Publishing’s Greatest Challenge Might Surprise You

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

In the October 2 issue of Publishers Weekly, the publication revealed the results of its annual salary and jobs survey. One of the questions the 442 respondents answered was, What is the #1 issue facing the industry in 2017?

You can read the online version of that story here.

In reverse order, here are the top six responses publishers gave:

The #1 challenge publishing faces is the limited number of online retailers

Although only 5 percent of responders named this as the prime problem, PW reported,

“…A number of publishers who commented on industry issues named Amazon–in one way or another–as the greatest challenge to book publishers.”

The relationship with Amazon has been fraught from the beginning. Yes, we hate Amazon because it is monopolistic–and more so every day. But where do many (most?) readers buy their books? Uh, Amazon.

In terms of creatively finding ways to drive the price down on individual titles, no other entity can surpass Amazon. This year we had the challenge of which seller will get the sale when the buyer clicks on the buy button. Book sellers other than the publisher received a boon from Amazon when the buy button went to the lowest bidder–the seller with the lowest price. Publishers have been inventively working to hold (or regain) that prime real estate. But that’s just the most recent challenge to publishing’s well-being that Amazon has either benignly or calculatingly posed. 2018 will doubtless add to Amazon’s list of ways to create publishing mayhem. (Not that publishing is being targeted; Amazon functions in the same cutthroat manner with every industry.)

The  #1 challenge to publishing is too many books being published

Publishing looks to the Bowker Report to collect these numbers, and it takes some time for Bowker to assemble them, but this is how the stats stood in September 2016: More than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an increase of 375% since 2010! The number of traditionally published books climbed to over 300,000. The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available.

In 2016, the U.S. population was reported at 323.1 million. Think about how many avid readers would be needed to sustain the present explosion of available books. Is it any wonder that a new title has a few weeks at a retail outlet to sell through to a customer? And how is the reader supposed to ferret through this vast selection to find the books that interest him or her? The problem is staggering.

The #1 challenge publishers face is the difficulty in getting attention for new authors

See #1 challenge above–the onslaught of available books. Other challenges I’ll disclose later in this post also contribute to this problem. The good news for authors is that publishers realize this is a significant problem. Fifteen percent of respondents saw this as their primary challenge. That means they’re working hard to solve it.

The #1 challenge for the industry is the financial pressure on bricks-and-mortar stores

Publishers pointed out several reasons this challenge exists, but the primary reasons listed were Amazon’s existence; Amazon’s encroachment into the physical retail space through their own bookstores; Barnes & Noble’s ongoing struggles to survive; and the collapse of Family Christian Stores. One respondent surmised, “This may be the deciding year for a lot of retailers in general.”

To view a chart of the decline of Barnes & Noble sales from 2012 to 2017, go here.

Retail outlets are supremely important to the publishing industry. Significant numbers of sales are lost when a chain such as Family Christian closes. If a town no longer has a Christian bookstore or any bookstore, where will readers turn to buy their books? Or will they choose to spend their discretionary time on other activities? Discoverability of an author and his or her books also is badly affected.

The #1 challenge publishing faces is the competition from other entertainment options

As alluded to in the previous point, potential readers have many other entertainment options beckoning to them. Video games’ popularity, the distraction of social media, and the upgraded quality of television productions (not necessarily family friendly content) all distract us from books. This issue is viewed so significant that 24 percent of responders picked it as their  #1 concern.

The greatest challenge seen by publishers is flat sales

Twenty-five percent of the respondents are concerned about a publishing variable that is easy for each publisher to track–how many books sold this year? The sobering fact publishers picked this as their primary concern is that it’s core to the industry. Publishing’s function boils down to selling books. If it doesn’t succeed at this, it won’t succeed at all. And it isn’t like 2017 is the exception. No growth has occurred for five years.

As the PW article reports, “According to the Association of American Publishers’ recent StatShot report, total industry sales fell to $26.24 billon in 2016, down 5.1% from 2015. Between 2012 and 2016, sales fell every year except 2014, and over the five-year period sales dropped 5.2%. Within the trade segment, sales rose 1.5% in 2016 over 2015 and were up 1.3% in 2016 over 2012.”

