Well, it's a new year and things have certainly gotten interesting quickly. Of course, for some that means interesting in the proverbial sense of the word. So, let's start with the elephant in the room and go from there.
The elephant this time is Borders. Or perhaps I should say the elephant is still Borders. The troubled bookstore chain started the New Year by laying off a number of high ranking executives. Then came the news that they had “stopped writing checks to key suppliers”. Going hand in hand with the latter was news that they were going to ask these same suppliers to push back payment dates for stock already on hand. What you have to remember is that these "suppliers" are the publishers. Publishers who are already feeling the pinch of fewer sales, the declining economy and such. Publishers who will be pushed by Barnes & Noble and other booksellers to extend the same concessions to them that they offer to Borders. Am I the only one who sees what a disaster this will be for all parties involved?
In related news, word of the probable implosion of Borders caused Credit Suisse to upgrade Barnes & Noble shares. In explaining this move, Gary Batler explained that B&N would benefit if Borders winds up closing all its stores. The increased sales for B&N should this occur is estimated to be 18% of Borders's sales. In the same article, it noted that since the introduction of B&N's ebook store, they have secured approximately 17 - 20% of that market, a much larger share than Borders which has no dedicated e-book reader coupled with a very late entry into the e-book market.
On the e-book front, USA Today reported that in the week after the holidays, e-books came out on top of print books. "E-book versions of the top six books outsold the print versions last week. And of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales. It's the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print."
Does this mean we're at that tipping point yet? Possibly. If not, we are so close it wouldn't surprise me to see it happen soon.
Finally, a report has come out noting that students still prefer hard copy textbooks over digital versions. (Scroll down to Notes: Students Like Printed Text Books). Remembering my own student days back in the Dark Ages, I can understand. There is still something about being able to highlight and write in the margins...or to draw descriptive pictures of a certain professor that you just don't get with most e-book readers.
So, e-books are on the increase despite all the cries from traditional publishers over the years that they would be nothing but a flash in the pan. Borders is in serious trouble and that trouble is flowing right back to the publishers -- with potentially catastrophic results for some of those publishers. Are e-books to blame? No. Or at least not in the main. Mismanagement, over-expansion and failure to understand the changing demands of their customers are all to blame. Add in a sluggish economy, people who don't read as much as they used to -- and, sorry, I don't buy the argument it's because we get all our entertainment from TV, etc. A big part of it is because stores aren't stocking books we want to read and that is because management has gone to regional or even national purchasing instead of allowing mangers to stock what they know their customers want. A larger part of the blame falls onto the heads of publishers who stumble upon a best seller and then decide that readers want only that sort of book and so they push it at us until we quit buying. How many poor clones of The Da Vinci Code were there? Worse, how many sparkly vampires and emo werewolves have we been forced to endure of late?
To combat this trend, a number of small e-presses have emerged (and, in full disclosure for those of you who don't know, I'm the senior executive editor for Naked Reader Press. But I am also a writer, so these trends are important to me on both fronts.). Authors are starting to bring their backlist out in digital format. Why? Because it is answering a need the readers have been voicing for years, a need that has been denied for any number of reasons -- not always good ones -- by traditional publishers.
Where this will end, no one really knows. But the next few months/years are going to be exciting, scary and tumultuous in the publishing industry. What do you think will happen?