|David Morrell and his many works.|
I'm not here to talk about Rambo, but I am here to highlight some of the main points David Morrell makes concerning the past, present, and future of publishing. Morrell, himself, has seen numerous changes in the publishing industry over the last four decades, but none quite as dramatic and rapid as what he's seen in the past few years with the rise of e-books, the closing of major bookstore chains, and self-publishing.
To begin, let's take a trip into the past, way back to the 1980s. In 1986, the model for the promotional tour was invented. Before this time, authors didn't tour from major city to major city in a ten-week promotional tour that left them functioning in a haze and wondering when sleep would finally come. Most cities had their local authors and that was about it. The local bookstore (if there was one) was about the only place in town a person could find a book to purchase. The idea behind the book tours was to introduce new authors to other regions of the country. Initially, it was a grand success. But since the idea wasn't to make money off the tour, publishing houses knew they had to balance out the $15,000 price tag. This was to come through sales and recognition (i.e. an author finding his/her way to the top of The New York Times list). Eventually, the tours ground to a halt because the numbers weren't matching up. Book tours were not driving up sales, so by the late 1990s the extravagant city hopping came to an end.
|The top ten publishers represent 72%|
of the total market.
Along with the birth of 'The Big 5,' came chain bookstores. They started in the mall environment where numerous people shopped everyday. (Who doesn't remember going to a Waldenbooks or a B. Daltons? On a side note, check out this sad article on a closing mall bookstore.) Because the bookstores had grown in size from the little bookstore around the corner to a larger location with a larger clientele, the incentive to write grand, long-winded tomes became quite the trend (even Morrell professes to have written one of his own with The Brotherhood of the Rose). Bigger stores meant bigger-looking books, thus pushing the less than 300 page novels off the shelves to make room for the 500-600 page doorstoppers.
|A Borders flagship store in Ann Arbor, Michigan|
Before long, large brick and mortar stores were conceptualized and Barnes & Noble and Borders became anchor stores in strip malls. When you look back at the history of these monstrosities, it's interesting to see that Borders's (which was acquired in 1992 by Kmart) history as a major bookstore lasted less than twenty years. But why did they go out of business? Morrell says that it has much to do with an unsustainable business model. Books were just a small portion of sales for a business that also sold CDs (downloadable music is slowly killing the CD industry), movies (same goes for movies as for CDs), toys, and nicknack stuff that really doesn't need to be sold in a bookstore. In essence, Borders couldn't keep their boat afloat. And the same is happening to Barnes & Noble, who recently stated that Nook would be becoming its own company. Doesn't inspire much confidence towards investing in B & N now, does it?
Surprisingly enough, not all is lost. If anything, bookstores are reverting to where they were way back in the 80s. The local bookstores are once more blossoming. They can become important members of their communities by offering a knowledgeable staff (when was the last time you found one of those in Borders?) and author events that highlight local and national works.
Are you one of the 100 million people who owns an e-reader or tablet? Has it changed your reading habits and do you see it co-existing with physical books? Do you believe e-readers have revolutionized the market in a good way? Do you like the idea of the massive brick and mortar stores becoming, once again, the mom and pop places around the corner?
*David Morrell spoke at the SouthWest Writers monthly meeting on Jan. 7, 2012. His speech was entitled "The Current State of Publishing."
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