What do these concerns add up?

The truth of the matter is that these issues are interwoven. Amazon’s threat slips into each of these issues, including how easy it is to self-publish through Amazon. Having too many titles doesn’t increase sales; it results in readers having a harder time surfing through all the options to find a book they long to read. We could go on and on, showcasing how each problem is, in a sense, a different way of expressing the same issue: Publishing needs to sell more titles.

The real question is, What will publishing do to sell more titles?

What do you wish publishing would do to solve its problem?

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44 Responses

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  1. Publishing’s got a bigger problem: editorial ineptitude.
    * I just finished a book (nonfiction) that is currently being made into a Major Motion Picture, and here are just a few weirdnesses:
    – The consistent use of ‘hoard’ instead of ‘horde’.
    – Repeated use of the same adjectives in adjacent sentences.
    – A flawed understanding of how an RPG works.
    – The author’s editorial redesign of the MH-47 helicopter to have four wheels rather than six (two in front, two duallys aft), which begs the mental maintenance picture: “Yo, bubba, we got too many tires in this here thing…I mean, Mr. Famous Author says we only need FOUR!”
    * This isn’t an isolated case, and I don’t think I’m nitpicking. I expect an author to get basic details of language and technology right, and certainly expect an editor at a major TradPub house to catch grade-school level errors. having read a lot of error-ridden works of history in recent years, I’m really starting to wonder if the basic credentials of the authors are in order, and if the stories themselves are accurate.

    • OK, a few more, from books written in the past decade or so, the issue of major houses:
      * The statement that the Vietnamese are a tribal people (they’re not, and tend to be highly offended by that inference).
      * The description of a .50-caliber machine gun as being 50mm. That would give it a bore diameter of roughly 2 inches, rather than half an inch.
      * Speaking of caliber, the misunderstanding of the use of the word itself; in small arms it refers to bore diameter, in naval artillery, to barrel length as a multiple of more diameter (a 5-inch/38 caliber naval gun will have a five-inch bore and a barrel that is 38 x 5″ long, or 190 inches…NOT a bore diameter of 5.38 inches).
      * The ignorance that the Japanese ‘Zero’ fighter was the same animal as the ‘Zeke’; the japanese called it the ‘Zero’ (Type 0) for the year of its acceptance according to the Japanese calendar, and the American code-name was ‘Zeke’ (fighters were given boys’ code-names by the Allies, and bombers the feminine variety…the ubiquitous ‘Betty’, the Mitsubishi G4M naval land-based bomber, was called the Type 1 by the Japanese, being introduced a year after the Zero).
      * The list goes on, but I’ll spare you. One common thread is that these books have been written by journalists, chaps who really can tell a compelling story, but their skill is cut off at the knees by these errors, whose remedy is the most cursory research. None of what I’ve pointed out above requires a great depth of reading to know; it does require some.
      * Reputation’s important; histories are generally read (I surmise) by people with a working knowledge of the time period, and a desire to learn more. When the ‘structural’ details are treated with disdain, it becomes hard not to believe that one’s time spent reading newer books is not, at least in part, wasted.
      * And here endeth the rant.

      • I agree there has been a huge increase in editorial issues, but the rate at which books are being published to keep up with hope of being forefront in a reader’s mind makes it not surprising. I honestly don’t have enough knowledge about the industry to make suggestions. Greater minds than mine are working on it. But it does beg the question, how does all of this affect our personal goals as authors? Do our definitions of success need to change? Are we perpetuating the Amazon issue or do we buy books full price at brick and mortar places? It is definitely a lot to take into consideration.

      • Crystal, for what it may be worth, my definition of success still lies in reaching the individual who is taking the time to read my words. I figure that if it’s worthwhile, my writing will be like a rock tossed; the ripples extending outward to touch shores I can’t see…not through multitudinous sales, but through changed hearts. I suspect that has to bem at least in part, the goal of any evangelist, to raise people up in good ways from which they will not depart.

