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The wrong goodbye of Barnes and Noble

10 January 2013

From Melville House:

Maybe you’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot of Barnes & Noble superstores closing lately? Not just stores in remote locations (like, say, this one in rural upstate New York), but in some of the nation’s largest metropolitan shopping areas, such as Los AngelesSan FranciscoPhiladelphiaWashington, DCSeattleChicagotwo stores in Dallasanother in Austin, and Manhattan. And that’s just in the last 30 days or so.

What had been a slow shrinkage as leases ran out — a store here, a store there — turned into an avalanche after Thanksgiving. Stores that should have been well-stocked for the holidays were instead out of inventory and passing time until the end of the year.

. . . .

If you include the company’s college stores, this is going to mean 1362 bookstores disappearing from the American landscape — less than two years after 686 Borders stores disappeared.

The big chains deserve opprobrium for their vicious tactics against America’s independent booksellers, certainly. Back in the last century, I wrote a column attacking B&N for putting indie booksellers in Melville House’s birthplace, Hoboken, New Jersey, out of business with under-pricing, as if selling books was like selling widgets. Can you guess the rest of that story? Having poisoned the well, the Hoboken B&N itself went out of business, leaving the town — a big Manhattan bedroom with lots of well-educated, well-off residents — without a bookshop, probably forever.

. . . .

Not only is B&N going to get out of its brick-and-mortar business — as I say, the process is clearly already underway — but the other shoe seemed to drop last week, when the company released its holiday sales report, revealing that its plan to become a digital bookseller is in shambles, and the whole enterprise is in jeopardy.

. . . .

But as I say, right or wrong, for this bookseller, it’s coming. (A highly placed Big Six exec I respect to no end told me to look for the death of B&N in two to three years. That was two years ago.) Publishers are on a crash course learning how to survive without any volume booksellers, and in an environment with one retailer (oh, guess) representing as much of its business as — well, who knows? Eighty percent? More? That alone is likely to make publishers give up on printing books — there’s no sense in printing books if your main outlet isn’t going to order any until they sell them — and join the digital “revolution.”

Link to the rest at Melville House and thanks to Keith for the tip.


59 Comments to “The wrong goodbye of Barnes and Noble”

  1. It will be interesting to see whose predictions turn out correctly. Smashwords founder Mark Coker has put his chips down that B&N will rise out of the ashes and retain its status as a giant of bookselling, albeit focused more on its ereader and eBooks.

    This sentence, though, illuminates some of what is hurting the industry:

    “there’s no sense in printing books if your main outlet isn’t going to order any until they sell them”

    Ah, yes. How can we run a business where we actually have to focus on selling things that people want? How will we ever find out that kind of info? *facepalm*

    • What I find interesting is that publishers are willing to do print-only deals like the recent one for ‘Wool’, if they expect book stores to disappear. I can only assume they don’t think the print market will vanish any time soon.

    • Tristan, thanks for the shout out. Yeah, I think B&N has a good shot at survival. They’ll need to continue executing really well over the next couple years to make it happen:

      1. On the device side, they’ll need to continue raising the bar with their e-readers and tablets. They’re doing well here, but they’ll need to continue to iterate because their competition (Amazon, Apple, etc) is iterating. Since screens are the new paper in an e-dominated world, he or she with the most screens in consumer hands will survive.

      2. Global. They were slow to expand outside the US, and a lot of people have written them off for this reason. When they finally entered the UK market last year, a lot of people criticized their entry as too little too late. I think the critics missed a silver lining, and that’s their strategy of partnering with brick and mortar retailers. This gives them the ability to put their devices in front of people who buy books, and the opportunity to do it not just in bookstores, but in other retail outlets as well. Their B&M presence in the US is what allowed them to be so successful here in the US, and they that with under 800 stores. They entered the UK market with around 2,500 stores. They have an opportunity to replicate that throughout Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. They have a slight advantage here over Amazon, because retailers with a memory know what happened when Borders outsourced their ebookstore to Amazon many years ago, and then the recent memory of Amazon’s price check app. Amazon wants to disintermediate all retailers of both physical and digital goods, whereas B&N doesn’t share that same “your margin is my margin” strategy. B&N has the potential to be a more trusted, more complementary long term partner to retailers. Operative word is “potential.” It’ll depend on execution, and a key part of that execution is to produce and sell some of the best devices.

