The migration from paper to computer screen has changed the way people read, write and sell books. It has expanded the world of literature into something for more digitally-advanced in as little as ten years time.
It has given aspiring authors and top-dog publishers the chance to market a far more diverse assortment of writing—but it may also be undermining some of the core traits we associate with book reading.
Fatima Shaik is a Communications professor at Saint Peter’s University and author of five children and young adult books. After spending a great deal of her early life in New Orleans, she moved to New York in the late 70’s where she was a journalist and in 1987, she began writing the first of her books. Throughout her years as a writer, she has noticed a variety of changes in the book industry:
“Usually, back then, when you wanted to get into publishing you went to the places and got involved with the publishing community. I moved to New York because there really was no publishing industry anywhere else. It used to be centrally located but now you can write from anywhere and publish anywhere,” she said.
What she is referring to is the development of new forms of publishing known as electronic and self-publishing. According to Bowker reports, the number of books published in the U.S. had tripled between 2005 and 2009—more than two thirds of those books were self-published, reprints of public domain works, and print-on-demand books.
This increase is partially caused by Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle and Kindle Direct Publishing—the first exclusively electronic self-publishing platform. Self-published indie books now represent 31% of the e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle store, according to their 2014 Author Earnings Report.
John Adamski, former award-winning journalist and ghostwriter, is one of those self-published authors. His own book, “Trees and Holes: Self-Kill Sumter,” has been available as an Amazon electronic and print book since September 2012.
“Print media and literary agents are in trouble,” he explained. “There is so much self-published work out there that the field is saturated with books and only once in awhile do you get a good one.”
Kindle Direct Publishing and other self-publishing platforms allow writers to publish their work for distribution through Kindle without professional editing and production. For this reason, Amazon grew its digital e-book and print book retail by double-digit percentages in 2012, which has become alarming to Barnes & Noble executives who used to hold a monopoly in the industry.
Barnes and Noble’s reported sales for the first quarter of 2015 decreased by 7 percent when compared to the prior year— the retail segment alone decreased by 5.3 percent. And while Barnes and Noble may have hoped the development of the NOOK in 2009 would have helped to cope with these ongoing deficiencies, the NOOK segment revenues for this quarter decreased 54.3% from the year prior.
Amazon has created an empire off of cheap and easy buying right to your front door. While the retail price of a print book may be set in stone in bookstores, Amazon can sell it for a fraction of that price and deliver it within days. Nielsen Books & Consumer data shows e-books constituted only 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of this year, while hardcovers made up 25 percent and paperback 42 percent of sales. This is because e-books are not what is directly affecting the industry, it is the rise in internet distribution.
Independent bookstores such as Word bookstore in Jersey City are just one of many that have been forced to adapt.
“We try to stay ahead of, or at least keep up with, technology. People want access to books in different ways,” said Katelyn Phillips, bookseller and event coordinator at Word bookstore. “There’s a lot of reasons for people to prefer an e-book so we want to cater to those needs. One thing Word is always happy to do is bring what you want to read, whatever way you want to read it.”
While independent and chain bookstore companies may not directly feel the effects of indie self-publishing authors, they are feeling the effects of the new internet distribution of books.
New forms of writing such as e-books and audiobooks can be great assets if a store is willing to adapt to these new foundations just as Word Bookstore has. Our generation is built upon digital media and bookstores can’t think of themselves as preservationists of physical artifacts but instead emerge into these fast changing reading platforms.