How a publisher defines, segments, and prioritizes its audience impacts every decision it makes about every book it acquires, publishes, and markets. As I noted in the new annual report for the Panorama Project, despite the growth in ebooks and audiobooks over the past decade, there are reportedly fewer people reading books today, and fierce competition for their attention and discretionary spending. In the absence of any major consumer research focusing on how book consumption and purchasing behavior has changed over the past five years, there are many unsupported theories attempting to explain why consumer ebook sales plateaued, and then began a gradual decline. Consumer pricing, library lending, and self-publishing are believed to be among the primary factors, while little consideration has been given to the impact of other forms of digital media that have experienced exponential growth—including film, TV, and gaming.
I don't usually engage in conversations about individual books as the topic du jour is almost always something I haven't read yet or have no personal interest in, but the ongoing conversation around American Dirt sucked me in because it was such a glaring symptom of the industry's underlying illness I've raged about many, many, oh so many, times. Against my better judgement, it's dominated my own Twitter feed for nearly two weeks now, and all indications are it's going to remain a hot topic for a while longer—for better and worse. Also against my better judgement, I decided to consolidate my thoughts into this unexpectedly long, but hopefully coherent, post. Apologies in advance!
The idea that publishers are fretting over losing a few past-their-prime bestselling authors is the least interesting aspect of Amazon's growing "traditional" publishing operation, but it sure has been driving a lot of chatter—and presumably clicks—this week. Several think pieces and a ton of tweets have been written about Amazon recently snatching up another couple of recognizable authors and what it means for the publishing industry, the latest twist on a decade-long story (remember J.A. Konrath and Seth Godin?), but it's just another symptom of an illness corporate publishing has been suffering from for years.
Running has been my preferred form of stress release and 2019 was stressful af—for both personal and more general "the world is going to shit" reasons—and, from a running perspective, the most productive, as I set PRs for annual (563) and trail (65) mileage. I even ran my first half marathon since New Year's Eve 2016 when I needed 13 miles to hit 500 for the year and manufactured a local course!
Another notable factor that publishers seem to have trouble acknowledging is that books—especially ebooks—don't exist in a vacuum, competing only with other books published that month, but they fight for attention and discretionary income with every other immersive media format, too. Movies, TV, and gaming have all seen their own versions of digital disruption—not to mention other areas of publishing itself—so the idea that the one compelling villain to blame a decline in consumer ebook sales on is public libraries would be laughable if it wasn't so short-sighted and suicidal.