. Heck, they sell everything, so they have a pretty compelling one-stop-shop environment.
While I lament the sales of print books, I am somewhat hopeful that ebook readers will pick up the slack. It’s quite nice to read off a Kindle or Nook. Once people get used to the experience, they forget it’s digital and just enjoy the reading.
In the future, you have to wonder if kids of today will even graduate with books. My kids are already using ereader devices around the house, so books are just things that take up space. For them, the story is everything.
True “book people” will continue to buy books as long as the presses run, but eventually the print book may be a collectible or keepsake, as digital publishing becomes the primary channel of distribution.
As an author, I wonder what will become of book festivals where people come up and have you sign the inside of their book. Will I sign the back of a Kindle? (Probably not.)
No matter what happens, ebooks are changing the way we read books and the closing of Borders will change the way we buy them.