Publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin wrote a post recently that was dash of smelling salts by way of a sledgehammer.
The post’s title says it all: “Where Will Bookstores Be Five Years From Now?”
If you take Shatzkin’s premise that e-books will comprise 50% of the book market in five years (which is current conventional wisdom in the industry; Shatzkin actually thinks that’s conservative), he estimates that brick and mortar stores’ share of the marketplace will likely plummet from approximately 72% of the market today to 25% in five years. (The other 25% in the print market will be made up of print sales via online booksellers.)
72% to 25%. Five years. Yowza.
These last few years have been incredibly tumultuous for the industry. The recession and the Great Digital Transition combined forces to wallop the industry, and the effects are everywhere: shrinking lists, closing imprints, shuttering indie stores, a vanishing mid-list, and belt-tightening across the board.
Things changed a lot in a short period of time. And it’s still quite possible that these last few years were a relative walk in the park compared to what’s to come.
If 75% to 25% transpires it will have huge implications for the way books are planned, marketed, acquired, published, and discovered. Everything from the seasonal publishing calendar to print runs to marketing campaigns will be in for reevaluation.
As I’ve said before, people are still buying and reading books. The ease of access afforded by e-books might even mean they’ll buy more when they can download a book at home rather than planning a trip to the bookstore. To be sure, there is lots still to be worked out on the author side, including paltry royalties and more reliance on authors for platforms and buzz-making.
But the challenges the industry is facing are on the distribution side of things — it’s literally a massive shift in how text gets from author to reader (and how reader discovers author). Anyone who is part of the paper side of things is going to feel the squeeze.
Still, even as seemingly everything changes, there’s a lot that will remain the same. Authors will still write books, publishers will still be the go-to place to put a book together and market it, there will be self-publishing for those who want to go it alone, and readers will have still more choice and ease of access. E-readers are steadily getting more affordable ($99 Sony Readers sold out in the blink of an eye) and contrary to the doomsayers, e-books are not an existential threat to the world of literature. Words are words are words are words no matter how you read them (you’re reading pixels now, ain’t ya?)
It’s certainly a wild ride, but it’s a roller coaster, not a death spiral.
Bernard S. Jansen says
I enjoy your thoughts on e-books, and where they are going.
Re: "If you take Shatzkin's premise that e-books will comprise 50% of the book market in five years…"
I think "comprise" is the wrong word here- it means "include" – while (I think) the intended meaning is "constitute" or "make up".
I know this isn't a writing workshop; but I couldn't help myself.
Nathan Bransford says
From Merriam Webster
3 : compose, constitute (a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation — William Styron) (about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women — Jimmy Carter)
usage Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.
Terin Tashi Miller says
Once again, I have to side with Mira. (aside: um, Mira, when does that hypnosis thing wear off?).
And Erika, because I consider her a friend and likeminded writer.
I've read that in fact, Amazon plans to offer something like 70% royalties to Kindle authors.
Still, Kindle books will sell best if marketed less expensively than traditional books, even paperbacks.
That said, it might be worth some industry professional–um, perhaps like you, Mr. Bransford?–looking at a comparison between the advent of e-books on the market and readers' psyche, and the advent of "paperback" books.
"Traditional" books were "hardcover." Then came "paperbacks," ostensibly a less-expensive way to get more books to more readers.
SO, e-books and an increase in the e-book market share is, essentially, merely evolution. As, I might suggest, is the more readily available and less-and-less expensive option of self-publishing, which first introduced "print-on-demand" versus inventory print runs based on readership expectations enhanced by "marketing."
For quality, all writing is best edited. Quality in theory is everyone's goal: readers, writers, publishers, agents, bookstores, etc. Most readers will always be willing to pay for quality. More readers may not be willing to pay as much as a monthly insurance premium for a hard-cover book in the current economy; or to pay for gasoline to drive to a "local" bookstore.
Many have shown a willingness to go "online" for newspapers, rather than subscribing, for instance.
My prediction is that more readers will buy books online, either as ebooks or "traditional" books.
More readers=more sales, even if the percentage is lower for everyone's cut. More sales=potential growth of reputation.
Perhaps the next "growth" market will be in book reviewing? Or editing?
I know some agents are actively scouting Kindle and other e-book and self-publishing sites in search of potential mega-stars.
I honestly hope one will read my novels.
Thanks for your always thought-provoking posts.
I wish I had Mira's hypnotic skill. I will try to write less, perhaps more often, in the future!
