Round up #155: what is the future of coffee table books, B&N shuns S&S

Round up #155: what is the future of coffee table books, B&N shuns S&S

Barnes & Noble stops carrying some Simon & Schuster books

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, this just makes my head spin. Well, it would if I hadn’t already done the full Linda Blair with Barnes & Noble deciding not to sell specific books to make a point in the past. 😉

Look, for me, this isn’t complicated. If you are a bookseller, you need to sell books to people to keep them as your customers.

They aren’t going to care about why you don’t have the book they want…they are just going to buy it somewhere else.

They also will form the opinion (perhaps  irrevocably, at least for years) that you aren’t worth checking in the future.

It’s a huge hurdle to place in your own path.

Amazon did something similar with Macmillan more than three years ago. I went back and looked: I wasn’t as negative about that as I’ve been with Barnes & Noble.

However, I’ll argue that Amazon was fighting the Agency Model when they pulled the “Buy” buttons from Macmillan books. That was a hugely disruptive, industry affecting initiative…one where Macmillan (along with every other publisher in the case) eventually settled with the Department of Justice.

The issues cited in this

Wall Street Journal article

by Jeffrey Trachtenberg (and to which I was directed by a reader in a private e-mail) just don’t sound that existential.

There’s been quite a bit written about this…I thought this

Huffington Post article

by Terence Clark was a good one.

It looks like part of what is going on is that Barnes & Noble wants to charge more for the things that its stores can provide (like prominent display of specific books), now that there is a reduced supply of those services. In other words, when there were other big bookstore chains, there were more opportunities for publishers to have their books displayed prominently, and competition for the privilege. “I’ll put your books right at the counter for $25 a month.” “I’ll do it for $20!”

Now, Borders isn’t around any more to put competitive pressure on the price…and publishers still believe bookstore discovery of titles is valuable.

However, I might argue that bookstore discovery isn’t as important as it was, and that it will become increasingly less important as people get their books from other places.

Coffee table books face a challenge in the digital world

Should B&N be focusing on big, beautiful books that work better in paper?

First, let me say that I’m sure the time will come when big books with a lot of pictures (“coffee table books”) will be better consumed as e-books.

There are some similarities between glossy magazines and coffee table books, and Entertainment Weekly is now figuring out how to do e-versions to the point where my reading it on my Kindle Fire 8.9″ is a much more pleasant experience than reading it in paper, even though the screen is smaller than the page.

For example, it may be a question of tapping one in a series of images to see the “caption” for that image. While that might sound like it would be less convenient, it makes the page much less “busy”. You don’t have to mix words and images in the same space, and the text size can be bigger. I only see one caption at a time, but it’s much nicer.  Having scrollable text also means that an image can stay next to the words I’m reading as I go through a longer text piece. I find that more pleasant as well, as compared to flipping the page, and perhaps having to flip back to see the image again.

Coffee table books will probably eventually work the same way. You’ll pinch and spread to zoom in and see detail, see captions as you “roll over” images, and not have to have those confusing “opposite page clockwise from the top left” legends. 🙂

Can’t you also see throwing the picture from your coffee table book to a big screen monitor (which we might now call a TV), or to someone else’s tablet?

As this

Wall Street Journal article

by Rory Gallivan points out about the publisher Quarto, sales of those books in bookstores may have a tough row to hoe in the future.

Interestingly to me, they do sell them in non-bookstores…places like Urban Outfitters.

I don’t think that paper coffee table books will save Barnes & Noble. I think they are especially ripe for direct publisher to consumer sales through the internet. In our store, we didn’t particularly like people flipping through those books, just because they would tend to get damaged, and that’s a relatively big loss. Remember that in a brick-and-mortar store, you are always fighting rent…and a coffee table book has taken up a lot more rent than a mass market paperback before you sell it, so having “shrinkage” due to damage is a bigger deal. They also were prone to being shoplifted, despite the size (shoplifters would stack them up on a shelf, then scoot out the door with them when it was not being observed).

Daily Progress: “Literary agents discuss publishing industry”

In this

Daily Progress article

literary agents talk about the state of the industry. I found this quotation particularly interesting:

“Things are actually very healthy in terms of readers and in terms of authors,” Patrick said. “What’s sick is the business model of publishing and that’s what I’m finding is so depressing.”

Are agents hurt by a model that may incorporate more of publishers selling directly to consumers?

Not necessarily: their involvement comes before that. The publishers still have to decide which books to publish, and that’s one of the places where an agent has a function.

However, if the tradpubs (traditional publishers) increasingly look like (and therefore have more competition with) independent publishers, then it gets trickier. Ten years ago, if you wanted to sell your books, you had to get them into brick-and-mortar stores. If you wanted to get them into brick-and-mortar stores, they had to come from tradpubs. If you wanted to have your book published by a tradpub, you had to have an agent. That’s a simplification, but that’s generally how it worked.

Now, that’s not the way it works. If you want to sell your books, e-books especially, you have to get them on to an e-tailer (especially Amazon). You don’t need an agent to do that.

There is still a place for agents, certainly, but they’ll have to look carefully at the model. My guess is that the opportunities will be reduced for tradpubbed books, but the reward per book will increase. Let’s say that a tradpub currently publishes 1,000 books a year and an agent averages $1,000 per book (I’m completely making up these figures, to make the math easy). I suspect that in the future, that same publisher might publish one hundred books…but the agents might average $10,000 per book (which is being sold at a higher price and with a greater likelihood of success, because they’ll stop doing riskier titles).

That’s a big way that I can see the industry going. The risk is taken by indies, and only after the books are proven do they have a chance of being picked up by a tradpub. The tradpubs will concentrate on brand name authors and sure bets.

I would guess that will make it less fun to be a publisher. I would think that taking a risk would be part of the attraction, a place where you could show your skills in picking a winner nobody expected. I think the art part of publishing is going to be harder to justify to the stockholders as things go forward. Indies will try wild things, a few of which will succeed…and those are the ones the tradpubs will license.

What do you think? Do customers understand a book not being in a store because there are business negotiations going on? Are customers so bound to brick-and-mortar bookstores that B&N won’t lose them as long as they are the only chain in town? Will tradpubs take fewer risks? If so, what does that mean for publishing? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

4 Responses to “Round up #155: what is the future of coffee table books, B&N shuns S&S”

  1. Curryanne Hostetler Says:

    Personally, I am annoyed when I go to a book store and they have hiked the prices or I can’t find what I want. That happened before I began to buy at Amazon. Not now, I generally find what I am looking for at Amazon. I wish more older books were found in ebook. But other than that I have stopped buying at B&N because they were always more expensive or did not have what I wanted.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Curryanne!

      I think you aren’t alone in the change in your buying habits.

      As to older e-books, that’s happening. There are many more available than there were a couple of years ago, and that should continue to increase.

      If there are particular books you want, you can sign up for free at

      and they’ll send you a free e-mail when the book is Kindleized.

  2. Morgan Says:

    Ridiculous! They already have enough competition and are at a disadvantage… sn: just saw this link on FB and i feel like it illustrates my point of how outdated physical book stores are

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Morgan!

      I took a little while to reply because I wanted to check out the legitimacy of the site you linked. It is being done by Stephen Windwalker of the Kindle Nation Daily blog, so I went ahead and posted your comment. 🙂

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