Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Buckle Up!!

Publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin wrote a post recently that was dash of smelling salts by way of a sledgehammer.

The post's title says it all: "Where Will Bookstores Be Five Years From Now?"

If you take Shatzkin's premise that e-books will comprise 50% of the book market in five years (which is current conventional wisdom in the industry; Shatzkin actually thinks that's conservative), he estimates that brick and mortar stores' share of the marketplace will likely plummet from approximately 72% of the market today to 25% in five years. (The other 25% in the print market will be made up of print sales via online booksellers.)

72% to 25%. Five years. Yowza.

These last few years have been incredibly tumultuous for the industry. The recession and the Great Digital Transition combined forces to wallop the industry, and the effects are everywhere: shrinking lists, closing imprints, shuttering indie stores, a vanishing mid-list, and belt-tightening across the board.

Things changed a lot in a short period of time. And it's still quite possible that these last few years were a relative walk in the park compared to what's to come.

If 75% to 25% transpires it will have huge implications for the way books are planned, marketed, acquired, published, and discovered. Everything from the seasonal publishing calendar to print runs to marketing campaigns will be in for reevaluation.

And yet...

As I've said before, people are still buying and reading books. The ease of access afforded by e-books might even mean they'll buy more when they can download a book at home rather than planning a trip to the bookstore. To be sure, there is lots still to be worked out on the author side, including paltry royalties and more reliance on authors for platforms and buzz-making.

But the challenges the industry is facing are on the distribution side of things -- it's literally a massive shift in how text gets from author to reader (and how reader discovers author). Anyone who is part of the paper side of things is going to feel the squeeze.

Still, even as seemingly everything changes, there's a lot that will remain the same. Authors will still write books, publishers will still be the go-to place to put a book together and market it, there will be self-publishing for those who want to go it alone, and readers will have still more choice and ease of access. E-readers are steadily getting more affordable ($99 Sony Readers sold out in the blink of an eye) and contrary to the doomsayers, e-books are not an existential threat to the world of literature. Words are words are words are words no matter how you read them (you're reading pixels now, ain't ya?)

It's certainly a wild ride, but it's a roller coaster, not a death spiral.


Deb said...

That's it! I will only give (printed) books as gifts for birthdays, Hannukah, mother's day, anniversaries, etc. ... that and donations to charities. (sigh)

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

I looked up the other day and realized I hadn't set foot in a physical bookstore in two, maybe three years.

And yet I'm reading more than ever.

In fact, I READ ON MY IPHONE. I feel like some hip Japanese teenager, but the device disappears in your hand and it's just one less thing to remember to bring on the train.

I agree it's going to be a rocky couple of years for the book industry and my heart goes out to everyone who must adjust to this shift.

Erika Robuck said...

Thank you for your optimistic perspective. This is why I love your blog.

Felicity said...

If any of this is based on my own book buying habits, sales of books in general will definitely go up. Impulse buys are WAY up for me. With iBooks and Kindle apps on my iPad, it is just too easy to click and add. I think we've picked up at least three new titles in the last week - that's a crazy lot more than we usually bought from traditional bookstores in the same time period.

Johnaskins said...

Why paltry royalties?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm strange! I love the book store. I got at least once a month and do a shopping spree. I sometimes go once a week. And I HATE e-books. Don't get me wrong, I've read a free novella or two posted online, but I hate trying to read a whole book on a computer screen. Maybe, I'm nostalgic. I like the glow of my desk lamp, the warmth of my bed and the feel of the pages between my fingers.

Claire Robyns said...

Interesting post. Everyone one I know who is still on the fence about e-readers have one major concern - they're afraid their impulse buying is going to get out of hand. So, yes, digital brings purchase point to your finger tips and that means more readers, not less

Anonymous said...

*got* in the first line should be "go." My apologies.

Lia Victoria said...

I was so skeptical of all things e-book related until I found your blog about a year ago. I've started talking about your posts to my mom, and I think she's slowly beginning to see the tide is changing.

1) Monkeys will rule the writersphere in a matter of years - nay - months.
2) Instead of a B&N gift card this year, I might get $50 toward purchasing an e-reader.

See? Progress. :]

jtb said...

i still have a perhaps deluded hunch that books will be better produced as a result of the changes, more collectible, better printed and designed and will still be used to line our shelves, decoratively maybe, and as more interesting gifts - look @ Penguins clothbound classics for a start

interesting, as always

Kate Larkindale said...

