Last month I went to go see a friend that owns a used bookstore. We talked about the whole range of literature issues: book selling, book publishing, what we’ve read, so on and so forth. I was most interested in how his store was doing after he told me that one of the local Borders was closing (and has since closed). He said that his online business was never better, but foot traffic could have been better.
The closing of the local Borders made me pay attention to everything that was happening with book sellers on the whole, big chain to indie. If you look at the Publishers Weekly Twitter feed, you can find a number of posts about that subject. From the ongoing drama of Borders current death spasm (like the Doctor they seem to just regenerate), updates of well established indie stores closing, and commentaries from all in the business about why things are happening the way they are and why they have their habits with books.
As a writer, it does put a sense of unease in my gut. I mean, I know that if I get anything published, there will be some way to get to an audience. But, this is sort of the meta discussion of all the little ones we have going on as well: book vs. ebook, few big presses and many small presses vs. numerous small to medium presses, self publishing. In the end, it comes down to how do we get the stories out to audiences. In the end, that is where success lies.
I’m caught in the middle of it all as both a writer and a reader. As a writer, I go to the bookstore and look for friends’ books and give them a yippee when I find it. I go to try and watch the trends of how not only publishers, but stores are selling books. Recently, I have found both really lacking. I’ve gone to look for friends’ book and they aren’t even there. I’ve got to look for new books I just want to pick up, and they weren’t there. All I see are all the most popular, or what publishers want to be popular because they spent way too much money on the writer’s advance.
As a reader, I’m trying to stay up to date on favorite authors and find new books either indirectly or from friend’s recommendation. Before Christmas, I went to the bookstore I used to work at and went to the Sci-fi/Fantasy section and was flabbergasted. There were only a handful of choices, mostly all the most popular series or series with the most recent addition. Most of them were all face out, a rarity at any other time since it takes up significant space on the shelf. As soon as I saw that, I just left, because there was just no point being there.
So, the only reliable place to get books are online. Amazon excels here and I’m betting for the most part is where people go (at least for physical books). Both Borders and B&N have very lackluster service when it comes to there online stores, and is a place my friend pointed out being one source of there troubles. If you ask me, it just has different problems. I’ve had just as many problem’s looking for a book online as in a store. They are just as poorly organized. All that makes them better is price, for the most part. It is, though, a saving grace for indie stores. If they have a good online presence, online sales can make up for loss of foot traffic, like my friend’s shop.
What is the answer to this all? Ebooks won’t solve it. All they do is take out the physical aspect of the book. One reason they are no more the future of publishing as any other method or form. I think this is getting lost in this whole argument. Shoppers want their experience in this order: easy, affordable, variety, availability. Who ever gets that formula right will live on no matter what kinds of books they carry.
The problem is that not many, online or brink ‘n’ mortar stores do that. But it is a reason I will always go to my friend’s used store first when I look for a book, then Amazon, then any other store. I think when all stores figure out this formula, that is when we will see the dominance of a specific format and publishing structure. That is when we will start to see the true future of publishing.