      • I completely agree, Andrew. Sorry I missed your reply. I thought I had hit the follow up with emails button. It is hard to get to visit a blog throughout the day, but email is within reach all day long.

        My definition of success is very similar, the core of it being that God is glorified in whatever I do and others see Hos love and are drawn to Him. I don’t know yet if that will be accomplished through a small publisher, obtaining an agent, or even self-publishing, but I do know that God’s plan is more important than mine and success is following that plan.

      • Deb Kinnard says:

        One of my favorite examples of these boneheaded gaffes: a mainstream romance publisher wanted to branch out into historical/inspirational books. Their lead title, by an author whose name one would recognize, has her British 11th century characters getting into a boat on the east coast of England and heading into…the Irish Sea.
        Now I grant you a lot has changed in England since Domesday Book, but the check of any map, ancient or modern, will tell you the Irish Sea lies on Britain’s west.
        I laughed my head off and wallbanged the book. I daresay the follow up titles in this line were equally lame.

  2. Janet, I wonder if publishers really have any idea why people buy books, and read. I’m not being facetious; it does seem to be a legitimate question.
    * For decades, publishers had a captive audience; if you wanted to read a book you bought one, or went to the library (of, if you’re an Abbie Hoffman fan, you took the advice of his eponymously-titled “Steal This Book!”…um, does anyone REMEMBER Abbie Hoffman?).
    * Reading’s an intensely personal experience; while its presumed competitor the Internet really isn’t. The internet is about connexion, while the book offers an inward journey. One might draw a parallel with the cinema and television; the experience of television is often shared with family, and certainly shared with advertisers, while the cinematic experience is one of escape. Hollywood heard the death-knell prognostications in the fifties, came up with epics that could only be seen on the big screen, and offered a layering of experience that was beyond the reach of TV. Hollywood survived, and we’re better for that.
    * One hopes that publishers can follow a similar path, setting aside the captive-audience preconceptions to develop a broader understanding of their potential. There are specific examples; “Harry Potter” spoke to a longing for a world in which the magical is possible, “The Hunger Games” appealed to millennials who felt that the world was out of their possibility of control or even influence, and “Twilight” is at its heart a classic tale of good versus evil, in which love comes at a cost and heroes are all the more admirable for their flaws. These were framed in very personal ways, to which the reader could address her-or-himself…”Could I do that? Are those qualities within me?” You can’t get that from the Internet, and more than you can get a nutritious meal by browsing a 7/11.
    * These are but examples, and not for blind imitation (of course, they HAVE been imitated ad nauseum) but they’re intended to point the way to a rediscovery and celebration of the Irreducible Unique that only a book can offer.
    * The same may apply to bookstores, as well. People thought that Barnes and Noble and Borders were the new agora, a marketplace of products and ideas. True in part, but they were really a cultured alternative to the mall’s Food Court, minus the rowdy teenagers, and “Oh, duck, he just threw a hamburger…uh, want a napkin?”
    * The agora paradigm’s undoubtedly a factor, but the real appeal of the bookstore is community, a place to hang out a feel like part of something bigger, in real time. It’s not products and philosophy; it’s public partaking, and the promise of potential. Will I meet that special someone at BN today? Don’t laugh, I’ve been there.
    * I’ve talked way too long, as is my wont, but I do believe that the traditionally published book will rise in newly-burnished triumph, and that the bookstore…perhaps smaller, perhaps independent (take THAT, “You’ve Got Mail”!)…will be a focal point of our communities as long as we have eyes with which to read, and hearts with which to love.

    • >> Reading’s an intensely personal experience; while its presumed competitor the Internet really isn’t.
      Andrew,
      That line above is profoundly insightful.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, I certainly agree that the internet and reading a book are two very different experiences. But publishing needs to be aware of how people spend their discretionary time. Reading used to be the obvious go-to. But so many screens vie for that time.
      But I hear your point that publishing needs to focus on what makes reading books a unique experience and consistently promote that uniqueness. And, yes, bookstores are realizing that people come for the community experience just as much as they for a book. Barnes & Noble is experimenting in select cities with what sorts of community experiences readers respond to.

