Publishing Predictions

Every time any writer speaks to a group, somebody in the audience invariably asks, “What’s going to happen with e-books? Are we seeing the end of published books?” Nobody knows the answer to that, so all we can offer is a half-way informed guess.

Even though e-books currently account for only a small fraction of book sales, we can all see that electronic readers are improving and becoming more popular. Even people who shudder at the thought of reading a book on a little screen agree that some giant tomes would be a lot easier to handle on a light-weight Kindle or Nook or iPad. Authors are debating whether to go electronic or to remain true to traditional publishing. Some, like me, are experimenting with doing both.

Plenty of books are being published and distributed the way they always have been. American book publishers shipped about 3.2 billion books in 2010. But even with all those publications going out, bookstores are in big trouble because they can’t compete with Amazon’s discounted prices. Small independents have been hurt most, and an increasing number are transforming themselves to on-line stores and offering special items like signed first editions. Chains are suffering too. Walden Books left the malls, Border’s is holding on by it’s fingernails by not paying rent or paying its vendors, and Barnes & Noble is pushing its Nook and stocking shelves with novelty items that don’t have anything to do with books.

My personal prediction is that some giant corporation will buy Border’s or Barnes & Noble and turn it into a mass-market publishing/marketing company like Germany’s Weltbild. They’ll combine electronic, online, and in-store sales, with a POD operation by which each store can run off low-cost paperbacks when their stock gets low. Small independents will specialize in nicer hard-bound books printed on good acid-free paper and charge premium prices for them. Those books will become collectors’ items and be valued as fine art. Amazon will continue to sell discounted hardbacks and trade paperbacks, but they won’t be of the fine quality that the small independents sell.

No matter what the publishing future brings, people will always read books, buy books, love books, trade books, give books, borrow books, and write books. Authors will still be underpaid, editors and agents will still be overworked, and story-obsessed kids will still read forbidden books under the covers by flashlight.

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6 thoughts on “Publishing Predictions

  1. I see a few more people reading e-books on the train, but I still prefer having a real book in my hands. I think we have enough electronic gadgets in our lives already and it seems that reading from a screen would be harder on the eyes.

    My grandson who is about to turn two loves our book reading times. He likes to turn the pages and go back and forth to his favourite spots. For example one of his books has a big elephant in the centre and he absolutely is thrilled to turn to that page to “find the elephant”.

    Sometimes I feel that we’re being bombarded by electronics everywhere. Technology certainly has a place in society but I find it invasive at times. Well I’m over 50 so I guess that’s just my generation.

  2. I think some books are read for the pleasure of the moment, and others are books we want to keep on our shelves like favorite friends we’ve invited to stay a long time. And some are sensual pleasures, like the ones with the elephant picture, that have to be touched and lingered over. I imagine we’ll soon learn which books we want for e-book pleasures of the moment and which are for putting on our shelves.

  3. I have thought about buying an e-reader but haven’t yet. There do seem to be some advantages…being able to have a digital library on hand at all times. Still, real books are my first love. There really is just something about the way books feel and smell. Plus, they never run out of batteries and we can easily lend them to others. I think there’s room in the world for both.

  4. I think you’re right, Sonia. When we’re all accustomed to the idea of books on electronic readers, we’ll probably choose the medium the way we now choose between hardback and paperback.

  5. Some of my most favorite moments are curled up next to my mom in her bed reading my Dr. Suess books as she read her novel of the moment. She died when she was 49 of cancer when her first grandson, my son was a mere 6 months old. Before she was born she had given me “love you forever” children’s books for him (and maybe me). Turning those pages even now would never be the same on an electronic reader. Some books and memories will always be found between two pieces of paper with inked print and occasionally an illustration. Strange how when you find an old book with a person’s notes penned in the margins, inside the front cover, etc it can reach into your heart and soul that someone else touched this book.

    I am glad you can share your books with electronic means, even if it’s not always in “your name”, but please don’t ever give up on paper and ink. I love to pull a good book off a shelf and either share it or enjoy it myself.

    • A recent survey of writers found that while the majority approved of the idea of e-books being published, they never read them. I have old books that my children scribbled in that I treasure. I doubt that e-books will ever have emotional tugs for readers.

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