by Jennifer Puglisi (@jenpugs)
By now, most people know that Borders is closing—and that Borders isn’t the only area of the publishing world that’s faced trouble in the past few years. Booksellers and publishers have a longstanding relationship, but just as every personal relationship either evolves or disintegrates, so too much this one. The question is: how?
Until recently, their relationship has been symbiotic: publishers provide a product and booksellers sell it. Booksellers didn’t have the means to attract quality authors, manage the editorial process, and bind & print the finished product. Publishing houses did, but didn’t have the retail capabilities to physically get the finished product into consumers’ hands. Many publishers have claimed their biggest customers aren’t readers, but booksellers.
A literary match made in heaven? Not so much these days. The lines between publisher and bookseller are more blurred than ever: instead of working in the traditionally symbiotic manner, these forces have started competing against one another.
Publishing houses first became alarmed when Amazon.com began selling books on its website in the mid-nineties. As a result, most major houses started selling books directly through their own websites, though still also linking to pages likes Amazon and BN.com. Although many publishers still continue the practice, retailers don’t seem thrilled with the concept.
As the popularity of buying books online grew, physical bookstores began to suffer. As their suffering increased, so too did the suffering of publishing houses, who were now losing a major source of revenue. They began threatening bookstores—not just major bookstores like Borders, but smaller, independent stores too—for payment. One indie bookseller’s order was held up over a $45 payment he owed to a publishing house.
In the meanwhile, Amazon has become a publisher in its own right. In 2009 they launched Amazon Encore, which partners Amazon with “self-published authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution.” Two more imprints, Amazon Crossing and Montlake Romance. Timothy Ferriss, the bestselling author of THE FOUR HOUR WORKWEEK recently announced his next title, THE FOUR HOUR CHEF, will be released with Amazon, and emphasized Amazon’s tech savvy as a factor in his decision-making.
Major publishing houses Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Hachette, along side AOL Huffington Post Media Group responded with announcing their joint venture, Bookish. Bookish, which hasn’t launched yet, is loosely based on services like Pandora, and will “make recommendations based on the information provided by consumers.” Though some aren’t without their concerns, it’s an excellent way to connect publishers more directly with their readers.
What does that mean for bookstores? Some suggest that the closing of Borders will help independent bookstores; others still preach doom & gloom for the book world overall. Only time will tell, but in the meanwhile, the industry should give working together a try.