I must be old fashioned. I still love paper books. The way the spine cracks when you open a new book for the first time, the smell of paper and ink. You just don't get that with an e-reader. Plus, my favourite place to read is the bath, and I don't think an e-reader will survive a dunk as well as a paper book....

Anonymous said...

Well said, although I must say that the roller coaster and reading tech revolution has me agonizing over the direction I want to take when I finish my manuscript.

I can self publish both in print and in ebook format easily enough. My only problem with that is marketing. To market myself, I must be social. I must be connected. I must be personable and a character that people want to engage online. In other words, I must fight to be heard above the din of every other blogger, forum poster, tweeter and facebooker out there. True?

What if I'm a great writer and storyteller, but an anti-social SOB (think Salinger)?

Do I need to suck it up and learn how to be social and an e-lebrity?

Would I need to behave similarly if I were being published through traditional means, or does being represented by an agent and a publisher mean that most of the marketing role lies with them?

Honestly, I do wonder how much the tech revolution is changing the marketing landscape for authors.

Tahereh said...

just one of the many reasons why i love your blog. your perennial optimism is like a life raft.


Marilyn Peake said...

Technology has increased at an astounding rate in the last decade alone, and shows no sign of slowing down. Our world and how we read books will most likely be vastly different even a few decades from now. It’s great fun to write futuristic sci fi, as I did with my latest novel, because the writer can extrapolate from current events and guess what’s coming down the technological highway. Catching up on some Twitter tweets today, I discovered the following futuristic events already underway:

Body as Battery


Skydiver to jump from edge of space


First NASA Astronaut To Send Live Tweet From Space Hosts Tweetup In The Nation’s Capitol

Joseph L. Selby said...

I love how X in "In X years, ebooks will have a majority market share" keeps getting smaller. It was twenty, then ten, and now five. Change is a coming! Wheeeeeeeeee!

StaceyW said...

Your. Blog. Is. Awesome.

I came across it fairly recently, and I'm totally addicted. I'm in the spot I'm sure a lot of your followers are in: polishing my manuscript until it shines while learning as much as I can as fast as I can about the publishing industry.

Your blog has such a great balance of info on the industry, insight on how to break in as a writer, and advice on craft. (Your comments the other day on showing vs. telling were so timely for me.)

This comment doesn't have much to do with e-books and the emerging digital age, but it just inspired me to say THANKS!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I was scared at the beginning of this post (as someone who will be looking to debut somewhere in the middle of all this craziness) but reassured by the end. Thank you.

@Anonymous: Even traditional publishers are expecting more from their authors in terms of self-marketing, so you will probably have to learn to engage with the online community. I don't think that means you have to be sunny and personable to get noticed; a great many people get noticed for being snarky or having something interesting or timely to say, even if it's critical or pointed, etc. If it reassures you, I'm a bit scared too about trying to stand out from the masses. Very few of us will get the type of marketing dollars that went into Twilight or The Da Vinci Code.

Kerrie said...

Well said and I am ready to strap myself in for the ride--it should be a good one.

Jaimie said...

I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be better for EVERYONE involved. Publishers, writers, agents, readers. The publishers might take a hit in profits, but again, I think that will be better for everyone involved.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Brilliant, as usual! Thanks for your words of wisdom on this!

Anonymous said...

I bought my LAST books from Barnes and Noble a month ago. I have, historically, typically bought $40-70. worth of books every time I have gone in that bookstore, even if it is twice a week.

A month ago, in two purchases, i bought about ten books. Four of them were gifts. It turned out that the person I bought the gifts for already had three of the books, so I wanted to return them for a trade for other books. They were obviously unread in top condition.

Barnes and Noble COULD look up my transactions (via checks) but because I had misplaced my receipts and because I have not renewed a book discount membership (that costs $25.00 a year), they will not allow me even a store credit.

Tsk-tsk. Poor customer service.

(As a comparison: My husband and I recently bought a new coffee maker at Linens and Things. A part broke three months later and the store just replaced the whole coffee maker, no questions, no receipt.)

I went directly to the one remaining independent bookstore in our town and bought my next purchases there.

I may browse again at B & N, but they have lost my business.

Mira said...

Love the title, the picture in this post (!) and the phrase: 'smelling salts by way of a sledgehammer.' Awesome. :)

Like many posters, I love your optimistic and balanced perspective. Change will come, but it doesn't have to be a living nightmare. There is opportunity and potential for positive growth here, too.

