McBooks

The book business is a very thin slice of the entertainment pie graph, but it is still big business. Moreover, it is a business steeped in tradition and antiquated business practices. There is a chance that the recent upheavals “just happened” because of the economy, the high price of hardback books, the younger generation (and even older ones) not as interested in reading. It could also be due to more people buying used books or patronizing libraries.

But I don’t believe it.

I tend to see purpose behind seemingly unpurposeful events. I don’t necessarily think that those at the top of the publishing food chain created this so-called crisis, but I do think they are taking advantage of it; they would be foolish not to.

Innovative technologies, such as the much-maligned print-on-demand (POD) publishing, put the big guys at a disadvantage. True, for now, POD-produced books are more expensive than those printed by major publishers, but that is because the machines are new, very expensive, and in the hands of only a few.

What will happen when these machines become cheap enough that every bookstore owner can buy one? A customer will be able to walk into a bookstore, browse through a catalog or display copies of books, make their choice, and in fifteen minutes the bookseller will hand them their purchase, hot off the press.

For the bookseller, this will mean a cleaner, more profitable shop. As it stands now, 85% of books in a typical bookstore sell less than two copies. It also means less time packing up books for return, less inventory costs, and the ability to offer an unlimited selection.

For the big publishers, it will mean no more costly print runs, no more warehousing overstock, no more returned books, no more shipping costs, no more having to destroy 25% of their product as they now do.

It’s entirely possible that as the technology becomes even more advanced, there will be book vending machines — customers make their choice, the machine prints and binds your books, and there it is. Who knows, there could even come a day when you order a cheeseburger, fries, and shake for lunch, and at the same drive-up window, order a book by Pat Bertram to read while you are eating.

Many people see print books as obsolete, taken over by e-publishing, and that is definitely a possibility, but I don’t think it will happen any time soon. Many readers like the feel and smell of books; other readers, especially older ones or those with failing eyesight, need the print format.

What I do know is that heads of major corporations are not stupid. Why would they put up with the ridiculous expenses of traditional publishing ways if they don’t have to? And with new technologies (some of which, I’m sure, we have yet to hear about) they won’t have to.

The end of the book business? No.

The end of the book business as we know it? Without a doubt.

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7 Responses to “McBooks”

  1. okathleen Says:

    Luddites unite, a book in the hand is worth three in a gadget..
    http://www.okathleen.wordpress.com

  2. Margay Says:

    A book vending machine. That would be something else! Not sure I’m ready for that technology yet.
    Margay

    http://margayleahjustice.com

  3. joylene Says:

    I’m with Kathleen. There’s nothing like holding a book in your hand, curled up in your favourite chair, fire roaring, hot chocolate steaming in a cup beside you. Ah… the perfection of it.

    Informative article, Pat. You are a wealth of knowledge.

  4. amydetrempe Says:

    I think that once gadgets like the Kindle become more reasonably priced for the average reader, we will see more and more books e-published as well. For me, it is too uncomfortable to sit at a computer to read a book, but I know some that do. As society is becoming more “green” they will look at the reading devices as a way to enjoy a good book and save a tree. The same could be said for POD. Books only being printed when purchased to be read instead of hundreds being printed that might someday be purchased and read. While I will always enjoy curling up with a book, I don’t think a transition to e-pub or POD will be a bad thing, if the big houses follow. As you said, no more overhead on book storage, throwing away books and such and perhaps they can give more authors a shot a publication since their overhead could be drastically cut. Just a thought.

  5. knightofswords Says:

    The hot-off-the-press challenge, especially with reference books, will be the reader’s inability to browse through the book before buying. If it’s on a screen with a search inside function, possibly, but one has to have more freedom to browse than Amazon allows on its site.

    And then we come to the romance books that are re-issued every few years with new covers. The readers have to look at them to make sure they haven’t read them already. :-)

    Malcolm

  6. Pat Bertram Says:

    Malcom, you have a point about needing to browse, but there would be copies of books on display, possibly more titles than appear in bookstores now, because the would need only one copy of each book. Also, I recently read that most people who go to a bookstore know what they want ahead of time, but those who shop for books online don’t know what they want. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but I it might be a reflection of how little free time most people have. And one can browse for books online while at work.

  7. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    Good article Pat.

    Actually, what you describe isn’t so very far-fetched Pat. Certainly, the idea of a catalog and a book sample on the shelf in a book store wouldn’t be that hard to accomplish—still a bit far off, but not that very far.

    The whole POD styled printing concept is something that the large houses could put into effect now—especially for new authors or debuting authors. There’s not a lot of investment while the authors are building their readership base. Once those authors create a healthy following, then advances/contracts could be adjusted accordingly.

    I also imagine advances are going to have to be addressed and adjusted today, in the light of the current economic setting. I’m thinking they will be lower. There will always be the Dan Brown debuting authors, who hit a niche that captures the imagination of readers. Competition for those new niche books will always be a bit of a bidding war. Then you have your established authors. Those are on a different financial tier.

    Survival of traditional Publishing and the big houses are going to depend upon their ability to adjust and adapt to the new. Make it work for them.

    Are you listening boys?


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