The Death of Print, Part Whatever
I’ll be the first to admit there’s been some bad news for bookstores lately. Borders is facing liquidation. Barnes & Noble is doing better, but they’ve had a few speed bumps as well.
So what does this all mean? Are we seeing the long-predicted Death of Print Books? Are the folks who claim New York publishers are dinosaurs, and everyone should run to self/e-publish instead, actually right?[1. I really wish we had a simple term for self publishing electronically.]
I did see a dropoff in my Bookscan numbers when Borders closed a group of their stores earlier this year. Maybe doomsday is finally here. Maybe the print book is finally going the way of the 8-track.
The more speculation I read, the more eager I became to see my Bookscan numbers for Snow Queen’s Shadow, which came out at the start of this month. Maybe the end of print, which I’ve been told is just around the corner for roughly a decade now, had arrived at last.
Behold, my print sales for each of my books after release week:
The first thing most folks will notice is the big jump from Red Hood’s Revenge, and the dropoff when Snow Queen came out. Aha! Print is dying!
Actually, Red Hood is an anomaly. Penguin/DAW arranged to get that book included in a riser display in Barnes & Noble, which means the biggest chain in the U.S. ordered more copies and displayed the book more prominently, leading to much higher early sales.
If you eliminate Red Hood, then according to Bookscan, the new book sold more print copies in its first week than any of my previous books, just edging out Mermaid’s Madness.
What does this all mean? Not too much, to be honest. I’m one author, and there could be any number of factors going on here. Maybe I’ve been getting more popular, and the increase in my readership was significant enough to offset dwindling print sales. Maybe because this was the last book in the series, everyone rushed out to get it right away, and I’ll see a faster dropoff in future weeks’ sales. Maybe my Mom bought 1000 copies because she loves me.
But the fact that my print sales are continuing on this curve suggests to me that despite some problems, print ain’t dead yet.
Sure, that doesn’t mean paper books won’t go belly-up tomorrow. But I’ve been hearing predictions of the end of books and commercial publishing for a long time, and I’m just not seeing the data to support it. A new equilibrium between print and e-books, absolutely. The death of print? So far, not so much.
July 16, 2011 @ 10:06 am
Recent high-profile releases have shown that people, given an opportunity to buy a book they consider a value for their money, are preferring print still to ebooks.
These anchor releases are going to provide pull through sales for books of similar genres or just books in general as you have more people walking through the doors.
July 16, 2011 @ 3:01 pm
I really wish we had a simple term for self publishing electronically.
Self-publishing electronically isn’t simple enough? Okay, we’ll call electronic self-publication a bagel. And when one self-publishes electronically, one is bageling.
Jim C. Hines
July 16, 2011 @ 3:30 pm
“Self-publishing electronically isn’t simple enough?”
It’s a clunky term, especially when you’re trying to have a discussion about this stuff.
Jim C. Hines
July 16, 2011 @ 3:31 pm
I don’t know that you can really generalize from the outliers like Martin, though…
Andrew S. Balfour
July 16, 2011 @ 5:31 pm
It’s important to note that Borders is absolutely not an example of dwindling print sales killing a company. Borders’ current troubles stem not from ebooks, but from a management team that was too busy discovering how far up their asses they could fit their heads to properly manage the company. More specifically, their previous experience was in running grocery stores with razor thin margins, and they believed the methods they used there would work just as well in a bookstore. Clearly, they were mistaken.
Brian Keene’s been covering the ordeal as it unfolds on his website, which is where I’ve gotten most of my information. It’s worth a look.
Jim C. Hines
July 16, 2011 @ 6:00 pm
My agent has been blogging about Borders as well, and his analysis matches yours. In this case, I don’t think it’s the “death of print” killing Borders so much as Borders hurting overall print sales, if that makes sense…
Andrew S. Balfour
July 16, 2011 @ 6:22 pm
Makes perfect sense to me.
To add an anecdotal perspective, I work at an independent bookstore (in Canada, in case that’s significant on some level). At the end of 2009, we were forced to declare bankruptcy and close two of our four stores for complicated reasons unrelated to sales. Despite being in the midst of the “death of print”, we not only survived bankruptcy, our remaining stores are as successful as they’ve ever been. I even got two substantial raises in the interim.
Admittedly, the store is a little on the empty side right now, for a Saturday afternoon, but that’s more likely attributed to a sweltering summer day than the collapse of an entire industry.
July 17, 2011 @ 7:00 pm
I think print will die, but it will be for another generation. Same with physical music media. I love music and have to buy the CD. I cannot stand paying as much online for reduced quality MP3’s as for the entire CD with a booklet (i used to love getting the CD and opening the booklet looking at the pics and reading everything).
The brats (9 and 10) however i don’t think they will buy any physical medium when they get to be of an age where they but it for themselves. Be it books, movies or music. And that can work for them because they assimilate most of their entertainment directly from online sources already. I do feel sad that they will miss out but times do change, and they are use to it.
There will always be small shops with “vintage” stuff. I mean i can still jam with Thin Lizzy on vinyl thanks to backonblack.com. So is death inevitable, maybe eventually in the mainstream sense…but not for a while.
Anyway that is my opinion, it might be wrong but it is still mine.
SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 7/18/11
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July 18, 2011 @ 10:01 am
[…] Jim C. Hines on The Death of Print, Part Whatever. […]
July 18, 2011 @ 10:49 am
Not to mention, the ebook pricing issue continues to artificially push down ebook sales, as publishers intended. Note that the price for the kindle edition was “set by the publisher.” Those ebooks at the $15 price point do not sell so well. And, of course, many fans of long running series will buy a hard copy no matter what.
As for your sales, Mr. Hines, I have all your works in eFormat, which I do as a matter of default now, so I pre-ordered your latest, but not the print edition.
Stephen A. Watkins
July 18, 2011 @ 11:00 am
I’ve been using eself-pubbing, personally. Not elegant, but slightly easier to type than each of the constituent parts.
Although, it might do simply to call it e-pubbing, since there isn’t really a phenomenon, as far as I know, of signing traditional ebook-only deals as yet. Meaning that pretty much all “ebook-only” is self-publishing, as well, which would mean that using both prefixes would be repetitive.
Jim C. Hines
July 18, 2011 @ 11:04 am
Actually, there have been “traditional” e-publishing deals for years now, and there are a number of e-book only publishers out there.
Blogosphere reading roundup, July 2011 edition | On a Pale Star
July 27, 2011 @ 9:17 am
[…] C. Hines: The Death of Print, part whatever. I’ll be the first to admit there’s been some bad news for bookstores lately. Borders is facing […]