A Realization Tonight…
Bookstores might not survive this virus in any form I know. Online bookstores will, sure, but physical bookstores, not so much.
Here is what made me jump to that idea. First, some history and a lesson on how major publishing used to work and works now.
Back 15 years ago…
Traditional publishing was in total control of the industry and had been for forty years. A book would go into one of the offices through an agent, get bought, get rewritten for cash flow reasons, then copyedited and sales meetings and so on and be ready to go in one slot or another in the monthly imprint sales list.
The sales team would go out and get orders based on the level the book was at in the sales list that month and also the cover of the book. (Ever heard of the term “Lead Title?” That was from this list.
The manuscript would be set and then would go off to a massive web press printer. The appointment to run a 10,000 copy run, say, would have been made months before, maybe even before the publisher knew what book would fit in that small time slot.
Books would be cased and then shipped to different warehouses for distribution, (B&N, Borders, Ingrams, B&T and so on) with some ending up in the publisher’s warehouses. (No way to really know how many ended up there since print runs were contracted for plus or minus 10%. And no one counted, didn’t matter, really if all the distributors got their orders. After all, to publishers, the books would spoil quickly and extra copies would be tossed in a year anyway.)
Publishers then would do mailings, advertising, and so on, to get the small indie bookstores and bookstore buyers and grocery store buyers to know the book was there. Those bookstores would then order a copy or two from a distributor who had the book in the warehouse and would ship it to the store. And buyers for distributors to the grocery stories and such had also ordered and those spread out to the grocery stores.
THAT WAS 15 YEARS AGO.
All standard. (I wrote 106 books for that system.)
I used to call all that above “The channel.” A book got into the channel and it did what it was supposed to do. Very seldom any surprises.
Then came Amazon and ebooks and the indie movement.
And the major publishers just flat thought none of that mattered and made bone-headed moves (including illegal ones that they got caught for) that I am still stunned to this day over. Traditional publishing could have easily made indie publishing a flash and gone. But they let all us horses out of the barn. They gave writers control of their own work and their own covers and their own publishing schedules and no way those horses were ever going back into the traditional publishing barn.
Is it possible for any of us indie publishers to put our books into that traditional channel? Absolutely. Yes. Very easy to do once you learn it.
But the problem is that smart indie writers and publishers took one look at the channel and decided it flat wasn’t worth the costs to get a book spine out in a store when selling paper in online stores all over the world and ebooks all over the world was easier. Higher profit margins to start with. So we toss our books into IngramSparks and if a bookstore owner finds it, great. But we are not going to spend thousands to sell a hundred books in the promotions in the channel.
Turns out, thanks to this virus, we were a lot smarter than just looking at the costs and going, “Nope.”
Many, many bookstores, and maybe even B&N are not going to survive this virus. Why do I say that?
Small indie shops do not have large pockets. B&N has been on the ropes for years. I have been following all that in the news and the trades, even though traditional publishing is putting up a good front and lots of hype through its mouthpieces like Publisher’s Weekly.
So in the last few days I did a very informal poll of about forty writers, some of which answered this question in an assignment in a workshop.
I asked simply a discoverability question… “What method did you used to use years ago to find new books that you no longer use?”
I expected some people to say libraries, and I was right. But many still use libraries and will again when things open back up.
But to a person, the people I asked said in one form or another that they had not been in a physical bookstore, new or used, in a long time. Normally numbers of years. (This was all pre-virus.)
A lot of them bought paper books, but they bought them online.
Okay, articles in places have talked a lot about that. Nothing new. Right?
But I have seen no articles at all yet about what will happen post virus to bookstores.
Many, many avid readers had gotten out of the habit of going to bookstores before the virus. Now, with the virus, even more people have learned to shop online and not need to go into physical bookstores.
Realize that the entire sector of physical bookstores have little to no profit margin. This kind of retraining of many, many of its customers to not go in a store is just flat doom.
Blockbuster Video kind of doom.
And once again traditional publishers, all four of them now, have ridden the wrong horse down the wrong trail. They increased ebook pricing to the point of stupidity to “protect” their paper books in the channel. They got in wars with Amazon, the biggest seller of books in the largest market on the planet. And they refused to accept print on demand as a printing method, instead sticking to the massive union contracts with printers.
And they think indie writers are not a threat, even though indie books are now far, far outselling traditional books and have been for years.
Traditional publishers do not have buckets of money either at this point, but traditional publishing’s only hope is to support bookstores with cash (in some legal way) to keep them open and keep the “channel” alive.
But hang on, even that is falling apart. One of the largest book printers just filed for bankruptcy. Oh, oh… Publishers may have to run to China for printing and if that happens, watch the prices of their books go even higher.
There are many, many, many areas of this society that will change after this virus clears. But I got a hunch that this retraining of customers to order online will be the death of all but a few special bookstores.
And I honestly can’t see anything that can be done to stop this from happening because I love bookstores, owned one up to January 2019. If I could think of a way, an idea, I would put it out.
But I liked Blockbuster Video as well, so what do I know.
The world it keeps on changing.