Amazon Fire To Kill Off Old School Publishing? Mac McCarthy Reports

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 …

  1. 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

    “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.

    Photo: Gina Smith for

    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.

    BookBe Here Nowby Ram Dass width=”420″ height=”307″ />

    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, 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


  • Two of the most influential writings of my life are pictured here: “Be Here Now” and “Entering the Stream.” That leaves only “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and the “Last Whole Earth Catalog” to complete. No hipster am I, for the first and last titles mentioned in this comment were an influence to me when I was barely a teenager in 1974.

  • Ni doubt eBooks are eating up market share. But some categories are still print dominated – children’s, art, photography, cooking. The publishing world is going through tremendous change but physical books still play a very important role. They will for years to come.

  • Thanks for that thoughtful piece, Mac. In a related story, last week I visited my mom (age 88) in New York. We had a good chat where I explained that she should probably familiarize herself with an iPad sometime. When the New York Times stops printing, I told her, tablets are going to be the way that people read newspapers.

    She has had the NYT delivered to her front door since Feb, 1973, when our family moved to New York (from Paris, France.) I’m an Android guy myself, but mom has been using Apple products since 1987. It might come as a shock to her (an emotional shock) to have to use an electronic device that didn’t have an Apple logo on it. Her current iMac is from 2001 and she doesn’t want a new computer – so tablets are going to be how she gets the news.

    I explained to her, “Television news is the dietary equivalent of Cheetos mixed with Twinkies. I don’t want you to be dependent on television news to find out what’s happening in the world.”

    True, she does listen to NPR — but not that much for news.


    btw, the NYT has already announced that they’ll stop printing sometime. I predict they’ll give just one month notice. Why not more notice? They don’t want to get an endless series of phone calls from card carrying members of The Lamentors of America. Also, they don’t want print to be rescued. They need to make a clean break.

    Here’s what the headlines will say on the last day of print. “Goodbye, Everybaddy! See you’s on the interwebs.”

    My mom, ever the wise ass, tells me with a wink, “Hey you know, I’m not too concerned about the NYT stopping printing because I’m going to stop printing myself sometime.”

  • IMH(umble)O, printed books can coexist with ebooks. I would like to get my collectible book(s) signed by the author(s) when i meet them. I don’t think kindle allows that (yet). So i am sure printed books will not be existinct even with the advancement of technolgy because there are times when a printed book comes in handy in many ways than an ebook.

  • So far these comments are tied. Last words? LOL

    And yes, I believe too, they can and will coexist with books. I do agree with author that they’ll take a backseat and hand primary medium to digital technology. Just as radio took a backseat to TV. And so on : )

    Those are all my books, BTW. I love that Ram Dass book, an original, someone gave me from their hippie collection one holiday. Then I heard him speak at Esalen. A book like that is history. gs

    • I earn my living in an academic and research university library where digital content delivery in the form of academic indexes and databases, is making more and more research data available quickly after passing critical and academic peer review. What once were tomes of reference materials, published only once a year and in very small numbers, are now readily available through these indexes and databases. Publishers need not have to endure the cost of setting up a print run for a limited volume of copy. At the same time, there is still a gargantuan number of bound volumes necessary for historical reference and research. Myself being of such age and life experience, I still derive a sincere delight of getting away from the computer, taking a lotus position on the floor while pouring over passages from Entering the Stream. rb =)

    • To this day +Gina Smith, I am at a loss to describe how reading the passages from Entering the Stream enables me to change the way that I see and think about all things … but it does. rb =)

  • There’s something fantastic about feeling the paper, smelling a new book & actually turning the pages. So I hope that I can still buy printed books & read them when the kingdom comes calling.

  • Sorry — I should have commented on this story much earlier. But better late than never.

    Also, I need to preface my remarks by noting that I do the vast majority of my reading online these days, with the rest mostly arriving through my ears in the form of the audiobooks I listen to during my extended daily commute.

    That said, the transition to e-books troubles me in many ways, despite the many advantages offered by the new medium. To wit:

    * It will put an end to Half Price books and all the other wonderful remainder and used book shops, and all the Amazon Merchant booksellers.

    * It will eliminate the simple pleasures of perusing a friend’s bookshelf and borrowing a interesting book or of a having a friend do the same.

    * It eliminates — or at least, greatly raises the cost of — one of life’s greatest pleasures: reading in the tub.

    * Riffling through a favorite old book, opening it to a random page, and reading from the third paragraph on loses much of its tactile joy when the entire process has to be done through a pop-up menu.

    * The smell of old book stores will be lost forever.

    * So too, eventually, will be the pleasure of finding a book in your garage that you’ve been wanting to re-read for decades.

    I’m not expecting this list or even a more thoughtfully-assembled one to stop the onslaught of progress, but it’s always a good idea to pause and take of measure of what one is losing during a great leap forward.