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As “Paying The Writer” Gets Easier, Whither Bookstores?

6 January 2016

From TechCrunch:

There has been a bit of fussiness in publishing over the past few weeks regarding the rise of used bookstores as cultural centers/ways to screw writers. While many are coming down on the side of “any exposure, even through piracy” is good, many more writers are taking the “pay the writer” tack. The good news is that they’re both right.

First, let’s look at the history of the argument. Around Christmas the Washington Post ran an article about how used bookstores became cultural hubs in small towns and cities where cultural hubs were hard to find. This is great. A used bookstore is a swell place to drink coffee and look smart while you peruse the poetry section. A used bookstore is a boon for young writers who can use it as a hub, a space for readings, and a place to explore writing. Amazon is awful at helping you discover new writing and scrounging through an old bookstore is marginally better – but only marginally. But at least there are sometimes brownies in a bookstore.

. . . .

Here is the hard truth: the opportunity to have a books resold in a used bookstore is fading quickly. In a perfect world I’d love for a used bookstore to feature any one of my titles in all its ragged, pre-read glory. But I am not a fool. I understand that the opportunity for my books to appear in print in any great number is now over. I will publish books in ebook form and sell them in paperback as an afterthought. There is no benefit to going with a traditional publishing when I can do so much myself and save my sanity in the process.

. . . .

I want to pay writers all day long but our culture and many technological advances have made that an unpopular option. You are not paying to read these words – or you are paying, indirectly, through your attention – and I have been blessed to be allowed to enter so many of your heads with my scribblings. Soon all writing will reach a central inflection point when “free or cheap” becomes the norm and print is expensive. This will, in turn, reduce the number of books available to bookstores in general and used bookstores in specific.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

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Bookstores, The Business of Writing

14 Comments to “As “Paying The Writer” Gets Easier, Whither Bookstores?”

  1. It’s also a safe place for single women to meet guys (no longer in that category, but I once was), but you have to hang out in the SF section. I read in a lot of different genres, so, fortunately for me, that wasn’t difficult.

  2. Of course, the biggest used bookstore is Amazon itself.

    And “free and cheap” is probably already the norm and print is already considered expensive. As for the number of books available to book stores, I don’t see that shrinking. Why would it? But writers making money off of print, that’s going to continue to be a tougher nut to crack.

    • “As for the number of books available to book stores, I don’t see that shrinking. Why would it?”

      I’ve been hearing more and more about trad-pub offering only ebook contracts to some writers — with a possible paper/hard option ‘if’ the ebook sells well enough. So there’s less books for the B&M to sell — and they’ll be like offering DVDs after the movie’s been run to death in the theaters for the past year.

      Then there’s B&N failing/closing down stores. Which means trad-pub will no longer have a single buyer for large print runs. So they’ll be making smaller print runs and have to work harder to get fewer books into lots of little bookstores.

      • All true, but I think the sheer number of titles published will outpace the number of shelves to put them on for quite some time to come. And with the slow, but ongoing, decline of B&N even less shelf space and still too many books. The fair price point for ebooks (and I hope BP never figures that out) and visibility/marketing will be what works for indies.

      • Yes. I’ve seen a number of new writers saying they got an ebook-only deal for their first novel. Seems more and more publishers want to throw stuff out and see what sells before they go to print.

    • In 1980 approximately 50,000 books were published per year.
      In 2015 approximately 500,000 books were published by commercial publishers.

      While some were ebook-only, the great majority had physical, non-POD, manifestations.

      It is hard to conclude that there won’t be books from this era in used bookstores.

  3. I think people will always be willing to pay for good writing, but the day of the $40 print novel is over. Even the $20 print novel is doubtful.

  4. This is getting annoying now. Used book stores have existed since books were invented. I don’t understand the illogic of complaining that authors don’t get paid more than once for a book. Once a new book is bought that is the new product sold, end of. You wouldn’t burn a shirt you bought new just so no one else could buy it again at a charity shop, if it’s donated. Or heaven forbid give away your old clothes or books for free! I wish people would stop making this issue a thing. It is so not a thing.

    • This is making me think of the goblins in Harry Potter: they think if you buy something goblin-made, a crown or a magic sword etc., you’re supposed to keep paying the goblin (or his heirs, I guess***) every time the item changes hands.

      Writers: Don’t be goblins. A used book can make you money down the line. Just chill.

      *** I don’t remember if the goblins were supposed to be immortal.

      • Weren’t the goblins the “bankers” in HP? Typical moneygrubbing banker thinking… 🙂

    • So true.

  5. I’m perfectly fine with my tradpub works showing up in used bookstores. As marketing goes, it’s cheap.

  6. I’d love for my books to show up in my used-book store.

    But in spite of the article’s optimism, it has *no* room for readings or meetings or brownies. It’s crammed front to back with books.

    I have noticed it’s getting harder to find newer books, but they still show up eventually.

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