Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rising Tide

They say a rising tide lifts all boats. I’ve been thinking about that lately, thinking about the explosion in publishing wrought by the advent of the internet, ebooks, and print-on-demand companies. It seems to me, although I don’t have the figures in front of me, that more books are being published today than ever in the history of humankind. And these are being published by more writers.

At the same time, I suspect a lot of mid-list writers are making less money that they have in the past, and a large number of the new authors are making very little, especially if they are being distributed by small presses, ebook publishers, and pay-to-publish presses.

The rising tide has lifted the total number of book publications, but I wonder if it has lifted the total amount of money that is being spent by readers on books each year. I personally suspect it has raised that total somewhat, because I find that newly published authors also “buy” a fair amount of books, both books on writing, and books by other new authors who they have made connections with. I’m not sure however, that the total amount of money spent on books in the US has risen very much in the past ten years.

For myself, the total amount that I’ve spent on books has risen over the past few years, and this is in large part due to buying quite a few more new trade paperbacks than I’ve ever bought before. I’ve bought many of these because they are written by other new writers and I want to support those writers as they have supported me. At the same time, I haven’t actually bought as “many” books lately as I used to, because each of the books I do buy is more expensive.

How about you? How has the current publishing explosion affected your buying habits, and reading habits?


Lana Gramlich said...

Now that I work at the library, I hardly even need to buy books anymore. When I do, however, they tend to be used on Amazon, meaning the author & publishing company aren't getting anything from me.
But I still love you...

moonrat said...

fnnn. it's impossible. you can find a book you really love and want to share, but no one else has read it or heard of it, because there are so many darn books to read that come out all the time that everyone else is busy reading something else.

from my industry end, it also means that our books go out of print so much faster--you have about 4 weeks after the book pubs to distinguish yourself, and if your book doesn't, that's it. oh well. all your work for an oh-so-ephemeral moment. sigh.

Greg said...

I buy as many books as I can, but like you said, Charles, they're getting more expensive. I try to subscribe to one or two small press mags and buy at least a few chapbooks and probably one or two mass-market paperbacks a year. but every day it gets harder to justify spending that much money on books, especially with a library right up the street and a paycheck that can't seem to keep up with the times.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I do not think it has affected my ourchasing at all. I am one that will roam about in a book store for hours going from topic to topic and if the item catcheds my eye and keeps my attention past the first 10 pages, I buy it.

I am not one to buy books over the internet unless one is suggested by someone I know has great taste in books. Does that make me sound horrid?

Good post Charles. Nice to see you again.


Lisa said...

I've definitely bought more books over the last couple of years than I ever have before. A couple of things have contributed to that. Because I'm writing, I'm buying a lot more books about craft and writing and I have a long list of books I feel like I want to read. Because I'm blogging and I've "met" a lot of writers, I've bought a lot of books that I might not otherwise, in order to be supportive. I've also become aware of little a new or mid-list writer will likely make on a book, so I don't check books out from the library and don't buy from Amazon Marketplace anymore. In my small way, I guess I feel like I'm supporting the arts.

Lisa said...

Oh and pre-orders too. I understand the pre-orders on Amazon help the writers, so if I know a book I want to read is coming out or a writer I like has a book coming out, I'll pre-order. Sort of a "help out the team" thing.

Bernita said...

The internet has certainlu widened the available selection.
I have always read. A lot.
My buying habits have gradually increased - but that has more to do with my time than available quantity.

Danette Haworth said...

I subscribe to several literary magazines, I buy writing reference books, and I have to own novels that blow me away. Family members give me Amazon gift certificates for Christmas--that's like a free-for-all!

Shauna Roberts said...

My bookbuying has increased a lot over the past ten years. I still go to Barnes & Noble and make impulse purchases (mostly on the sale rack, but often from the New Releases table and racks), but I also buy books at discount from the Science Fiction Book Club,, and And because I'm saving money on the books, I buy more of them. I've also always made it a practice to buy my friends' books and CDs, and the number of my friends who are writers has been steadily going up.

That said, I'm making a conscious effort to cut back on buying books. After moving I consolidated my various To Read piles and was shocked to discover I filled two large bookcases with unread books and had spillover. Also, I've cut back on my paying writing to have more time to write fiction (a huge gamble, I know) and have less money for books.

Travis Cody said...

I find I'm searching out more books recommended by my blogging community, and books actually written by members of my blogging community.

I love books and I'm always looking for additions to my library. So I think I'm buying about the same as I always have.

But there are so many choices now! Sometimes I get overloaded with the number of choices.