I'm no expert mind you, but I think Shatzkin's prediction might be a little steep. It all depends of course, and I think the big "depends" is going to be the cost of ereaders. If the cost of your standard, decent reader gets below 100 dollars, say 79-89, in the next year or so, then we might see that 50% mark. The reader has to become the 'cool' gift that is affordable by the masses, so that folks who would not normally have been buying an ereader will find one in their hands. If this happens…look out bookstores. I'd be a bit more conservative in my guess and say it's going to plateau around 30%. If we look at longer than five years, who knows. If we get a generation of readers who grow up reading on digital devices then the shift will come and bookstores are going to be in trouble. It will be interesting that's for sure.
Terin Tashi Miller says
Composed of. Consists of.
Comprises…(comprised of not so good). To encircle (include).
Speaking as a professional copy editor.
And I always wanted to be a "hardcover" writer. I love touching hardcover books. Paperbacks, even I tend to treat less kindly (leave them open on their easily broken spines, bend pages, bend over one side to make easier reading…)
So, maybe ebooks will spell the death of paperbacks? But give rise to a new "Modern Library"?
Jenny Torres Sanchez says
I totally get (and love) technology and the convenience of having everything at your fingertips, but…I'm such a sucker for books! I love the smell of a book (that takes me back to my elementary school library, complete with mean, scary, keep quiet! librarian) and the weight of it in my hand. I love flipping the pages, and studying the glossy cover, or reading old notes in blue ink in the margins. Then again, I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Blue ink is dead, long live blue ink.
Terin Tashi Miller says
To be clear on the word choice question: Nathan (no big surprise, really) is correct.
Comprises 50% of is fine.
Comprised of isn't.
Constitutes, composed of, wrong.
Bernard S. Jansen says
@Nathan, I concede. I found the following usage note at Oxford Dictionaries especially useful:
According to traditional usage, comprise means‘ consist of’, as in the country comprises twenty states , and should not be used to mean ‘constitute or make up (a whole)’, as in this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population . But confusion has arisen because of uses in the passive, which have been formed by analogy with words like compose: when comprise is used in the active (as in the country comprises twenty states ) it is , oddly, more or less synonymous with the passive use of the second sense (as in the country is comprised of twenty states ). Such passive uses of comprise are common and are fast becoming part of standard English. Other erroneous forms , such as the property comprises of bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen , should not be used in standard English.
The Merriam Webster is certainly correct about it being a touchy subject.
Sorry to disrupt your comments, though I'm glad to have learned something.
Again: I enjoyed this post, and look forward to seeing how e-books will fit into my life over the next decade or so.
My husband and I are both avid readers but now that he has his ipad, he has more books than every on his "bookshelf" – it's just a matter of changing with the times. People aren't going to read less because of e-readers. My hope is that the opposite is the case, though that's probably the hope of most aspiring authors…
I think it's all ok as long as we still have the choice between e-books and paper books.
And according to statistics I've read, 1 in 10 of us suffer from migraine headaches, and these can be induced or exacerbated by reading a computer screen.
I don't believe e-reading should be forced on everyone, although it's an exciting option.
Thanks for your great blog & all the info.
Kathryn Magendie says
As much as I touted indie bookstores and libraries, my biggest sales in one gulp, so far, have been from Amazon Kindle. I never would have believed that if you'd have told me even a few months ago –that I'd make better sales there in one month that I did in an entire year for the printed book!
But, for writers who aren't published by the Big 6, and who are pretty much unknown, Kindle seems to be the biggest money maker….so far.
which, is a shame, because I love libraries and bookstores; however, I also have to make a living at this, so . . . it's the old artist vs businesswoman vs "wanting to support the indies" vs who is supporting me, the author? If bookstores aren't carrying as many of my books as Kindle and Amazon can send out, then . . . well . . . it's a numbers thing. Loyalties can easily begin to shift.
Personally, I love to hold a book and read it while lying in bed. However, lately, even I have been looking at e-readers with interest – esp after seeing my May numbers on my first book. Got to be something to it.
I war with myself like that: love bookstores and libraries . . . but …and then, yeah, there's that but.
My publishers have predicted a three-year instead of a five-year turn.
There will always be printed books, but, how that will manifest itself remains to be seen.
Kimberly Kincaid says
"…it's a roller coaster, not a death spiral." That's my life in eight words or less, I mean it! 😉
I vasciallate wildly between e-books and print books, and can see and argue the merits of both. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: people are reading. People are buying books. Yes, there is something to be said for the smell of books and the feel of the pages in our hot little hands. Yes, one can also wax poetic about the ease and brilliance of e-readers. What makes me truly happy when I lay my head down at night is that people are reading, period. I don't want to lose sight of that as the bigger picture.