      3. Transition from brick and mortar in US to online. They’ve done this better than Borders, but they’re not out of the woods yet. If the bottom falls out of the print market, it’ll make the transition more difficult for them. If print stabilizes as a popular format, it’ll give them more time to get out from under store leases.

      4. Funding. Will the recent investments from MSFT and Pearson be enough?

      5. Indie author perception. In my biased view of the future of publishing, I see indie authors usurping the power once held by publishers. I think five years from now, most bestselling ebooks will be from indie authors. If one agrees with my view (whether the crossover happens in 5 years, 2 years or 10 years is inconsequential, what matters most is the direction of the trend), then that means indies will determine which ebookstores survive. Indies will determine this by where they choose to distribute their books, how they distribute, and how they promote. A lot of indies have been proclaiming B&N as dead for the last 4 years, and some of these indies have therefore neglected distributing their titles to B&N, or actively promoting them. When people start dancing on graves that don’t exist, it’s harmful to the reputation of the otherwise viable player.

      B&N has a lot of execution in front of them to pull this off. Can they do it? I think so. Will they? I think so. Can indies help them? Definitely. Is it in every author’s best interest that B&N survives and thrives? Definitely yes.

      • With all due respect, there is a lot in that list about the upstream (publisher) side of the book retail business and very little about the downstream (consumer) side.
        Some of us would suggest that B&N’s problems stem from being too focused on dealing with and pleasing the publishers and not enough on studying and pleasing consumers.
        The report that Indie bookstores improved while B&N was declining (with measurably lower traffic) suggests customers aren’t showing up to care what B&N stocks or doesn’t stock.
        If B&N is to live to see 2015, they had better start looking to the best interests of the customers more and worrying about the interests of the Penguins of the world less.

      • I’d be more sanguine, or at least hopeful, about B&N if their website coders weren’t either incompetent, snobs, or both. (No, I should not have to run the latest version of my OS, and the most cutting-edge browser, to not see little boxes where all the optional hyphens are on a book. Amazon doesn’t show me that, on the exact same browser. And the Help Desk should say, “Gosh, that’s a bug. I’ll tell the programmers” not “get a new machine.”)

        (Yes, still POed at B&N over that.

        Though I do hope our local B&N manages to survive somehow. Maybe they’ll be able to turn indie bookstore…)

  2. It will be interesting to see the landscape should B&N fall. But aren’t independent stores doing better recently? For some communities who don’t have much else it will be hard to see how they’ll get something else (I remember living in small towns in the south and B&N being the only place for a book). Here in nyc we’ll have other choices, and I’m glad for that. But I suppose this is where the ereaders/online will help places without anything.

  3. Note sneer quotes on ‘revolution’ at the end. Well, this is a rant from someone who still thinks it’s vitally important to have brick-and-mortar bookshops, and that Hoboken will be crippled without one. One should, I suppose, make allowances for Luddites; but frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and beginning to wish that they would all get buried under their own cuneiform tablets or whatever it is that Real Books ought to be printed on.

  4. Interesting vision for the future,

    Publishers are on a crash course learning how to survive without any volume booksellers, and in an environment with one retailer (oh, guess) representing as much of its business as — well, who knows? Eighty percent? More?

    Is it likely? What do you all think? I don’t know enough to make or evaluate such predictions, but the idea of a landscape of independent booksellers and no big chains catches my attention and curiosity! I’d love to hear what the more experienced of PG’s readers think.

    • Frankly, I don’t think the big publishers are going to survive any more than the chain bookshops will. And the independents are going to find it very tough scratching.

      How many independent video stores were still in business when Blockbuster turned out the lights? How many are left now? Or to take an example from a different industry, how many A & P grocery stores are left in the world? And how many people buy their groceries from the mom-and-pop stores that had such a hard time competing with A & P in its heyday? Distribution channels change; the market moves on. And the general trend, for over a century now, has been to cut out middlemen and have fewer retailers with larger catchment areas. The book business is still about a decade behind the curve.