One thing that irritates me though is not being able to find the first book in a series that looks interesting. This has happened so many times recently.

Travis Erwin said...

Since becomng serious about my own writing I have become more criical in what I actually buy. I no longer can stomach lazy writing and as a result have stopped buying several well known authors that I used to. Seems like I buy more books from other writers I have met though so that makes up the difference.

Overall my book buying tide is fairly stagnant.

virtual nexus said...

'The January sales just about put me off publishing for all time. I gaped at heaps and heaps of book remainders that had missed the wind and slipped downstream, not noticing the regular turnover of those with the breeze behind their back; but guess every book ultimately has its shelf life whether we like it or not.'c 1974

Charles, this is funny - I wrote a post today about working briefly in the book trade thirty years ago.

I go to Cambridge(UK)sometimes to pick up expensive books cheaply in sales.(Or locally) Plethora is the only word to describe it here. You're right though, books did have a longer shelf life way back. Less media competition I guess.

nb - I get to see a DVD of the docu I ghosted soon, and tell lana I got out to see friends for the first time in two months tonight!

Whitechapel did a Liberty Bell that cracked in transit....

Steve Malley said...

When I decided to get serious about prose, I knew I had to invest in my industry. I quit using the library (though I still give them money) and started buying new, not-on-sale books.

It hurt. At least, at first. A paperback novel in New Zealand costs over $30, but at least I knew the authors were getting royalties!

I suppose, for me, the big change all this technology's brought is that I live in New Zealand, sold comics in Germany and have a literary agent in New York. And there's nothing weird about that at all!

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, and I appreciate you bringing home bargains for me.

Moonrat, I've had that experience, and it's becoming more and more common.

Greg, other than Star*Line I dropped my magazine subscriptions, although I should get back to that.

Tara, I've been getting most of my books on the net because I'm buying books by writers who aren't as big names and may not be on the physical shelves of the stores.

Lisa, I've stopped buying nearly as many used books as I used to because of trying to support other writers. I will buy some books at book sales still, but not books by folks I know and want to support.

Bernita, my reading time is variable. At some times of the year I have a fair amount. At other times virtually none. I certainly don't read as much as I used to.

Danette, gift certificates to book stores is about all anyone ever gets me, and that's just what I want.

Shauna, coming from Arkansas, where I'd met no more than half a dozen writers to Louisiana, where as I've been hear I've met dozens and dozens has added a lot to my purchase costs. Good luck with the move toward fiction time.

Travis, yes, I'm constantly looking for a book that I've heard about on the blogging community. I hate missing the first in a series as well.

Travis Erwin, your pattern of buying reflects mine almost perfectly.

Julie, I wondered what it was like in the UK. Sounds like not much different.

Steve Malley, although I used the library as a kid when I couldn't afford books, I stopped using it for reading books a long time ago. I just really really like having the books I read as mine, so I can refer back to them again and again. I still use the library quite a lot for research and reference purposes.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I'm a big support of the small presses and literary journals. I'm also a bit disappointed that the Borders Book Store near me quit carrying many of them. I've found that I have to subscribe to my favorites on-line, which in turn means other less known publications don't stand a chance.

JR's Thumbprints said...


Angie said...

I have to admit I've never been a huge library fan. I like owning books, so if it's 2am and I want to read something, or look something up, I can reach over and grab a book. Nowadays, with the explosion of web sites and online references, I go to Google first if I want to look something up, but in the past I've spent hours (or days) searching through my personal library to answer a question someone posted on a bulletin board. (The "days" one was about the origin of the Picts. I majored in history and have a bookcase and then some of history books, many of them having to do with British history, so I thought I'd look it up for her. [wry smile] Two days and several thousand posted words later, I'd found that the bottom-line answer was "We don't really know," but it was a heck of an interesting search. :) )

But anyway [cough] I still prefer to own my own references, and definitely my own fiction. The major difference lately is that since I started publishing electronically, I've been buying a lot more e-books. And like you, I'm more likely to buy a book by someone I know; that's definitely contributed. [nod]


virtual nexus said...


Jr's thumbprints gives a clue to the UK comparison with US - the Borders chain is becoming prominent over here(certainly London and environs).

The impact of the net is narrowing US/UK divide.Waterstones is big here if you know it.

I'm clearing out older reference material as irrelevant; son downloads books to read on laptop while commuting occasionally.

Books/films come and go in a blink - there seems to be much more good stuff now - but also much more trash; books are similarly expensive - tho' I picked up a £35 text (Beck - cognitive therapy) for £6.50 in Borders. That's common with rapid stock turnover.Bookshop profit margins always used to be the pits.

