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The Dystopian Future of Bookstores

28 September 2011

From TechCrunch:

As we well know, ebook sales are now outpacing hardback sales and publishers are now crowing ebook numbers alongside their traditional in-store sales numbers. Soon those in-store sales numbers will dwindle and disappear simply because there will be no stores – heavy readers, the folks who buy genre fiction by the basket-full will be happy to head over to Nooks and Kindles, especially when they drop below $99 (as they will this year).

If I were a betting man, I’d wager quite a bit on these predictions. However, if you’re currently in the book sales racket – from publisher to used bookstore owner, I’d be very worried. The time to pivot is now and it’s clearly already happening.

. . . .

2013 – EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales.
2014 – Publishers begin “subsidized” e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail.

. . . .

2019 – The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the “publisher subsidized” tablet devices will falter.
2020 – Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Bookstores, Disruptive Innovation

12 Comments to “The Dystopian Future of Bookstores”

  1. Interesting scenarios.

    Don’t quite think books will become artifacts. I do think we’ll see a rise of books as collector’s items. Franklin Mint will issue special editions in sets “guaranteed to increase in value.” Maybe inlaid with Swaorvski crystals? And with special collector bookcases to hold them?

    I think a solid book business for the next ten years or so will be in the selling of used books.

    I think handing a book to a child of the next generation will earn you a look that says, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

  2. I think the future of the print book will be in luxury collectable items. They will become a status symbol. Limited edition runs in very niche markets will be another way of making money. It’s easy to envision boutique publishers for such artifacts.

    • agree. In fact, they seemed to be moving in that direction in the last few years. The bookstores were filled with more an more coffee table type books. Of course celeb and some big name books will always sell. But genre fiction? For fun? Yeah, the future is electronic.

  3. I think the timeline is way too slow. We tend to assume change goes on in a proportional manner. As in, it took us twenty years to get here so it will take twenty years… No. Change builds on change and then it RUNS.
    Based on two things — the first being one that PV mentioned before — the fact that smaller print runs cost more per book and will kill publishers with massive overheads (most of them) and the (admittedly anedoctal) fact that 9 out of ten people who try e-readers seem to become converts within a year — I view today’s announcement of the $79 (advertiser supported, granted) kindle as “It’s all over but the shouting.” I give the whole edifice a year. Within a year we’ll start publishing houses being unloaded by their conglomerates and panic setting in. Publishing has always been a low-margin business. This will change. Mind you, the publishers we shall always have with us, but I bet in five years we won’t recognize them.

    • I agree, Sarah. The timeline is way too slow. I thought my husband was out of his mind when a Kindle 1 arrived in the mail over two years ago. Within a couple of weeks, he had to ask me if he could use it. After a couple of months, I realized I could no longer remember whether I had read a book in paper or on the Kindle.

      I got my own Kindle 3 in June for my birthday, and gave the old one back to my husband. (Wasn’t that nice of me?)

      What really astonished me is that we attended a small family get-together at the end of June. There were several e-readers there, and I don’t think of most of my husband’s family as being big readers.

      Now that Kindle supports our local library, I am actually thinking of getting my mother (age 77) one for Christmas.

      • I completely sympathize. My wife arranged to team up with family to buy me a Kindle 3G for xmas last year. She never used it, pretty much refused to use it, continuing to read print books, while I read almost everything on the Kindle.

        Until about two weeks ago, when I got her to try it. Since then she’s read several books on the Kindle, and carries it around with her… I’ve lost my Kindle, and have to read on my Droid X2, these days.

        Oh, well. Guess it’s time to snatch up one of the new Kindles! =) Only question is – which one…? 😉

    • Most disruptive change takes longer to start than true believers think it will, but once started, it overwhelms the old order more rapidly than anyone expected.

    • You’re absolutely correct, Sarah. This timeline is laughably slow. We’re talking about trad publishing companies that are barely able to keep the doors open and the lights on now. Every $4.99 or less indie ebook sold on Amazon is another nail in the coffin of trad publishers who cannot support their business model without the revenue from much higher-priced, less reader-convenient hard-copy print books. There is no way they can cut their overhead down to what indie writers and e-publishers can.

      • Hi KW! 🙂
        And yeah. The other part of this is what I’ve been screaming (like that voice in the desert) that technology change is only half the story on how things are collapsing re: NY publishing. The other half is how bad things had got if publishing is judged as “getting readers things they might want to read.” As a reader, I abandoned my local bookstore years ago, because they seemed to go in for “1000 shelves with one type of book.” And going from buying paper on Amazon to buying electrons on Amazon is much easier than if I were going from established bookstore browsing habits to electrons.

  4. Here’s the problem with this. The timeline is VERY conservative.

    Amazon has made their announcement. We now live in a world with $79 ereaders and $199 android tablets. This winter will be remembered as the end of print as the dominant written media. Tens of millions of ereaders and tablets will sell over the next few months. By early next year, most fiction will be read in ebook form (it’s already over a third as of this writing).

    The 2013 prediction might be accurate, for very early 2013. The 2015 “death of Mom&Pops” is probably off by a couple of years. Most will be dead by the end of 2013. Likewise, the 2018 end of brick and mortar B&N is probably too conservative. Several states (and the entire country of South Korea) have already announced plans to move all schools to ereader textbooks (K-12) by 2015; as more schools realize how much cheaper this will be for them, the switch will accelerate. 2020 is years late. The 2023 epaper thing is slow, too. It already exists, it just isn’t ready for prime time yet. In fact, LCD contact lenses already exist, displaying a 6×6 grid wirelessly onto the contact lens. By 2023, you’ll probably have contact lenses with “retina” type displays of high resolution graphics. Epaper will have happened years before that.

    Yup, the predictions above are all decent ones. The only problem is, they’re probably going to happen a lot faster than that… 😉

  5. According to some teachers I know, we’re pretty much in that version of 2020. That discrepancy alone makes me think this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about quite as much as they’d like to think. (And as everyone else has pointed out, they’ve nicely pushed things out over the next fifteen years, but change doesn’t happen anywhere near that slow.)

    I see a zero-sum game in their thinking, but I believe books and ebooks could coexist. Compete, yes, but they’re not destined archenemies abiding by the “ONLY ONE CAN SURVIVE” prophecy. Many people are hold outs with old technologies, and you don’t get much older than books. The physical paper book will be around for sometime yet, I believe.

  6. What is happening with even the largest bookstores is pretty grim news and I never thought I’d prefer holding a gadget over an actual book. But I must say… I’m a convert. E-books do have significant strengths (e.g. no need to walk somewhere to purchase, no fear of damage, and of course ease of storage and transport, without even attempting the calculations of environmental savings).

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