The Week in the News

Sorry I’m a little late getting today’s post up. I didn’t write it yesterday because I wanted to see the latest headlines before deciding on the day’s topics.

First, I want to brag on my hometown. Another reason I didn’t write the blog yesterday was because I spent most of the day at our new library’s grand opening. In this time of libraries closing or losing funding, our community has rallied around the library and build a wonderful new facility. Hopefully, I’ll have some photos next weekend to post. What is really great about the new building is the fact our teens are invested in it. Several years ago when the architects asked for input from the community, half a dozen different groups got together and drew up their ideal floor plans. The teens’ plan is the one that was chosen. That invests them in the library and their support was clear yesterday.

Any way, on to what’s happening around the publishing world.

I’m going to keep with local news for a moment. Earlier this week, Amazon sent out notices to its employees at the distribution center near DFW Airport that they would be shutting down the center. Why? Because the state comptroller wants to collect millions of dollars in taxes and penalties it says Amazon owes. Sorry, this is a distribution center. A center that employs a number of people. A center that was going to expand and hire up to another 1,000 workers.

Muddying the waters even more, Gov. Rick Perry has publicly announced he is firmly against the action taken by the comptroller and is going to do all he can to keep the distribution center here. The next month is going to be an interesting battle of wills between the governor, the comptroller and, quite possibly, the state legislature to see who blinks first. My take — unless the comptroller can prove the distribution center is actually a sales center, Amazon will be asked to stay. But at what cost? What sort of concessions will the state have to roll out to “apologize” for an ill-timed, if not ill-conceived, move by the comptroller?

The New York Times revealed its best sellers list this week and, for the first time, e-books were included. I haven’t had time to sit down and really study it, but the one thing that jumps out is the fact that the top five titles on the combined print & e-book list are the same as the top five titles on the e-book list. Two titles flip-flop positions, but that is the only difference. The same can’t be said for the non-fiction top five. Does this mean there are more fiction e-titles being purchased than non-fiction? Probably. What will be interesting is to see the reaction of traditional publishers when e-books brought out by authors digitally publishing their works on their own or by small digital presses break into the top ten.

Finally, no blog about the industry can close without mentioning the latest news about Borders. I don’t think it surprises anyone the speculation is now rife over whether or not Borders will be filing for bankruptcy this week. Borders hasn’t publicly confirmed this. However, it doesn’t take much searching online to find posts from employees or people “in the know” who say it’s a done deal. Now they are only waiting to find out if their stores will be saved.

What is of concern to me — beyond the worry for my friends and acquaintances who work for Borders — is how this will affect the publishing industry as a whole. Borders owes publishers and non-publishing vendors thousands of dollars for stock already in stores. (This figure may — and probably is — be substantially larger. We won’t know until the bankruptcy papers are filed.) A number of publishers have already ceased shipments to Borders. It’s a move I can understand. Publishers are, on the whole, struggling themselves. They can’t afford to ship product without guarantee of payment. On the other hand, how can a bookstore make money if it doesn’t have books to sell? It really is one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations.

But there is another factor to be considered. Ingram continues to ship books to Borders when so many of the publishers have stopped. Ingram is the distribution outlet for a number of publishers, many of them small to mid-sized publishers who don’t have their own distribution arm. What the immediate and long-term impact this will have on these publishers, as well as Ingram, when Borders files for bankruptcy remains to be seen. But it is worrisome.

I hope Borders can find a way to come through this without completely going under. I’m not sure it can. What we have to prepare for is that this isn’t the last of the upheavals that will happen in publishing over the next few years. This is just the opening volley. So grab onto something and hold tight. Publishing will come through this, but it is going to be an interesting ride for awhile.

(Cross-posted to Mad Genius Club)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Week in the News

  1. Stephen J. Simmons

    This all leaves writers in a different “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position, though. As you pointed out, a bookstore can’t possibly make money if there isn’t anything on the shelves to sell. So, if authors act to protect orselves by pulling our boats entirely out of the white-water that’s roiling the industry — opting to pursue e-only publication or direct-sale through Amazon instead — we have serious potential of hastening a demise in brick-and-mortar-land which otherwise might not have been a foregone conclusion. And in most scenarios, we doom ourselves to a smaller universe of potential readers in the process, too. But staying in the boat and riding the rapids isn’t very attractive as an alternative.

  2. C’mon, Stephen, don’t you like rapids? 😉

    Actually, the last thing writers need to do is cut off a potential audience. For those self-publishing or publishing through micro or small presses, there are ways to still get into the bookstores. Ingram has a distribution line available — assuming you can get a response from them. NRP has tried but communication is slow to non-existent. There are other avenues as well — including the elephant in the china shop Amazon. Their CreateSpace program allows authors and small presses to go the POD route. There’s an upgrade to the free service that allows for bookstores, etc., to order and stock the book. It’s not perfect, but it is an alternative for the indie author or small press.

    Unfortunately, authors are the ones who are going to be tossed about the most while this whole situation finally irons itself out. Readers are right there behind them because they pretty much at the mercy of the publishers first and booksellers second. There are still a huge number of readers who don’t use online services like Amazon or BN.com to buy their books. All I can say is strap in, keep your head down and wait. The storm will pass.

  3. Stephen J. Simmons

    Strapped in, yes. Head down and wait? Nah, I’m still “buying lottery tickets”, as I called it before. I’m still not at all clearon what the stable(ish) “future-state” will end up being, but I fully intend to keep submitting whatever I manage to get in a state I consider not-a-waste-of-an-editor’s-time. If I had any sense, and the output-volume to support such an approach, I’d be trying to get into as many platforms/streams as possible, like a professional angler tending multiple fishing poles. As it is, I just can’t seem to write that fast while keeping my day job. So, I’ll keep sending the shorts here, with an occasional “hail Mary” submission to Analog, and I’ll keep trying to get the novel-length pieces finished. Once they are, I’ll have to pick which bridge to jump off of, but I’ve got a little time yet before tht becomes an issue.

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