After years of agony, the demise of Borders was as predictable as the sunset. It was like the horse and buggy murdered by the horseless carriage. It is sad and hurtful to many people who worked there but no crystal ball was needed. Its time had come.
The brick and mortar chain stores are probably doomed and what remains will contract and eventually succumb as more and more readers morph to screen reading on devices.
Nevertheless, there exists a hardcore of print readers that will hold on to their attachment to the paper book as long as they are produced and viable economically. The smart people at Barnes and Noble know this and will balance their print business while they leverage their Nook business, meaning they will contract their brick and mortar stores as they build their online business.
The fact is that the publishing industry and its suppliers of content, the hardy band of authors without whom the industry would collapse, are going through a massive revolution, the outcome of which is uncertain but will surely bring innovations that will satisfy the vast reading public that, contrary to faulty popular conception, will continue to proliferate worldwide.
Things change. It is the primary fact of life. We can rail against it, beat our fists helplessly against the tsunami of transformation. It is useless to protest. Unfortunately, transformations are messy.
After all, the paper book business has been fairly constant over the years and what changes did come first were matters of scale. The conglomerates began to take over the business in the seventies, and then came the chains and the slow demise of the smaller book stores, and then the foreign conglomerates who bought up the choice American publishers.
Now comes the inevitable rule of unintended consequences. E-book devices will very soon be able to serve more than fifty percent of readers. At some point the hardcore print readers will constitute a smaller and small percentage of the reading public. My guess is that within five years the percentage of paper book readers will constitute no more than twenty-five percent of the potential reading public. The impact on publishers, brick-and-mortar bookstores, schools and libraries will be profound.
As an author, my primary interest is the serious mainstream novel and how its marketing and distribution will be affected by the ongoing changes. To fully understand its future, I try to monitor and understand the totality of what is happening in the trade book area. Admittedly my interest is narrow and often self-serving but the survival of our authorial brand depends on a keen understanding of how an author of such novels copes with the changes.
For genre readers, meaning people who read romances, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, zombie, vampire and other genres and their subdivisions, the future prospects seem to be robust, although with a giant wave of self published genre books now hitting the e-book marketplace the situation could get difficult for every author of this material. Celebrity and scandal books will have their brief and probably significant money making opportunity, but they will be short-lived.
For readers of non-fiction political and historical books, they too will be impacted, but not as hard as mainstream serious novels whose authors will come up against a wild- west type of filtering system that will be tough on new writers in this field who have not been able to establish an audience. Even the prospects for serious and well published writers of long standing will require some very fancy footwork to keep them financially viable.
For the author, whatever his or her category, self-motivated marketing will be the key to sales. There have already been some much heralded results, but they have been rare, with much success dependent on price point maneuvering. Entrepreneurs who snap up available backlists of authors who still have some favorable imprint on the memory of readers might do well for awhile but they will have to be dealing in volume to make their venture financially feasible.
For the author of the mainstream novel, developing an enduring readership and legacy will be a challenge. Of course, my bias is that such an art form is a cultural necessity for a civilized society and provides essential insight into the human condition. Authors of such novels are compelled by mysterious and elemental forces to devote their lives to their creation just as visual artists and music composers are motivated by their own inner compulsions.
Like all artists the author seeks, above all, connection and communication with readers. For the committed author such connection has always been a challenge. It is now doubly problematic, especially for the self-published author except that he or she will now be able to “show” their work on all reading device platforms. Such work will soon be competing for the attention with a giant pool of millions of other works, both self-published and those offered by still surviving traditional publishers.
Of course, there is bound to be the inevitable innovation, the brainstorm of someone sitting out there alone in left field who concocts a scenario that changes everything. In the meantime it will be up to the author to find his or her way to the reader’s attention.
As in all enterprises where luck, talent, enterprise and imagination is involved, the outcome is in the hands of the Gods.