Saturday, I drove up from Dunnellon, Florida, to Orange Park, just south of Jacksonville, Fl, where I visited with Kathy O’ Donnell in her independent book store, “Well Loved Books”. It was a sad occasion, because after a few years of working hard and investing a great deal of her savings, she was closing her doors.
Not because she is a poor businesswoman; she is not. And not because she treats her customers badly; she does not. She is closing her doors because the economic situation does not allow people to hold any cash back for discretionary spending – in other words, folks just do not have enough money left over to spend on frills like books. In the past year alone, three books stores (including Kathy’s) that carried my novels have closed their doors. I know of at least three others that have also closed due to the economy.
Every one of them is a disaster; for the owners who have lost their dreams right along with their income and for the customers who will not have a book store in their neighborhood for many years to come, and for authors who will see a marked decrease in their income.
If I were willing to write about politics I would have a great deal to say on the subject. But I am not willing to do that. I hate politics and politicians with a passion and will not do anything to encourage any of them.
But when I spoke with Kathy as I picked up the copies of my novels she had not sold, she said she blamed the loss of her business on the Kindle. I could have argued the point with her, but chose not to. She had enough on her plate, and I did not want to leave her with any reason to be angry with me.
It would have been meaningless anyway, because in one true sense she was right.
I had a speaking engagement with the North Florida Writers Group in Green Cove Springs later that afternoon, so I bid Kathy a good bye and climbed back into my car, retraced part of my trip and got to Green Cove in about twenty minutes.
Howard Denson, President of the group, contacted me about two weeks ago to ask if I would speak to the group (it normally meets at the Willow Branch Library in Jacksonville, Fl, but the basement room where they meet is now covered in about two feet of mud from the last heavy rains) at their temporary location, the “Historic Grounds Book Store and Gift Shop” in Green Cove Springs.
When I asked for a subject, he said I should ‘wing it’. So I did, just as soon as enough folks sat down to make the effort worthwhile. I gave them a good fifteen minutes on how and why I write, and why people buy on author’s work instead of another’s. Just to catch you up, I work from a snapshot of an activity and ask myself who is in the photo, what they are doing, where they came from and where they went after the snapshot was taken. In other words, I just make it all up as I go along, and do whatever research is necessary to describe the area where scenes take place and provide enough background information to convince the reader that I know what I’m talking about.
Then I spoke on a part of the writing craft that should be near and dear to every author; marketing and promotion. In other words, why should that pesky reader buy YOUR book instead of mine?
After about ten minutes on this I moved on to the closure of Kathy’s bookstore and what she gave as the reason. And why I thought she was wrong.
The growth of the Kindle did NOT create the economic situation we find ourselves in today. The success of the Kindle and the other eBook readers is, however, due in large part TO the economy. People just cannot continue to pay twelve, thirteen and even fifteen dollars for paperback books.
They cannot even afford to pay three or four dollars for a used paperback. That is why Kathy lost her store. Customers just cannot afford to buy books in any number, at any price.
But if you pay $80.00 or $90.00 or even $200.00 for a Kindle, you can download lots and lots of free books and every once in a while you can even afford to treat yourself to a book or two you have to pay for.
And you don’t even have to leave your house to do it (so no gas gets burned up and you don’t have to drive to a bookstore and wander around looking for something to read. You can do it all on line).
Content really is King, ladies and gentlemen. Really.
Authors create content. That’s what we do. We don’t write ‘books’. We create content and package it as necessary to meet the expectations of our market. Sometimes it’s paper, sometimes it’s hardback, sometimes it’s audio and sometimes it’s strictly digital.
And you as the author had better figure out that you have to follow the market wherever it leads you. And right now it’s leading you away from paperback publishing.
I do not say that you should throw up your hands at publishing in paper or hardback. People will always buy books. But most of the reading public just cannot buy them in the number they used to. The economy simply will not allow that any more. But eBooks are right there with an alternative, and more and more readers ARE going digital (whatever eBook reader they choose).
Whatever funds you have set aside for marketing and promotion, focus on your eBook versions. That is where the majority of your sales will take place for the next several years.
That is what I told the North Florida Writers Group, and now I’m telling you.
Your comments are always welcome.