About a dozen years ago, when journals were entering the gauntlet wrought by the peril and potential of the Internet, I remember thinking (and saying to any poor soul who would listen), “Wait until this hits books.” Back then, books were off-limits somehow, their hard covers repelling new media’s assaults. E-readers were being introduced, but none made the mainstream. Handheld computer-based attempts were ill-fated. The rumble of thunder seemed too far off to cause a worry.
Little did we know that we’d witness a fast-moving tornado when the storm finally hit.
While you can debate the commercial success, aesthetics, and longevity of it, Amazon’s Kindle has proven to be the wind shift that signaled the storm’s arrival. Other forces — the rise of viable print-on-demand (POD) technology especially, but also shoddy author contracts, publishers focusing too much on a few authors, more authors self-publishing and a rise in social acceptance of the mode, and other background trends — are tearing through the land of the printed book, leaving the industry exposed on many sides, apparently with little shelter.
Now that the twister’s finally arrived, the constant rumors of Borders folding or being consumed have been joined by the news that Barnes & Noble is considering putting itself on the block. While part of this may be a business gambit, the gambit is only necessary because the business is less viable than ever.
Publishers are changing, too. Mass-market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing is dropping its paperbacks entirely and moving to e-books and POD fulfillment for print titles. This means Dorchester is seeing that online retailing is going to drive their business, not remaindered print in bookstores.
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