Saturday, February 4, 2012

Book News from Sheppard's Newsletter No. 248

USA: Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business.
'Subtlety is out. Bloomberg Businessweek's January 25th cover shows a book engulfed in flames. The book's title? 'Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business.' A towering pile of books dominates the front page of Sunday's NYT Business Section. The pile starts well below the fold (print edition), breaks through the section header at the top of the page, and leans precariously. Books are starting to tumble off. 'The Bookstore's Last Stand,' reads the headline. Read more
[The Authors Guild article is headed 'Publishing's Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory' and is well worth reading.  It confirms the trade 'war' that now exists between Amazon and the big six US publishers and describes the current position.  What are your views? Do you perceive Amazon as a friend or foe? Ed.]

The number of shops selling new books has declined in most countries- and seems likely to do so because in today's trading times and conditions, the business model doesn't work.  Recently, the Booksellers Association reported that over the last six years the number of independent bookshops in the UK has been reduced by 384 - to 1,099.  The trend looks set to continue.  But in this week's news, the BA has disclosed that there are now 250 specialist charity bookshops and 8,000 others which 'also sell books'.  

  We think that these 'shops' have been, and are, a much greater threat to our side of the book trade - the majority of books sold are 'used' and not 'new'. So it is curious that these figures are being used in an attempt to bolster financial support for new bookshops.

  Against this background it is significant that the number of full and part-time book dealers has not declined at the same rate.  There are still some 1,800 known dealers in the UK - sure, many have left their 'high-street' shops but whenever a dealer closes his or her shop, it doesn't follow that there is one dealer less.  The national media often misses this point.  

In recent months, several items have appeared in the 'new book' trade press reporting that booksellers are also selling used books.  Nothing new in this but the frequency of 'news' items is now more noticeable. This week one of the UK's regular daily trade e-newsletters, not known for its interest in the used book trade, highlights a shop in Paris selling only second-hand comics.  Interest in comics certainly appears to be rising - for when rare editions are auctioned they fetch very high prices as we have reported in previous editions.  

UK: The Booksellers Association appeals to councils for help
The Booksellers Association, which represents 3,500 independent bookshops across the U.K., has written to almost 400 council chiefs urging them to do more to support their local high streets or risk seeing bookshops go out of business. The B.A. has called for more free parking in town centres and a reduction in red tape to help struggling businesses. It also argued that charity shops present 'unfair competition' to bookshops due to the valuable tax breaks they get. There are now more than 250 specialist charity bookshops in the UK, while a further 8,000 charity shops sell books as part of their ranges. Read more
France: BD Spirit, Paris
Tucked away from the throngs of tourists in Paris' Montmartre, there might very well be the greatest comics bookstore in the world. BD Spirit, its name an allusion to comic book legend Will Eisner's character, is a proud caretaker of the history of comics, or BDs (Bandes DessinĂ©es) as the French call them. With an estimated stock of 50-80,000 comic books and magazines, many of them out-of-print collector's items, this is not your ordinary bookshop. Read more

International: The self-epublishing bubble
. . .There's another name for what happens when people start to make money out of speculation and hype: it's called a bubble. Like the dotcom bubble, the commercial real estate bubble, the subprime mortgage bubble, the credit bubble and the derivative trading bubble before it, the DIY epublishing bubble is inflating around us. Each of those other bubbles also saw, in their earliest stages, a great deal of fuss made over a 'new' phenomenon, which was then over-hyped and over-leveraged. But speculation, as we've learned at our peril, is a very dangerous foundation for any business. And when the epub bubble bursts, as all previous bubbles have done, the fall-out for publishing and writing may be even harder to repair than it is proving to be in the fields of mortgages, derivatives and personal debt. Because this bubble is based on cultural, not purely economic, grounds. Read more
[The decline may well accelerate when so many titles are found to have poor cover designs, poor typography, a lack of editing and no professional marketing. Ed.]

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