A Bookstore Owner’s Perspective on E-books and the Future of Bookstores

13 May

Bookstore sales are down. Former giants in the industry, Barnes and Noble and Borders are facing tough economic decisions. Borders is in bankruptcy and it has already closed over 200 stores as a part of its bankruptcy plan. Barnes and Noble has avoided bankruptcy, but it has slashed jobs and is closing stores.  The first half of 2011 has been the worst for bookstores since the Great Depression. My own bookstore, Dark Horse Books, has not escaped the ravages of the Great Recession.  While there are many reasons for the falling sales of print books, one factor is minimal. E-books are not killing the bookstore.

            First and foremost, bookstores are suffering due to the economy. However, the situation is being exacerbated by some poor business decisions by the publishers. Publishers are making it difficult for bookstores to compete by giving huge discounts to Wal-Mart and Amazon.  By doing so, publishers make it almost impossible for chain and independent bookstores to compete. Unfortunately, publishers are determined to follow in the disastrous steps of the recording industry. Between 2000 and 2010, 12000 record stores closed in the United States. During the same time period, music sales were halved. Record stores did not close because of digital music. Downloaded music is still only 35% of the market share ten years later. Record stores closed because they could not compete with the artificially low prices of Wal-Mart and Amazon. In retrospect, observers realized an important fact; music stores sold music. Music stores provide a community place for music. At a music store, you could find out when your favorite band’s new album was coming out. If it was too long of a wait, the record store could recommend a new artist.  When music stores closed, music sales declined. Wal-Mart is not a music store. Yet the music industry created a situation in which Wal-Mart sells twenty percent of all music CD in the country. Until the music industry encourages resurgence of music stores, the decline in music sales will continue.

            Likewise, bookstores are a community for readers and writers. At my bookstore, I recommend and introduce new authors to my customers. While bookstores and book buyers cannot control the actions of the publisher, they can control their own actions. If you are a writer, avoid the screaming deals on Amazon and Wal-Mart. Buy your books at a bookstore. Encourage your readers to buy books at a bookstore. Get to know your local bookseller. Booksellers love to promote local authors.

            “So where do e-books fit into this scenario?” you ask. 

            E-books are here to stay. But while e-books may never be more than 20 percent of the market share, e-books may prove critical in encouraging the growth in print sales.  Recently, I was speaking with young adult author, Aprilynne Pike at a signing. The third book in her young adult series was just published in early May. Just before its publication, her publisher offered a free e-book download of the first book in the series for a limited time. As a result, sales for all three books in the series increased. In fact, her third book is already in its second printing two weeks after its publication date. In contrast, the second book in the series never had second printing. Did my bookstore suffer from the e-book sales? No. At the signing, I sold every copy of her third book at the store. The free e-book merely introduced the book to a new set of readers.

            More importantly, e-books are enabling writers to get their books out to readers.  Several published authors are republishing their backlist as e-books. This enables these authors to reach new readers. It enables readers to obtain hard to find titles, which have been out of print.  These same readers will eagerly buy the next print title of these authors. 

            Likewise, e-books are an excellent opportunity for unpublished authors to publish their works.  Amanda Hocking self published her novels as e-books. Her success as an e-book writer eventually netted her a seven figure publishing contract. Likewise, Marta Acosta could not find a publisher for her young adult vampire book. So she published it online for free. The novel was highly praised by online reviewers and it became a popular e-book download. Tor has purchased the novel and it will be published in hardcover.

            Since print books will continue to have the largest percentage of the market, eventually publishers will want to publish successful e-book authors and books in print. As long as there are bookstores, book sales should recover from the recession.  As writers, you have a vested interest in supporting bookstores. Amazon and Wal-Mart are not bookstores. Lastly, remember this: bookstores sell books.

by: Phyllis Lamken, Owner of Dark Horse Books, Driggs, ID


Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Idaho


9 responses to “A Bookstore Owner’s Perspective on E-books and the Future of Bookstores

  1. johannaharness

    May 13, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    Thanks so much for guest blogging this week, Phyllis! I do love the community that forms around bookstores. The work you do cannot be replaced.

  2. Meredith Conner

    May 13, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Thanks for blogging with us today Phyllis! Bookstores are my favorite places to find new authors and I’ve met other readers lurking in the aisles with me who have shared their favorites as well which I’ve gone on to read and love also. Bookstores are my haven!

  3. Janis

    May 13, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Phyllis, traditional bookstores are an irreplaceable treat. Thanks for visiting Gem State Writers.

  4. Liz Fredericks

    May 13, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    Thanks for joining us today on GSW!

  5. Carley Ash

    May 13, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Excellent blog Phyllis. Thank you. I LOVE bookstores – the physical structures where I walk in for one book and come out with at least five more.

  6. maryvine

    May 14, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    It was nice to read a bookstore owner’s perspective on what’s happening with books today. I read an article in Reader’s Digest this morning that said the ecconomy should be much better in two to three years. I certainly hope so. Thank you.

  7. James

    February 20, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Traditional paper books, including rare books or books you may want for a keep sake or even for a gift, would always be the preferred version for many people. Not to mention that the appeal of holding a book in your hand, (maybe an investment if it is rare?), placing it on bookshelf (as piece of furniture), is something many would always prefer I would think?

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