Belated thought on book cover -
it has a certain gravitas.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I am a big fan of the library system - but I also buy alot of books. Too many my husband says and he has subsequently cut me back alot. Grrrr.

the walking man said...

An interesting article from USA today

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Despite rising education levels, a decade of Harry Potter and the near-ubiquity of big-chain bookstores, Americans of every age are reading less and less for pleasure these days, according to an analysis being released today by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The decline, the study warns, could have grim consequences as people tune out books, tune in popular culture and become less socially and civically engaged.

"We've got a public culture which is almost entirely commercial- and novelty-driven," says NEA chairman Dana Gioia. "I think it's letting the nation down."

The study gathers decades of data on Americans' reading habits and finds that, at every age group, we're reading less.

Most of the data have appeared in private, government and university surveys, but today's report is the first to combine them into a single portrait. It suggests that the demands of school, work and family — and the ascendancy of other forms of entertainment — have marginalized recreational reading for millions of Americans.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Americans | Harry Potter | Four Weddings and a Funeral | National Endowment for the Arts

Among the findings:

•Only 38% of adults in 2006 said they had spent time reading a book for pleasure the previous day.

•65% of college freshmen in 2005 said they read little or nothing for pleasure.

•30% of 13-year-olds in 2004 said they read for fun "almost every day," down from 35% in 1984.

Gioia, a poet, calls the decline "probably the single most important social issue in the United States today."

The findings, he says, should be a wake-up call to educators to change the way they teach literature at every level. "There used to be the assumption that if someone went to college, they would become a lifelong reader — and the numbers bore it out. What we're seeing right now is that we're no longer producing readers. We're producing B.A.s and M.A.s and Ph.D.s."

Gioia also wants mainstream media to wake up to how they can promote good books in unlikely ways. He notes that when a character in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral recited a few lines of W.H. Auden's poem Funeral Blues, the poet briefly became a best seller.

"I guarantee that if we could expand the coverage in the media, you'd immediately see people responding," he says. "People are looking for things to do that aren't dumb. I don't think that Americans are dumber than before, but I do believe our public culture is."

SzélsőFa said...

I don't think my habit of buying books is influenced by changes in publication.
The pool to choose from is larger, which sometimes makes choosig more difficult, but otherwise, my habit has not changed.
I never buy online, never, anything, and when it comes to a book, I have to see and actually read a few pages or passages to be able to decide upon buying it.

virtual nexus said...

How much more are people are reading on line?

Sidney said...

In one of the session I attended at Wordstock an agent noted: It can't always be about the money, but he also pointed out about 50,000 books were published per year in 1995 when everyone began fearing the Internet would kill books.

Now there are 170,000 books a year.

I think he said there are also about 5 million people with trunk novels.

It's quite an ocean out there.

Erik Donald France said...

As with Lana, I don't buy that much for myself anymore -- but I do order hundreds of books for the library each year. It's good to be a librarian with a budget. It also keeps my apartment well under control.

Good points all around.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR, I used to support small press mags more but I let all my subscriptions but one lapse after Hurricane Katrina because of all the moving around, and I haven't so far gotten back into the fray.

Angie, you're just like me in that. If I find a particularly good reference at the library I almost always end up buying a copy to have on hand.

Julie, about like I figured. It's becoming one global marketplace. As for reading online, I hardly ever do it. I spend so much time at the computer writing that I really don't want to read there too.

Ello, and you allow him to live even though he's cut you back on books? It must be true love. :)

Mark, I see this in my students every day and I fight against it but am losing.

Szelsofa, I've been converted to online buying because of the convenience, but I still usually only buy books that I already know I will like, or that I purchase in support of friends.

Sidney, thanks for the numbers. Amazing. I figured it had to be a big increase.

Erik, I get to spend some money for our University library every year because it's in our Departmental budget. I do enjoy that.

Chris Eldin said...

This post is timely for me in my 'writing career.'

I've been shopping my manuscript for about six months, and have had really great luck getting requests for partials and fulls (from fantastic agents!). All but one (who said nothing) said very positive things about my ms. But the kicker came last week. An agent said that in order for agents to make money, they need to sell to big publishers. Big publishers are more reluctant to take on new writers. It was an informative reject.

I stopped querying agents, and I'm looking at small publishers. I just want someone to design a nice cover for my story and feel like a 'real' author!

I'm probably going to re-read this post a couple of times. Thanks for writing it!

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm glad if it helped, Church lady.