My favorite local book store, Borders, where I used to love to hang out and buy books, has recently closed its doors, as are all the Borders stores across America. Today, I discovered another local independent book store, Legacy Books, which did a lot for the community of authors and book lovers here in Dallas, Texas, also shut its doors forever. Before that, I had witnessed other smaller Mom-&-Pop book stores close, because they couldn't compete with the bigger chains. In the world of books and book sellers, as Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a-changin'."
What's causing this change? Online book stores like Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Booksamillion.com have changed the way readers buy books. And more and more readers are buying e-books over paperback and hardbacks.
"According to the Association of American Publishers (AARP), sales figures for the first half of 2011...paperback sales dipped nearly 18% and hardback sales fell 23% compared to the same period the previous year."
On the contrary, e-book sales are up 160% from this time a year ago. Every publishing professional I've talked to sees ebooks as the future for books. My own publisher, Samhain Publishing, one of the largest e-book publishers, told me last year their ratio of e-book readers to trade paperback readers was one e-book to two paperbacks. This year it has reversed; they now sell two e-books for every one paperback. And the trend seems to be expanding for e-book sales.
According to a Janaruy 2011 article in Today @ PC World, "Amazon says that, for the first time, it has sold more e-books than paperbacks. Since the start of the year, Amazon has sold 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks. Kindle sales continue to outpace hardcover sales; during the same time period, three times as many Kindle books were sold as were hardcover books."
So the e-book trend is alive and thriving. Just ask some members from the younger generations (readers in their early twenties to teens) who have been raised in a digital world surrounded by electronic gadgets, and you'll discover that a growing percentage of them own some form of e-reader (Kindle, Nook, or Ipad) and enjoy reading e-books.
Does that mean paperbacks and hardbacks are following Borders to extinction?
Hopefully not for a very long time. I still love holding a book in my hand. I love the smell of the paper and the feeling of turning the pages. I also enjoy seeing the book cover on my nightstand, reminding me there's an exciting fictional world to dive into or a
how-to-book that inspires me to learn something new. While trade paperbacks and hardbacks seem safe for the moment (although the high-priced hardbacks could be threatened by the state of the economy), the smaller mass-market paperbacks are the ones in most danger. The paperbacks on the grocery store racks that I used to flip through as a kid are now being phased out, just like the popularity of DVDs pushed VHS out of the market. E-books are doing the same to mass-market paperbacks. Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Books, who is one of the oldest mass-market publishers, took a huge hit because of this trend and had to release many of its established authors, as well as layoff talented members of its publishing staff. Now, most printed books are coming out as the larger trade paperbacks.
Bottom line: Book stores that you can walk into are a dying breed and digital e-books are the next wave for publishing and selling books.
So, if you are an author in today's market, how do you respond to these changes? Well, if I you are with a mid-size to large publishing house, you can relax, as your books are most likely already coming out as both paperback and e-versions simultaneously. Just remember to include e-book readers in your book campaign.
If your publisher doesn't produce e-books, it's time to find a new publishing house that's on the cutting edge. If you are an independently published author and you don't have a digital version of your book selling on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, then you better catch up quick, because it won't be long before paperbacks and hardbacks are just a small percentage of the market. And if you're a YA author, publishing your book as an e-book is an absolute must to tap that expanding teen market. Within the next five years, all your books should be selling in digital formats if you aim to sell books in this ever-changing high-tech world. Because who knows if there will be any brick-and-mortar book stores left by then?
So, with a bittersweet feeling in my heart, I bid farewell to Borders--my old cathedral of books--and goodbye to all the other local Mom-&-Pops that tried to compete with giants like Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. As an author of the twenty-first century, I embrace the popularity of online book stores and e-books, and I admit that I even own my very own Kindle now. But in secret, when the time comes to curl up in bed with a riveting book, I still enjoy reading a good, old-fashioned paperback.
Brian Moreland is an internationally successful author of supernatural novels (DEAD OF WINTER, SHADOWS IN THE MIST) and a number of short stories. He also helps other writers achieve success through consulting and creative services: creative brainstorming, editing, complete book design (interior & cover), ebook formatting, and assistance with authors ready to explore independent publishing.