The Land of the Paperback


One hears a multitude of statistics year to year regarding the health of book sales in every format, and much is said, including the now famous remark by the CEO of Hachette Books, Arnaud Noury, that e-books are a “stupid product”. There are indications of some movement away from the digital format by a few traditional publishers.


Such intent may not be surprising, considering the hold Amazon has on the digital book market, not to speak of iBooks (with current rumors of expansion in the market), Nook, and Smashwords. Some retailers, Barnes & Noble in particular, have shown themselves to be flexible enough to market the full potential of both digital and paperback. What I hear in Noury’s comment is frustration.

While sales statistics undulate from year to year, as reasons to favor one over the other may appear and then vanish, can anyone doubt by now there is a place for paperback, e-book, and audio book, and that all three will continue to grow. As we have said in previous columns, the world of book retail is divided in terms of the needs of the reader: an e-book for a fast read on the train or in the airport, an audio book “listen” while on a long drive, a snug and cozy bedtime read with a paperback, which can also be used to smack that bothersome mosquito.

I have watched sales fluctuate dramatically according to the seasons, where my digital e-books sell well in late Spring and Summer and trail off toward midwinter and the holidays as paperback sales take over. In my experience, to sell paperbacks requires either a strong platform (written by someone famous or controversial), a very strong marketing push, or (what the rest of us do) sales at fairs, signings, and events that draw people. Paperback books sell best when they are seen up close, hefted and handled, when their colorful covers can draw the reader into their fantasy or their proposal.

This author will be signing and selling his books at a local author event (unabashed promotion here) at the Avila Room at the Monarch Club in N. Nipomo, 1645 Trilogy Parkway on Sunday March 18 at 11 am. Of late I have been more selective about my participation in fairs and various similar events. Poorly marketed, poorly planned venues can require a great deal of time and effort with little result in sales. I look for events that demonstrate strong organization, timely and thorough marketing aimed toward readers, and a history of good attendance. Granted, there are not many of these unless one is willing to shoulder the expenses of travel. The other type of event I favor is one I can control; a book launch, a store signing for my books alone, a reading or workshop or lecture I lead.

Large publishing houses can and do spend good money to have their books shelved in visible locations in the store, advertised widely, and arrange for their books to be discussed in articles or on talk shows. Needless to say, most Indie writers lack these resources and must try every trick (in the book?) to keep our work visible to as many readers as possible. Inevitably, marketing steals time from writing.

The best answer for the Indie writer is to write many books of quality sufficient to keep them near the top of their particular genre stack. E-books answer this need best, hence a glut in e-books. The paperback book lives in the land of shiny retail shelves, in airport stands, drugstores, warehouse stores. They are the glamorous first cousins. The e-book lives in the shadowy world of impulse reading, bargains and free books, book hoarding, and travel. But each has its place, and likely always will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.