I think I’ve answered the single most important question about reading with the only truly relevant answer: I read books in English. (Add or substitute any language you know as needed.) It matters not if its on a reader or paper. Seriously, it’s truly irrelevant. I pick one over the other for totally random reasons. Availability, price, mostly whim. I still buy more print books than ebooks because ebooks feed the impulse buy reflex a little too readily. That’s fine for music, where songs sell for a dollar, and Apple, Amazon, et. al. have sufficiently spanked enough overpaid, overfed, overdrugged record company executives to keep that model in place.
But a lot of questions have come up that raise questions about the future of publishing. Patti Abbott wonders what the impact of ereaders will be on book stores will be. Do ereaders make reading more sterile? What happens when people decide they can pull books out of the ether instead of driving to a bookstore?
I do have to concede that this is not going to be a good time for bookstores, particularly independent stores. When I published a novel in the mid-2000’s, I enjoyed going to places like Black Orchid in Manhattan and Foul Play in Columbus. I still try to meet authors I know at Joseph-Beth here in Cincinnati. But here’s the unpopular and brutally hard fact no one seems to want to admit: Readers are buyers, and they buy where it’s least difficult for them. While I try to patronize indie shops when I can, let’s be honest. Joseph-Beth is the only indie in Cincinnati, and the idea that I should drive up to Dayton or Columbus to buy books is, frankly, absurd. I don’t believe bookstores will be extinct, but while we are in a recession, bookstores are in a depression. So what’s the future?
Let me get back to that.
First, let’s look at what’s driving this. JA Konrath has embraced the electronic model wholeheartedly to the point where he believes print is dead. “But these protests and professions of love,” he writes of those saying print is not dead, “apparently aren’t being followed up with ACTUALLY BUYING PRINT BOOKS. All these folks are complaining and insisting that print will be around forever, yet I’ve read from several sources that ebooks are currently 8.5% of the total book market.”
I generally disagree with Joe on print’s impending demise, mainly because he sees ebooks as a replacement for physical books, where as I see them as just another format. But he does make a salient point. People are buying less and less print these days. I don’t blame the Kindle. I blame the publishers. They still insist they can make people buy ebooks for more than $9.99, failing to grasp “wedowannapaythat.” This is an industry that charges $35 for a hardcover and wonders why no one’s buying. For that money, I can take my family to a matinee, buy them dinner, rent three or four movies on demand, or buy three or more ebooks. You do the math.
Getting back to bookstores and print. Are they dead? No, because people are still buying. We stubborn consumers just refuse to conform to the Big Six’s idiotic blockbuster mentality. Even James Patterson, who very much fits and profits nicely from the blockbuster model, knows this.
In the end, it won’t be major publishers doing print. Some will survive, but it’ll be an afterthought. Print, like audio, foreign, and film rights, will become subsidiary rights to electronic. In the meantime, places like Tyrus and Subterranean will come to rule print. These are niche publishers. They know their audiences and aren’t wrapped up in publicizing the next oversized advance. And in the end, people like Tyrus’s Ben LeRoy really don’t care if they ever get huge. They’re happy putting out books they can be proud of. When this model of print publishing settles in for the long haul, bookstores will rebound. There will be fewer of them, but they’ll still exist.
Bottom line, we’re living in a time of change. Change, if you haven’t been paying attention over however long your life has been, happens whether you want it or not. You can only adapt.