Friday, June 21, 2013

Paperbacks: Doomed or Not, I'll Miss Them

Slate has an article today on whether paperbacks are doomed or not.
If that sounds hyperbolic, look at the numbers. The 2012 BookStats survey (one of the more reliable metrics of book-format sales industry-wide) revealed that 2011’s e-book net sales were double those of 2010. In the all-important “adult fiction” category, e-book revenue—for the first time ever—outpaced that of print. Amazon probably saw that coming: In 2011, they reported higher sales of e-books than paperbacks and hardcovers combined. And the trend seems destined to hold steady. The recently released 2013 BookStats report observes “an even more widespread popularity of e-books than in past years,” noting that e-book sales have grown 45 percent since 2011 and “now constitute 20% of the trade market.” Meanwhile, according to Publishers Weekly, between 2011 and 2012 the number of trade paperbacks sold fell by 8.6 percent, and total mass-market paperback sales fell by a whopping 20.5 percent.

Conventional wisdom holds that e-book sales eat into paperback sales but not those of hardcovers. So if e-book sales are growing exponentially, it seems fair to assume that paperback sales will plateau, dip, and eventually fail to justify the cost of printing them: So long, softcovers.
It's probably true; Slate's article comes down to "the data suggests paperbacks are doomed, but certain people hope not so maybe not." In my experience you should follow the data. There will be paperbacks, but they will be specialty items.

I'm part of the problem as a consumer: I tend to buy the ebook first if there is one available, then a hard copy if it's not.
But paperbacks are still important to me: I like them for plane rides when you're taking off and landing (that period when e-readers are verboten) and I will mourn the loss of old paperbacks, which are a kind of art that we will appreciate when it is gone.

Personally I collect old books-- this week I picked up a completely lost Gothic horror that I can't wait to start. It's by Anne Edwards, a major author who wrote HAUNTED SUMMER, the Byron/Polidori book. The book is called THE SURVIVORS, and I call it completely lost because I could only find it used, because there's no e-book and it's out of print. There are countless old, out of print books that are not in e-book form, and paperback may be the only way to get them.

And I'll miss the smell-- find an old paperback and smell it, and think of the book stores of your childhood, and this was how reading smelled. Not before our time, and not after. The smell of old paperbacks is a timestamp that will be lost forever and near-impossible to describe.

The main reason I love to read old books is it helps me artistically, by the way-- I can riff on things people don't remember instead of whatever is out there now, folding the conversation over. It's like having an ongoing conversation with shadows.

THE SURVIVORS
Publication Date: June 1969 A beautiful and lost girl; a man obsessed with learning the undiscovered truth about the shocking slaughter of an entire family; a high-speed journey along the razor edge of madness into the jaws of unimaginable horror.

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