    • Andrew, I agree with your comments. In my opinion, I think if we are solely looking at reading as entertainment publishing will continue to curtail, but if the reading meets a heart or mind need, a longing or deep desire, if it heals the broken and breeds hope in the midst of despair it will continue to sustain itself. I think Christian publishing is at a crossroads. Do we really worry about offending with certain things, or do we allow books to get real and actually transform people.

      Right now, I am sitting in the dark at my sister’s bedside in Intensive Care. She does not know Jesus, and she is VERY sick with a serious infection in her hip that was probably introduced by having her teeth cleaned last week. Both her hips were replaced several years ago. Emergency surgery was done and she has an open twelve inch incision with a suction system pumping the infection out. She was admitted to ICU today because now the I section is in her blood. My brother in law texted me about it all at 2 PM today. I quickly notified my husband, made arrangements, called pray partner’s, my pastor and put her on prayer chains. I sit her watching the colored numbers and graphs run across the screen of the vital signs monitor, and pray for her life, both temporal and eternal. I am tired of the fluff, and the avoidance of reality in many Christian publications. Jesus never avoided the difficult situations in life, he was found smack dab in the center of the scourge of the culture of His time. Why? To display the gospel in action, in love. If the Living Word, Jesus could do this down and dirty accounts, and the Bible record it then why can’t we. My dear sister and I have lived through hard things. Perhaps if we were more about transformation and not just entertainment (although in it’s place it can work) my sister and others would have gone to brick and mortar and found what they were searching for, and perhaps there would be more choices of books to give her.

      Her name is Cathy and her husband is Mark. She will have surgery again this Wednesday. I will be with her for as long as I need be. If I do not check the blog, ease let it be a reminder to pray for her.

      Thank you in advance, and thank you Janet for post.

      • Elizabeth, Cathy and Mark – and you – are in my prayers. Big time.
        * I so agree that Christian fiction has to embrace the hard to thrive and to fulfill its purpose. My SP’d novel “Emerald Isle” deals with questions of abortion and revenge – things that come from my experience – and was judged “too dark”, even though it does maintain (I thin, and hope) a solid Christian footing.
        * We live in a fallen world; this is a survival situation, both physically and spiritually, and personally (I’m no publishing or literary expert), I think Christian writing has to be willing to open the doors to the dark cellars, and let in the light.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Elizabeth, I just read this comment and wanted you to know that I’m also praying for your sister, your brother-in-law, and you. Such a devastating time. Those moments, beside a loved-one’s bedside, vividly remind us what’s important.

    • Andrew, thank you for your prayers. That’s what I mean, exactly, and why your book, “Emerald Isle” should be published, and that Christian publishers need to be willing to open up the doors to the cellars and lead those behind the doors out into the light.

      • Thanks so much Janet for your prayers and kind words. One of the doctors was very frank with us this evening about how grave her situation is. But in all this…God. My brother -in-law is so pleased and surprised how many people are praying for them. My sister is not really able to understand even what’s going on due to the effects of the infection and pain. It breaks my heart to hear her cry in pain when they have to reposition and move her.

        Thank you all for your prayers. Such a testimony of love, compassion, and faith in God.

  3. I still think the top challenge is new writers -> new authors -> new books. This has so worried me in the past days that I’ve considered putting a stop to writing.
    But, if I believe I have a story to share, so does everyone else.
    *How much would I love to say, “Publish less books.” That doesn’t even work…
    *How about, stop reprinting books over twenty years old. Let readers discover new names. Publishing, though, is a business. Sales matter. These titles matter. I’m trying to imagine if Redeeming Love was not available in print again. Humph.
    Perhaps this quandary holds no answers yet. Just like population explosion or any other seeming crisis.

    • Michael, how wonderful to see you! I hope you’ll never stop your writing; it’s my feeling, and I think many will agree with me, that you have a unique voice, and the world will need your wisdom and your example in these turbulent times.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Hi, Michael. Good to see you back! Whatever you do, DON’T stop writing unless God is telling you to stop. Don’t let the industry issues discourage you.

