First of all, ebook sales have slowed somewhat. They looked to be heading towards 40% a couple of years ago and now are steady at about 30% of all books sold. That is a tidy, strong percentage but the real news is that print books have held their own, reduced, yes, but still in contention.
Why? Probably the rush to Kindles and other formats when ebooks were announced in 2007 was part novelty and part curiosity. It had to be also real desire to enjoy books in a portable and handy way without the need for a clunky chunk of bound paper you had to carry around in your hand because it didn’t fit into purse or pocket.
Anyway, ebooks still outsell hardcover books, as hardcovers have fallen to 25% of the market, so those cloth or cardboard covered volumes with jackets seem to have diminished in popularity. It’s paperback books that are being picked up online and in the few bricks and mortar places that sell books any more.
And speaking of bookstores, it’s interesting to see how creative the bookstores have grown as they’ve had to fight for a place in the market. Here in Indianapolis downtown Indy Reads has constant arts performances, appearances, events and community service opportunities to bring people in—and they come. I think of my local, Carmel suburb Barnes and Noble: full of interesting items to entice the customer. The shelves of books have shrunk, of course, but there are still several end caps and displays and they are attractively marked so the reader can find genres and interests. The Nook promotion stand tries to entice readers into the new format for reading. The store is loaded also with a huge selection of children’s books (a successful genre in the book publishing world), seeming to display a good 25% of the space towards the back of the store. Puzzles, CDs and DVDs, gifting items, closeouts, stationery and other paper and cloth bag items are lively and colorful. And over at the side of the store the cafe is still putting out Cheesecake factory desserts, simple lunches and lots of coffee and tea choices.
Still, if you check out the figures for Christmas sales for B&N this year, you see that sales fell, and plummeted 60% for Nook compared with last Christmas season’s sales. This company’s digital division, Nook, is being obliterated by Amazon’s ability to offer cut-rate prices (line leaders) to attract customers in, which seems to work. Some Amazon Kindle best-sellers are 1/3 lower at least in price than prices for comparable B&N Nook books. Barnes and Noble has been, and still is, in serious trouble. Analysts point out that readers buy books on line now. It is just that simple. I know I do, at least partially.
Interestingly, regional book sales, our Hawthorne genre, have taken what I think is a turn for the worst in bookstores. That’s a proprietary opinion of course. The regional shelf used to be packed with books from our three traditional publishers, Indiana University Press, Indiana Historical Society Press and Hawthorne Publishing. Yes, we focused on historical books about the Hoosier state, biographies of important Hoosiers and also “beauty books” featuring intelligently developed essays about the natural beauties of Indiana along with outstanding local photographers.
The books on the regional shelf in Indiana bookstores today (all fifteen of them) are largely by outside formula publishers: firms located outside Indiana which have found a local innovation to mine in several states: “Muncie Yesterday and Today,” small communities within a city, “Beech Grove” or “Broad Ripple” from Indianapolis with photos from the past, seasonal tie-ins like “Santa comes to Indianapolis’ or “The Goblins of Gary.” That is not to say our traditional publisher books don’t get purchased, they just don’t get much shelf space. And it’s a problem beyond just the proliferation of special outside pop-interest books; bookstores in 2014 don’t devote much space at all to local interests.
Bucking that trend, of course, is the Basile bookstore at the Indiana Historical Society which effectively combines marketing historical books about the state with all kinds of Hoosier pop-interest books and toys. It can be done. And Hawthorne is active in promoting and selling online.
Next blog: What will 2015 bring to Regional books and Hawthorne Publishing?
Nancy Baxter is Senior Editor at Hawthorne Publishing and the author of eleven books, most of them on Indiana History and the Civil War. Click back to the site to see her books.