Like Locusts and Wild Honey, I'm reading on my I-phone. I just got the Kindle app., and I feel like a kid in a candy store. I love reading on my phone. It fits in my pocket, and I take it everywhere anyway. I love the feel of it in my hand.

I am concerned about e-book royalities. I have been wondering something, but I'm worried people will misinterpret this question as hostile to the industry. It's not. I'm looking out for myself - appropriately.

Here's the question: would it be better to self-publish to Kindle before approaching a publisher for print? The reason for this is to lock in the e-book royalty rate at the 35% offered by Amazon?

Would that lock it in?

Because I would be concerned going to a print publisher right now, and locking in my e-book royalty rate for all time at a piddling amount. That's really messing myself as an author over.

Am I on track with this? I wonder if this is something for authors and agents to think about. It affects agents too because they are directly impacted by author's royalty rates.

Anonymous said...

And, as for Amazon, their service is topnotch with one exception: warning: do NOT buy from independent sellers.

We bought a used book in "new" condition. It arrived with mildew. When I complained, the seller threatened us if we gave them a bad review and was horrid. It was actually very intimidating.

We gave them a bad review and complained anyway and they were dropped by Amazon, but Amazon cannot guarantee the honesty or integrity of independent sellers. You buy from them at your own risk.

Mira said...

Sorry - want to add one thing.

The downside to publishing to Kindle first is the lack of editor review. So, I would have think about having my book heavily edited prior to self-publishing.

Although - I wonder if agents will be willing to get involved earlier in the process? Help someone finalize their book, self-publish to Kindle, and if response is good, seek out a print publisher.

I'd still like to know if the self-published e-book rate would stand in the print publisher contract though.

Corey said...

I would love to hear from Nathan or anyone about writers being involved in digital book design.

It seems like the role of the writer could tilt more toward being hands-on with multimedia content versus just turning in a manuscript. I know that journalists are now becoming saavy at this (e.g. incorporating video and photography into articles), but I haven't read anyplace about book authors helping to craft the future of the e-book format.

buildingalife said...

Man that is disheartening. I think it came via bulldozer instead of sledgehammer.

I got an iPad as a wedding gift (no we didn't register at apple), and I wasn't too impressed. The glare alone that reflected the massive zit on my chin did it in for me.

Out of all the e-readers I've seen I still very much prefer paper books, and not just because of my own vanity. Maybe even more than that I enjoy spending my day in a bookstore or library. There's something about being in a single place that contains so many people, ideas, and dreams that has always been incredibly magical to me and I would hate to see brick and mortar stores go. There's also something about having physical books on the bookshelves in my house that I love. Imagine having a bookshelf with just an e-reader on it. Not very dramatic is it?

But as always, beautiful silver lining in the post. I hope you're right.

Michele from PA said...

I still am vacillating between e-books and real books. I
love the feel of paper in my hands but I am intrigued by e-books.

The one thing I think about a lot though is children's books. I read every night to my three kids. Where does that all play in to the e-book market? I can't imagine reading Fancy Nancy or Spiderman on an e-reader. It feels really weird....

Michele from PA said...

I should also add that taking my kids to the bookstore is a really special thing that I cherish and they consider a big deal. I would hate to see that go away...

Katrina L. Lantz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katrina L. Lantz said...

Reply to Michele:

I'm with you, though I have recently read The Mouse and the Motorcycle to my 3yo on our Nook, and it was just fine. The pictures are black and white, which definitely needs an upgrade. I think they're working on getting a non-back-lit screen with color, though, right?

I find the e-reader is actually helpful when I'm reading to my baby because he can't crinkle the pages of our favorite children's stories.

My main lament about the loss of brick and mortar stores stems from my own vanity. I want to be published on paper, and will be infinitely disappointed if paper doesn't exist by the time that happens.

Doug Pardee said...

I wonder if we shouldn't differentiate between books and novels.

I don't see books going away for quite a while yet. For technical reference works, professional reference works, textbooks, cookbooks, coffee table books, and children's books, ink on paper provides a number of advantages over the e-book. Especially over the black-and-white EPUB e-book.

For narrative works, and novels in particular, the physical book doesn't really offer much that an e-book doesn't, except to those for whom the book is a fetish.

(Yes, Kate, you can read an e-reader in the bath. There are a number of suppliers of waterproof covers for e-readers. Plus, many users find that a Ziploc works quite nicely and at almost no cost.)

MJR said...

I just got laid off after 12 years with a book printer and my local bookstore closed. Feels like books are disappearing (along with my career).

swampfox said...