      • Just an anecdote… I live in a big suburb/small city outside of San Francisco. All of the big chain video stores went out of business as Netflix took over. Now Netflix has lost its luster (low selection of streaming titles as the main problem) and our little local video store is thriving. I found myself there for the first time in ten years because I couldn’t find what I wanted on Netflix or Amazon Prime and didn’t want to wait. Now we go there more and more.

        So who knows? The indies might thrive in retail just as they are with us writers, like tiny rodents outliving the dinosaurs.

        • All the little local video stores in my neck of the woods have gone out of business. The last and best of them disappeared just about the same time Blockbuster Canada folded (a little while after the U.S. chain shut down).

          Netflix was never a major player up here, mostly because of weird Canadian-content rules and odd rights restrictions which meant that most of the titles available in the U.S. were not on Netflix Canada.

          So clearly there is some regional difference — but even in the best of cases, the video-store business is a tiny fraction of what it was.

          • DVD lending seems popular at the library, so I guess Blockbuster was being squeezed from both ends; streaming/downloaded video at the top and free DVDs from the library at the bottom.

      • The world needed big booksellers because they could get the best deals with big publishers who could give the best prices to big booksellers. It was all about economies of scale and volume purchasing.

        Now, I’ll grant you, it’s still WAY cheaper on a marginal basis to print ten thousand of something than it is to print one. However, the marginal cost of printing is becoming less and less important to the price of a book and/or what people are willing to pay for one. People who are willing to buy paper books at all are willing to pay a pretty good price, which will more than cover the difference between tradprint and POD costs.

        And *that,* combined with the lower number of people who want paper books at all, is what will kill tradpub and chain bookstores (and most indie bookstores.) There is no competitive advantage for them. Can’t compete on ebooks – only technopeasants go to bookstores to buy ebooks and the world has fewer technopeasants every day.. Can’t compete on paper books due to overhead and inventory costs, and the advantage of selection and convenience is going away. Why does the world need them?

        • People who are willing to buy paper books at all are willing to pay a pretty good price, which will more than cover the difference between tradprint and POD costs.

          Even ignoring that, not having to deal with return costs — ever — is a big saving with POD. As POD costs fall, it’s getting to the point where it will take a hell of a lot of volume for conventional printing to be cheaper once you allow for returns.

          • If you go through LightningSource I think you still have to deal with return costs. Don’t you?

            • Not as traditional publishers know the use of the word. For them, return costs mean that they ship (for instance) 10,000 books to stores, and only 7,000 actually sell. That’s a fairly typical return rate and may actually be on the low side of average nowadays; I haven’t got the latest figures.

              For you and me, return costs mean that some one customer orders a book, doesn’t like it for whatever reason, and you have to take it back. You can then resell it to the next customer that comes along, but the cost of handling the return (including shipping) wipes out any possible profit for that particular copy.

              One of these things, as they say, is not like the other. One kind of returns costs a few dollars at a time; the other costs thousands.

              Large publishers have been complaining about the wastefulness of these large-scale returns ever since they introduced the system decades ago; but the system remains. Booksellers like it because it allows them to purchase new stock by exchanging their unsalable old stock. Big publishers, frankly, like it because small publishers can’t afford to do it, and this helps the big publishers keep their hammerlock on print distribution. POD publishers don’t have to deal with it at all, because they never have any large amount of unsold inventory.

            • No, you can opt to make all sales final. Afterall, POD books have higher printing costs.

    • This reader grew up buying in small bookstores well before Barnes & Noble or Borders were part of the local landscape.

      To choose from, I had, in easy reach from home or work:

      1. Four smaller, not-gobbled-up-yet chain bookstores;
      2. One antiquarian bookshop;
      4. Five secondhand bookshops;
      5. A general bookstore;
      6. A mixed antiquarian and general bookstore;
      7. A science fiction and fantasy bookshop.
      8. Two religious bookstores.

