Thursday, February 20, 2020

Bookstore Sales Plummet and E-Books Are Saving Authors

While looking around the internet news sites this morning, two articles that seem to be flip sides of the same coin, caught my attention. The first piece is titled "Bookstore Sales Plummeted 5.7% in 2019" and the second "The Invisible Army: How E-Books are Saving Authors."

The gist of the first article is that brick and mortar bookstores in the United States fell almost six percent from 2018 levels, meaning that total bookstore sales were down about $600 million in the year-to-year comparison. The article says that the numbers were compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. Interestingly, the article says that the only "huge" bestseller during all of 2019 was Where the Crawdads Sing, a book that continues to rank high on the bestseller lists well into 2020. (And now American Dirt may not be the bookstore savior that it was destined to be before the P.C. cops started squawking about it.)

Keeping in mind that these numbers do not reflect hardcover sales via Amazon or even the Barnes & Noble website, I'm not sure that this tells us much of anything about the overall health of the publishing and bookselling industries. But what it does say is that fewer books are being purchased at the brick and mortar storefronts - and that's not a good thing because it means that those locations will likely be carrying smaller and smaller inventories while trying to make up for lost book sales by selling all the other junk that already clutters up the B&N stores. 


The Invisible Nicola May
The second article is a longer piece written by Nicola May, a romantic comedy author from the U.K. who regularly tops the Kindle bestseller list. According to May, she could "walk into a roomful of readers, booksellers and authors" without any of them having any idea who she was. She calls herself a "lone field marshal in the invisible army of e-book bestselling authors." 

May's main point is that without Amazon she could not afford to write at all because the books chains completely ignore authors like her. Her secondary point is that not only are the chains ignoring authors like her, they are ignoring readers who love the books being written by e-book-dependent authors like her. May has been practicing her craft for 23 years, but would still be unpublished (other than her own self-publishing efforts) were it not for e-books. 

May does lament the fact that e-book-only authors like her get very little love or recognition from the powers-that-be for the huge sales many of them are amassing. No big book awards come their way, and she doesn't expect that kind of thing to change, really, but as she puts it, "...I'm still smashing it with readers and paying more than just the rent."

So there you have it. It seems like there are two separate bookselling worlds out there, one that pushes print-books out the door as quickly as possible, and one that sells a huge number of e-books written by authors who remain relatively anonymous to the rest of the world. The good news is that, at least for now, there seems to be room for both worlds to simultaneously exist, a fact that readers and writers alike should celebrate. 

11 comments:

  1. I hope there's always room for both kinds of books in the world! (Just like I hope there will always be books.)

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    1. I've finally bought into the e-book concept, especially since it's the quickest and easiest way to get ARCs from publishers and authors...but there's nothing like a tree-book when it comes to reading. Physical books will alway be my first love.

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  2. Well, I have to confess I have not heard of Nicola May either. But what she says does not come as a surprise and I think your summing up says it all, that there are two publishing worlds out there. I think I knew it, I see a lot of self-publishing authors on Twitter publicising their books, but what the quality is I don't know. Like everything I expect, varies from excellent to pretty average.

    I do real books and ebooks, prefer real books if I'm honest but don't mind ebooks at all. I just bought myself a new Kindle Fire 10 and the written page on that is very impressive. I like the fact that I can take that away with me and have hundreds of books at my finger-tips (I've had two ordinary Kindles for years so have quite a large library on there). *But* that doesn't stop me also taking a couple of real books away too. LOL

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    1. Someone just brought my April 2016 about Kindle Unlimited to my attention, Cath. I had forgotten all about this one, but I think much of it is still valid criticism of the e-book buying experience on Amazon: https://bookchase.blogspot.com/2016/04/kindle-unlimited-is-crap.html

      I love my Fire 10 and use it more than the Kindle Paperwhite I own, especially for magazine and newspaper reading. I think I have just over 300 books uploaded to it right now, so it's not that I hate e-books. I enjoy them for lots of reasons, but they will never replace physical books as my reading preference.

      I keep physical books stashed everywhere for emergency reading. :-)

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  3. Same here. Physical books ("tree-books," ha ha) will always be my favorite, but e-books are too dang convenient to ignore. For the latter, I read mostly ARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss or e-books I check out from the library. I rarely buy e-books unless they are significantly cheaper than the print version. Even though I have physical books all over the dang place, I keep buying more. I don't know why except that I like having them around me :)

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    1. I love this reply because you hit on my quirks all over the place. I just feel good having books stacked around me all over the place. There's something about seeing all those unread books that makes me feel like I have money in the bank that I can withdraw later on when I need them. The Kindle doesn't give me that feeling.

      Speaking of e-ARCs...I'm reading one right now that is so poorly formatted that it's driving me nuts. The publisher insists on putting "Copyrighted" and "Do Not Copy" somewhere on every page of the e-book, and that caaused words to disappear completely or change font size. Sometimes two sentences are even jumbled up together. If I didn't want to read this particular book so badly, I would have junked it somewhere around page three. (I'm still only about 30% of the way through it). Of course, this is not the kind of thing that can, or should, be mentioned in a review, but I'm definitely going to send the publisher a note about how trashed out this one is.

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  4. I love e-books because 1) I can enlarge the print and 2) I discover new authors. However, when I find an especially good nonfiction book, I often order a print version to keep as a reference and sometimes to give as a gift. As Lark mentions, there should be room for both.

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    1. I'm the same way, Jenclair. I own quite aa few books in both formats, primarily because I either want aa hard copy to reference or because I collect a particular author's work and wang to display the books on my bookshelves. E-books do have a lot going for them, especially the ability to change print size for easier reading - something I really appreciate as my eyes get older and older.

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  5. Such a balanced, interesting post. For all the criticisms out there about Amazon, I don't know what I would do without it, and the internet. I could never afford to buy all the old books I love - I remember looking around years ago before ebooks, and the prices were either high, or the books were not available. I love it that alongside all the famous books, A carries book after book after book that I want. My reading life is so rich now. And I read many of those ebook authors who will never win prizes, but give me and so many others a great deal of reading pleasure. I must admit I've hardly read a prize winner, or a popular book. I've begun a few, and read about many, but the subject matters are just not what I want in my imagination. I'm such a happy reader these days, and it is down to Amazon, so I really mustn't criticize them! Plus I get a lot of household goods so I don't have to set foot in the crowded big box stores.

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    1. I hear you, Nan. Amazon has changed the world forever, and made life a whole lot easier for readers in the process. I do get frustrated trying to sort through a huge haystack of pretty poorly written stuff in order to find something I really want to buy, but Amazon is doing a better job these days in making recommendations that actually appeal to my tastes.

      As much as I hate seeing so many bookstores struggle or disappear altogether, I do believe that we are living in a golden age for readers - and for those marginal writers who would otherwise never have been able to share their work with others.

      Like you, too, we are regular buyers of numerous items from Amazon, and that is the only way we can still find some of the things that are no longer available locally. Not sure that I would even consider having Jeff Bezos as a personal friend, but the guy is a marketing and retailing genius.

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