Thursday, February 02, 2012


An article in the NYT Business section last Sunday on the potential fate of Barnes & Noble, the county's only remaining big paper-inventory bookseller. B&N's main rival, Borders, went down the tube last year, a victim, like Dalton, Crown and the other mall chains, of the tech revolution in how we read. Not to mention the small independents that have fallen by the wayside, a fifth of them in the last decade.

Of course, B&N has tried to grab its own share of the e-book business, by quickly developing the Nook e-reader and taking about a third of the market from Kindle. The question is: Will the big B&N stores survive? CEO William Lynch says "Yes." I'll bet no.

It's not just e-books. It's how we buy books. Even if you want paper, it's easy to order online from Amazon or B&N. It's not at all clear to me how the megastores will make it.

You'll still see paper books for sell in airports and Walmarts, but the books on offer will be only mass-market blockbusters, the trendiest bestsellers, and young adult genres.

And here is my prediction: The small independent, community bookstores will have a rebound. When B&N bookstores go under, with their huge selection of titles and espresso cafes, resourceful independents will reappear, especially in places like New England, the Northeast Corridor, the Northwest, and the Bay Area with sizable serious reading audiences. It will be a niche market, as it always was, places for book aficionados to buy and sell. Places where you can "talk books."

Paper backlists will pretty much disappear, except for the classics, which means you won't find my books on the shelves, but the stores will have capability for print-on-demand -- that big machine sitting in the corner. Ask for Honey From Stone, say, and in ten minutes you'll have a bound paperback in your hand.

If a publisher does not keep a book available in e-format, there will be plenty of entrepreneurs who will make a book e-ready at the request of an author, requests that will be driven (like the vanity presses now) more by ego than economics.

All of which is irrelevant to me. I enjoyed the last of the glory days -- the book tours, the readings, the autograph sessions -- even a mid-list author like me got some modest attention from the publishers. All that's gone now, and son Dan has stepped into the breach to see about negotiating the new landscape. I'll do whatever I can to help, and I wish him well.