Thursday, August 11, 2011

Death of the Paperback

The novel submission process can move at a glacier’s pace. Right now, it can take a year to work a manuscript through all the major publishers, due to editorial layoffs and the ensuing staff ping-ponging from house to house in this publishing climate. In an up-date e-mail Monday, my agent said the crime fiction market is moving even slower than usual as editors try to figure out what impact the death of Borders and the 30% decline of paperback sales will have on the book world.

It got me thinking: a 30% decline of paperback sales?

Wait a minute. I’m a paperback junky. Spend seven bucks, throw it in my pocket, sit on it, bend it, pull it out while I’m in line at a grocery store (or sitting in a doctor’s office), and read a page or two before you check out (or go in).

I guess I should have seen this coming. The e-book is, of course, replacing the paperback. According to Christine Kearney of Reuters, citing a report released by the Association of American Publishers, “Sales of electronic books in January [2011] increased by more than 115 percent compared to the same time the year before.” What’s worse, I’m part of the problem, having priced the electronic versions of my novels to undercut the paperback edition.

But will the e-book mean the extinction of the paperback?

The paperback will go the way of the woolly mammoth; it will just limp for a while before going down.

Realistically, I can see no other alternative. I believe, at least for the foreseeable future, we will continue to have hardcovers. In antithesis to myself, a man told me recently, “I only buy hardcovers. I want something that will last.” Many people share his sentiment; after all, you don’t often see paperbacks dominating the bookcase in one’s living room.

I must admit that I own an iPad, and I read on it. It has many conveniences: I can take several books with me without filling my carry-on bag. Yet the last time I went shopping my paperback fell out of my coat pocket as I was crossing the parking lot. I wiped it off, tossed it back in my pocket, and kept right on moving.

That’s the paperback.

An ironic aside to all this is a book recommendation I must make: I’m currently reading—and highly recommend to anyone who wants to write—Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life. His facility with the language is absolutely remarkable, and his passion for literature resonates, and you see why—the man has read everything ever written. Reading has dominated his life.

Here’s the kicker: it’s not available in paperback.


Rick Blechta said...

John, I agree that you're absolutely correct. It will get to the point where publishers won't be ABLE to afford to print paperbacks. The sales just won't be there.

H. L. Banks said...

Maybe I'm looking through rose coloured glasses, but I think there will always be books in print, not as many as now - a good thing - but they will be there in the distant future IMO.

hannah dennison said...

Well ... all I know is that books that come out in hardback don't necessarily come out in paperback anymore. They skip a step. It's very worrying.