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Where Book Selling is Headed

December 5th, 2011

The last decade has unveiled big changes in the publishing world. Ten years ago the only e-reading I remember was on a Palm Pilot. Now I’m reading on a slab of electronics that also connects me to the world.

But what does all this mean? It means the big book store chain, Barnes & Noble, is doomed, at least in a physical store front in our neighborhoods. The WSJ writes:

The bookstore chain’s stock sank 16%, to $14.59, after the company reported a worse-than-expected loss of $6.6 million, or 17 cents a share, for the quarter ended Oct. 29, compared with a loss of $12.6 million, or 22 cents a share, a year earlier.

Sales declined 0.6% to $1.89 billion from $1.90 billion in the year-earlier quarter, with the biggest drop occurring at B&N’s college stores. via

I love the WSJ online, but you may be thinking the same things as me. First, this isn’t a big drop but it is significant. Second, B&N loss in college stores may be an indicator that the time of the old college book-selling rack is almost over.

What do you think? Are B&N’s days numbered? Can a physical book store survive the digital onslaught?

Book stores as locations where kids can learn about reading and adults can discover new works is being changed by the publishing industry. This isn’t a cause and effect it’s a collaborative effort from bestsellers and publishing companies. The first thing you see when you walk into a B&N is the Nook – an ereader.

bookstore closingThere are a few things that will eventually kill bookstores – ereaders, the end of the love of paper books, and the paper book scarcity which will occur when books are no longer made available in paper form. All three of these points are indicators of the next step into the text evolution. Barnes and Noble, arguably, is good for the last two of the three.

First and foremost, ereaders are drastically changing the book-selling landscape. B&N created the Nook, even promoting it over paper books, and you can even say it’s selling well. They also have one of the largest online bookstore rivaled only by Amazon’s. I believe the Nook and Kindle will survive the next step side-by-side.

This next reason will likely lead to some great debates when I present it to an upcoming writer’s association.

The love of paper books. B&N and other bookstores are created to make people think they love paper books. Even though books are everywhere = how much longer can the paper (board) book survive in a digital world? When the new generation grows out of those cherished paperback copies of novels and are now able to find these documents on their own with a cheap Kindle it’s inevitable the printed form will not survive. I’m in the in-between generation that still loves books but primarily reads from devices such as ereader, tablet, mobile phone, or online. But will the next generation truly love paperback? Or will they find them to be a inconvenience much like I find my Dad’s vinyl records or cassette audio tapes?

As the new media gains dominate market share the old media is treated with scorn.

Booklovers – skip this section.

————————- Not for booklovers ———————-

No one wants the old, print version of Moby-Dick. Think about how easy it is to read this story on an ereader. It’s right here: http://www.amazon.com/Moby-Dick-Annotated-ebook/dp/B000FC1D6I

In order for B&N to survive it would have to survive the majority of writers who are moving away from the status quo and are self-publishing. Never mind that this will create plenty of bad writing, it will also add shame for lists such as “Best of the year 2012″ when poor writing is elevated by the masses.

————————-Welcome back booklovers —————–

An important element of this entire discussion can be found at colleges everywhere. The refusal to pay for a huge textbook or reading list. We may disagree, but the text books are probably worth more than what they cost if you look at the research and development that goes into them. (Ignoring the sometimes pointless republication for revenue) With self-publishing tools available to almost everyone, it makes it easy for a professor to create their own work. Why depend on the large text book publishing houses when you can create ebooks made up of class notes, excerpts and essays?

It boils down to one thing: Barnes and Noble stores will close. It’s a certainty. When this happen is still unknown. Does the industry data point to 5 years or next year? Well my fellow readers, that is the real question.

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