Thursday, June 6, 2013

Is this really the "Red Wedding" for books?

I have been quite sick the last few weeks which has not allowed me to be a very productive writer and blogger. It has, in addition to feeding my candy crush addiction, allowed me to read quite a bit. I spent a lot of time online poking around other blogs, articles about writing and the kindle boards. In perusing these types of articles, I have found a couple of trends among them. There are a lot of people out there who think the book, as a general concept, is not least they think...maybe...well it might have a bullet wound but it really isn't dead. Sound confusing? I thought so too. So I started reading these articles (some of them can be found here, here, here, here and here). If you can, read of or the hundreds of others you can find with a simple Google search, however, the gist of them all is this: the book is not dead (not even Sparknotes or Amazon can take it down) and everyone is over reacting . The second trend I have found is a large number of articles where not well known, traditionally published authors like to bash self-published authors. The most ridiculous of examples on how self-publishing is a cult can be found here, but I suggest not bothering with a read of that one.

At first, I saw no connection between these two types of articles. The first set, the ones touting the strong life of books, are really no surprise. No one in the traditional publishing industry is going to come out and say that books don't sell, just like an NFL team won't come out and say they are trading a star player even when it happens a few days after the denials. I'm not saying that books are really dead, nor am I saying that the traditional publishing industry is trying to down play any movement in sales. I am only saying that, if the book really is dying, those people are going to push back as long as possible because it is their livelihood after all.

The second set of articles, those insulting self-publishers, also came as no surprise. People initially became popular by bashing traditional publishing and talking up self-publishing to help get its legs underneath it as a legitimate avenue for getting a book in reader's hands. Now the opposite is happening. Traditionally published authors are bucking what they see as a passing fad or something that only trendy people do to make a quick buck. It reminds me of the way people treat Apple products. At first you were a loser if you used anything but Apple products because they were so much better than everything else. Now you are just a corporate lemming who only wants to have Apple control your life if you do use them. It is the way of the world. The grass is always greener.

After reading all these articles it struck me that the underlying cause of both views really is the same. Books and stories are not dying. People will continue to write. People will continue to read. The medium may change, but there will always be stories to tell. And that is the crux of it all. The medium. The real discussion, I believe, is about the death of bookstores and libraries as we know them. Traditional publishers do not want to see bookstores go by the wayside, because then print books die. Not books as a concept, print books. Traditionally published authors don't want bookstores and libraries to go out of business because they will be out of a job. I do not believe it is a coincidence that these articles started popping up not long after the last Boarders bookstore wrapped up it's business.

It is unlikely we will see a store like Barnes and Noble go out of business. They seem to have a decent balance and acceptance of e-books. They will evolve. According to experts, their stock seems to be doing all right and they will make it. The real question is, for the person who lives forty-five minutes from the closest B&N like I do, will small town bookstores and libraries be able to stay open. The library in my town has nothing but budget problems. I fear that, before too long, there will be no library. Many schools are riding themselves of traditional libraries, moving toward Ipads or Kindles for all students. It is so much easier to control and mass distribution can be at the flick of a switch.

This made me think about when I decided to become an author. Many years ago, long before I wrote anything of consequence, I always dreamed of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book sit on a table or going to the library to checkout my own book. Now I neurotically check my ranking on Amazon and get pissed when I don't sell 1000 books each day. Sometimes it makes me long for the pre-ebook days. I no longer have that desire to see my book at B&N, only to see my ranking rise higher to help finance the production of more books and stories.

I also remember how cool it was going to the library when I was a kid. I would watch Reading Rainbow at school and freak out until my parents took me to the library to get all the books they had on the show. I always thought the library was so cool. The smells, the tons and tons of books. It never got old for me. Now I moan and groan when I have to wait two days for Amazon Prime to ship me the book that I can't read on my Ipad. Most times, I don't even check the library that is four blocks from my house. I'm not sure how many people over the age of ten and under the age of forty do check there anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, print books are dying. Maybe we, as self-publishers and online purchasers, are unwittingly bringing the print book in close, getting its guard down and stabbing it in the back the first chance we get.


  1. I can offer only my own anecdotal view. But, I still love going to the library and I typically have 5 or 6 books checked out at any given time. I find it especially useful in discovering new authors because there is no financial investment involved. Check out a book and, if you don't like it, don't finish it. That being said, I prefer to read on my Kindle, mainly because it goes wherever I do and is accessible in the odd moment when I have a few minutes to spare and no claim on my attention.

    However, many people do not like (or have not tried and are not willing to try) e-readers and, for that reason, I believe there will always be a market for print books. Indeed, in some cases, print books are eminently preferable. For instance, can you imagine law school with electronic texts that you couldn't really write in? People always get exercised when large mainstays of an industry, like Borders, meet their demise. But, typically, this has more to do with those companies failing to roll with the changes in their industries than actually problems in their industries. I think your observations about Barnes and Noble are on the mark. Nonetheless, the minute they stop adjusting, they too will be pushed aside and relegated to the dust heap of footnoted former powerhouses of the industry.

    Glad to hear you are on the mend. Time spent at the library might have made a month seem more like two weeks.

  2. I agree with that Karl. Especially the idea of law school on a tablet. I can't even imagine and my Ipad is practically attached to my hand. Writing this actually made me miss the library. I need to dig out my card and go check some books out. Also, maybe my eyes won't hurt so bad all the time since I won't be constantly staring at a screen.

    1. You'll have to take care of those neglected library fines...