Michael Shatzkin: Chicken Little or Nostradamus (if Nostradamus was right most of the time)? He knows his stuff. I’m going with Nostradamus.

Shatzkin has been writing for months about the possibility of the coming collapse of traditional print book distribution. It goes something like this. As more book sales move not only online (of course, that’s been happening for a while), but more importantly towards digital ebooks (something occurring at an astronomical pace), so many bookstores–most of which are already struggling–will become unprofitable. Even small changes in how we buy books could tip the scales and create catastrophe for brick and mortar bookstores, because profit margins are slim throughout the publishing world. And more returns by those bookstores aren’t going to help  publishers either.

Yesterday, Shatzkin wrote one of his strongest blog posts yet about what appears to be the coming bookstore apocalypse. I find his argument more than persuasive. Even if bookstores do better than he anticipates, it’s pretty clear that many stores will have to close shop, and all of them will have to reduce their shelf space for books, in an attempt to widen out and sell other products that will keep them in business.

People argue that the death of publishing has been long predicted. Granted, big publishing will survive, but it will also drastically change. Relatively new technology, from Amazon.com to the Kindle and Nook and iPad, is changing the book business and how books are sold. And for better or worse–and it’s some of both–gatekeeping is shifting from the publishing houses to readers and bloggers. Power to the people is always a dangerous proposition, but that’s the new world.

I’ll be perfectly honest. I think most writers are totally in denial about what’s happening. They’re stalking agent blogs (hey, I’ve been there, done that), writing queries, adding to slush piles, crossing their fingers for years, and praying for a winning lottery ticket. Yes, some of them will find success this way. I may still try it myself. Traditional publishing may not be dying, but in five years, when there’s drastically less shelf space for books, that business model will certainly slim down and change.

I want to echo one of the boldest points that Shatzkin made, because it has huge implications for new writers and those who aren’t already happy where they are in the publishing game. Here:

Although it isn’t often stated this starkly, the core value proposition for the biggest trade book publishers is that they can put books on shelves. All of the rest of what they do (and often do quite well) — selection, editing, development, packaging, and marketing — is fungible. And usually not scaleable.

So what if the bookstorepocalypse is real? If getting published traditionally doesn’t especially help you to get your books on the shelves of stores (unless you are talented, awesome, hard-working, and lucky enough to be a Jim Butcher), then you’ve got a legitimate reason to question whether you want to roll the dice with traditional publishers (who absolutely offer many great advantages), or get 70% royalties on your indie ebooks and get paid 80% of your print book’s list price (minus the cost of POD printing) with your print-on-demand book via Lightning Source and their 20% short discount option–which gets you right into Amazon.com and other online bookstores, just like the big boys do.

Of course, the road to self-published glory will be littered with the carcasses of many bad books, as well as so many good books that just couldn’t find their audience in an over-saturated marketplace–then again, that happens sometimes to traditionally published books, too. And while I tend to think that quality work will usually be eventually found, there are no guarantees of success in any direction, so you’d better be following your passion. And if you want to hear the arguments in favor of going rogue, you can join me in following J.A. Konrath’s blog, and you can and should find Zoe Winters in many places, including the Indie Reader blog. Michael Stackpole is another pioneer and independent author well worth following.

If the distribution advantage for large publishers becomes much less significant, and I think that’s inevitable within the next five years and has certainly already begun, then the ‘pocalypse will be bigger than just bookstores, because it will affect everyone in the publishing food chain, from agents to writers to editors and everyone else. Think ahead and plan accordingly, and find the best path forward for you.


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This entry was posted on Monday, July 12th, 2010 at 12:40 pm and is filed under Publishing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 comments so far


Thanks for the shout out!

July 12th, 2010 at 1:29 pm


Yep, silly again.

July 12th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I still believe in hard copy books. The very sign of book shelves in a room is ART in itself.

I have seen too much self published work that has been horrendous, and this has tainted the image of self publishing.