I agree with Katrina. I want to be published on paper, but I'm a guy who also wanted to be recorded on vinyl. Wow, was it that long ago?

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Doug, there was a college president who just got rid of their entire library and replaced it with ereaders for students. Books are books, apparently.

lora96 said...

i love book stores but as long as there are stories, written words, i'm not too worried about format.

Jill said...

Sounds like bookstores need to start bundling paper books and e-books. Buy the book, get the e-book free.

Ryan Z Nock said...

But where will I go to sip coffee and be hip if the all the bookstores with Starbucks close down?

D.G. Hudson said...

Some predictions seem to have an underlying purpose, they make us aware of subtle changes taking place now that could cause subsequent major upheavals down the road. If we're informed about these changes, we can make more knowledgeable choices regarding our own path to publishing.

I'll read as long as I can see, so whatever the format, I'll be there supporting authors and their books. I would like to see some of these heritage and indie bookstores venture out into other services perhaps directed at the new authors, and self-published authors. Of course that takes capital, etc., etc.

@INK or Nathan - are there services that could be provided to authors - POD, working with self-pubs, & writer panels open to the public -- which could help them survive?

Amanda Sablan said...

72% to 25% in five years. Sheesh, that's crazy.

I still don't really care for e-readers, but if the printed word really does become extinct one day, I'll get over it. Words are words, I guess, like you said.

As we know, a similar change is happening with movie rentals, as the brick-and-mortar Blockbuster is quickly going out of business while more of us turn to the Internet or PayPerView for our movie-viewing needs. But all that's doing is getting more of us to stay inside our houses all the time.

Mary McDonald said...

I used Mike Shatzkin's blog post as jumping off point for my blog today too.

I find it sad, but unless some changes are made in how bookstores sell books, it's a likely scenario. I posted my idea of how a bookstore should change over on my blog.

Sheila Cull said...

Oh my God how sad. But I want in on the band electronic wagon. Does anybody know of any e-lit agents that offer an advance?

treena & kootenay said...

there are lots of independent booksellers who are ready to jump into the e-market. we just need publishers to make the leap with us. we run blogs, staff picks, and readings that can be shifted towards online content. and lots of our customers trust us with their email addresses. the e-future is not bad. maybe it will even help make up for the shift of bestsellers buyers to the big box stores.

David Lipari said...

The whole e-book debate is interesting. I find myself in bookstores searching the shelves for books that have been recommended to me, or I've heard about through some other channel. I often don't find them, but when I do, I buy them. I bring them home and put them on a shelf to read sometime in the future.

I don't think I'd buy an e-book to not read it right away. If bookstores go away or diminish to the point of not carrying a robust selection of titles, this habit of mine goes away. I feel sad about that.

Dan said...

If 50% of the market goes to e-books then bookstores are over. There may be a few that can keep their doors open in very large cities, but the vast majority will not be able to make rent on one-third the current sales volume. The indies and the chains will all be gone and publishing, which seems to be a business model designed around its ability to sell to bookstore accounts, will have to change radically.

But Shatzkin is way too bullish on e-books. Publishers are pushing e-book prices to $12.99 with agency pricing, and accounts are pushing hardcover prices down to $14.99, and, without a powerful price incentive driving adoption, reader interest in e-books is going to dissipate. E-readers are fine, and many readers will buy them for public domain books and inexpensive e-books. But a book is text on a page, and there's nothing an e-reader can do better than paper. Holding price even, I'd bet most readers will take a book over an e-book.

The price gap between kindle books and print books in hardcover has shrunk considerably, and the price gap for books in paperback is often zero. For the same money, most readers will prefer a book that they can lend or sell, and that isn't locked to a proprietary file format and reading device.

I bet e-books won't be more than ten percent of total book sales in five years, and many readers who purchase e-reader devices will probably go back to buying mostly physical books.

Pete said...

And yet, as the owner of not only a new and booming bookstore, but a fast growing new press, we have more business than we can even deal with.

The problem with the industry is that it's grown too big to support itself on the overwhelming amount of dreck that it publishes. Instead of a house publishing twenty terrible books a year and hoping for a blockbuster, it should be publishing two or three that will stand the test of time and sell perpetually.

Over and over again, we've seen with our customers that people are thirsty for good literature, they simply don't know where, or how, to find it anymore. We solve that problem. We only sell books that we believe strongly in. Our entire inventory is less than 200 books and we can't keep them in stock.

