Release week is always “interesting”. There are things to do to prep for it. Promotions to work. Final tweaking of the book files and cover. So many things. When you add in unexpected things like the ceiling in the garage falling in on your car, you tend to get not only frustrated but confused about what day it is. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I have been operating on the belief today was Foil of the God‘s release date but, oops, it is tomorrow. So, instead of a post all about that, here’s something else for your consideration. Print sales are going down by an estimated 20% from this time last year. That is a big oops and it is going to be interesting to see how the industry adapts.
Or justifies the falling numbers.
To start off, a big hat tip to The Passive Voice for the links to the articles used here.
The first article comes from Publisher’s Weekly and is a month or more old at this point. Basically, they loved the sales numbers from the last two years. Print good. E-books not so much. But now, hiss and boo from their point of view, things are changing. People are getting back to their lives as the lockdowns end and the country comes back to life. They are returning to work and play. Then there’s this pesky little supply chain problem which makes getting paper and other resources used in printing books more difficult and more expensive.
But paper good.
Ah, but there is hope. As people start leaving their homes and squinting at the sun, realizing they can begin the long road back to normal, they will go to the brick and mortar stores. These stores have had the whole of the pandemic to figure out why they weren’t being successful before and now they are ready to meet the challenge of having readers actually coming in.
The problem is that assumes they have actually figured out how to fix the problems from pre-pandemic times and that people will actually go to their stores. But I guess we should applaud them for having hope, even if it isn’t realistic. What they are forgetting is people have figured out how easy it is to order online and have something brought to them. They aren’t taking into account our habits have changed and there are now a number of people who will never feel comfortable going back into stores and other areas where they might be exposed to a number of people they don’t know and have clue zero about their health status.
But prints books will continue (and I hope they do). The problem is publishers will no more adapt to this latest change than they have to the ebook revolution. Instead, we will continue to see higher prices, more delays in release dates of trad pubbed books–delays the merchants will know about before the authors do. Authors who will then be blindsided by fans wanting to know why that book they’ve been waiting for for more than a year has been postponed when they also know the author delivered it on time.
Hint: this is another problem with trad publishing. Too many of the editors and higher ups don’t think to keep their authors in the loop because they view the authors as interchangeable widgets. You’d think the success of Brandon Sanderson’s fundraiser would put the fear of God in them but it won’t, not longterm.
The second article from PW that caught my eye on the sales drop is this one from The Publishing Standard. It raises a really good point. If trad publishing saw a 20% decline in e-books sales (hell, if they saw 7% decline), we’d be seeing all sorts of articles about how screen fatigue is to blame. So where are the posts about print fatigue?
The industry pundits would be reeling out the “experts” and “spokesmen” patiently waiting for their next opportunity to explain how screen fatigue, the desperate desire to visit a bookstore, the sheer pleasure of holding a book in one’s hand, and how readers hanker for the feel and smell of the printed book were driving digital publishing into oblivion.
Now, I don’t agree with much of the rest of the article, but the above is true. We aren’t seeing this from the industry. Nor are we seeing them admit people are not willing to keep shelling out hard cover prices for paperback books.
Here’s an example. The next J. D. Robb book comes out in September. The cover price for the hardback is $28.99. Amazon’s “discounted” price is $26.09. Page count for the hard cover is 368 pages. The e-book price is $14.99. The publisher is St. Martin’s Press.
Now compare that to Larry Correia’s latest, Servants of War. According to Amazon, SoW is 432 pages long. The hard back cover price is $25 with Amazon’s discounted price set at $21.88. The e-book price is $8.99.
So, what’s the difference between the two publishers. Why is St. Martin’s charging more for a shorter book than Baen? My guess has several parts to it. They think Robb’s fans will continue to pay the ever-increasing prices. Second, they don’t expect readers to actually look and compare prices. Third, they have a larger overhead for staff, office space etc., than Baen does because they–the majority of trad publishing–have never understood streamlining practices and keeping overhead down.
But the increases are all because of the supply chain problems and the brick and mortar stores will make up for any sales loss they are experiencing right now.
Anyway, it is all more of the same ole, same ole with the talking heads. Excuses and promises and hopes without any fundamental changes to adapt and take advantage of changing purchasing patterns and reading wants and needs. Trad publishing will survive, for the moment, but don’t be surprised to see the number of major publishers continue to shrink as they merge and find ways to tighten their belts that have little to do with cutting the overhead of anything except money into the writers’ pockets.