Bookstores will only fail if WE stop buying books, and I’ll never do that. I can’t bear e-books as after working on the computer all day I have had enough. I want a cup of tea and a proper book.

I realise I may be a minority though…

July 12th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I don’t know that you’re in the minority Robyn, because you hear the sort of things you’re saying a lot whenever this subject comes up. I’ve seen this discussed on many blogs, and you’re not alone.

The problem with bookstores is just math. Even though many people will always prefer paper books, more ebook sales (especially) and more online book sales is a real problem for the bottom lines of bookstores.

As for computers, I don’t know if you’re tried eink devices yet (like Kindle and Nook), but they are almost just like paper. I detest reading books on my computer, for example, but I greatly prefer reading books on my Kindle to reading a paper book.

Who knows what will happen, though. Good to hear from you.

July 12th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
David Scholes

It’s really hard to say. I think there will always be people who want to curl up to a hard copy book.

That said I’m making my third science fiction book “Soldier of the Brell” available only as an e-book and on E-readers whereas my first two books were hard copy.




July 13th, 2010 at 1:08 am

David, using Lightning Source for a POD version seems like a fairly harmless option, as well, to satisfy people that want the paper book. The one concern I’ve heard sometimes with that is that with an ISBN your sales are tracked, and that might be an issue some day if you’re wanting to be traditionally published (if your sales aren’t good).

July 13th, 2010 at 8:56 am

A great resource is the Writing Excuses episode about self-publishing.
FekketCantenel recently posted..Let’s Read ‘Heir to the Empire’ 55

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Groovy, thanks Fekket. I’m listening to it now. After hearing the first couple of minutes of it, I’m hearing some things I expected to hear because it’s from October 2009, which was back in the dark ages of ebooks 🙂

Back then, I would never have considered indie publishing. Now that 70% royalty rates on ebooks are standard with Amazon, Apple, and soon B&N, my opinion has really changed. Now I think there are two very good options for writers (traditional or indie), and generally that’s the consensus that’s forming now, albeit slowly.

In my case, I hope to have enough of a platform to make this doable. For example, I have a personal newsletter with around 15K subscribers. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the independent route to people who don’t have some platform, but there *are* no-names finding a decent number of readers and making some decent money on Kindle these days.

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:43 pm

So, I just finished that Writing Excuses episode from Fekket above. Good stuff. There is one thing they missed a bit, and it’s that print on demand isn’t necessarily more expensive than offset printing these days, unless you’re talking about printing up *huge* numbers of books on your own. Most people seems to go with CreateSpace or Lightning Source for POD these days, and they are both very economical options with little up-front costs.

The other thing is that I think over the next decade or so, we’re going to see a lot of independent authors do as well or better on their own, compared to how they would’ve done with trad publishers. As Joe Konrath has pointed out to me, he got more readers with traditional publishing, but he’s making a LOT more money with his independently released ebooks than he ever made in print, and he got a 6-figure deal once.

I think if you’re in it for the longterm, being an indie is another viable option. Imagine selling ebooks for $5, making $3.50 per copy (and making $3.50 on a POD book is just as feasible), building up a backlist, and getting good word of mouth publicity. The royalty rates are just amazingly good on ebooks now.

It’s a great time to be a writer. We’ve really got options now.

July 23rd, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I like CreateSpace, especially because NaNoWriMo gives you a free book coupon if you ‘win’. Three years in a row I’ve gotten these coupons and therefore gotten to print out a proof copy of this or that novel for friends to read through.

Not to mention, it’s a pretty good cost. My book was HUGE before I took a steak knife to it (see the link below); with just a few huge edits, I chopped off $3 per book.

You can probably make self-publishing work if you’ve got 15k potential buyers. Me, I’ve got twenty friends/strangers who’ve read my main book, and could drum up maybe another twenty through IRC and IRL. Self-publishing almost definitely isn’t an option for me.

