Friday 24 April 2009

Guest Blog: Jennifer Echols

Put your money where your mouth is

One financial blog is predicting that Borders, the #2 bookstore chain in the U.S., will not survive the recession and will poop out on us in a year or so. It’s in financial trouble because it can’t keep up with the online bookstore Amazon and with sales of e-books.

My town doesn’t have a Borders, so this wouldn’t affect me much. But I have a lot of friends who will cry, because they love Borders. And I know there are a lot of other people out there who usually buy from Amazon but want Borders around so they can browse on occasion and actually touch and feel the books.

To these last people I say, GO INTO BORDERS AND BUY SOMETHING!

Perhaps this would be a shoring up of a business that’s doomed to fail. We are all headed to nothing but e-books and online shopping anyway. I don’t think so. I think the contingent of people who heart the physical bookstore experience and prefer print books is still very large. What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is the power they hold as consumers. Borders is going to succeed if you buy books from those stores. It is going to go bankrupt if you do not. The same is true of every cool art festival in your community, every interesting ethnic restaurant, every rock band...and every author. If you want to keep the art festival coming back year after year, if you want to eat at the restaurant and hear the rock band, if you want your favorite author to come out with a new book next year, you have to put your money where your mouth is. We all wish the artistic pursuits were art for art’s sake, but they are not. They are money-making endeavors, and if they don’t make money, they will end.

Now, the purpose of this post is not to convince all of you to rush out and buy my books so I can fund my vacation to Hawaii. If I were you and I had a choice between buying a new copy of Going Too Far and borrowing it from a friend, I would probably borrow it and save the $11 for something else. I personally make good use of my public library. I break down and buy books when the library doesn’t have them, or when I know they will be keepers I’ll want to read over and over, or when they are by my favorite authors whom I want to succeed.

But this is the key difference between me and many consumers of the arts. Because I am a writer, I understand all too well that my purchase and the purchases of readers like me will absolutely make or break the career of other new authors. If their books sell well within the first month after they’re released, their publishers will pay them to write a second book. (Yes, I said the first MONTH! There’s no waiting around to see what happens.) If their books do not fly off the shelves in the first month, their publishers will not want another book. If this happens, the author is even worse off than she was before she was published at all. She no longer has a publisher. She may be dropped by her literary agent also. She has a bad reputation as someone whose books don’t sell. If she is not completely discouraged, never to write again, she will probably need to start over in a new genre, with a new pseudonym.


The other side of this equation is that when you pay for a book that you know you’re not going to like, just so you can make fun of it, or when you pay to see a movie because you’ve heard how bad it is, you are simply ensuring that the author will churn and out more and more bad books forever, and all of them will be made into movies. Especially when the author has been successful, she earns more money per book, so buying a hardback by her is like driving up to her house and handing her a ten.

Further, the successful books crowd out the ones that aren’t so successful. You would think that in this age, with a burgeoning world population and a bookstore on every corner, that our selection of books would become broader. In fact, more and more shelf space is being given to fewer authors, with none left for newbies. This is not entirely the fault of the short-sighted bookstore. When you hear a lot about a book in advertisements in magazines and TV, when you see fifty copies of it in the store and think therefore it must be the book of the century...the publisher has actually paid for those ads and that space in the bookstore. In short, the publisher has purchased its place on the bestseller lists. And they do this for books that are similar to books that sold well last year. That’s why, whenever one book sells billions of copies, you start to see so many copycats. It’s not that we authors are uncreative. That’s what the publishers ask for, because that’s what you buy.

It’s all business.

Enter the independent book blog. It’s run by some random chick who loves books, is reading a lot anyway, and might as well publish her comments for the world to see. It has so much more power than you think. It’s a reader-to-reader word-of-mouth recommendation times a hundred because anyone in the world can access it, and it may be the one enterprise that can counter the juggernaut of Big Business. YOU can start a book blog. YOU can influence other readers’ decisions. YOU can go to Borders, browse the bottom shelf, and discover your new favorite book by an author you’ve never heard of. YOU can be this author’s hero, ensuring her long career by blogging about her book.

But first, you have to buy it.
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A big thank you to the glorious Jenn Echols for shining under the Author Spotlight this week. I think we can all agree that she made some fantastic points in her guest blog. I, for one, could not deal with reading a book without having the turn the page. I feel rather empowered at the moment, what about you?

Random blogging chick, Persnickety Snark out.


prophecygirl said...

I agree with every word she said! As a Borders employee, it does worry me that people aren't buying books as much and are downloading them instead (I couldn't read without pages, either).

On saying that though, we've not really noticed a huge difference in our store. If anything, we're selling MORE books! (definitely YA at least, thanks to Twilight etc...)

Amazon will always win in a fight, but I think stores like Borders and B&N have a lot to offer too. Please don't forget about them!

Tina said...

I adore the 2 Borders I go to weekly (shhh don't tell anyone). I'm not a fan of e-books. I love the feel and look of books. I'm doing all I can to support Borders!

I have a bought, not borrowed, version of Going to Far ... I love it.

Dave said...

I feel more for the owners of small bookstores who are trying to eke out a living while being battered by the Borders/Barnes & Noble giants, and the pressure from Amazon. Their stores are more likely to find the offbeat book and offer different recommendations. But their independent voices are being lost.
p.s. Welcome to Book Blogs; hope you enjoy the network.

J.S. Peyton said...

I absolutely love this post, not least because it's what I've been trying to tell people for months. I know that a lot of people say they can't afford to buy books, but even one book? A month? That can be too hard and it would help a lot. I would be very sad to see Borders go and I do think they're in a lot of trouble right now. =(

Janssen said...

What a terrific terrific post. Makes me want to go buy a bunch of books right this minute.

susan said...

"In fact, more and more shelf space is being given to fewer authors, with none left for newbies."

I hate this especially after spending countless hours online drooling over more books than I could possibly read in my lifetime.

Thoroughly enjoyed your article.

susan said...

As a senior reader here let me say that online books will not completely eliminate print. Why, one reason is eye fatigue and readibility (I have a very hard time with small fonts and while I know how to increase size, then there is the issue of skewing the the layout of a page). Secondly, despite the number of computer users, there are signficant pockets in the population that are not wired. There isn't a computer in every household yet. And for those who don't have computers, but usage is gaining popularity, access is restricted in public libraries. So until we all are on more equal socioeconomic levels, there will be readers who depend on print. There may be less print available, but I firmly believe diehard book lovers will spend enough money to prove print is profitable.

Sarah Woodard said...

I don't go to Borders... I prefer my indie shop and sometime B&N, because it is the closest big store.
I do think that it would be sad, if it was gone.

H said...

Thanks Jenn. I can't imagine how disappointing it must be when new authors think they've achieved the dream and then books don't sell fast enough. I buy from amazon a lot. But I also buy from Waterstones (bookstore like Borders) a lot. We don't have any indie bookstores near where I live.

Sadako said...

I don't really buy a lot of books, but i don't D/L either. I usually go to the library, and I haven't really read all that many new ones. But I do feel bad about the demise of bookstores. And I hate the whole e book thing...

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Great guest post. I love Borders and I don't want to lose the one by my house. I buy most of my books are Borders normally unless I have a gift card somewhere else or something.

And I just posted my IMM post about the books I simply bought yesterday. It's good to buy, but it's hard too....books can be expensive, but I try.

susan said...

Okay, I am unabashedly making a request. Please come by and leave a link to this or another feature you'd like to get a little lov'n at Little Lov'n MondayAnd this week, I will mail internationally. So if you'd like a free book, P, do us a favor and participate.


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