I stopped at the local Borders bookstore this morning. They’re having a going-out-of-business sale, so I picked up a science fiction novel edited by George R.R. Martin. (He’s the editor of the novel because the different chapters have been written by different authors). It looked like an interesting concept, so I decided to buy it. I saved 10 percent off the regular price. I may go back later when the discounts are deeper.
The important thing about this sale is not the book nor the price, but the fact that Borders is going out of business. To those of us who use books as a means of making a living (or, like me, intend to) that such a large chain of bookstores would fold up and keel over is an atrocious run of bad luck, and even in a small sense, horrifying. I’ve been following the progress of this implosion on Publisher’s Lunch for the past several months, and though it’s been couched mainly in business terms which I don’t fully understand (and don’t want to), I get the feeling that the underlying cause of the bankruptcy was poor, or at least unlucky, management by the officers of the company. That is to say, they didn’t invest in some form of electronic reading device, like Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
When Nook came out a few years ago, I thought it was silly. Why does a bookstore chain need an electronic reader? It’s just a cheaper and smaller version of Amazon’s Kindle. Perhaps even a knock-off. But, not being a business person and not trained in the complicated and elaborate ways of management and marketing, I missed the point of the Nook. Electronic reading is here to stay. It’s not a fad, and a large chain of bookstores like Borders took its chances when it opted out of the e-reader market. Sad.
Now, perhaps there’s more to the collapse of Borders than just the lack of an e-reader, (I suspect there is) but the message is clear: books, magazines, stories, reports, journals, and so forth, that is, reading in general, is changing, like it or not. Self-publishing by first-time authors is on the rise because it’s so much faster than waiting for a publishing house to make a decision. Anybody can publish on Nook now, just by sending it in and formating it correctly. The quality of those works in most cases is doubtful, but they’re there, available to anyone who wants to look for them. Right now, I’m debating whether to publish my first novel the traditional way by going through an agent and publisher, or simply put it out electronically on Kindle and Nook and the other readers. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t be having this discussion with myself, and would have gone the traditional route. Now, I don’t know.
Yes, sir, publishing has changed. For better or for worse. Should that be a “Hot damn!” or an “Oh, crap”?