- Photo: Gina Smith for aNewDomain.netThe paper book is so dead. Even writers know it. Working authors and journalists are abandoning print like spooked creatures out of a forest fire. Advances are ultra low these days, even for best-selling authors with the world’s largest book publishers. Even some publishers walking.TakeThe Christian Science Monitorcorrespondent James Turner. He’s published two tech books for publisher O’Reilly Media.”My new book just came out in print. I expect it’s the last print book I’ll ever do, ” Turner says.
Photo:Gina Smith for aNewDomain.net
“The numbers I hear out of O’Reilly is that eBooks are totally dominating the sales figures these days.”
Is the print book really dead? What about you? Are you ready to pack yours up?
Here are the stats.
In 2011, publishers printed — and readers bought — more than three billion books, stats show. According to Forbes, self-publishers and independent digital print services put out about a million titles. Among those, major publishers still are in the minority. In early 2011, Amazon announced that its Kindle eBooks outsell its paperback books and its hardback books on Amazon.
At about the same time, the Association of American Publishers report print sales in the adult trade category (including hardback, paperback and assorted other so-called mass market titles) declined by 34 percent.
Excepting religious and devotional titles, all categories of books declined in sales last year. So the Kindle did it–or started it. Pretty impressive for a device that just arrived on the scene in 2007 — outselling the technology Gutenberg delivered in 1450.
The mind boggles.
Journalist and author Karen Heyman tells this story:
“An agent had put me in touch with a woman who creates high-end custom perfumes from raw herbs and wildflowers, and suggested there might be a book in this,” says Karen. So “I took the perfumer to a local store that sells to a similar customer base,” that is, women into New Age spirituality. It’s a market.
“Along with crystals, wind chimes and candles, the owner sells dozens of books ranging from pocket guides to crystals to coffee table editions. ,” she says. The place was filled “with gilt pictures of fairies. Given the variety, I wanted to ask him how a book geared towards his type of customer should best be pitched.
“He reacted like a refrigerator dealer being asked for advice on how to sell ice blocks. He said he used to sell $10,000 worth of books a month, but within the last year that had dropped to $1,000 per month,” says Heyman, adding:
“Note the time frame!”
“When we said the perfumer’s book would likely be a graphics-heavy gift book, he said books weren’t selling … (not) even as gifts. When I pointed out that an independent bookstore had just opened nearby his shop, he shook his head,” Heyman remembers. “He said, ‘They’re insane.’ ”
And he told Heyman that, within a year, print books would no longer be economically viable.
And so we have it.
There’s a chance, I guess, that traditional publishing will emerge intact. I find it unlikely. Like the peasant being dragged off before his time in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s possible we’re writing off books too quickly. Maybe it’s rash to just dismiss the entire print book publishing industry.
Maybe there will be room. Just as radio stepped aside yet still coexists with movies and TVs, and now independent podcasts, the print book biz has to shift gears, find niches, and change their entire economic model. Sure, no problem.
One tech writer, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, told me he imagines a world coming soon where print books are only “in special editions and small editions–more likely print-on-demand–for collectors who want something that can be autographed.”
Author and publisher Alfred Poor believes that books will continue to have a specialized role “even while its traditional role goes away.”
“I publish books for coaches and speaker… just as musicians need a CD to sell at concerts, so these speakers need a book to sell because their participants want to ‘take them home’ after the event is over,” said Poor.
Vaughan-Nichols has a different worry — about the imminent loss of the used-book market for ebooks. “I’m concerned that, going forward, we won’t be able to lend or sell our (so-called) used books,” he said. “The RIAA already doesn’t want us to own our music. In SOPA, I see the first signs of publishers not wanting us to own our ebooks.”
Interesting point. So what do you think? Video killed the radio star. Has Amazon killed that fat summer paperback — as a mainstream purchase, anyway? Or that The New York Times hardback bestseller? And that quickly?
It looks dead to me. To a lot of us. So are you a book lover or collector? Just can’t get used to ereaders? Am I being extreme? d love to know and quherote you in upcoming pieces about this in 2012. For aNewDomain.net, I’m publisMac McCarthy.
UPDATE: Gina says she will send a used paperback novel to the reader with the best comment — below. She promises it will be a cool one. ED
Mac McCarthy doesn’t think digital publishing will kill paperback and hardback publishing. He says the Amazon Kindle and ereaders in general have already killed them …