by Joseph T. Sinclair
A year ago I wrote about ebooks sales supposedly reaching a plateau. This year the news is that ebook sales have declined a certain percent, and independent bookstores (selling printed books) are on the increase. For those who think that printed books still have some durable hold on the future, this news may be misleading.
The news was released by the American Booksellers Association, an organization that promotes independent bookstores. The analysis of the sales of ebooks did not take into account the many new ways of retailing ebooks such as subscriptions rather than purchases and giveaways as part of larger marketing programs such as Amazon Prime. Indeed, it is quite probable that ebook sales increased, a fact hidden in Amazon’s policy of nondisclosure when it comes to sales data.
As for independent bookstores, their reincarnation is not of the same character as it once was. The new trend in independent bookstores is the sale of used books together with a small inventory of newly published printed books. Moreover, the new independent bookstores may resemble coffee shops as much as bookstores.
According to an article in Slate dated September 9, 2014, “The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability… [they] offer something neither Amazon nor the chains can: attention to the quirky needs of their customer base.”
This information provided by Slate has implications for book sales well beyond their apparent potential sales of newly published printed books. There are hundreds of thousands of printed books, many published many years ago, that are still viable products at retail. Most will never be digitized, at least not for retail sales. Yet these books remain available in the used book market. And it is the independent bookstores that offer interesting selections of past publishing, which will be popular with the public for many years to come. That is to say, there will be a durable market for used printed books for a long time to come, and the independent bookstores capture that market. At the same time, the independent bookstores are only a modest sales outlet for newly published printed books.
There are ups and downs in sales of any sort, and there are ups and downs in sales trends too. Those who look to the alleged leveling off of the sales of ebooks and the rise of independent bookstores as a sign that newly published printed books will remain with us for a long time may be sadly disappointed in the years ahead.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How2 books published by national publishers.
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©2016 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.