Reinvent or Die

What is the impact of the digital revolution on booksellers, librarians, and authors? A panel at the recent Florida Chapter of MWA meeting addressed this issue.

Panelists were Deborah Sharp, moderator and author of the Mace Bauer mysteries. The latest title in this humorous series is Mama Sees Stars. Other speakers included Joanne Sinchuk, manager and founder of Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore and current Director of the IMBA; Barbara Miller, Programs & Exhibits Coordinator from Broward County Library; and Stacy Alesi, who’s in charge of the Authors Live Program at Palm Beach Library and who blogs as the popular Book Bitch.

MWA2 June12
Stacy, Barbara, Joanne, Deborah and Neil Plakcy

MWA June12

Stacy, Barbara, Joanne, and Deborah

How is the industry evolving?

The speakers began by citing statistics showing the rise of ebooks in market share and in library circulation. For example, Stacy said the circulation at her library in 2009 was 542 ebooks. This increased to 11,855 ebooks in 2011. Ebooks went from 16% of total a/v materials in circulation to 73.8% in 2011. They’re not cutting back on print books in order to gain the funding to buy digital copies, but instead they purchase less audio books and music CDs for the library. Meanwhile, librarians often have to teach people how to download an ebook. Older patrons may not even know how to use a computer.

Barbara said that ebooks supplement, rather than replace, print books. And backlist titles in ebooks are popular.

Joanne remarked that it’s easier for writers to get published now, but the gatekeepers are gone.

They used to be editors and booksellers. This leads to a lack of quality control. “There’s a lot of junk out there. How does a reader plow through this?”

On the good side, 15% more indie bookstores opened last year. How can an independent bookstore survive? “You have to change with the times.” Her store does literary luncheons and runs workshops for writers at their Authors Academy. “We are constantly changing.” Joanne finds less publishers sending authors to the store for book tours, likely due to reduced budgets.

Can a self-published author get into the library?

Stacy said they have a selection policy. A book has to be reviewed in a specific list of journals, such as PW, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus. Baker & Taylor is their main distributor. The Friends of the Library give them funds to buy books not on those lists, and this may include self-published works. Nor can an author donate a book for their collection. Likely it would end up in the Friends of the Library book sale.

Barbara claimed they invite local authors to speak at the library even if their book isn’t on the shelves. Ebooks go through the same selection process and are bought via Overdrive, which doesn’t take self-published works. One of the roadblocks to obtaining more books in digital format is that publishers either increase the price of ebooks, or else they’re not releasing their titles in digital editions.

Joan Johnston, a NY Times bestselling author, pointed out that a writer’s backlist might not be available in ebook because either the publisher doesn’t have the rights or else they offer to pay the author a piddling royalty and the writer refuses.

Joanne has taken to charging self-published authors a fee to do a booksigning at her store. It’s not an uncommon policy. There has to be some sort of filter, she says.

Donna Marie Mergenhagen, proprietor of Well Read Books in Fort Lauderdale, said she won’t stock books for a signing but instead sells them from the author’s stock on consignment. She’s found that indie booksellers are acting as the gatekeepers these days. If a self-published book has errors, she will not recommend it to her customers.

Another author suggested booksellers ask the self-published writer, “Who’s your editor?” before accepting their work to read. This would help weed out the bad stuff.

What about collaborative efforts?

Libraries may order books from local bookstores for an event. That way, the Friends make money if they buy the book at a discount and sell it at full price. The bookstore hands out flyers to help advertise the event, while the author shares the responsibility for publicity and for bringing in their fans. An article in the local newspaper helps draw attention to events. Announcements on Facebook can also attract readers.

A brief discussion ensued about signings with ebooks but the technology, while present, isn’t widely used yet. Plus what is the psychology of getting a book signed? Is it to meet the author in person? To make a connection? Will this meaningful interaction be the same with a digitally signed copy?

Joanne surveyed her customers as to how they decide what ebook to buy. Answers were:

1. It’s their favorite author in the print world

2. They go to B&N and browse the shelves then order the ebook

3. They read independent reviews, not the ones on Amazon

4. Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends

Then Joanne posed this question for you to answer:

What do you see as the bookseller’s role going forward in relation to authors?