I remember when there was one Barnes & Noble. 18th Street. New York City. Where I grew. As a kid, my uncle would drive me down to Manhattan (from the Bronx, Manhattan is down– there’s a song about it). We’d go to it. Large tables piled with books and books and books. I was into books as a kid. I think I read through everything to read in the closest library so I’d get on my bike and go to the next closest library in da’ Bronx. This was before the days where people worried about kids being out and about so much. No helicopter parents.
That original store closed last year. I took that as a sign.
B&N’s stock is down. A lot. It’s 11.18 right now. Less books are being racked, the space being taken over by other things like games and dolls– stuff that’s not sold on consignment like books.
B&N accounts for roughly 30% of book sales for publishers. Two years ago at Dragon Con on a panel, I asked “What will happen if B&N goes under?” and the other authors’ face got pale. Science fiction, surprisingly, is a very antiquated market genre wise in terms of the business. Romance is on the leading edge. I’ve had the fortune to have been brought into the RWA, and lucky enough to be the only male author on their honor roll.
So let me speculate and tell me what you think. If B&N goes under and no other chain replaces it on scale (Amazon is opening their 3rd physical store, but that’s another discussion):
- The traditional midlist author who is currently being published is screwed. B&N racks lots of titles. Most indies (yes, they are on the rise, slightly, but they have limited shelf space). Those titles are the midlist. While that 30% figure is for all titles, I suspect for midlist print, it’s a much, much higher percentage of sales through B&N.
- The big names, what I call your airport authors, will sell more books.
- As a result, publishers will focus more and more on brands, as they already are. Tom Clancy is still a brand and still publishing. BTW– he’s dead.
- Publishers will publish a lot less midlist.
- Advances for midlist will go down because advance orders will cause print runs to shrink dramatically.
- A midlist author who is not already hybrid is at least two years behind reality.
This is something that requires contingency planning for those affected. What we called a “Go to shit plan” in Special Forces.
Originally published at www.writeitforward.com on June 21, 2016.