    • Thank you very much Andrew and Carol. It’s so good to see you here.
      Yes, I will not stop writing. It’s a privilege to God and to you two.

    • Michael, I get what you’re saying. I’ve read enough of your writing to know you have a gift. You also have life ahead of you. Last Friday I wrote a blog about what inspires me as a a writer, which really is about what keeps me writing even though my success as a writer is quite limited according to the algorithms. You might relate to it, at nlbrumbaugh.com.

    • Elise Stone says:

      “How about, stop reprinting books over twenty years old.” :::headdesk:::

      You obviously have never experienced the frustration of trying to find a book that’s gone out of print. There are so many books and authors who are new-to-me, even if they aren’t technically new.

      One of the marvels of ebooks and self-publishing is that some of these have found their way back into online stores as authors or small groups get the rights to some of these classic books and republish them.

      Yes, as an author, I understand the frustration of discoverability. But keeping books out of the marketplace isn’t the answer.

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    A comment on Barnes & Noble and why it might be having problems competing. I wonder whether their ineptitude in their online presence is symptomatic of deeper problems in their general management.
    *One would think a search on keywords would bring up the major authors in the topic. No!! A search on Biblical fiction at B&N brings up 29 books, and not a single one is by Francine Rivers, Tessa Afshar, Lynn Austin, Tracy Higley, Mesu Andrews, Jill Eileen Smith, Connilyn Cossette, Angela Hunt, Diana Wallis Taylor, or Brock& Brodie Thoene, all very successful traditionally published authors in that genre. A search on Biblical fiction at Amazon brings up 27,411 results today.
    *Is it any wonder B&N is not competing successfully in online book sales with Amazon when a reader can’t even find a book by a genre leader unless they type in the author name?
    *I sell more of my own biblical novels in Australia (pop. 24 million) thru amazon.com.au than I sell through Barnes & Noble in the US (pop 323 million). I emailed back and forth with B&N about the inability to find books using keywords more than 6 months, and the same 29 books are all one finds with “biblical fiction.” Even a mom-and-pop business with online sales makes a keyword search find a relevant product!

    • Your engineering mind drilled down to the detail, Carol. I only know that it was harder to find what I wanted on B&N. There was a time when I used Amazon for the search, then switched to B&N for the buy. Really? Who wants to reward ineptitude? Meanwhile, I pray that the next generation will learn to enjoy a good read in spite of short attention spans wrought by instant technology. Maybe I should add FINDING a good read in the jungle of sloppy self-published books to my prayer list.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Shirlee, I wish we could just ignore B&N and go our merry way. But publishers sell so many books through B&N, if it does belly-up, publishing will suffer severely. And many publishers will go out of business. That would solve the too-many-books problem from traditional publishers but drive more authors to self-publish. The whole scenario is a spiraling down of the health of books in our society. And that can’t be good for any of us. So, the only solution publishing has been able to find is to do what it can to prop B&N up and hope it is more effective in getting its act together.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Carol, I believe Barnes & Noble has plenty of challenges that they’re failing to address in ways that make sense. Even their concerted efforts to remain relevant to readers are, well, odd choices on the whole.
      Thanks for giving us the biblical fiction search example; that shows an appalling lack of decent coding.

  5. David Todd says:

    What do I wish publishing would do to solve its problem?
    .
    I wish, rather than push Amazon away and whine about on-line sales, they would embrace the one company that knows more about selling books than anyone else in the industry, more about what their customers want. On-line sales are a disruptive technology in the vertical distribution chain of the publishing industry. People and the world have changed and have embraced, and continue to embrace more each year, that disruptive technology, which gives the convenience of having a bookstore with unlimited inventory and all books “face out” in their home, and buy books from that bookstore.
    .
    Publishing management can wish for the good old days of the 1950s through 1990s, but it ain’t coming back. Publishing management is Publishing’s number one problem.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Good point, David. One blessing of Amazon is the international reach that I never expected. More than 10% of my sales are outside the US, and that ranges from places I can track, like UK, Australia, and Canada, to ones I can’t (the 35% royalty world outside western Europe and the Commonwealth countries). When 5-stars come into Goodreads from diverse places like Hungary, South Africa, and Bermuda, I know the message of the power of unearned love and forgiveness to change lives is reaching far more than I ever dreamed. That’s cause for rejoicing every day!
      *The books from the traditional publishers that normally stay focused on domestic distribution have potential for that same world-wide reach through Amazon. I think that’s an excellent consequence of online book sellers whether you’re traditionally or indie published.

