The last few years have not been kind to the literary industry. Independent bookstores are closing shop. Readership is declining. Technology is throwing everyone for a tailspin. And agents and publishers are taking fewer and fewer chances on debut authors.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the publishing industry isn’t begging for the Mayans to be right so they could see an end to all of this. (Ok, I know, extreme)
The other morning I heard a business report on Barnes & Nobles falling stock prices and a lower than expected holiday sales season. In this story, the reporter said that B&N expected higher numbers due to the recent closure of Borders. Then I realized: in this industry, the loss of a competitor doesn’t mean a larger market share for the remaining company, it means decline overall.
OK, business majors. This is where you can rip into me. I’ll wait patiently before sharing my thoughts …
My turn. Yes, I know it’s a business and it has to turn a profit to keep employees employed and the bookshelves stocked. But rather than try to put each other out of business, shouldn’t the booksellers support each other. Think about it: the more bookstores out there, the more reading and literature will be top of mind, and the more that it’s top of mind, the more someone will think, “maybe I should buy a book” next time they are bored.
Years ago, one of my clients was a global coffee chain. Any time this company would go into a new market we’d get hammered by people saying that they were trying to put the “moms and pops” out of business. But, in reality, it was the opposite in the majority of the cases. This company through its high brand awareness and advertising dollars raised the top-of-mind awareness of coffee shops in the market, and the moms and pops actually saw an increase in business because not everyone liked the global chain’s coffee or prices.
Now, I know this is a coffee and books comparison and some booksellers can offer a deeper discount by the sheer volume of purchases. But, I’ll be honest. I went to the one bookstore left in my area (B&N) last week to get a coffee and roam around, and it was packed and made me yearn for my dearly departed Borders where I could peruse in relative silence. And, I would have paid a couple of dollars more for the same book I got just to be able to do that. (For the record, I was thrilled to see B&N packed)
Where does this leave us? I think everyone is trying to figure that out. I purposefully left out e-readers. In the same earnings report, they said that B&N is trying to figure out what to do with the Nook, but it’s currently losing money even though they know this is the way readers will go. And I’ve got an Amazon purchase history going back to 1997 so I’m not free from sin myself.
Maybe the publishing industry needs to ban together like the beef council did and do a targeted awareness campaign. Instead of “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,” they should go with something like “Reading is the best defense against stupid people.”
Yeah? No? Ok, I’m open for something else.