I'm not (utterly) naive. I know that the war between e-books and brick and mortar buildings has implications for me as a writer. But really? I don't care if people pay to read my stuff off a billboard sign or from teeny little fortune cookies. Whatever works for mainstream readership IS what will happen. Best to be educated and go with the flow, else be swept up in it trying to fight…
Just my 2/c. As always, thanks for offering the thought-provoking insight, Nathan!
It is good to hear upbeat words about the future of publishing. I actually think that the shift to ebooks represents a great opportunity for authors and publishers. The current investment in new authors in terms of the cost of marketing, printing and distribution is significant. However, with electronic marketing and distribution, the cost drops dramatically. I figure in the future most new authors will be ebook only at first, meriting paper distribution when they develop a wide enough following.
Personally, I began reading on my iPhone with the kindle app over a year and a half ago – starting out with a 1,000 page book – Neal Stephenson's Anathem – that I actually owned in hardback but hadn't made progress on because the book was so huge to lug around. (I do much reading on my daily commute). I still will but some favorite mysteries in hard back – but only because my Mom and sister like them as well, and I ship them off to them after I read them. All the rest of my books are ebooks. And since I got my iPad – well, I love reading on the thing. I find it more comfortable than holding a book. I love taking tons of books with me on vacation, and being able to buy another instantly if the mood strikes me. There is no going back.
Mark Wise says
Yeah, and we were all supposed to have our own personal helicopters by now too…
So I started thinking of all the things I can and do buy online…clothing, cosmetics, home goods. Yet I still go to stores to buy these things, too. Same with books–I can order a print book online as easily as an ebook…yet I still go to bookstores, even though they're often more expensive than amazon.com. I think a lot of that has to do with atmosphere, so I'm very curious to see how brick and mortar stores will play on that concept while incorporating ebook technology. That seems to be B&N's concept with the Nook–keep people invested in coming to the store for the atmosphere, free reading previews, that kind of thing…am curious to see how this will develop. Will we all be sitting in expanded bookstore "digital commons" cafes, browsing ebooks and sipping lattes?
Magdalena Munro says
I recently unearthed a box of memorabilia in the garage and found old letters, tapes (!!!), records, and even an old series of Stephen King video cassette recordings (!!!!!). Your post was timely in that I was applying Darwin's theory of evolution to the material world around us and in fact,feel that it applies rather nicely. Email has replaced letters, digital music rules supreme, and I believe that in the long run, e-readers will do the same. While record stores are dropping like flies and I believe bookstores will do so ultimately, curiously enough the post office still stands strong, despite our e-age. I guess this means that in the pecking order of capitalistic evolution, the Post Office wins! HA!
Terin Tashi Miller says
Not sure how else to share this…
Considering much of marketing these days seems to be a desire or perceived need to compare "new" writers to "established" writers, this website is helpful? At the very least, it's kind of fun…
Kait Nolan says
I have to say I really like those numbers. As someone who's chosen to go the indie publishing route, focused on ebooks, that is the kind of growth that could allow me to quit my day job in 5 years–which is clearly not something traditional publishing advises these days since every time you turn around you hear another editor or agent saying not to do it. I can get a lot of my work out in 5 years myself that would languish for 1-3 years before making it to buyers if I traditionally published. So it really seems like the time is now to get in on the ground floor of ebooks.
I love my Nook. A lot!
But I really am thankful for an optimistic voice in this, Nathan, and I completely agree.
Now, let's consider all the used books that sell and do NOT give authors/publishers any money. Before I got my eReader, I was a hound for used books, because they were cheaper. I did the same thing with music, but in a more "piratey" way (bad, bad me) before I got an iPod. Now, it's just EASIER to buy eMusic and eBooks, and I'm contributing to the artists the way I should be. There will always be pirates, but I think anybody who values buying books will continue to buy them.
One issue…it will make buying books as gifts slightly more difficult, but hopefully that won't dent sales too drastically.
Jenn Kelly says
I tried to figure out why I wanted a Kindle so badly, as I adore the feeling of books in my hands. Now that I have one:
I love that it's tiny and I can pull it out anywhere to read while waiting. I love that it doesn't make my arthritis swell up from holding a book open. I love that it has a waterproof cover so I can drop it in the bath.
But I will still always buy paperback books. The smell is unlike anything else.
My husband just rolls his eyes.
And as a writer, I get concerned about less royalty rates, but … it's about having your words and your heart read, not being rich.
In comparing music to books, you need an electronic device to listen to music, you don't to read. Digital music is a natural extension to records, tapes, etc. Not so with reading.
To whom do most books get sold? Is it to heavy readers who buy a lot per year or is it to people who buy one or two a year? Are the books bought for gifts?
Do you expect a person who buys two books a year to buy a $150 reader? What is the market?
