I recently caught a broadcast on my local NPR station from American Public Media about the troubled book publishing industry.
The most recent trend is that bookstores are ordering more books than they could ever sell because they are trying to compete with online book stores. They fear, according to the report, that if customers cannot find what they are looking for, they will go home and order the book online. Their fear is justified – after all, the average big box bookstore like Borders can stock approximately 100,000 titles while Amazon can list millions.
While book publishers may be rejoicing over increased orders, the orders are really a double-edged sword because the bookstores can return any books they don’t sell after 90 days.
To add to the problem, some bookstores are returning books before the 90-day window, waiting a week and then ordering more books. Now they have another 90 days to pay for the books and whatever they don’t sell they can return without losing a dime, according to the broadcast. More evidence that the publishing industry’s consignment model no longer works. Add to that decreasing book sales and you have a formula for disaster.
An article in Yahoo News on the Book Expo of America held May 29 – June 1 in Los Angeles reported that more than 276,000 new titles will be published this year, according to researchers R.R. Bowker, but the Book Industry Study Group expects the number of books purchased to decrease.
So what is the future of publishing? Whether publishers like it or not, the future lies in digital content and print on demand (POD). Publishers will be forced to print fewer copies of new titles just from the economics of their business model. They will have to turn to POD printers for the shorter print runs. While most traditional publishers do not embrace POD because of the higher cost per book and quality issues, the reverse is happening. The cost per book is going down and the quality is going up.
Printing fewer books is in sync with the explosion of digital content on devices like the Kindle, Sony’s Reader Digital Book and the iPhone. With the Internet generation getting older, they may want to read more than an email or a text message and will prefer digital content over printed matter having grown up with computers and the Internet.
Just as the music industry went kicking and screaming into the digital age with the 99 cent per song business model (They are still kicking and screaming over it), the publishing industry appears to be on the same path, inundating bookstores with more books than the market can bear until they realize they need to change.
Anthony S. Policastro has been writing all his life first as a journalist, editor, and professional photographer and then as a freelance writer with his work published in The New York Times, Oceans, Diversion, and American and Popular Photographer magazines. He was also the editor-in-chief of Carolina Style magazine, a regional lifestyle publication similar to Southern Living magazine with national distribution. Currently he serves as the Senior Business Analyst for Lulu.com, the world’s largest online self publishing company with more than 1.8 million authors in 80 countries.