On the tail of a great conference, I just wanted to illuminate this statistic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: 200,000 author events are held by independent book sellers each year as opposed to Amazon which holds zero. The info-graphic piece points at Amazon for piggy-backing on the work of independents. I decided to find out by how much.
A 2011 USA Today article reported that independent bookstores earn only 6% of the market’s total revenue while putting on these 200,000 events. Amazon gains 22.6%.
Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor who studies book retailing, says chain and independent stores “have never been under more pressure, and it’s not all digital.”
Traditional bookstores (independents and the chains, including Books-A-Million) accounted for less than half of the book market last year, Greco says. The majority of books were sold by a variety of other retailers including Amazon, Price Clubs, supermarkets and convenience stores.
The long-term economic effect of a shift from print to digital on both publishers and booksellers isn’t clear. But whether the shift is dramatic or more gradual, the number of bookstores is declining.
More than 1,000 bookstores closed from 2000 through 2007, leaving about 10,600, according to the latest federal statistics…
Greco calculates that Amazon has 22.6% of the book market — ahead of Barnes & Noble (17.3%), Borders (8.1%), Books-A-Million (3%) and independents (6%)…
Another interesting number that would take several hours of research to calculate, is the percentage of marketing, from events and their promotions, that actually contributes to sales in the publishing industry.
Beyond the numbers – to get in touch with actual authors, there are youtube videos, and great sources like Authors@Google, but nothing replaces the texture of hearing a writer speak in person and communing with others in your region who have common interests and, hopefully, varied tastes. Assuming you like that sort of thing. And it’s entirely possible that book store owners like that sort of thing more than the average person. These are the differences that have made our behaviors, up until this point, immeasurably interesting.
Probably one of the most rewarding travel activities, for me, is finding a local book store. Not only am I certain of meeting a person who is in the know about the area (brew pubs also serve this criteria), I’m almost guaranteed to discover a new author who is being actively promoted locally. While the subjects these authors explore don’t always reference or reinforce the locality, it’s a chance to hear points of view and voices not likely found in the prominent and expensive marketing spaces along block store shelves. Plus, employees may also mark favorite books which lends an added and relevant geographical connection and understanding.
As so often happens, we’ve heard about other cultures and other countries, for the first time, from authors of more developed nations. Think Heart of Darkness. There is an obvious correlation between book publishing (read: spreading of ideas and literacy) and the GDP of a nation. In fact, the same 12 countries with the highest GDP are also the countries with the most titles published annually.
Can you imagine being from a place where you could read every single book published in your country each year? A literate person from Ghana or Libya or Mali can – each with less than 30 books published annually. Compare with the U.S. which published 328,259 titles in 2010 (Wikipedia). And that doesn’t account for the amount of information being released on the internet. This might illustrate that we have more information to talk about, but not necessarily that we have more to say.
The fact of the matter is that many people with unique traditions, behaviors, and patterns of thought are simply not speaking for themselves through the publishing industry. There are entire nations that may only establish scarce published representation in their native voices before the industry is completely digitalized. While they may never have tangible or material evidence that binds their thoughts, in written words, developed countries had the chance to first make reading, in itself, a cultural pastime and then encapsulate it into a mere tool for getting our feed.
While some cultures have retained their oral storytelling traditions, others are at the critical juncture for making cultural preservation a reality, while in others the stories, languages and customs have been lost forever. Who will do justice to these stories? In flies data to save the day. It’s the new super power narrative for who we are.
IBISWorld, The Publisher’s Association, and Nielsen all appear to have some in-depth data on global publishing statistics but require membership or large fees to access the reports. I don’t know what kind of information is revealed in a $1,000 report. Likely a lot of data on what genres are selling in what countries, growth stats, how to spin marketing for certain demographics, and graphs that drive the release of translations and support the academics who earn grants to do them, etc. It’s easy to find out how much corn we’re consuming – how much information we’re each processing seems to be another story. Were these figures more accessible, what difference would it make to the industry and the public? Would it change our buying habits?
If how we chose to buy our books is as indicative of our culture as what books we choose to buy, how much will the change to a digital infrastructure actually affect the kinds of books authors choose write? I imagine that answer is just becoming clear to the keepers of the data, and as statisticians become the storytellers of this literary period, they don’t seem inclined to share their best work around the campfire.
It’s not a coincidence that the most recently colonized countries and the children of our tomorrows can be certain someone is going to tell them exactly who they are before they have a chance to reflect on it themselves. And like a disease that wipes our memory just in time to alleviate the pain of being forgetful, we can be exactly who the stats say we are, or we can take the opportunity Amazon and other corporate cultures have right now to be bigger than the data.
Meanwhile, thanks to all the bookstores and conferences that keep us in touch and to those of you who turn out for events like the conference.
As an update, this piece in the Harvard Business Review touches on some of the analytical possibilities of the data that Amazon, and others, have been able to gather that brick and mortar stores have not.