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Bookseller, Publisher, and the Blurring Line Between

We’re still working on getting some figures together with which we’ll continue out look into the book publishing industry through an analysis of economic statistics. In fact, we have some stunning stats on numbers of new titles published annually from Bowker. The problem is they are so stunning that we’re trying to get confirmation that we are reading them accurately before we post a blog entry on the subject. It’s sort of hard to believe that in 2009 there were 300% more new titles published than were published just seven years earlier…

Book Publishing Industry Statistics – Part 4 will appear once we’re sure we have the numbers straight.

In the meantime, a quick note about Barnes & Noble’s newly announced service to help authors self publish their works in eBook format. Here is a link to their announcement of the service which is scheduled to be launched this summer. In essence, B&N is planning to offer authors a web site through which they can (1) submit manuscripts for conversion to an eBook format, (2) offer the resulting eBooks for sale, and (3) help in selling those offerings. We give a nod to The Writer’s Spot blog which is where we first heard about the new B&N endeavor.

This move into vanity publishing by Barnes & Noble appears to be another step in the blurring of the lines between booksellers and book publishers. B&N has been publishing its own line of books for some time now so this expansion into vanity publishing is not an entirely new move for them. It is, we think, simply their way of trying to adapt to a world in flux. Plus, with an eReader of their own to promote, the Nook, helping to get more “content” onto the device is logical.

What we found interesting in reading this news from B&N is the fact that it is part of a larger restructuring in the wholesale and retail sectors generally. Those in the publishing sector are very focused on their own industry and may not be aware of just how pervasive the restructuring of all distribution networks has been since we entered the twenty-first century. Most supply chains and distribution networks have been greatly impacted over the last decade by advances in communications. The Internet and low cost computing power have totally altered how we buy and sell thing, how we get them to market. Old divisions between manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers are blurring and not just in the publishing sector.

In some networks—think of Wal-Mart—wholesalers are being squeezed out as large retailers are going directly to the manufacturer. In others, the retail landscape is changing dramatically as incomes drop for many on the lower rungs of society, and such people—joined by a financially-squeezed middle class—turn more and more often to big box stores and large discount retailers. Trying to survive as a small, independent retailer in the shadow of these giants is getting harder.

Back to books. According to the American Booksellers Association there were 3,250 independent booksellers in the United States in 1999. By 2010 that number had fallen to less than half (1,400).


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