Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where Do Bookstores Fit in an Electronic World?

Lately, it seems that barely a day can go by without some sort of electronic book news making headlines. Part of me is happy about this: where there’s discussions about books, you generally don’t have to look very far to find people reading, and that’s always a good thing. But in the sea of decision-making that accompanies the sudden rush to go electronic, certain aspects of the process are being overlooked. The most recent chunk of e-book news touches on this gently.

Yesterday’s e-book headline was that legal thriller meister John Grisham had announced that he’s had a change of heart about his original anti-e-book stance. Knopf Doubleday said Tuesday that they would be releasing Grisham’s backlist in e-book form. From The New York Times:
According to Random House, his books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. Mr. Grisham had previously hesitated to release his books in e-book form because of concerns about piracy, pricing and the effect of digital editions on physical bookstores.
I can’t help but think that, in his initial assessment, Grisham had it right. What does happen to physical bookstores in an electronic world? Because, let’s face it, all this e-book stuff? We’re going to get it right eventually. The electronic readers will be seamless and easy to operate, everything anyone wants to read will be available in that form and all the concerns some people currently have about privacy and piracy will either be overcome or swallowed down. What I’m saying: with electronic books, it’s no longer a question of “if.” Only a matter of “when” and “how.”

But what about bookstores? Where do they fit? And what are publishers and authors doing to make sure that the lifeblood of the publishing industry doesn’t get cut off?

And it’s do-able: sure it is. It’s not an easy piece, but it’s a possible one. It’s a huge step: re-imagining some of the very foundations that contemporary publishing are built on. International rights deals, for instance. Already on shaky ground in an electronic world, if publishers do make it possible for independent bookstores to sell electronic books, who gets to sell what and to whom?

While right now there are obstacles preventing most small booksellers from getting into the e-book market, one of the things I’ve heard whispered about are value-added deals that would allow physical bookstores to sell an electronic version of a book with a hardcover. That would make a lot of sense: if, for instance, the only place you could get an e-book version with a hardcover was your local indie, suddenly maybe it’s worth the trip. The problem is, it just isn’t as simple as it sounds especially since, at present, publishers are so concerned about how electronic books are going to impact their own bottom lines, they don't seem to be offering even lip service to their old partners, the indie booksellers.

Here’s the thing, though: somebody has to do something for the indies, and fast. If we don’t look after them now, we’ll be crying at their memory. Nobody wants that.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Lord Bodak said...

The lack of book + ebook bundles is a huge missed marketing opportunity to me. I love books, and I want to have actual printed books. But, I see the benefit in having an ebook reader. Bundles would give the best of both worlds-- I could have my "real books" but have the convenience of an ebook reader for travel, etc.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 10:54:00 AM PDT  
Blogger michael said...

Remember rushing to the local Video/DVD rental store? Remember spending a day at your local music store? If you do, I bet you miss it.

Yet. Blockbuster vs Netflix. Tower Records vs iTunes. Barnes & Noble store vs Barnes & Noble Nook.

Two of the meanest heartless things in the Universe are Mother Nature and the capitalist system. Barnes & Noble understands as it has announced it will shift some of their focus away from their bookstores and to the Nook. Hopefully they have not waited too long as did Tower and Blockbuster.

Only one person can save the local bookstore, the customer. Readers, look around your city or area. How many bookstores survive? Don't blame the publishers that the customer has turned to the online bookstore.

As someone who has worked at a Video Rental Store and Tower Records I feel the pain of the bookstore employee and owners. During Tower's last days it was taken over by its creditors. Basically the music labels kept Tower open because they need a music store outlet for their music. It did not change Tower's fate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:11:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Loranne Brown said...

In the interest of making use of available time, I've been known to read a single book on three platforms-- print, audio, and ebook.

Yea, while I will never give up print, my iPod Touch is with me always. I listen to audio books in the car, around the house, around the block. I have several ebook apps, so useful when I'm stuck somewhere without a book and earbuds would be anti-social.

I would certainly buy books bundled with ebooks. Bring 'em on.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:17:00 AM PDT  
Blogger michael said...

Actually, Barnes & Noble is considering selling books bundled with the e-book. Price and publisher approval seem to be of early concern. So it won't save the indie bookstore from B&N. Here is a feel good fact, Barnes & Noble bookstores have only 18% of the retail book market and don't see it increasing much.

Also, there is no reason Amazon could not bundle as well.

Finally, while I may sound like a B&N fan, I own a Kindle.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 2:11:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Sue Bursztynski said...

As a writer, I have always been warned to be careful about electronic rights. See, with the print versions you sign a contract for a certain time. When the book goes out of print, you usually get the rights back and maybe you can do something else with it. Technically, when they're on e-book, they are never going to go out of print. They don't have to be kept in warehouses, they don't get returned by book stores, they don't go remaindered. All those things are depressing for the writer, but at least you have your rights back. Contracts will have to be changed to reflect this new style of book-selling.

Meanwhile, as a librarian and avid reader, I prefer my real books, though I can see a reader would come in handy for travel. There's something about a beautiful new book that is good for the soul. And I love to browse in book shops and small indies have experts who can promote and encourage reading and match book to reader. You can't do that on-line.

Friday, March 19, 2010 at 8:44:00 PM PDT  

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