    • Janet Grant says:

      David, oh, publishers understand that online purchasing is here to stay, and they’re aggressively working to make the most of that sales outlet. But Amazon isn’t just about delivering a vast array of books to eager readers. Amazon has worked very hard to monopolize the world of books, not to work with publishers. Working with publishers is something Amazon doesn’t care about. Nor does it care about what is being published. A book is a SKU number; Amazon is agnostic about what any book contains. Which is why it doesn’t care if a man puts together a “book” about feet problems by slapping a cover on it and leaving all the pages blank. That book became the #1 seller in a very tiny Amazon category. But because of its #1 status, Amazon promoted it heavily.
      Yeah, Amazon is a great place for publishers to sell books–except that Amazon is constantly working to lower the price at which each title sells. And ultimately that devalues intellectual property.
      Should publishers embrace Amazon? What does one do with a prime sales outlet that also is working hard to do you in?

      • David Todd says:

        It seems to me Amazon is trying to capture bookselling market share. That would have a negative impact on booksellers, not publishers. Yes, Amazon has a small publishing imprint, but it’s sales are quite small compared to the Big 5 and Little 100 (or whatever that number is). Unless you mean that the ease with which Amazon has developed the self-publishing system it has is a negative impact on publishers; I didn’t think that’s what you meant. Otherwise, I don’t see how Amazon is trying to “do in” publishers.

      • Elise Stone says:

        “they’re aggressively working to make the most of that sales outlet.”

        Is that why they price ebooks higher than paperbacks?

  6. This is a horribly fascinating post, Janet. I might have been discouraged if I read this last week, but I’ve been reading “The Librarian of Auschwitz” by Antonio Iturbe and after seeing the all out war on books that the Nazis waged and how a dearth of books created such a passion for the written word within the walls of Auschwitz death camp, I am not as discouraged as I would have been. And yeah, this book has a whole lot of awful stuff in it, so I would only recommend it for thoughtful teens and adults, but it has sure made me think and be so grateful for the many books we have in our home and amazed anew at the power of story to transcend the most horrific of times. They even had “living books” in the camps. People who could tell the whole story of a book by heart, who were asked to speak this story to the children, over and over again. A French woman who knew The Count of Monte Cristo by heart was a favorite living book to listen to. So, yeah. I’m feeling blessed today, despite the grim publishing news.

  7. Janet, this information paints the big picture. Although it is hard to embrace, it highlights the need to do some things differently in order to be noticed and read. We see authors expanding their horizons, sharing their knowledge (teaching-style webinars), recording their books (audio books), and going where the buzz is hot. I’m thinking of making and self-publishing coloring books to go with my meditative, reflective books, because they lend themselves to pictures. I don’t know if it will work, but it might.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Norma, your decision to experiment with coloring books speaks to one of the most wonderful aspects of publishing–the creative minds and hearts behind each book, Bravo for being brave!

  8. It might be completely impossible, but then again, with a basic app, it could be doable, but I’d like to see the various online and brick and mortar stores do a cohesive survey of what readers want, what they purchase, who their go to authors and genres are, and what do people want to read that isn’t out there. This may be a Pollyanna idea, but if they put their heads together, and hired a few hungry techies, it could be a great thing to finally get a bead on the wants of readers.

    • Elise Stone says:

      The problem is “readers” are not one homogenous group. There are romance readers and mystery readers and science fiction readers and biography readers and… It goes on and on.

      Bestseller lists are one way the industry determines what readers want. But that leads to the problem of more of the same old thing.