When it comes to publishing, we put out books that we believe in, regardless of their perceived market value, and we ensure that the physical book itself is a beautiful creation not just in its writing but in its design and binding.

Because people trust our track record and know that we represent quality of a very specific and rare order, they buy our books without even knowing what they are about and, again, we can't print them fast enough.

Cherie said...

Hello Nathan,
I enjoy reading your blog very much and have given you 'The Versatile Blogger' award.

Cherie Le Clare

J. T. Shea said...

Why not ask the octopus?

Alice said...

My concern with e-books is the fact that one person could purchase and then send the book to friends who send it to friends and soon the book has lots of readers but no money exchanged.

No one seems to talk about the easy forwarding of information through email.

Just wondering about that.

Wordy Birdie said...

How refreshing, and it makes good sense.

I know I buy a lot more music now it's at my fingertips, at will. Ahhh... instant gratification! *BURP!* Pardon me.

So, yes absolutely, let's look at the future with optimism, and let us make it so.

Jessica said...

Actually, reading ebooks hurts my eyes and makes me feel like I'm reading a 1,000 page book rather than a 300 page one because I go slower. I would almost always rather read a print book than one on my pc.

Mira said...

J.T. - Lol. That octopus is amazing.

Nathan - congratulations! Over 4,000 followers. Wow. Landmark.

Bernard S. Jansen said...

I enjoy your thoughts on e-books, and where they are going.

Re: "If you take Shatzkin's premise that e-books will comprise 50% of the book market in five years..."
I think "comprise" is the wrong word here- it means "include" - while (I think) the intended meaning is "constitute" or "make up".

I know this isn't a writing workshop; but I couldn't help myself.

Nathan Bransford said...


From Merriam Webster

3 : compose, constitute (a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation — William Styron) (about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women — Jimmy Carter)
usage Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Once again, I have to side with Mira. (aside: um, Mira, when does that hypnosis thing wear off?).

And Erika, because I consider her a friend and likeminded writer.

I've read that in fact, Amazon plans to offer something like 70% royalties to Kindle authors.

Still, Kindle books will sell best if marketed less expensively than traditional books, even paperbacks.

That said, it might be worth some industry professional--um, perhaps like you, Mr. Bransford?--looking at a comparison between the advent of e-books on the market and readers' psyche, and the advent of "paperback" books.

"Traditional" books were "hardcover." Then came "paperbacks," ostensibly a less-expensive way to get more books to more readers.

SO, e-books and an increase in the e-book market share is, essentially, merely evolution. As, I might suggest, is the more readily available and less-and-less expensive option of self-publishing, which first introduced "print-on-demand" versus inventory print runs based on readership expectations enhanced by "marketing."

For quality, all writing is best edited. Quality in theory is everyone's goal: readers, writers, publishers, agents, bookstores, etc. Most readers will always be willing to pay for quality. More readers may not be willing to pay as much as a monthly insurance premium for a hard-cover book in the current economy; or to pay for gasoline to drive to a "local" bookstore.

Many have shown a willingness to go "online" for newspapers, rather than subscribing, for instance.

My prediction is that more readers will buy books online, either as ebooks or "traditional" books.

More readers=more sales, even if the percentage is lower for everyone's cut. More sales=potential growth of reputation.

Perhaps the next "growth" market will be in book reviewing? Or editing?

I know some agents are actively scouting Kindle and other e-book and self-publishing sites in search of potential mega-stars.
I honestly hope one will read my novels.

Thanks for your always thought-provoking posts.

I wish I had Mira's hypnotic skill. I will try to write less, perhaps more often, in the future!

JDuncan said...

I'm no expert mind you, but I think Shatzkin's prediction might be a little steep. It all depends of course, and I think the big "depends" is going to be the cost of ereaders. If the cost of your standard, decent reader gets below 100 dollars, say 79-89, in the next year or so, then we might see that 50% mark. The reader has to become the 'cool' gift that is affordable by the masses, so that folks who would not normally have been buying an ereader will find one in their hands. If this happens...look out bookstores. I'd be a bit more conservative in my guess and say it's going to plateau around 30%. If we look at longer than five years, who knows. If we get a generation of readers who grow up reading on digital devices then the shift will come and bookstores are going to be in trouble. It will be interesting that's for sure.

Terin Tashi Miller said...


Composed of. Consists of.

Comprises...(comprised of not so good). To encircle (include).

Speaking as a professional copy editor.