      The doom-and-gloomsayers have short memories, or they’re young. American physical bookselling is not going to disappear if there are a lot of smaller bookshops instead of one big bookshop. That’s the way it was before B&N and Borders.

      The demise of chain-buyers who oligarchically control what gets published and sold with their own purchasing decisions is not an unmixed misfortune.

      Since my taste and the chains’ buyers didn’t seem to mesh too well, I’m optimistic to see print publishing facing a different physical retail environment. If there’s one close enough, I might start frequenting a bookshop again.

  5. When I moved to Colorado Springs twenty years ago, I looked around and decided that it was the life long dream of many to move to Colorado Springs and open a book store (new or used) or a brew pub. Most of those book stores are now gone. The brew pubs seem to be going strong.

    At one point we had a Borders, a B&N and an independent within a few blocks one of other in north Colorado Springs. Now only the B&N is left. It still gets plenty of traffic, but I don’t know how much of that is just for the free WiFi. I used to go there about once a week. Now I go once every six weeks, generally to pick up something off the newstand. For my genre reading, I download from Amazon for my Kindle, and for craft books which I still like in hardcover, I order from Amazon because they are so much cheaper, or at least, in stock.

    • for craft books which I still like in hardcover, I order from Amazon because they are so much cheaper, or at least, in stock.

      Very important point, this. Many’s the time I have checked out the website of our sole chain bookseller here in Canada, Chapters/Indigo, only to find that the book I wanted was not in stock at any of the stores within driving distance. So I ordered the book from Amazon instead, and got it cheaper and quicker than I could have by placing a special order with Chapters/Indigo.

      • I had a similar experience. I was in a Chapters and spotted a new release from Bernard Cornwell that I wanted to read. I figured I’d check the Kobo price, since my wife and I each had Kobo’s. The eBook was two dollars more than the paperback.

        I checked Amazon and found it was close to four dollars less than Kobo.

        Now my wife has a Kobo (excellent reader, by the way) and I have a Kindle touch.

        Chapters seems to be staying in business so far. There’s even an experimental new store format here in Calgary that sells mostly books! I was in there on the weekend and there wasn’t a magnetic globe or tacky knick knack in sight.

        I didn’t buy any books, though. I was just in there to get a coffee…

        • I’m in Calgary myself; and so I clicked through to your blog, and now, drat it, I’m going to have to spend more money on somebody’s books. (Ain’t it just terrible when that happens?)

          What else can I say but ‘Howdy’?

          • I’ve just been to Bondwine and find I’m now in a similar situation.

            Of course, I’m looking down the barrel of a weekend with the inlaws, so I’m more than happy to find fresh stories for my kindle.

            How’s your driveway looking this morning?

            • Driveway? I’m living in a walkup apartment in Bankview, with outdoor parking in the back. My ‘driveway’ is a back alley so steep and slippery that I can’t get out at my end in the wintertime; I have to drive all the way down the hill to the other end, because I can’t get traction to go up.

              Alas, I shall have to wait a bit before buying any of your stuff. I blew the last of my book budget for January on a (very expensive, shipped from the U.S., out of print) copy of LeGuin’s Language of the Night. And then, you are the third interesting new (to me) writer that I have made contact with this morning. I hope you’ll excuse me for waiting till February; unless you want to do a spot of bartering in the meantime.

              • I just finished shoveling (for now). We’re up in Coventry. No need for barter – I needed a new title for the weekend anyway. I suppose I’ll have to put it down for a few hours on Saturday (folks can be so touchy at weddings).
                My compliments to Sarah. She does excellent covers!

        • I’m in Calgary too! (Obviously a great city to meet other smart people in.) Where is this Chapters?? Please tell!

          • Howdy Sylvia!
            I’m talking about the one in the Cross Iron Mills mall. It’s roughly a half kilometer north of the food court. The clerk I was talking to said it was a new concept they were tinkering with (I kid you not). I did find a couple of table displays with trinkets and such, but it was almost entirely dedicated to books … and Starbucks.

            There’s also a big Kobo display up front. I’m still kind of shocked they sold that division off to a Japanese venture firm. Kobo was a high margin earner for them, even better than the usual general merchandise percentages.

