Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Closing of Bookstores May Present Bigger Challenges

According to a report on NPR yesterday morning, "Barnes & Noble plans to close up to a third of its stores over the next decade, according a report in The Wall Street Journal." This got me thinking about authors and the increasing challenges they will be facing in the future. We have talked about this before here on the blog but why not bring it up again.

These stores are moving to more and more of an online presence. We all understand why and no, it the answer is not the rise in "digital books" so much, but we will bring that up later. It is a matter of convenience. If I am sitting at home and heard of a book I want to read, I jump online and order it. Even when we would go to the bookstore and wanted a book that was out of stock, they would jump online and order it. In the end, we would wait a couple of days and the book would arrive and we could read to our heart's content. If we have a digital reader, we can start that book immediately. We know this is a trend when we listen to the reports over the holidays of the number of people shopping online. As we know, the number is huge.


Here is where the authors of the world need to start to panic a bit.

When we "went" to a book store, we would often browse the shelves. We might be going in to find the book we wanted, but we still stumbled across hidden gems. We would find new authors or new publishers hidden away amid all of the other books. Why did we find them? The answer was simple. The books were sitting there right in front of our face. Hundreds of books lined up on the shelves and we physically saw them and could pick from those choices.

Now let's move to the online environment. Here too we pick from the books right in front of us, but that list is now very limited. No, I am not talking about the number of books available to you, but the number you can actually see right in front of you. Just as a test, I pulled up Amazon and went right to the Kindle store. This is the screen right in front of me.

and if I scan down one notch, this is what we see...

As you can note, the selections I have are limited. For a readers to "find" a book, they have limited choices. They can A) type in the title they wanted and leave it at that; B) work off of "recommendations" the site gives to us (we'll talk about that in a minute); or C) scan and scan waiting for something to pop up. Knowing the patience of the population we have today, I am betting C will be the least picked option.

But here comes the bigger concern for the new authors and those taking non-traditional publishing options and this is where it comes down to marketing and simply getting your name out there. There are a ton of authors in this category. With the rise of so many publishing options for authors out there, getting your name out there becomes an even bigger challenge. Sure, there is "word of mouth" but that only works if people are talking about your book and the conversation continues. What I fear is that with the decline in bookstores, those gems of authors become even harder to find.

And here comes the other twist. This is the one many of the self-publishing argue. We have often heard authors taking the non-traditional publishing approach argue that the "big publishers" would only promote those people "they liked" and the lesser authors never get a chance. Take a look really quickly at those screenshots. The books that make this list are those "recommended" by the "big publishers" and yes, that includes KindleBooks. They are still picking the books "they want" but now we see it digitally.

Don't get me wrong. In no way am I saying the digital approach is bad. I love the convenience and speed of getting books I want. This is simply a discussion point that I do believe publishers, booksellers and most certainly authors need to be having before things get too far out of hand. We want authors to publish. We want those niche books. But, if we can't "stumble" across books like we used to do wandering the bookstores, are we potentially hurting those new and unique authors?

I would only hope that Barnes and Noble think a bit more. Remember what it was like picking through books in a bookstore. We can't lose that feeling.

1 comment:

  1. One of the problems with looking for books on-line is the way the categories are arranged. As a writer I found it frustrating that I couldn't list one book as Fiction-Fantasy-Dystopia. If I enter (I'm talking about Amazon in these examples) 'sweet romance' as I am looking for a book without explicit sex or swearing, this category doesn't seem to exist. I'll get a series of books with the word 'sweet in the title.

    As a teacher, I've been looking for what is called high-interest, low vocab novels. They are difficult to find. At least the 'look inside' feature helps because I find that the Reading level on the back of the book does not match what my colleagues and I consider to be the reading level.

    Ordering books on-line can be convenient within the U.S. but I have an acquaintance who has been waiting for one of my books for the past month, ordered from Amazon.com but to be delivered to Canada.