The word on the street is that independent booksellers are in trouble. In the last eight years 500 of them (one third of the total) have vanished, under attack from Amazon, ebooks and the supermarkets.
This means that all told there are now under 1000 bookshops left, down from 2000 in 1990.
I got interested in this when I read that one of the top brass in the book publishing world told the press that, “The book trade, the government and the general public need to realise that if we don’t take action now, the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk.”
And I thought … not necessarily.
You see I have a number of small publishers who hold stock in the Admiral Document Storage warehouses, and not only do they seem to be doing quite well, but they are also trading as publishers without really having much to do with independent bookshops.
This is not to knock independent bookshops in any way – I like a good bookshop as much as anyone. But I am not sure that their future is inexorably tied up with the publishing industry.
Anyway I got quite interested in this problem and so took the time to ask one of my clients exactly how publishing worked for him.
My client specialises in specific types of books – football books, books on rock music, and so on. In each sphere he enters he operates in the same way.
First off he only publishes books where there is a very identifiable market that he can reach in several ways. So he won’t publish a book on football in general, but will publish one on a particular club in the 1960s and so on.
Second, he builds a blog on the same subject as the book and writes about the topic, maybe even publishing extracts from the book. So when the book comes out he has an audience he can reach at once.
Third he does sell through Amazon, paying them to hold the book in stock.
Finally, if there are any specialist outlets, such as shops associated with the football club, independent record labels issuing the music of the rock bands being written about, etc, they are brought in as possible selling points.
It seems to me that this is the way forward for the smaller publishers, and yes, sadly, it does by-pass the independent bookshop.
But interestingly, it also by-passes the larger publishers too, and from what I can gather that is pretty much their own fault.
I know in speaking with friends that 20 or so years ago it was possible for a person of average writing ability to be able to write a book and get it published.
Today, anyone approaching a publisher tends to get a letter back saying, “Sorry we only take new authors on via an agent.” Go to the agents and they say, “We are not taking any new authors on.”
Such a state of affairs puzzled me for a while until I met up with the director of one of the more established publishing firms who confessed that what they did was look for high readership blogs. When they found one that looked viable they would offer the writer the chance to publish his/her blog writing as a book. These days that is how books get published.
I will be sorry to see more and more independent bookshops go – but I have to admit that much of the time they don’t stock the sort of books I particularly want to read.
And besides, the changeover has been good news for us. Small publishers deposit 100 or so copies of their book in our storage facility, and then take them out in groups of 20 or 50 as sales come in.
Most of them operate from their own home, using the spare bedroom, etc, as a room in which they can receive the orders and pack up the books required. An occasional drive over to Admiral Document Storage completes the entire business operation.
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