The whole agent/editor/publisher rigmarole has me spooked, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make it through it eventually. I just want to make sure my book(s) is(are) ready first.

Did you know you have a spam ‘DVD to iPod’ link in your page footer?
FekketCantenel recently posted..The Great Slash- TGS Edition

July 24th, 2010 at 6:34 am

I saw that the other day, and I thought maybe it’s a part of the theme I downloaded (I saw the code for it also). I’ll look into it, thanks for the reminder.

I wouldn’t want to try self-publishing without a decent marketing plan and some kind of platform, but there are some no-name authors doing well with ebooks. If you check out the writer’s cafe at KindleBooks.com or follow Joe Konrath’s blog, you’ll see some of those people posting or being talked about. Some of them have no website or blog and they’re actually doing all right on their own because of Amazon.

If you have a book that traditional publishers ultimately pass on, you might want to put it out there as an ebook and see what happens.

July 24th, 2010 at 10:25 am

Как похудеть на Кремлевской диете, таблица, рецепты, отзывы о диете.
23 фев 2010 Как специалистами, так и увлекающимися диетами дамами, гречневая диета признана.
Белковые диеты Жировые диеты Маложирные диеты Монодиеты Национальные диеты.
Длительность диеты 9 дней, и за это время можно похудеть на 8–9 кг. Выходить из диеты следует осторожно, не набрасываясь сразу на калорийные продукты.
Фитнес и диеты. Ананасовая диета для похудения. (Диеты) Сырная диета. (Диеты). Арбузная диета. (Диеты). Причины возникновения целлюлита. (Лишний вес)

July 15th, 2011 at 11:07 am

The Sound and the Fury By William Faulkner (Download-PDF-Online Reading-Summary):https://www.toevolution.com/file/view/2160/the-sound-and-the-fury-by-william-faulkner-download-pdf-online-reading-summary
The Sound and the Fury is a novel written by the American author William Faulkner. It employs a series of narrative styles, including a stream of consciousness. Published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury was Faulkner’s fourth novel and had no immediate success. In 1931, however, when Faulkner’s sixth novel, Sanctuary, a sensationalist story, was published that Faulkner later claimed was written for money alone, The Sound and the Fury also had commercial success, and Faulkner began to receive critical attention.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Sound and the Fury in sixth place on its list of the 100 best novels in English of the 20th century.
The Sound and the Fury takes place in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha. The novel focuses on the Compson family, ex-aristocrats of the South struggling to cope with the dissolution of their family and their reputation. The novel is separated into four distinct sections. The Sound and the Fury is set in Jefferson, Mississippi. The novel centers on the Compson family, former Southern aristocrats who are struggling to deal with the dissolution of their family and its reputation. Over the course of the 30 years or so related in the novel, the family falls into financial ruin, loses its religious faith and the respect of the town of Jefferson, and many of them die tragically.
The novel is separated into four distinct sections. The first, April 7, 1928, is written from the perspective of Benjamin “Benjy” Compson, an intellectually disabled 33-year-old man. The characteristics of his impairment are not clear, but it is implied that he has a learning disability. Benjy’s section is characterized by a highly disjointed narrative style with frequent chronological leaps. The second section, June 2, 1910, focuses on Quentin Compson, Benjy’s older brother, and the events leading up to his suicide.
In the third section, set a day before the first, on April 6, 1928, Faulkner writes from the point of view of Jason, Quentin’s cynical younger brother. In the fourth and final section, set a day after the first, on April 8, 1928, Faulkner introduces a third person omniscient point of view. The last section primarily focuses on Dilsey, one of the Compsons’ black servants. Jason is also a focus in the section, but Faulkner presents glimpses of the thoughts and deeds of everyone in the family.
In 1945, Faulkner wrote a “Compson Appendix” to be included with future printings of The Sound and the Fury. It contains a 30-page history of the Compson family from 1699 to 1945.

March 15th, 2018 at 6:04 am

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