      If you want to find what people want to read that isn’t out there, I’d recommend indie author Chris Fox’s book and YouTube videos with the title Write to Market.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Good points, Elise. Jennifer, I understand where you’re headed with your idea, and in some ways it would be great if such info could be gathered. On the other hand, if bookstores and publishers all used the same data to determine what to publish, we’d have a lot more homogeneous books rather than diversity. And, as Apple so clearly showed us, we don’t always know what we want until we see it.

  9. Wanda Rosseland says:

    Hmmmm. Just thought, how much of this is caused by forcing the author to do the majority of marketing for the book? Is that not working so great? I don’t know.
    If publishers core need is to sell books, and Amazon.com sells the most books in the country/world, then does that old adage of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” enter in here. Every one knows that the minute something becomes popular, someone else is going to make a copy of it and sell it, so how can the publishers copy Amazon and get to selling books? The example of Barnes and Noble having a terrible book finder system should tell them something. If the publishers feel like they must “prop” up Barnes and Noble, it seems to me the first thing they’d do is get that system fixed. But my personal opinion is that the biggest problem with books goes back to the parents. It takes solitude, quiet, thinking and time to read. Please tell me one third grader that has any of that. Because they are in dance, or football, or band, or skating or any other of one hundred things they can do to take their time, mainly so the parent doesn’t have to be one. School started with the first grade when I was growing up. Then we had kindergarten come in. Then preschool. Then whatever it is called now when they are three years old. This is not to teach the child to read and write. It is to get the child out of the responsibility of the parents. Cell phones are exactly the same. As was tv when I was a young mother. Instant gratification. I do not feel that cell phones are for communication, they are given to children to shut them up. Keep them from bothering the parent. (I’ve seen this more than once.) Can they say, “Go read a book and leave me alone!” I don’t think so. Nor are books held up in our schools today. These are serious problems for publishers which I’m not sure they recognize, and will probably affect the numbers of books sold in years to come because children who do not read become adults who do not.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Wanda, thanks for making such interesting points. Publishers most certainly are concerned about a future that consists of so many non-readers. It’s a frightening prospect. But the good news is that kids are turning to books; they’re doing so to have a break from being in front of a screen. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working hard to provide enticing reading experiences for kids; we dare not miss every opportunity to create avid readers.

  10. Cliff Robertson says:

    It is my belief that Amazon is a monopoly because we, as consumers and writers, allow it to be. It is easy and quick for the consumer – I am guilty. I think we have to create options for the readers/buyers. Maybe we have to go more grassroots – get to where the people physically are, not just digitally.
    Not easy but it may be the only way to break the stranglehold.

  11. Jenny Leo says:

    I came very close to stopping writing out of discouragement over marketplace issues. Then I realized the truth of what Andrew said so well: “my definition of success still lies in reaching the individual who is taking the time to read my words.” My readership is not large, but it is loyal. When I count up people who’ve expressed delight in my stories and asked for more, I’m well on my way to the proverbial “1000 True Fans.” I feel blessed that, at this point in my career, I can practically count them and call them by name. Maybe (hopefully?) it won’t always be that way. So today, when I sit down and write the best story I can to serve those True Fans, I’m in my sweet spot. Those other concerns and discouragements, while important, fade into the background.

  12. Allen F says:

    Adapt or die. That goes for everything – including traditional publishing.

    And they are adapting poorly or not at all to the changing times. While I notice you blaming Amazon, this began even earlier with the start of the world wide web.

    The internet gave people ready access to other people and ideas around the world. I was reading online stories (some quite good) long before anyone came up with a smartphone or an e-reader. All Amazon (and others) did was make it easier for those authors to make a little money off their offerings.

    What has trad-pub done to adapt? Contracts which are just plan bad for any writer foolish enough to sign one – that’s if the story made it through the slush pile. Poor or no editing (with the writer having no control over said editing), and covers that make you wonder if they were picked up from fiver for a fiver. Then to try to prop up paper sales certain publishers went agency with ebook prices and priced themselves out of the market.

    You mention Barnes & Noble and Family Christian Stores and their problems. Consumers are lazy, they want what they want the easiest way they might get it. One thing they hate is going somewhere to get one thing only to find that store doesn’t have it. After doing this a few times they mark that store off their list. Little surprise they’re heading online and often to Amazon.

