If Barnes and Nobles Closes, are Unknown Authors Screwed?

If you missed the news, New Republic has a new essay out on the impending doom of Barnes and Nobles https://newrepublic.com/article/133876/pulp-friction

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by“showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

This happens a lot and B&N is still among us. Yet in the long run, they are clearing out space for book and selling more music and games. Borders did this, and look at where they are now.

Here’s the scary part for wanna-be trade-pubbed authors:

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

So accoring to this author, if you’re unknown, sold poorly in the past, and not famous, you will soon be beyond screwed if B&N goes out. This is because no one, not even Amazon, can or will ever create a viable national print bookstore chain again in this country, unless there’s a sudden return to reading by the public.

It’s pretty clear that without B&N, traditional print publishers will lose a massive part of their appeal. Their two biggest appeals are: Marketing and distribution. Yes, they could still send to indie bookstores, but I have a feeling that few but the biggest authors will want to give away 85% of their revenue to someone who is nothing more than a big marketing agency and seller to small bookstores, especially since there are and will be other services that can do this more effectively for less. And marketing can be done with an agency.

I’m not saying publishers will be extinct if B&N goes under, but they will lose a huge incentive to query those agents for years to land one, and then wait more years to find a publisher (unless you’re one of the lottery winners who just has ‘it’ and can sail through the process in months). The downside is, how will most people be able to get their work out in an overcrowded marketplace?

 

 

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