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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Print Crashes, Publishing Loses

One only has to walk to the heart of their city – or a mall (sometimes that’s the same place) to know there are fewer bookstores and newsstands around.  One only has to look across commuter trains and buses to see fewer people are reading books, newspapers, and magazines; instead riders are preoccupied with their phone or gadget.

So when I saw the statistics on how much consumption of paid media has decreased I wasn’t shocked – just disgusted. Paid readership is down for books, magazines, and newspapers by a lot.  According to the Census Bureau, the average person spent on books and periodicals 50% more in 1995 vs. 2010.  In 1995 one spent $163 on reading materials.  In 2000 it was $146 and in 2010 it’s down to $110.  If you take mild inflation into consideration the average person should have spent $200 (if there was no growth in the number of publications purchased)..

What can be done to reverse this tide?

  • The publishing industry has to market itself better.  Book publishers need to explain what goes into producing a book and why it has value over a free Web site or a basement blog. Newspapers and magazines need to highlight the credentials, experience, training, fact-checking, and journalistic standards that are behind their publications. They are not the same as getting your news from a web site.

  • Publishers need to charge more for online content but less for the printed version.  The print version is their branding too –l -people see others reading it, it stands out on a store shelf, and it can differentiate itself from an online site.

  • There should be a universal book gift card that all publishers and bookstores sell, to encourage consumers to buy physical books.

  • The publishing industry needs to support more book fairs, literacy events, and campus functions to promote non-textbook reading.  Reading books must be seen as a social event, an important part of one’s education and growth, and as a fun experience.  Start the youngest generation off right and you’ll have readers for a century.

  • Publishers should negotiate with local governments to build bookstores.  They are needed, much like a library, a school or a park.  Get corporate sponsors to promote book sales.  Maybe build playgrounds that are inside a bookstore, so on a rainy day kids can play, parents can read.

Things have changed but they could get worse if we don’t take aggressive steps now to fight the extinction of books and periodicals.  This is no time to stand idle and to watch the electronification of information take total control.  We need a balance – the e-world offers many great things, as does print.  We need both. One can’t serve all of our needs.

The statistics are there for all to see.  Let’s work towards changing the current trend – before it’s too late.

Interview With Deb Leonard, Executive Director, Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association

Deb Leonard has over 29 years of experience in the book publishing industry. She was kind enough to contribute with her online interview below:


1.      Please tell us what your organization does.  We are a nonprofit trade organization that supports and promotes independent booksellers.

2.      How do you help authors and publishers sell more books?  Technically, our mission is to help independent bookstores sell more books, but the end result is the same.  We help facilitate that in a few different ways.  We produce a catalog every fall to highlight new titles that are of interest to stores in this region.  Our member stores can order a quantity of this catalog for free, and mail it to their mailing list, insert it with local newspapers, or just use it as a bag stuffer as  advertisement for their store.  We produce a tegional trade show every fall, as does every Regional Booksellers Association.  For GLIBA this traditionally consists of one full day of education, designed to help our member tackle a variety of their needs.  For example, this year we are planning workshops on “Paperless Ordering”,” Social networking”, and  “Ideas that work”, as well as other things.. We have meetings that allow our members to hear and meet authors with forthcoming books.  Our members receive advanced copies of those author’s books, so that they can use them to build buzz in their stores. One of the biggest perks of the show is to give booksellers face time with each other.  There is nothing book people like more than talking about books with each other.

Publishers can also advertise “sleepers” or very regional titles in several venues to bring our members attention to those books.  We have a program called Great Lakes, Great Reads that highlight books from 4 categories 4 times a year.  Those books are selected by a panel, and must either be by an author who has ties to the region, or a book about the region.  We feature these books on our website and on our newsletter, and provide stores with promotional materials so that they can promote these books in their stores.  We also work with publishers to facilitate author appearances in our member’s stores.  One of my main jobs is to be on the lookout for interesting programs or ideas from other parts of the country that could be adapted here.  The nine regional directors meet several times a year to trade ideas, and work through problems that we see.   Our trade show just happened this past weekend in Dearborn.  Bloggers and media members are welcome to attend for free, but you must register ahead of time.  If you are interested, contact Joan Jandernoa at joan@gliba.org.

3.      What do you love most about being in book publishing?  That’s almost like asking what you love most about breathing.  I love finding out about new books, and helping to get people excited about them.  I love talking about books with practically anyone.  Most of the people in publishing work there because they love books, and being around people that love books.  That’s not always true, and it’s easy to tell if someone is a “real book person” or not.  It’s not a thing you learn or become.  You either are or you are not.

4.      What do you see is the industry’s fate?  If I could tell you that, I would be the richest person on the planet.  What I do know is this:  There are a lot of readers out there, and we won’t give up our drug of choice: books.   I’m not making a distinction between electronic and print.  The current squabbles about online vs. on paper will simmer down at some point.  It is obvious that both delivery methods will be with us for some time.  Lots of people will be devotees of one or the other, but I think the majority will use both in some way.  I do have to say that I think people who predict that print will go away haven’t thought about what would happen to prices on ebooks if that happens.  Amazon has brainwashed the masses (or at least the vocal ones) to think that eBooks should cost almost nothing.  They started by making public domain books available for free, and then offered those available from publishers for very low prices until publishers adopted the agency model.  Now those same folks thing that they are being ripped off because the prices are set by the publishers, not Amazon.   It will be interesting to see how those price wars play out.

With the chain stores disappearing, now could be a time that independent bookstores could come into their own again.  Lots of towns are getting in the Buy Local movement, and independent bookstores are a big part of that.   Those booksellers contribute to their communities in ways that chains and online booksellers never can.   Publishers need indies as the “showroom” for their books, and so it is in their best interest to help them stay in business.  It is obvious that it is time for a new publishing model, and I know that people are diligently working on that.

5.      What should  authors and publishers do to promote and market their books?  The first thing I would say is to do your homework.  Think about your audience and the best way to get to them. Almost all the publicity for books comes months before they are published.  Do everything you can to build buzz; talk about the book everywhere you can.  Target that audience. If you have a children’s book, try to go to the library shows as well as trade shows.  Do radio talk shows. What is available to you?   Think local!

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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