And I always wanted to be a "hardcover" writer. I love touching hardcover books. Paperbacks, even I tend to treat less kindly (leave them open on their easily broken spines, bend pages, bend over one side to make easier reading...)

So, maybe ebooks will spell the death of paperbacks? But give rise to a new "Modern Library"?

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...

I totally get (and love) technology and the convenience of having everything at your fingertips, but...I'm such a sucker for books! I love the smell of a book (that takes me back to my elementary school library, complete with mean, scary, keep quiet! librarian) and the weight of it in my hand. I love flipping the pages, and studying the glossy cover, or reading old notes in blue ink in the margins. Then again, I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Blue ink is dead, long live blue ink.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

To be clear on the word choice question: Nathan (no big surprise, really) is correct.

Comprises 50% of is fine.

Comprised of isn't.

Constitutes, composed of, wrong.

Bernard S. Jansen said...

@Nathan, I concede. I found the following usage note at Oxford Dictionaries especially useful:

According to traditional usage, comprise means‘ consist of’, as in the country comprises twenty states , and should not be used to mean ‘constitute or make up (a whole)’, as in this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population . But confusion has arisen because of uses in the passive, which have been formed by analogy with words like compose: when comprise is used in the active (as in the country comprises twenty states ) it is , oddly, more or less synonymous with the passive use of the second sense (as in the country is comprised of twenty states ). Such passive uses of comprise are common and are fast becoming part of standard English. Other erroneous forms , such as the property comprises of bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen , should not be used in standard English.

The Merriam Webster is certainly correct about it being a touchy subject.

Sorry to disrupt your comments, though I'm glad to have learned something.

Again: I enjoyed this post, and look forward to seeing how e-books will fit into my life over the next decade or so.

Jolene said...

My husband and I are both avid readers but now that he has his ipad, he has more books than every on his "bookshelf" - it's just a matter of changing with the times. People aren't going to read less because of e-readers. My hope is that the opposite is the case, though that's probably the hope of most aspiring authors...

Elie said...

I think it's all ok as long as we still have the choice between e-books and paper books.
And according to statistics I've read, 1 in 10 of us suffer from migraine headaches, and these can be induced or exacerbated by reading a computer screen.
I don't believe e-reading should be forced on everyone, although it's an exciting option.

Thanks for your great blog & all the info.

Kathryn Magendie said...

As much as I touted indie bookstores and libraries, my biggest sales in one gulp, so far, have been from Amazon Kindle. I never would have believed that if you'd have told me even a few months ago --that I'd make better sales there in one month that I did in an entire year for the printed book!

But, for writers who aren't published by the Big 6, and who are pretty much unknown, Kindle seems to be the biggest money far.

which, is a shame, because I love libraries and bookstores; however, I also have to make a living at this, so . . . it's the old artist vs businesswoman vs "wanting to support the indies" vs who is supporting me, the author? If bookstores aren't carrying as many of my books as Kindle and Amazon can send out, then . . . well . . . it's a numbers thing. Loyalties can easily begin to shift.

Personally, I love to hold a book and read it while lying in bed. However, lately, even I have been looking at e-readers with interest - esp after seeing my May numbers on my first book. Got to be something to it.

I war with myself like that: love bookstores and libraries . . . but ...and then, yeah, there's that but.

My publishers have predicted a three-year instead of a five-year turn.

There will always be printed books, but, how that will manifest itself remains to be seen.

Kimberly Kincaid said...

"'s a roller coaster, not a death spiral." That's my life in eight words or less, I mean it! ;)

I vasciallate wildly between e-books and print books, and can see and argue the merits of both. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: people are reading. People are buying books. Yes, there is something to be said for the smell of books and the feel of the pages in our hot little hands. Yes, one can also wax poetic about the ease and brilliance of e-readers. What makes me truly happy when I lay my head down at night is that people are reading, period. I don't want to lose sight of that as the bigger picture.

I'm not (utterly) naive. I know that the war between e-books and brick and mortar buildings has implications for me as a writer. But really? I don't care if people pay to read my stuff off a billboard sign or from teeny little fortune cookies. Whatever works for mainstream readership IS what will happen. Best to be educated and go with the flow, else be swept up in it trying to fight...

Just my 2/c. As always, thanks for offering the thought-provoking insight, Nathan!

Deborah said...

It is good to hear upbeat words about the future of publishing. I actually think that the shift to ebooks represents a great opportunity for authors and publishers. The current investment in new authors in terms of the cost of marketing, printing and distribution is significant. However, with electronic marketing and distribution, the cost drops dramatically. I figure in the future most new authors will be ebook only at first, meriting paper distribution when they develop a wide enough following.

