May you write in interesting times.

Recent blog-worthy thoughts have been run over like a frog on a freeway by the several stories I’m working on, as well as work and ministry commitments. I did just receive this article however, and wanted to pass it on. Nothing like facts to burst the bubble of well-cherished myths. Worth noting, IMO, are the sales numbers of ebook vs print, the reasons for the decline of paperback, and the self-pubbed “success” stories.

Bottom Line: Keep writing.


The new year is a time of assessment and resolution for everyone, writers included. We are now a couple of weeks into 2012 and many of us have already lost at least part of our resolve. We are so busy looking ahead–or scrambling to keep up with the day-to-day–we don’t have much time to spend looking back.

Despite all, took the time to briefly consider the “big” publishing stories of 2011 and ponder some future possibilities.

— Borders Group filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, leaving Barnes and Noble as the only national bookstore chain. Although the demise was anticipated, the results are just now being felt. The loss of physical shelves meant a loss not only of retail space, but also the loss of places for readers to discover new books and new authors. Borders was a community space for promotional events such as book signings (and attendant publicity) and even personal interactions between readers.

— Social networks and social reading (,0,6118980.story) are becoming the new “word of mouth/readers buzz” that publishers have always known was the best (if the most unpredictable) way to sell books. How effectively publishers use promotional platforms online is becoming even more important. And if promotion is digital, will this put even more emphasis on digital books?

— Digital readers and ebooks finally made a major impact in 2011, but even with the Borders bankruptcy–and plenty of media hyperbole about the “death of print”–print still made up the bulk of publishing revenue. According to Nielsen Bookscan, sales of print units (651 million) declined 9.25 percent for 2011. Ebook figures for the year have not yet been published, but according to BookStats about 76 million ebook units were sold in 2010. This figure is expected to have doubled in 2011, but even sales of 152 million ebooks is close to 500 million fewer units than print.

— The biggest format drop-off in print sales was mass market paperbacks: down 24 percent. Since 2008, unit sales of mass market paperbacks have fallen by almost 60 per cent. Were ebooks the reason? No. The closing of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks outlets was. The loss of places to buy a wide array of mmps may, however, have helped fuel interest in ereading.

— U.S. publishers are beginning to realize they may be able to lucratively exploit ebooks in the international marketplace. Ereaders and tablets are becoming more popular outside the U.S. though are not yet as popular as they are here. But sales of other devices that can be used for reading, such as smartphones, are already huge.

— Successful digital self-publishing was a big story in 2011, but the news stories seldom took into account how many writers made the attempt and did not sell many books. Yes, roughly a dozen different self-published ebook authors actually made the bestseller lists, but even the successful self-publisher/author J.A. Konrath admits the secret to his success is: “I simply got lucky….It took me twenty years and over two million written words.” Amanda Hocking, 2011’s self-publishing Cinderella, signed a $2 million deal with St. Martin’s. She went “traditional” because, as she stated on her blog, “I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation.” Luck, talent, hard work, and a lot of effort paid off for some digital self-publishing authors — but the same was just as true for the traditionally published.

— Amazon acquired a NYC-based children’s publishing imprint and hired Laurence Kirshbaum, former CEO of the Time-Warner Book Group, to head a New York-based publishing office. They also hired science fiction and romance editors. Will Amazon becoming a publisher make a difference in the industry? It’s far too early to tell. Publishers have long been nervous about Amazon usurping their role. Note, though, that Barnes and Noble became a publisher in the 1970s, and then moved more aggressively into the field in 2003 with the acquisition of Sterling Publishing. B&N is now seeking a buyer for Sterling.

— In February, Random House joined the other five biggest U.S. publishers in using the “agency model” (publishers set the price for their ebooks across retailers) for selling ebooks. This was big news because, theoretically, it offered other retailers (and even publishers themselves) a chance to compete with Amazon’s dominance of the ebook market. However, in December, the Department of Justice confirmed rumors of a pricing antitrust investigation of the original five publishers and Apple. Will this be a big story for 2012?

— Libraries and ebooks: HarperCollins set 26 as the number of times one of its ebooks can be circulated. Penguin delays library access to high-demand e-content such as new releases. Hachette refuses to sell any new ebook releases to libraries. Two other members of the publishing “big six” — Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — don’t allow their ebooks to be circulated in libraries at all. Library patrons are increasingly clamoring for ebooks; publishers fear losing sales. Librarians want to serve the public. Authors want their books in libraries. Where will it all end?

If nothing else, the year 2011 was an interesting year for the publishing world. We expect the changes to continue making news in 2012.

— Paula Guran

4 Replies to “May you write in interesting times.”

  1. Well, I don’t know about others, but I like being on the brink of change. I’m not that surprised by the lower e-book stats, either. Most people I know still don’t have e-readers. I’m sure that number will go up as prices go down.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I’m amazed at the opportunities that self/e-pubbing and the internet open up at my fingertips. And I confess that having received a Nook for Christmas, (which is cool, BTW) I’m still accustomed to the heft of a paperback in my hands.

    I still pine for Borders though, for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had scheduled a book-signing at the local store here in Hyannis right before everything imploded.

    Ah well…

    Thanks for weighing in, Jill.


  3. Hey Patrick
    I have a friend who is venturing in to writing & she has some questions about publishing & self-publishing. Got a few minutes to answer some?


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