            • I’m still kind of shocked they sold that division off to a Japanese venture firm. Kobo was a high margin earner for them, even better than the usual general merchandise percentages.

              I suspect they just didn’t have the capital to expand it into something that could compete with Amazon and Apple internationally. Indigo Books and Music was run for years more or less as Heather Reisman’s private hobby; and as I have heard from junior managers with the company, it was more than once bailed out by her husband Gerry Schwartz’s money. Despite its near-monopoly position, the company has never been consistently profitable. In 2011 Indigo actually lost money; in 2012 they made a sizable profit, but virtually all of it was from ‘discontinued operations’ — i.e., presumably, from selling off Kobo.

              I’ve been at the Cross Iron Mills store, but not for several months; at that time it looked pretty much like any other Chapters or Indigo store. It will be interesting to have another look; but I doubt I shall be sufficiently interested to drive all the way out to Balzac for the privilege of buying books at full retail.

            • Thanks! I haven’t been to Crossiron Mills since they’d just opened and were all shiny-new. They didn’t have a Chapters then. Just Bass Mills Pro and a bunch of clothes stores, that I remember.

              Today was supposed to be my bookstore-and-library day, but (for some reason) shovelling the three-foot drift in my front yard put me off.

          • I’m in Calgary too! (Obviously a great city to meet other smart people in.)

            Howdy to you, too! If there get to be any more of us, I may do something foolish like try to organize a PG Fan Club meeting in town.

            Of course Calgary is a great city to meet smart people in. It is, after all, a suburb of the great metropolis of Balzac (where CrossIron Mills is), which is, so far as I know, the only town in North America named after a brilliant and famous French novelist. Ya doesn’t get much more cultured than that, I tells ya.

            By the way, a raspberry to those particular persons from Toronto & vicinity who think everyone in Alberta is an illiterate hick. Where are your towns named after novelists?

    • I love watching a brewing bromance on screen. Tom and Andrew, you guys made my day!

  6. It’s sad. You know, there’s alot of talk about how Barnes and Noble put independent bookstores out of business. But I remember they also did something else which was really wonderful – they revitalized bookselling, made it profitable and much more accessible.

    Before Barnes and Noble, it was very hard to find a bookstore. After Barnes and Noble, lots of people discovered books. It didn’t just steal customers, it lured new ones and the Industry prospered from it.

    So, I think this article is unfair, saying Barnes and Noble earned and deserved what is happening. Life is not so black and white.

    For me – I really liked Barnes and Noble stores. I loved the larger selection, the coffee shop where I could read books and have a treat, and the quiet, cozy atmosphere.

    I make no bones that I believe print will fade and eventually be only a specialty item. I welcome with happy, open arms both the new digital technology and the unprecedented freedom it gives the author.

    But there is a loss here – I have very warm feelings for Barnes and Noble stores, and I feel sad that we are about to lose them, at least in their current incarnation. Because there really is no question – we will lose them.

    And – I could be wrong – but I think everyone familiar with the Industry landscape pretty much knows that it’s coming, at least deep down they know. Including Barnes and Noble, which is why they are focused on their digital sales.

    • I remember they also did something else which was really wonderful – they revitalized bookselling, made it profitable and much more accessible.

      This is true; but when people want to kick and holler about Big Business, they tend to forget that part.

      So, I think this article is unfair, saying Barnes and Noble earned and deserved what is happening. Life is not so black and white.

      I prefer to look at people rather than institutions, for the most part. Barnes & Noble, as such, doesn’t really deserve things one way or the other.

      The people who used to run B&N, and made bookshops accessible and affordable for millions of people, didn’t deserve to have this stuff happen to them — but they weren’t the ones it happened to.

      The people running B&N in recent years, the ones who tried to change it from a bookshop to a tacky gift shop and tchotchke emporium, and who could never quite figure out whether Nook was the business of the future or a way to protect their brick-and-mortar business — those people deserved every bushel of failure in their current bumper crop. It’s a damned shame that so many employees and so many customers have to suffer in the process. But certainly the people whose bad management caused the suffering deserve to suffer a share of it themselves.