Personally, I began reading on my iPhone with the kindle app over a year and a half ago - starting out with a 1,000 page book - Neal Stephenson's Anathem - that I actually owned in hardback but hadn't made progress on because the book was so huge to lug around. (I do much reading on my daily commute). I still will but some favorite mysteries in hard back - but only because my Mom and sister like them as well, and I ship them off to them after I read them. All the rest of my books are ebooks. And since I got my iPad - well, I love reading on the thing. I find it more comfortable than holding a book. I love taking tons of books with me on vacation, and being able to buy another instantly if the mood strikes me. There is no going back.

Mark Wise said...

Yeah, and we were all supposed to have our own personal helicopters by now too...

Rowenna said...

So I started thinking of all the things I can and do buy, cosmetics, home goods. Yet I still go to stores to buy these things, too. Same with books--I can order a print book online as easily as an ebook...yet I still go to bookstores, even though they're often more expensive than I think a lot of that has to do with atmosphere, so I'm very curious to see how brick and mortar stores will play on that concept while incorporating ebook technology. That seems to be B&N's concept with the Nook--keep people invested in coming to the store for the atmosphere, free reading previews, that kind of curious to see how this will develop. Will we all be sitting in expanded bookstore "digital commons" cafes, browsing ebooks and sipping lattes?

Magdalena Munro said...

I recently unearthed a box of memorabilia in the garage and found old letters, tapes (!!!), records, and even an old series of Stephen King video cassette recordings (!!!!!). Your post was timely in that I was applying Darwin's theory of evolution to the material world around us and in fact,feel that it applies rather nicely. Email has replaced letters, digital music rules supreme, and I believe that in the long run, e-readers will do the same. While record stores are dropping like flies and I believe bookstores will do so ultimately, curiously enough the post office still stands strong, despite our e-age. I guess this means that in the pecking order of capitalistic evolution, the Post Office wins! HA!

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Not sure how else to share this...

Considering much of marketing these days seems to be a desire or perceived need to compare "new" writers to "established" writers, this website is helpful? At the very least, it's kind of fun...

Kait Nolan said...

I have to say I really like those numbers. As someone who's chosen to go the indie publishing route, focused on ebooks, that is the kind of growth that could allow me to quit my day job in 5 years--which is clearly not something traditional publishing advises these days since every time you turn around you hear another editor or agent saying not to do it. I can get a lot of my work out in 5 years myself that would languish for 1-3 years before making it to buyers if I traditionally published. So it really seems like the time is now to get in on the ground floor of ebooks.

M.J.B. said...

I love my Nook. A lot!

But I really am thankful for an optimistic voice in this, Nathan, and I completely agree.

Now, let's consider all the used books that sell and do NOT give authors/publishers any money. Before I got my eReader, I was a hound for used books, because they were cheaper. I did the same thing with music, but in a more "piratey" way (bad, bad me) before I got an iPod. Now, it's just EASIER to buy eMusic and eBooks, and I'm contributing to the artists the way I should be. There will always be pirates, but I think anybody who values buying books will continue to buy them.

One will make buying books as gifts slightly more difficult, but hopefully that won't dent sales too drastically.

Jenn Kelly said...

I tried to figure out why I wanted a Kindle so badly, as I adore the feeling of books in my hands. Now that I have one:
I love that it's tiny and I can pull it out anywhere to read while waiting. I love that it doesn't make my arthritis swell up from holding a book open. I love that it has a waterproof cover so I can drop it in the bath.
But I will still always buy paperback books. The smell is unlike anything else.
My husband just rolls his eyes.

And as a writer, I get concerned about less royalty rates, but ... it's about having your words and your heart read, not being rich.

Anonymous said...

In comparing music to books, you need an electronic device to listen to music, you don't to read. Digital music is a natural extension to records, tapes, etc. Not so with reading.

To whom do most books get sold? Is it to heavy readers who buy a lot per year or is it to people who buy one or two a year? Are the books bought for gifts?

Do you expect a person who buys two books a year to buy a $150 reader? What is the market?

Dave K

howdidyougetthere said...

I think 25% is absolutely right BUT the numbers will be worth it. The books they buy will be fancier, more expensive, collectors items for personal libraries rather than take it on the plane paperbacks.

Also, I really think the bookstores will be where people congregate to browse, get suggestions, see authors.

