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More Nails in the Coffin of the Printed Word

June 15th, 2005 by Bob Bly

According to a short item in The Week (6/17/05), more than one out of three hardcover books are returned by bookstores to the publishers unsold each year.

And an article in BtoB (6/13/05) reports that after 2006, Thomas Publishing will cease publishing the print edition of its industrial buying directory, Thomas Register, making it available online only.

?Quicker than we probably think, print will be replaced by the online delivery system as the primary source of content,? says consultant Malcolm Netburn in an interview with Circulation Management (6/05).

If you are an author, a bibliophile, and a lover of the printed word — like me — this can?t be happy news to you.

Or can it? Do you see any bright side ? or is it the continuation of the slow death of the book publishing industry as we know it?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 15th, 2005 at 4:05 pm and is filed under Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

104 responses about “More Nails in the Coffin of the Printed Word”

  1. RichW said:

    I’m surprised the ratio book returns is that low. Seems every idiot who’s appeared on Sean Hannity’s show has at least one title out. How many of those screeds can one buy? Thomas Register had little choice. They can no longer afford to be static.

    There is no joy in reading an eBook at the beach. For that reason we’ll always have cheap paperbacks. Besides, there’s always the classics. Maybe library usage will make a comeback for reasons other than surfing porn!

  2. Don Marti said:

    More than half of magazines printed for the newsstand market are returned unsold, and have been for a long time. Mass-market paperbacks and comic books are other areas where it makes some kind of economic sense to print extras instead of risking running out at one location or having to re-stock.

    Returns might be a sign that hardcover books are getting treated the same way. Any numbers on total copies printed?

  3. Jim Logan said:

    The WallStreet Journal on-line is nice, but it pales in comparison to holding the paper in your hands. I can’t picture ever giving up my favorite magazine, newspaper or author to the “e” world. If anything, I’d miss that “new book” smell.

  4. TonyD said:

    What about print on demand? I think a lot of small presses might be able to make a go of combining POD and e-publishing.

  5. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I don’t believe the book publishing industry is dying. But I do think there will be a drastic downsizing in the near future. The current business model can’t be sustained forever. Here in Canada, there has been a lot of news about major bookstore chains paying their bills to publishers with books instead of cash. How long can it be before someone says “Stop the insanity”?

  6. Danny said:

    Any numbers on paperback sales? Or library numbers? While I’m sure electronic media has impacted the industry significantly, is it possible that, in the current economic climate, that people are choosing to forego the $20-$40 cost of hardcover and waiting for the $5-$15 paperbacks, or simply borrowing from the library?

  7. Patrice Robertie said:

    The news today is that some publisher is paying “The Runaway Bride” half a million dollars for her non-story. More insanity from the “name” publishers.

    Small & niche publishers seem to be doing much better — because they choose their books more carefully perhaps. And Amazon makes it much easier for the smart small publisher to compete.

    Maybe it’s just the days of the giant publishers that are numbered.

  8. Mark Cross said:

    If books are to have a future – and I believe they will – it will likely be in paperback form only. We are seeing that trend already with many books coming straight to paperback and bypassing a hardcover edition completely.

    To the writer the book is art. To the publisher it’s business. It comes down to demand and profitability. Our culture today demands value across the spectrum. Businesses must provide it or perish. The publishing houses that are able to adapt will survive. Those that do not – will not. It’s that simple.

  9. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Mark, I don’t think hardcovers are going anywhere. Especially for popular books. The Da Vinci Code is hardcover, and may never be published in paperback. The children’s book series, The Magic Treehouse, is now exclusively in hardcover (making it four times more expensive for parents!)

  10. Mark Cross said:

    You have a point Steve. Maybe a better way of phrasing it would be paperback primarily as apposed to paperback only. That would likely be more accurate.

  11. David Stokes said:

    most of the books returned are worthless so they are no loss to anyone except the deluded souls who produce them. We have enough books and book shops and availability of the printed word to sustain the imaginitive and intellectual needs of our culture. It’s up to folks if they wish to read, or not. There’s no crisis. Or if there is a crisis it’s happening in very small, irrelevant circles.

  12. David Stokes said:

    most of the books returned are worthless so they are no loss to anyone except the deluded souls who produce them. We have enough books and book shops and availability of the printed word to sustain the imaginitive and intellectual needs of our culture. It’s up to folks if they wish to read, or not. There’s no crisis. Or if there is a crisis it’s happening in very small, irrelevant circles.

  13. Jack Stankevicz said:

    As long as there are libraries, and used bookstores, there will be book readers. There will always be competing media. There will always be hot and cold trends in publishing. As an article of faith, I choose to believe there will always be hard cover books (we just may have to read them secretly).

  14. Wildfire marketing group said:

    I don’t think it will ever die completly. I would prefer to read a book than a computer screen and I think many other people feel the same way.

  15. Yvonne DiVita said:

    At BEA (Book Expo America) recently, an executive at Random House stood up and said they are going to address this issue by turning to Print-on-demand. Watch POD rise in importance — to handle this issue because the majority of readers today — including Gen X/Ys, prefer that printed copy to that e-book. They’ll buy the e-book and…if they like it…they’ll purchase the print copy. While the quality of work being published may seem to decline (since POD let’s anyone get published), the reality is that good books sell, bad books don’t. So, via POD, print will live on…and your next door neighbor, who thinks he or she has the great American novel to write, can write it and publish it, but — pretty much only friends and family will buy it.

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