Monday, August 20, 2007

Of Textbooks and Diminishing Book Sales

From Self Publishing

Still no Internet at home so updates will be sparse.

Anyway, Morris Rosenthal has an interesting entry on Why Obsolete How-To Books Sell. In many ways, it also explains why text books need to be updated, even if that means new fees for the student and the school:
Bookstores buyers can't be expected to be experts on every genre of how-to book they carry. All they know is whether or not the book sells and whether or not it gets returned. Most people aren't going to bring back a book that they've bent up, read, and thrown on the floor, not to mention the tear stains. The store buyers see the book is selling, and don't know why a book about technology X shouldn't have the same shelf life as a book about technology Y. Take the example of computers vs squirrel-proof bird feeders. Anybody familiar with the subjects could tell you that squirrels are constantly evolving. And it's not a matter of years in print or the copyright date, some books are obsolete when published. New books that are up-to-date can last six months or six years, but the borderline is usually sharper than non-technical people may expect.
He also has an entry on Falling Bookstore Sales and Amazon, and how the census bureau doesn't take into account online retailers:
But back to the Census Bureau. Their category for bookstores specifically excludes:

"Retailing books via electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale--are classified in Subsector 454, Nonstore Retailers"

The Nonstore Retailers segment has sales nearly 20 times as high the bookstore segment, I should do some forensics to see how it's grown. In any case, Amazon's Media sales have been growing in the double digit percentages, in the mid-teens, for the past five years. It's entirely possible that what the census bureau numbers are really telling us is that brick-and-mortar bookstore sales, despite price inflation, have peaked and are falling, but the publishing industry is still growing, slowly, by the amount of growth shown by Amazon. I'm going to drop them (the Census) a line and make sure I'm interpreting their categories correctly.
And before I end, here's one more, this time on the nature of paying to be published and its commercial viability:
The primary difference between trade published books and subsidy published books is commercial viability. Trade publishers don't publish books unless they believe they have a very good chance of earning money, and while they are frequently wrong, it's the main consideration. Trade publishers, after all, are in businesses. Authors who pay to get their books published are often doing so precisely because their books aren't commercially viable.

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