Books are a tough sell in this rapidly changing media landscape. The boom in online sales and the introduction of the Kindle, Amazon.com's e-reader, and its competitors (like the iPad and the Nook) have some industry analysts predicting the imminent death of physical stores that sell physical books with covers and paper pages ... you remember those, right?
But many bookstores are hanging on, and though online sales are driving industry growth, paper books haven't disappeared yet. It's also worth noting that demand for books in general appears pretty healthy. Between 2008 and 2010, net sales revenue for the book publishing industry rose 5.6 percent to $27.94 billion, according to BookStats, an August 2011 report from the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. That's not bad, considering how bad the economy was during those years.
If selling books is your passion (and it probably has to be, if you're going to survive in this notoriously challenging industry) you'll have to decide where to focus your efforts. Some options are below:
Independently owned bookstores
It hasn't been an easy decade for independent bookstores, like Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store, Chicago's Women & Children First or Washington, D.C.'s Politics and Prose Bookstore, to name a few of the most famous. First came the onslaught of big-box stores. Independents couldn't hope to compete with their prices and selection, and many of them went out of business as a result.
Online retailers like Amazon.com and the rise of e-books put further strain on the independents, but the dominance of the Internet has had a silver lining. Big-box stores have struggled to compete with their online counterparts, and many of them have failed, taking some of the pressure off mom-and-pop shops. And independent retailers can now get into e-book business themselves through Google eBooks, a service that sells e-books directly to the consumer or through some 250 retailers across the country, including indie bookstores.
Also, with virtual sales on the rise, many small shops are focusing on what they are specially equipped to offer: a space that provides a point of contact not only with books themselves but for communities of writers, readers and book lovers.
Big box retailers
A few short years ago, big-box bookstores were the wave of the future. Borders and Barnes & Noble stores seemed to be cropping up everywhere: in shopping districts, malls and even in the college towns where independent stores once dominated.
But online sales began to eat into these stores' business. Barnes & Noble fought back, expanding into publishing and e-book selling, and developing an e-reader called the Nook (to compete with Amazon's Kindle). But Borders, which at its height in 2003 operated 1,249 Borders and Waldenbooks stores, was slower to adapt. The company went out of business in July, closing all of its remaining 399 stores, liquidating its inventory and laying off more than 10,000 workers.
Online booksellers including Alibris.com, Powells.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and of course Amazon.com, the industry leader, are responsible for the growth in book sales over the last couple of years. E-books and e-publishing are such a new phenomenon that it's hard to know how booksellers -- the middlemen who have traditionally brought books from publishing houses to consumers -- will fare. Their services may be needed in new ways as the industry evolves.
One thing's for certain, though: online sales, especially of e-books, are the future. According to BookStats, net sales of content sold by publishers directly to online channels rose 55.2 percent between 2008 and 2010, reaching $2.82 billion in 2010.
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