Print Plummeting?

September 13, 2011

Last night I did something almost unheard of these days:  I walked into an independent book store and bought a hardcover book at honest to goodness full retail price topped off with Washington sales tax and everything.  It has been a while, but this sanctimonious sucker feels good about supporting a quaint community bookstore with personally handwritten bookmarks on the shelves.  I don’t remember my last new book purchase before that (probably in an airport).   I have to admit I got into the habit of downloading new books on my phone courtesy of Amazon One Click whenever I found myself painfully low on a library queue.  (A quick check of OverDrive often pays, too, though.  This week I scored Caleb’s Crossing with no wait and it’s a great timekiller stand by).  Apparently I’m not alone in downloading the must have titles, and print sales are really sliding compared to ebooks.  It isn’t a gradual plane of descent either but a true plunge, 64% in June for trade paper!  This situation favors online retailers, naturally.  By the end of 2010, the store retailer’s share of the market had dropped to 40%, and I’m sure it will be much lower now after Border’s demise. But are consumers really in love with ebooks as such or is it just the current price difference?  We seem to experience stronger than ever demand for print books when the additional monetary cost is zero.    Hm.


5 Responses to “Print Plummeting?”

  1. David Says:

    As someone who makes part of their livelihood periodically working at independent bookstores, I thank you for your support, not only of independent bookstores, but also our schools by paying sales tax, something that an online retailer (who shall remain nameless) is fighting in other states. Indies have to market themselves as “added value”: author readings, support for book clubs, personal recommendations. The publishing world is in a period of flux, and who knows how this will end up, but if independent bookstores can show they are a valuable asset to the local economy and culture, I think they’re here for a bit longer.

  2. nelsdar Says:

    I agree with you about added value, especially for independents, but then you also have the frustrating “free rider” problem of customers using retailers for expert advice and as a showroom, and then actually buying the product online. It seems a bit dishonorable, but it’s going to happen.

  3. David Says:

    Yeah, we actually had someone come in and use their phone to take pictures of recipes from cookbooks we had on sale. We figured the resolution wouldn’t be good enough to be readable, so we let her have fun.

  4. nmessenger Says:

    Luddite that I am, I have resisted spending money on an e-reader. However, I was recently gifted with a Kindle and was mildly excited at the prospect of free downloads from OverDrive. As the days pass with no announcement of Kindle content forthcoming (and hints of Amazon moving forward with their own lending library program), I am seriously considering a return of the device. Give me an ARC any day – I can drop it in the bathtub or leave it in an airport without feeling guilt!

  5. ezimmer Says:

    As a former employee of Borders I can honestly say that I didn’t get the impression that everyone was flocking to e-readers. However, my perspective was definitely effected by the fact that Borders was so late to the e-Reader game and because acquiring eBooks from the fledgling Borders website was not always a smooth, simple process. The Sony e-Reader and the Kobo, the initial devices sold by Borders, were neither cutting edge nor exceptionally well -reviewed. So, the customers I saw at Borders were largely those who were still perfectly satisfied &/or attached to the idea of printed books. They certainly grumbled about the prices though (and I could relate). When I worked at one of the Borders in Washington, the threat of, “Well, I’ll just get it cheaper from Amazon” hung heavy in the air. When I worked at a Borders in Oregon, the customer could always say, “Never mind, I’m sure Powells will have it” as The City of Books or one of its satellite stores would not be far off. Love of print or no, I currently believe that most people will go for the lower price, especially when more people become aware of just how simple and convenient it can be to download a book.

    That said, while I lived in Portland I went to the tiny used book store two blocks from my home whenever I could. I worked at a large bookstore, but I knew that the tiny shop would have more obscure titles, more out of print titles, better prices, less aggressive sales staff, a trade-in option for store credit, and the occasional cat. Between the rise of the eBook and the lingering fondness for the small indie shop I am not surprised that the sales of new print books are dropping off a cliff.

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