      • I prefer to look at people rather than institutions…

        Yes! Thank you for articulating that! I’m going to use that phrase when I’m thinking about something to help focus my priorities in the direction I prefer.

    • “I remember they also did something else which was really wonderful – they revitalized bookselling, made it profitable and much more accessible.”

      I was lucky in that I never needed for B&N to do this. I already had Powell’s Books; as I wrote elsewhere, Powell’s was a bricks-&-mortar Amazon long before there was an Amazon, & I remember spending many Sunday afternoons examining (so to speak) their stock.

      I find it interesting that Powell’s took a different course than B&N: they kept their hand in the used books trade. I figure that as long as people want to buy physical books, the used book trade will continue, likely long after the last publisher sells his printing press for scrap. The biggest risk to Powell’s, IMHO, is that they hire some suit from Border’s or B&N who attempts to replicate the strategy that harmed those stores — say eliminate the used books stock & sell overpriced notebooks & tchotchkes instead. Considering that Powell’s is now run by the granddaughter of the founder — Walt died years ago, & his son Michael is transitioning himself out (if he hasn’t retired already) — that is a dismal possibility.

      • Sadly, that’s the way companies usually go; the founder dies or retires, they bring in an MBA who just wants to push up the short-term profits so they can cash in their stock options and get another job before the company goes bust.

        • Oh, don’t be too quick to ascribe evil motives to the MBAs. Quite a lot of them actually believe they know how to run those businesses better than the founders did. They’re wrong, as a general thing, but not deliberately wrong.

        • I wouldn’t say all companies go that way; a small few do avoid that path, & I’ve encountered a few people who are pooh-poohing the idea of hiring consultants with shiny new MBAs. Things could change, but it will take the granddaughter a few years to sink Powell’s.

          But it seems to be an eventuality: sooner or later the generation who runs a family business screws it up. That is the biggest danger to Powell’s, not the changing market, not Amazon, not even television. In a way, that is how a bookstore should fail.

    • I used to love Barnes and Noble. For years it was my go to place whenever I had extra money or time. I just loved being there and I spent lots of money there on books.

      Then there came a period of time as my family grew and we went through financial difficulty where I never went there because lugging toddlers around Barnes and Noble is insane and I never had extra money to spend anyway. It was only in the last couple of years that spending money on books became an option again.

      The Christmas before last my husband and I got some Barnes and Noble gift certificates and so made time one day to go there. I was actually excited. I hadn’t stepped foot there in ages. I was utterly shocked by how much it had changed. Just the games and nicknacks everywhere and the huge Nook display which blocked your entire view as soon as you walked in. It just didn’t even feel like a bookstore anymore. And we couldn’t find ANYTHING that we wanted to buy.

      So we went home and ordered off the website. But it took over a week for us to get our stuff. (And we were used to Prime 2 day shipping.) All in all, Barnes and Noble gave us a terrible experience as customers and the day when a store (no matter how once well beloved) begins to fail me as a customer is the day I stop supporting them as a customer.

      I don’t feel sorry for them because they seem to be a lot more worried about the “publishing industry” than about serving customers, which is their one function. Now my only question is what to do with the Barnes and Noble gift certificate we got this year.

  7. This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.

  8. Those “lots of well-educated, well-off residents” bought ereaders and tablets.

    • Yes; and now they can read just any old thing they want, instead of being constructively guided and controlled by the selection of books that the Mighty Gatekeepers allow into their local bookshop. Horrors!

  9. Markets don’t revert to some past stage. They evolve to some new stage.

  10. Wow. So, I just wonder if this is apart of the whole “distribution collapse” which Jane Dystel was talking about in her interview the other day. Sure appears to be a collapse of some sort.

  11. Learning to survive without any volume booksellers?
    Uh, didn’t they do just that up until the 70’s?

    Overdramatic much?
    Just because they closed a few stores nearby and had a second bad holiday season in a row doesn’t mean the sky is falling.

