Friday, July 29, 2011

DEATH OF A DINOSAUR: BORDERS CROSSES OVER


And now a moment of silence for the passing of a dinosaur. Not the last of its kind, but at one time a large and fearsome beast, now reduced to a blind, stumbling hulk gasping out its last days in the desert of uncaring commerce. Borders, once the purveyor of authors’ dreams along with the books you could hold in your hand, now and forever out of business.

What of the authors whose books once graced the shelves in Borders’ many shelves? The publishers, editors, agents, cover artists and assorted others associated with the actual production of books? With some exceptions, for anyone under the age of oh, say, thirty right now, the answer is a profound “Meh.” Add a shrug if you want.

Oh, but there’s still Barnes and Noble, you say. Books-a-Million. Even Walmart. Uh-huh. And a few small, dedicated independent bookstores still survive at minimal profit, too. And the libraries, God bless ‘em, keep fighting the good fight for shelf space while ebooks, DVDs and outreach programs compete for budget dollars.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite, Amazon, swallows the reading world. After all, what’s not to love? You can order real books and have them delivered anywhere in days. You can download ebooks to your Kindle or Ipad or phone and read them in seconds. You can self-publish your novel. You can distribute your digital novel to a worldwide audience. And soon, you will be able to publish your romance novel through Amazon’s own publishing line.

You don’t have to have lived through the days of the robber barons and their monopolies of railroads, steel and coal to know that there is something wrong with this picture. Barnes and Noble is barely holding its own against this juggernaut. Books-a-Million, Costco and Walmart survive because they are warehousing/ discounting-type operations. They sell large numbers of certain kinds of books that are guaranteed to make a profit. Forget the mid-listers in that scenario. And as soon as the book department starts losing money it will be shut down.

The closing of the Borders in my town of approximately 100,000 people means we will be without a bookstore. At least for a while. Books-a-Million plans to take over the recently closed Joseph-Beth bookstore in a few months. Walmart has books. We have a used/rare bookstore downtown. That’s it. Nothing else between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.

Suppose for a moment that Amazon decides they don’t want to play nice anymore. (That assumes, of course, that they have been playing nice so far.) They can raise prices to whatever they want. They can refuse to carry books from this publisher or that one. They can refuse access to this author or that one. They can drop certain books and manipulate prices and promotions to encourage sales of others.

Who is going to stop them? Consider that even the people who would normally be in competition with Amazon (epublishers, for example, who have their own “distribution” sites), have agreements with them to expand the sales of their ebooks. The old rules against monopoly and restriction of trade apparently don’t apply. Yet. And by the time the powers that be figure out new rules, it may be too late. The power to make all the decisions will be concentrated in the hands of a very few—or maybe even just one.

So take a moment to mark the passing of this skeletal creature as it shuffles off into the distance. We know not what skulks at its heels.

Donna’s Journal
Action!
Actions I've taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?

Well, I’m no Stephen King or J.R. Ward, y’all. When I go on vacation I actually, uh, vacate. (Did you know that Stephen works every day except his birthday and the Fourth of July? The Fourth of July? Really? Why not Christmas? Or Halloween? I don’t think J.R. ever takes a day off.)

But when I got back I finished up the revisions on Trouble in Mind and will be sending it out to my enthusiastic, but way-too-honest agent friend for her reading pleasure. Also to my beta readers (look out, you two), who now no longer have the excuse of the NY conference to escape the task of reading the manuscript. Then I go back to work on the first draft of Fools Rush In, the third book in the series. Really need to make some progress there.

Ping Pong
We'll comment back to our co-bloggers on things they've posted on their journals.

Thanks to Barbara Elsborg and D.L. Jackson, both experienced and multi-published e-writers, for their feedback regarding my thoughts on whether to go digital in my last journal post. Your comments were invaluable, ladies. I’m still mulling it over, getting closer each day. Thanks, too, to Laurie, who I know is also having the same kind of thoughts.

Cheers, Donna

4 comments:

  1. You hit it on the head with your analogy, Donna. The meteor has struck--and the industry is struggling to survive. Borders is just the first behemoth to succumb. There will be others who also aren't warm-blooded enough and can't move fast enough to adapt to the changing environment.

    And I don't mean just the book sellers.

    I can't blame Amazon for filling the void as the dominate species. That's evolution. And that's free enterprise.

    Though price-setting and monopolies are always a concern, I don't think the readers will stand for it. And, so far, the price-setting I've experienced on Amazon has come by way of the publishers (Ellora's Cave, I'm looking at you) and distributors (Apple, I dearly love ya, but I don't like your ibook pricing hijinks).

    But IMHO this problem won't affect just the booksellers. I believe the NY publishing industry is in the situation it's in because it can't move quickly enough to satisfy the readers' demands. That's why a subgenre rises in the e-publisher ranks first, years before NY seems to "catch on" to the new reading trends. NY needs to listen to the readers instead of living as slaves to their own marketing cycle. They need to take action on what the readers are demanding and find ways to react faster. One to two years to get a book on the market is way too long when e-pubs can do it in months...sometimes weeks.

    How do they listen? Maybe by getting in direct touch with the consumers, the readers, to find out what they want to read NOW...and then find ways to deliver it SOON. I'm not a marketing expert, but perhaps they should consider conducting readers' choice polls. Or big contests voted on by readers in which the winners are published within six months. Yes, it's a huge gamble, a whole new way of doing business, but it beats falling to the dust and breathing their last breath.

    I think otherwise, they'll keep missing the opportunities to live on. They'll keep saying "no" to new or rising subgenres they should be saying "yes" to.

    What worked ten years ago--even three years ago--is no longer viable when the industry has entered what is probably a temporary, but devastating, perpetual winter.

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  2. Interesting thoughts, Laurie. And don't we sound gloomy? You mention the readers, but really I think they have the least power of anyone. Whether we (as readers)like it or not, the technology is moving in a new direction, creating its own "demand". The means of manipulating the technology to our own ends (to stop price fixing by a mega-marketer like Amazon, for example)lags behind, since it requires the coordinated action of many users with a variety of goals and needs. A single entity like Amazon presumably knows what it wants and how to go about getting it.

    Truly, if we don't want to (or can't--believe it or not, some people don't own a computer) buy our books online, what alternative do we have? But, like I say, mourning the loss of bookstores is like regretting the inability to find a good blacksmith in town.

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  3. Borders went some time ago in the UK - I was doubly miffed because I'd have liked to have bought a load of books but I was in the US. I'm not sure how Booksamillion survives. The ones I know in Florida seem to stock the same range of books as B and N and Borders. They're not quite same model as Walmart, Target and Costco.
    I have to own up and admit I buy from Amazon and supermarkets in the UK. Purely on price. I can get books at least half the price of those in a bookstore. I also buy through a mailed magazine - I bought all of Ms Harris's vampire books for £9.99 - ALL of them. In a store, I'd have been lucky to buy two for that.
    What I won't do is pay over the odds for an ebook. A fair price yes, but not more than a paperback of the same thing and thats what I see for some books on Amazon. What I'll do is stop buying so many and reread the ones I have and wait until the price falls when the book's not new.

    The publishing world is in such flux at the moment, it's hard to know which way to jump. If I could turn back time, I'd have started up an epublishing business

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  4. LOL, Barbara--don't we all wish we'd gotten in on the ground floor on that one! I used to dream of owning my own publishing house--and I still sometimes think about it. As soon as that lottery ticket comes in . . .

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