Follow by email

Monday, 13 December 2010

Brick and mortar Bookshops being hit hard - are eBooks really to blame?

In a shakeout inducing shivers to rival a suspense novel, one local independent bookseller after another is closing up shop. The writing, it seems, is on the wall with eBooks set to dominate and this week Google Editions have extended their eBook sales in order to take on industry giant, Amazon. Indeed Last week, Google eBooks launched its long-awaited electronic bookstore.. It immediately became the largest eBook provider in the world, according to Publishers Weekly, with almost 3 million books, including more than 2 million titles available for free. And whilst it now seems inevitable that eBooks will soon dominate the book market, it it really eBooks that are to blame for the downturn in brick and mortar bookshops?

Book sales at traditional shops have been in decline for years and yet eBooks are still only at the bottom rung of the ladder regarding sales, though they are climbing fast. The bigger supermarkets have for some years been selling books and at a much cheaper price that conventional bookshops, even selling the books at a loss,  for years now and online giants such as Amazon have much more to do with the fall of the conventional bookshop than the new trend for electronic books.

Booksellers are calling the shift a "Gutenberg moment" for the entire publishing industry, likening it to Johannes Gutenberg's game-changing invention of movable type almost 600 years ago.

American bookshops are feeling the strain harder than most - The number of independent bookstores has been declining for some time, from about 6,000 in the early 1990s to about 2,200 today, according to the American Booksellers Association. Sales of all books are declining, down almost 8 percent in September, which followed a 6.5 percent drop in August. And last July Amazon announced they’d sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books.

It will fill book lovers with sadness if conventional bookshops vanish but this is largely inevitable - I'm still mourning the loss of my local Borders and there are no independent bookshops in my area, the nearest is a 15 mile drive away in Cardiff. Is it worth the journey, I ask, when I know they will be poorly stocked and overpriced in comparison to Amazon and Google Books? Now don't get me wrong as a writer myself I was horrified to see the supermarkets devaluing books with their crazy offers and often annoyed at Amazon's book giveaways but there's no fighting it. The battle, it seems, is already lost and conventional bookshops need to move with the times, they need to broaden their range and carve a unique place for themselves in the market. How the f**k they are going to do that, is beyond me.

Still eBooks can't be blamed for everything and there is a plus to the eBook revolution in that the genre books that many bookshops don't even bother to stock will be available easily via online books stores. In many ways the book industry have been asking for this - there was a time when all tastes were catered for by bookshops but these days are sadly gone and the mid list paperbacks were driven out of circulation by publishers and shops insisting they they knew what we wanted to read and that all books should be of a uniform size and length.

RIP the printed book, long live the eBook.


Walker Martin said...

Gary, no offense and I know you mean well, but the e-book can go to hell and be damned as far as I'm concerned. At least in my house that is! I'm still stocking up on regular books and I have thousands of pulps, vintage paperbacks, and books to last me until the bookcases collapse on top of me. I'm holding out for the duration pardner...

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Walker - I'm sure a lot of folk feel the same way and please do not misunderstand I love books as much as the next man, but the writing is on the wall. Like yourself I collect vintage books and would never part with my collection but that has nothing to do with the current marketplace