I think 25% is absolutely right BUT the numbers will be worth it. The books they buy will be fancier, more expensive, collectors items for personal libraries rather than take it on the plane paperbacks.
Also, I really think the bookstores will be where people congregate to browse, get suggestions, see authors.
I think in the end MORE books will be sold, the numbers will jiggle around but it will be worth it.
after you've chosen/selected/etc. a page for critique, does that "number" or that entry go out of the cue?
it seems confusing when posts aren't numbered too (or are they and I just can't figure out where?)
Katrina L. Lantz says
Nathan, are you seeing what I'm seeing on #dearpublisher?
There's plenty to add to this ebook/book discussion.
John Jack says
Doomsayers have hidden agendas driven by attention-seeking personality dysfunctions. Extremely bad outcomes are as rare as extemely good outcomes.
I'm a seer too. I predict publishing business model diffusion and diversification will continue unpredictably as it always has, as everything in the cosmos always does.
Mega multinational publishing franchise incomes as they currently exist are doomed to erode, as the Roman empire eroded, as doomed as globe spanning empires are from waning colonialist exploitation inertia and top heavy, unsustainable draw downs from waning revenue streams. And because no one single administrative entity can govern a large and diversified collective in reasonably predictable ways. The more brush firefighting, the more behind sight needed to keep abreast of change and serve individual needs, the bigger the ensuing maelstrom.
But print publication and sales are as vigorous as can be and growing geometrically in niche markets. The same phenomena happened a few decades ago with the '80s explosive growth of microbreweries and brewpubs. Mega brewers just had flat sales growth for awhile. There's even more craft brew houses tody than there were in the '90s and early 'Ought years.
A local mom and pop bookstore has mom running the bookstore and pop running the independent publishing arm, whose products the bookstore sells. It's a boutique bookstore in a quaint tourist resort setting retail mall. They do their best business when it rains. There will always be rainy days.
Terri Coop says
Terri. Want. Kindle. Bad. Or other e-reader. It will most certainly be my Christmas gift this year. Even the Gen 1 Kindles on eBay hover around $90 used.
For one, I love short stories and anthologies and that is a vanishing breed in print. I can go to Smashwords or Fictionwise and read to my heart's content for very little cost. As magazines fade, ebooks will be the proving grounds for the next Stephen King.
For two, I have limited time and would love to be able to pull out my e-reader and zone for a few minutes here and there. I am a lawyer. Pull out a paperback in court, and you may not like the judge's response. Pull out an e-reader and you look busy and professional.
For three, lugging huge books with me wherever I go is also not an option. That pesky court thing again. Something with a lurid cover might draw more snark than I am willing to put up with. I've read that ebook sales of erotica are booming just for that reason – you can read it on the bus or at lunch – without being harassed or laughed at.
I can see Indies also offering e-book downloads via a computer right there next to the coffee machine. You can browse the shelves, talk with the clerk, join the bookclub, nosh on a muffin, read the posters, whatever, and then, zap, it is downloaded and you either check out online or print the invoice and take it to the counter.
Good businesses will find a way to roll with it and make it work.
wv: "subsorse" Ebooks will be a subsorse of reading material.
Krista D. Ball says
I read on my Sony pocket e-reader. It is not a computer screen. It has no glare. It looks just like a page from a paperback novel.
I would not read a book on a computer. That's why I have an e-reader. I forgot that I was reading a device. (I get headaches and eye strain…I read for 14 hours from Edmonton to Vancouver and did not get a headache 🙂 ).
Margaret Fleming says
In the bookstore, I can skim more than one page. On line, I may get the one page that he wrote on his best, best day when his car got fixed for ten bucks and his mom moved to Zihuatenejo. And in the bookstore, a cool cover might let me discover somebody new and fall in love with his writing.
Bookstores are going to be sunk by people like me who browse — and then go and buy the ebook online.
maine character says
About how quickly changes come to media, when I was in Boston twenty-two years ago, you'd hear a Tim Buckley song on the radio and then later that day walk ten blocks to the new Tower Records store on Newbury Street and try to find one of his CDs or albums (yes, albums) in the bins.
You didn't know which of his albums were good, and had no way of telling, but you picked the one with that song on it and hoped for the best.
Today Tower Records is no more. But anyone standing on any street in Boston can use their iPhone to browse just an even larger selection, listen to clips, read biographies and reviews, watch videos, and download the songs they want right there, out of the very air.
It's sci-fi, and it's here.
I was thinking of something related today. How are people going to know how long an e-book is? I thought of how weight and size are pretty important when you pick out a book. It got me thinking about layout and what an essential writing tool it is. Layout will gain more importance over weight in the battle to not scare off readers.