Where Is This Thing Going?

I love bookstores. My wife and I both do. Roaming the aisles, picking up books that catch our eye, then meeting back at the cafe for a latte has been a favorite date night activity for a long time. It’s been especially fun over the last 5 years, since my own novels have started showing up on bookstore shelves (that’s my newest one on the right…shameless plug). But I’ve noticed some unsettling trends in the past few years when we visit bookstores.

Perhaps you have, too.

  • We don’t see as many people walking through the aisles.
  • Or as many book titles on the fiction shelves.
  • Or as many copies of my books, or my author friends’ books, on the shelves.

In the last 2 years, I’ve been reading poll after poll, survey after survey, blog after blog and they all seem to be telling me why. We are in the midst of a massive, tectonic shift in the publishing world. Or maybe better said, in the book-buying world. Things are moving increasingly toward online stores and Ebooks and away from the traditional bookstore.

Let’s take a look at the hottest-selling books in the Kindle store on Amazon at the moment, see if we can learn anything about what’s selling and why:

  • 7 of the Top 10 Bestsellers on Kindle are full-priced books (in the $10-11 range). Most are “brand name” authors like O’Reilly, Stephen King, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks.
  • But if we extend this list out to the Top 20 Bestsellers, we find 9 books priced at $2.99 or less.

This tells me that lots of people are still willing to shell out decent money for authors they already know and love. But even more readers are willing to buy books by less well-known authors if the books are drastically reduced in price. Another factor…all these books averaged 4 to 4.5 Stars (or better), so it’s clear good ratings matter, too.

What do we find when we narrow the focus to Amazon’s Top 10 Bestsellers in Christian Fiction (again, looking at Kindle sales)? As far as pricing goes, it’s a little different story:

  • Only 1 of the Top 10 Bestsellers could be considered “full-priced,” although 2 are in the $8 range. But 5 of the Top 10 are significantly discounted at $2.99 or less.
  • Extend the list to the Top 20, we find 12 (the majority) are discounted books at $3.99 or less.

Once again, all 20 of these novels have reviews averaging 4 to 4.5 Stars (or better). So once again, solid ratings are another thing that really matters (not just low price).

When I look at numbers like this, it’s no wonder sales at brick-and-mortar bookstores are in serious decline. People are able to instantly preview, then download well-reviewed books for $2-4 a piece. That’s several dollars less than what mass-market paperbacks used to go for.

And it’s not just Ebooks that are selling well. Readers who love to turn real paper pages are increasingly buying their books online rather than at the bookstore. Whenever I get with readers to chat I ask them about their book-buying habits. I keep hearing the same thing. More and more are buying them online, for two main reasons:

  1. Price – they often get print books at much lower prices.
  2. Availability – they can instantly order whatever book they want (complain they often can’t find what they want at bookstores anymore, especially when buying books in a series).

I hate to say this but…unless we experience a horrific solar flare or a huge asteroid knocks out all our internet satellites, I don’t see a bright future for the traditional bookstore. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before this massive shift in the book-buying world relegates the bookstore to the ranks of the Smith-Corona typewriter, the horse and buggy or old wooden ships.

Am I overstating this? What do you see up ahead? Where do you think all this is going? What kind of things do you think will stay the same? What kind of things will permanently change?

Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels, including The
Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas
and The Dance. He has won 3
Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books have been Top Picks on RT
Reviews. Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member
of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where they love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or
check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com