I think in the end MORE books will be sold, the numbers will jiggle around but it will be worth it.

Anonymous said...


after you've chosen/selected/etc. a page for critique, does that "number" or that entry go out of the cue?

it seems confusing when posts aren't numbered too (or are they and I just can't figure out where?)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Nathan, are you seeing what I'm seeing on #dearpublisher?
There's plenty to add to this ebook/book discussion.

John Jack said...

Doomsayers have hidden agendas driven by attention-seeking personality dysfunctions. Extremely bad outcomes are as rare as extemely good outcomes.

I'm a seer too. I predict publishing business model diffusion and diversification will continue unpredictably as it always has, as everything in the cosmos always does.

Mega multinational publishing franchise incomes as they currently exist are doomed to erode, as the Roman empire eroded, as doomed as globe spanning empires are from waning colonialist exploitation inertia and top heavy, unsustainable draw downs from waning revenue streams. And because no one single administrative entity can govern a large and diversified collective in reasonably predictable ways. The more brush firefighting, the more behind sight needed to keep abreast of change and serve individual needs, the bigger the ensuing maelstrom.

But print publication and sales are as vigorous as can be and growing geometrically in niche markets. The same phenomena happened a few decades ago with the '80s explosive growth of microbreweries and brewpubs. Mega brewers just had flat sales growth for awhile. There's even more craft brew houses tody than there were in the '90s and early 'Ought years.

A local mom and pop bookstore has mom running the bookstore and pop running the independent publishing arm, whose products the bookstore sells. It's a boutique bookstore in a quaint tourist resort setting retail mall. They do their best business when it rains. There will always be rainy days.

Terri Coop said...

Terri. Want. Kindle. Bad. Or other e-reader. It will most certainly be my Christmas gift this year. Even the Gen 1 Kindles on eBay hover around $90 used.


For one, I love short stories and anthologies and that is a vanishing breed in print. I can go to Smashwords or Fictionwise and read to my heart's content for very little cost. As magazines fade, ebooks will be the proving grounds for the next Stephen King.

For two, I have limited time and would love to be able to pull out my e-reader and zone for a few minutes here and there. I am a lawyer. Pull out a paperback in court, and you may not like the judge's response. Pull out an e-reader and you look busy and professional.

For three, lugging huge books with me wherever I go is also not an option. That pesky court thing again. Something with a lurid cover might draw more snark than I am willing to put up with. I've read that ebook sales of erotica are booming just for that reason - you can read it on the bus or at lunch - without being harassed or laughed at.

I can see Indies also offering e-book downloads via a computer right there next to the coffee machine. You can browse the shelves, talk with the clerk, join the bookclub, nosh on a muffin, read the posters, whatever, and then, zap, it is downloaded and you either check out online or print the invoice and take it to the counter.

Good businesses will find a way to roll with it and make it work.


wv: "subsorse" Ebooks will be a subsorse of reading material.

Krista D. Ball said...

I read on my Sony pocket e-reader. It is not a computer screen. It has no glare. It looks just like a page from a paperback novel.

I would not read a book on a computer. That's why I have an e-reader. I forgot that I was reading a device. (I get headaches and eye strain...I read for 14 hours from Edmonton to Vancouver and did not get a headache :) ).

Margaret Fleming said...

In the bookstore, I can skim more than one page. On line, I may get the one page that he wrote on his best, best day when his car got fixed for ten bucks and his mom moved to Zihuatenejo. And in the bookstore, a cool cover might let me discover somebody new and fall in love with his writing.
Margaret Fleming

Anonymous said...

Bookstores are going to be sunk by people like me who browse -- and then go and buy the ebook online.

maine character said...

About how quickly changes come to media, when I was in Boston twenty-two years ago, you'd hear a Tim Buckley song on the radio and then later that day walk ten blocks to the new Tower Records store on Newbury Street and try to find one of his CDs or albums (yes, albums) in the bins.

You didn't know which of his albums were good, and had no way of telling, but you picked the one with that song on it and hoped for the best.

Today Tower Records is no more. But anyone standing on any street in Boston can use their iPhone to browse just an even larger selection, listen to clips, read biographies and reviews, watch videos, and download the songs they want right there, out of the very air.

It's sci-fi, and it's here.

ccclarity said...

I was thinking of something related today. How are people going to know how long an e-book is? I thought of how weight and size are pretty important when you pick out a book. It got me thinking about layout and what an essential writing tool it is. Layout will gain more importance over weight in the battle to not scare off readers.

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