December 26, 2011
I just read an interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times — “Publishers vs Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War” — in Sunday Business, Digital Domain by Randall Stross. Interesting, depressing and thought-provoking — all at once, and on many levels. Not the least of which is, I’m writing a book, so the issue this article is confronting is bound to have a direct impact on me.
This story deals mainly with the fact that book publishers are now being forced to compete not just with e-books in general, but with the e-book sections of public libraries.
Not good news when, as Mr. Stross points out in his column, “Last year, Christmas was the biggest single day for e-book sales by HarperCollins. And indications are that this year’s Christmas Day total will be even higher, given the extremely strong sales of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. Amazon announced on December 15 that it had sold one million of its Kindles in each of the three previous weeks.” But, as he goes on to say, “We can also guess that the number of visitors to the e-book sections of public libraries’ websites is about to set a record, too. And that is a source of great worry for publishers.”
As if publishers didn’t already have enough to worry about. In David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital, his latest entry “Publishers Desperately Trying to Protect Print Sales, And Failing” shows the most recent revenue numbers as reported by the American Association of Publishers and they’re not good. In fact, overall revenue is down significantly in print books but there are dramatic increases in e-book market share.
What’s this got to do with me?
Well, for a first time author, it’s already difficult enough to get a book published (even if you’re already a professional writer, as I am). Unless you’re an established writer whose books are in great demand, or a celebrity, agents and publishers are loath to take a chance on you for one, simple reason. They can’t afford to. Not any more. It’s as simple as that.
It’s tougher and tougher to actually sell them. Book retailers are closing down one after another. Go into any Indigo store and look at the amount of books that are on the “price reduced” tables. There have been several interviews with Heather Reisman (Indigo founder and CEO) in Canadian newspapers lately. Her future plans do not include the buying and selling of more books. She’s now including more and more articles ‘related’ to reading like lamps, shawls, tea, cookies and even the odd piece of furniture.
What we’re dealing with here, is a vicious circle. Because it’s harder to get published more and more writers are self-publishing. Which only hurts the publishing industry more. Which will, in turn, make it even more difficult to get published. And round and round and round it goes.
And eventually those of us who love to write (and try to earn our living from it) may very well find ourselves with increasingly limited options and opportunities to sell and share our stories. And those of us who love to read may very well find ourselves with fewer and fewer choices — especially if the publishers and libraries can’t come to terms — and, for that matter if the publishing industry can’t find a way to become more profitable in the face of all the e-competition and the economy in general — books, unfortunately are a discretionary spend — when you’re worried about the mortgage and putting food on the table books are a luxury many people can no longer justify or afford.
Which brings us right back to the problem identified in this New York Times article — because now publishers are threatening to limit, if not entirely block, libraries from having access to their e-books. So much for the general population reading (and tempted as I am to speak about Toronto’s own special nightmare, Mayor Rob Ford and his view of libraries), it’s Christmas and I’ll spare you.
So I’m smack, dab in the middle of this stinking mess because I love to do both. And my desire to have access to books wherever and however I want them, and for as little money as possible is the very thing that is making it more and more challenging for me, the author.
This is not an easy problem to solve. But there is an awful lot at stake — and I am not referring to authors’ royalties and an industry’s revenue potential. Books take us to places we’ll never otherwise see … they introduce us to people and ideas we’ll otherwise never be exposed to … they teach us things we’d never have the time or the opportunity to learn in school, in business or even in life. They help us, inspire us, thrill us, make us laugh and cry. And, lest we forget, they teach us to read. Literacy is at stake here.
If ever there was an opportunity to be innovative, this is it!
Filed under writing.
Tags: Amazon, American Association of Publishers, authors, book publishing, David Gaughran, e-books, HarperCollins, Heather Reisman, Indigo Books, libraries, New York Times, Randall Stross, self-publishing, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford