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Mike Stackpole, who always has interesting things to say about Writing-As-Job, has another article on The Huffington Post today about the inevitable doom of Print Sales As We Know Them.

…once ebook sales hit 20-25% of book sales, print run numbers will fall to a point where the current consignment system for sales will break down. Under the current system, most books can be returned for credit, so for every book sold, two are printed. Those “returned” books have the covers torn off, and the guts discarded, so they cannot be put out into the market again. Ebook sales will create smaller print runs, driving up the unit cost, forcing higher prices which, in turn, will kill sales. Game over.

Note that he’s not predicting that books will go away — but that the publishing industry is going to have to make some serious changes to cope with the new reality of ebooks. Having already been through this story with comics -> webcomics, my view is that he’s absolutely right. Mr. Stackpole has long advocated that writers embrace electronic publishing as a means of controlling their own fate, and it’s true that with the ebook, it’s easier than it’s ever been.

However, there’s an important aspect of the writer/publisher relationship that self-publishing leaves as a big hole, to wit, getting your name out there to the public. While I have only myself as a poll sample, I know that I discover most of my new authors by browsing in a bookstore, and I suspect I’m not the only one. For somebody like Rowling or King, it may be that self-publishing is practically printing money from your computer. But what about somebody who’s more obscure, say a person who has a couple of mid-tier webcomics and a few decades-old RPG credits to his name? (Just to pick an unlikely profile at random.) If I were to jump right into the ebook arena, who would notice?

As much as writers chafe at their editorial overlords, publishers do provide something that a beginning writer can’t provide for themselves: a marketing machine. That a fledgling writer will get only the barest attention of that machine is undoubtedly true — but even that much is infinitely more than one can provide themselves when they work all day, write all night, and recover on the weekend. Fortunately, Mr. Stackpole is aware of the problem and provides some suggestions.

On the other hand, there’s one final aspect of the issue that ebooks simply cannot address, which is that part of “the dream” of being a writer is seeing one’s own work actually in a bookstore. For those of us who, despite the business’s sordidness, still love to go into a brick-and-mortar building stacked from floor to ceiling with books and long to see their own name enshrined on a tablet in that temple, ebooks will always be somewhat unsatisfying.

-The Gneech

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Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Getting your name out there to the public online rather than via a publisher's promotion is going to require a different kind of marketing. It's going to require online, viral type marketing. It will require getting noticed (in a good way) online, rather than in print. Bloggers and online news have already pretty much killed newspapers, but the news is still there (how well it's reported is another issue I won't get into here). But there are podcasts, sites, and book reviews still around. You could argue that being online, there are even more of them around than there used to be because the barrier to entry is so much lower.

One thing that stores have that online stores do not, as you say, is a good way to browse. That's one of the main things online stores need to work on, IMO
Apr. 10th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I'd rather have paying readers than unsold books in the book store.

Apr. 10th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
One good thing about e-books I can think of : you know EXACTLY how many copies of the book are being sold, you can then pay the author properly. It's like saying a Harry Potter book sold 100 million copies, when you can walk into any bookstore and find a million just lying in the bargain bin :)

Another plus... (at least for us folks north of the border) is fairer pricing. As the 2 dollars are at par, or close enough, an e-book at $9.95 in the US SHOULD be $9.95 in Canada, not $14.95 as printed on the back cover! (Personal rant, sorry John)
Apr. 10th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)
I remember going north on a business trip and popping into a Chapters to buy a book. At the time, the Canadian dollar was a little over the US dollar. Not much, though. The book, however, (and I'm a software enginner) was $85.99 Canadian. $39.95 US.


Apr. 11th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the "OFFICIAL" line is that when they made the deal to purchase the book for resale in Canada, the dollars were much further apart. Which made everyone wonder why six months later why the American price was still cheaper, since that was the claimed lead-in time.

FYI: about 10 years ago, Chapters and Coles book stores were bought by Indigo books. The first 2 were your basic book stores, carry everything. Indigo was a higher-end shopping experience, rarer books, small runs , very little mainstream. It's too bad the management forgot who their customer base was supposed to be.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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