    All it really means is B&N will have to (finally!) get rid of the delusion that they are indispensable and get back to basics. Spinning off Nook Media (via IPO or outright sale) will generate enough cash to let them refocus on customer service and stop looking for magic bullets and quick fixes.

    And if B&N really does fold, well, that in itself will be a reflection of their indispensability; that indies and online and the general retailers are enough to meet the needs of the market.
    The publishers will simply have to adapt to what the market wants. Move to smaller print runs and just-in-time logistics or POD or set up their own retail operations.

  12. The whole situation is foreseeable and predictable. The business anatomy of a book is as follows: Publishers select the best manuscript from thousands of writers, they package it (edit, design, etc.), they print a boat load of paper books, send them to distributors, distributors send the books to retailers, to book stores like B&N.
    The advent of the eBook eliminates the business cycle of printing, distributing and retailing, which are soon to be extinct, including B&N. There is another way for printed books, the POD. Books could be printed on demand, in a book store for example. But this is not happening, because smart money see the POD in a brick and mortar store only as a temporary bridge until all books will be eBooks. I like book stores, but sadly in my opinion book stores will become or join the antiques stores.
    Question is what will happen to the publishers? Surprisingly, they will not perish. Their current quandary is that they cannot imagine a world of books where they cannot control the distribution channels as they are and used to be able to do. The sooner they put that behind them the better, for them. Publishers have the capital, have the know how to select best manuscripts, and package them as books. They haven’t figured out the eBook creature yet. They should forget about that too. Smart publishers will adopt and use their strengths as Publishers in a virtual world.
    There was an earlier blog here about Publishing Indie Authors by Digital Book World. This publisher lets the Indie author take all the risk, and if the book is good they can scoop that book and publish it, applying their business know how. Many authors will not mind that arrangement, freeing them to write, instead of conducting business.
    I believe the future is bright for all authors, it is fair for publishers, and it is abysmal for book stores.

    • The problem with your analysis is that you are assuming facts not in evidence. In particular:

      Publishers have the capital, have the know how to select best manuscripts, and package them as books.

      The entertainment megacorporation parents of the big publisher have the capital and they know how to read a balance sheet. The publishers have substantial sunk costs in the collapsing print business. I expect that very soon you will personally have access to more ready capital than Random Penguin House.

      There is zero evidence that publishers know how to select the best manuscripts. I can read the Amazon best seller lists better than they can. As for packaging books, 12-18 months is too long to take to get a book to market. The publishers literally cannot improve on that without completely changing their entire process. But creating a process from scratch is easier than changing one. A handful of smart former employees will be better positioned than any of the big publishing companies will to create a streamlined trad pub process.

      • As I said, “Smart publishers will adopt and use their strengths as Publishers in a virtual world.” The not so smart will perish, as they should.

        • I think you have it backwards. The smart folks in publishing will flee the traditional print publishers, leaving only non-smart publishers. The only real advantages that publishing companies have are experienced workers (people who do rather than manage) and connections. I’m seen lots of industry declines and the experienced workers who have options are the first folks to go. I suspect that brain drain has already started.

          • Indeed. One of my friends who’s still heavily involved in the whole print-publishing business tells me that a major problem is the loss of institutional memory, because so many of the long-time employees have either left voluntarily or been let go. To save money, a lot of imprints are manned mostly by recent graduates.

            This is not altogether a bad thing; the trouble is that these young folks know what the corporate policies are, but they don’t know why those are the policies, because the people who established the policies are long gone. Consequently, they have no way of knowing whether the reasons for those policies are still valid — and they don’t have the seniority or clout to fight senior management for changes.

            • Which means not only are they stuck behind Chesterton’s Fence, they’re on the wrong side. A truly pitiable position.

  13. At least for writers, I think it’s less helpful to debate whether or not B&N will go under, and more important to realize and plan for the possibility that they might. Even if they go on, they may be considerably smaller and weaker, and that’s not going to be helpful to traditional publishers. Writers can hedge their bets: They can do thing like market to other retail channels, diversifying while still staying in B&N for as long as it’s worth doing.

    And if B&N starts stiffing writers, let PG know!

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