When you multiple news stories about the same topic, chances are good that particular topic is something important. If you’ve been scanning the financial news lately, you’ll see that multiple news sources are covering the withdraw of a Liberty Media’s large investment in Barnes & Noble. The basic idea is that Liberty Media feels that there’s little future profit for Barnes & Noble. As fewer people buy books and the cost of maintaining retail bookstores keeps going up, Barnes & Noble has little future. They may stumble through the next few years, but as they close underperforming stores, their presence will simply start evaporating.
With Borders books already gone and Barnes & Noble struggling, it’s clear that the old way of publishing is dying. No longer do authors need to go through established publishers to get their books in bookstores where people can buy them. Instead, authors can self-publish and get their e-books directly in front of millions of people at lower cost with faster delivery. Printing, shipping, and storing printed books is just getting too expensive. Now combine that fact with the necessity of buying books and keeping them on the shelves in hopes that someone will buy it, and you’ve got a marketing strategy based on luck, chance, and hope rather than optimized for selling directly to customers.
Walk into any bookstore and you can find books on woodworking, cooking, computer programming, and romance fiction. Unfortunately, no one in a bookstore will be interested in everything a bookstore can offer, so they tend to visit a handful of book category sections that actually interest them. But since thus bookstore has to stock titles to appeal to everyone, each book category section can only be so big, which means limited offerings for everyone.
Interested in a stock trading book? You can find them, but not very many. Interested in knitting quilts? Just a handful of books on the shelves of a bookstore offer that. With limited choices available in any book category, bookstores offer too little for too many people, especially when they can find a much wider selection on the Internet for less cost and have the book shipped directly to their homes.
Walk into a Barnes & Noble and you can still have the store order a book for you. Then they’ll hold the book behind the counter and call you when it comes in. How is this any better than ordering from Amazon and having the book shipped directly to your home? It isn’t, which means the old bookstore business model is dying on all fronts from special ordering of books to offering a wide selection of books that appeal to everyone no matter what their interests.
The fact is that Barnes & Noble is dying a slow death because e-books and print-on-demand books combined with the Internet are making retail bookstores obsolete. That in turn makes traditional publishers obsolete because now they have to rely on selling books to Amazon, who now controls the bulk of book distribution around the country. With e-books, self-published authors have the same reach as traditional publishers but without the massive overhead of maintaining a building and staff like traditional publishers. While Barnes & Noble dies a slow death, the traditional publishers are dying at the same time.
If you think the old model of book publishing is still valid, it’s time to wake up. Check the news and you’ll find plenty of pessimistic forecasts for Barnes & Noble and almost no optimistic forecasts. If you’re still not convinced that the old world of printed books is becoming obsolete, you’ll wind up going down the drain when they sink underwater for good.