    Another thing that is hurting Barnes & Noble is what happens to all those books they don’t sell. They send them back to the publisher, who puts them on a pallet and sells the pallet for next to nothing (to make ‘something’ off of them). Those books were never ‘sold’ to consumers and thus are still considered ‘new’, and are now being sold as new on Amazon (maybe trad-pub should be shredding those instead of competing against themselves?)

    I myself did my research (online of course), and figured out that trad-pub wouldn’t be interested in my stories, so I tried that self-publishing thing after getting some editing help and getting a cover done up. I’m not making much (only a couple of car payments so far), but it showed me what trad-pub fears. They have no control over what I put up for others to read or when – and since I don’t have their overhead I can sell mine for less and still make more per sale.

    Adapt or die. Amazon is always adapting, Jeff thinks it’s still ‘day one’ over there. Writers are adapting, why do battle with a gatekeeper for little reward when you can simply walk around them?

    How are publishers adapting to these changing times?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Allen, there’s so much true in your observations. Publishing’s contracts are ridiculous in their unfairness and ongoing refusal to bear the responsibilities that traditionally have been a part of the industry, instead passing more and more of the financial risk onto the author.
      I am blaming Amazon because Amazon is a problem for publishing–and not just because Amazon is so effective at what it does but also because Amazon is a destroyer of other businesses. Reading The Everything Store will convince most observers of the truth of that.
      I do disagree with you about the author having no say over the editing of his/her work in traditional publishing. Very seldom is a manuscript manhandled by an editor–often the editor brings out the best in both the manuscript and the author. But if the author doesn’t agree with some edits, there’s plenty of room for the writer to express that opinion–and to often end up with changes made to the editing. I’m hard-pressed to think of any of my clients who don’t welcome the hard, effective work of an editor.
      As you say, publishing must adapt or die. And it’s been slow to adapt. In many ways publishing is not nimble. But I believe we all lose a significant contributor to our society if publishing dies–the voice of authors with important and/or eloquent things to say that we don’t always want to hear. And the publisher that holds a megaphone up to the author so that voice can be heard.
      That last point is something a publishing house could bring to you as well, by the way. I understand you’ve chosen a different path, but traditional publishing does have its merits.

      • Allen F says:

        Ah well, while I am sure there are good publishers out there; I have read the blogs and comments of other writers; some which claim they couldn’t get their publisher to correct the errors editing had actually inserted into their stories, and one that the editing changed the meaning the writer was trying to get across to the readers.

        And I’m sorry, but the only time you see a publisher holding up a megaphone is when they’re trying to get readers to buy what they hope will be a best seller, the mid-listers and new comers aren’t mentioned. (Which is why those publishers are hoping the writers will do the advertising for them.)

        Traditional publishing had its merits, back before the internet – before a book could be sent down a wire and around the world – but they’re still trying to pretend that they control what readers can read, and that just isn’t so anymore. And despite what publishers try to claim, not everything from trad-pub is ‘good’ nor is everything indie/self-published ‘bad’. Editing and a cover are both one-time costs, and ebooks cost nothing for ‘print runs’ – yet some publishers overprice the ebooks, hurting the sales of that writer they expect to do his/her own advertising.

        Let’s see, what would a publishing house offer ‘me’? From the contracts others have offered slices of I’d lose any and all control over what happened to my stories, when or even if they’d ever be placed on the market and at what type of pricing. In return I might get a small check (and using the same math that Hollywood uses would never ‘earn out’ so that bit will be it), and I’d be expected to advertise. All this of course depends on getting past their slush pile in the first place (I understand the first Harry Potter book was rejected over a hundred times before it was finally picked up.)

        Sorry for the rant, but I think you can see why I don’t see any reason to play the roulette wheel hoping to get a trad-pub offering, the roulette wheel actually has better odds of a payoff. (And who knows, maybe at some point my tall tales will take off like that book about some guy being left on Mars – that one started out as a self-pub work.)