Is the Book an Endangered Species?

- by Susan Lyons

We’re in a recession and, basically, the economy is in the toilet. For those of us who read and/or write books, we have to wonder how that’s going to affect us.

Random House CEO Markus Dohle says, “Because of the current economic crisis, our industry is facing some of the most difficult times in publishing history” (and Random House is doing major reorganization; see http://tinyurl.com/5r3lfg).

Another major publishing house, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has stopped buying books. (See http://tinyurl.com/6lcg6u if you want to read that story.)

How can a publisher stop buying books? What happens if others follow suit? A year from now, will there be no new books on the shelves? Or online either?

Okay, that’s inconceivable. I love books. You love books. We REQUIRE books in order to function! I’m an addict and no-one’s going to cut off my supply <g>. So, yes, I’m sure that a year from now, and two years from now, there will still be bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, and there will be books on their shelves, and you and I will still be shopping and reading.

And yet . . . we’re in a recession. Things have already changed and they’re going to change more. Lots of people have less disposable income. Those that do have cash are tending to hoard it rather than spend it (which we probably all realize is the very worst thing to do in a recession).

One theory is that book sales will actually go up. Why? For a couple of reasons. First, in tough times, we need escape, entertainment, laughs, thrills, happy endings, and what better than books to provide all those things? Second, books are pretty much the best-value entertainment around.

Of course, people can get books without buying them new. They can go to libraries, visit used bookstores, or borrow from friends. All of which are great for the reader, but pretty sucky for the industry. If publishers don’t sell new books – like my new books and your favorite author’s new books – then guess what? Next time we send the publisher a proposal, the publisher is going to say, “Sorry, your numbers aren’t good enough. We’re not going to buy anything else from you.”

Ouch!

So, yes, these are scary times if you’re a writer. All we really can do is keep writing, keep the faith, spend our own spare dollars on books so that we’re supporting our fellow writers and the industry, and try not to stress out about a future we can’t control.

What I’d like to hear from you folks is your take on all this. Have your book-buying habits changed? What kind of books do you like to read when times are tough? How do you decide which books to buy new and which to get at the library or buy used? Are you still spending the same amount on books or have you either reduced or increased your book budget? Are you asking for books for Christmas? Giving books as gifts? Where do you think the publishing industry is heading? Do you have any bright ideas for how to keep the industry healthy?

3 comments

  1. At this point I am still buying the same amount of books—always new.
    There may come a time when I have to use the library, or buy less books.

  2. I’m glad you’re hanging in there, Estella. We authors appreciate it.

  3. Great post! I’ll be sure to add a link to this article!