Returns: A Readers’ Guide to a Book-Industry Practice.

 

Much of what follows is taken from an interesting article in Publishers Weekly (9 May 2016) entitled “Returns in a Time of Transition” by Judith Rosen & Jim Milliot. Their analysis was intended for the book industry; my version is intended for the reader/consumer.

 

For the last five years or so, the publishing industry has been distracted by the rapid growth in sales of books in the e-book format. Conversations amongst publishers and booksellers about the future of print formats were anxiety laden. It wasn’t quite clear what would pay the bills as print formats faded. With the recovery of print books, however, the book industry is now back to thinking about returns “in a time of transition.”

 

The book world delivers an impressive number of important, new titles each season. Some sell well, some not at all. Stocking only new titles by authors with track records or from major houses would, however, be hard on new and unknown authors and narrow consumer choice. And neither publishers nor booksellers want those outcomes. So retailers are allowed to return books that aren’t selling to their publishers for credit against future purchases.

 

There are no industry-wide standards for acceptable return levels from retailers. In 2015 the industry-wide ratio, returns as a percentage of purchases, for the three print formats were trade paperbacks 20%, hardcover 26%, and mass paperbacks (pocket books) 48%. These are averages across the industry, of course; some bookstores had higher return rates, some lower.

 

Both book stores and publishers are interested in making sure that book inventories match demand in local markets. Gainesville, Florida is a very different market than our sister city in the next county south, Ocala. Local buyers in each town are best able to pick from amongst the many titles. However, more commonly these days distant buyers order for stores in many different markets with only fragmentary knowledge of those markets. That arrangement causes higher return ratios.

 

“Non-traditional booksellers” now sell more books than do the “indies.” They include mass merchandisers (Walmart), warehouse clubs, drug and grocery stores, airport newsstands. They believe that the titles they buy must be stocked in sufficient numbers to have visibility, and publishers like that visibility as well. This is particularly true with mass paperbacks. Their buyers are encouraged to buy “dumps” of a title containing 24 to 36 copies for each of their stores. This ordering in large quantities is one cause of the higher return rate on mass paperbacks.

 

Goerings Book Store (closed Spring 2010) made heavy use of a distributor, Ingram Book Company, especially for reorders of books that had sold and that we needed to have back in the store pronto. It took Ingram only three days to get books to us, and we e-mailed in an Ingram order nearly every weekday. This source was much faster than waiting weeks for sufficient titles to warrant sending an order to the publisher. The existence of this short fulfillment time meant that we could keep fewer copies of a title in stock. We had return privileges from Ingram and other distributors that we used, but since we were reordering books that had sold once in our store, there were fewer returns.

 

So better front-list ordering on the part of knowledgeable local buyers and the use of Ingram and other distributors for a quick reorder definitely reduced our level of returns .

 

What happens to books when they are returned? Hardbacks and trade paperbacks are generally “remaindered.” They are packaged onto skids and sold by weight or volume to ‘remainder’ bookstores. One of the two Books-a-Million stores has turned into a ‘remainder’ house, 2nd & Charles. Mass paperbacks are treated differently. “Whole-copy” returns are not required, only stripped front covers. That avoids transport costs, but probably encourages returns.

 

Congratulation to Book Gallery West. They are the one remaining independent book store in our market. Most of their inventory is used books which are not returnable. Used book stores give the book another opportunity without generating more returns.

 

Most of those interviewed for the Publishers Weekly article quoted new technologies as providing “solutions” to excessive returns .  Certainly new technologies are making a difference to bookselling and specifically to returns. The most remarkable new technology, however, was introduced years ago: point-of-sale inventory control systems for retail stores which track inventory levels, sales, reorders, and a sales history for each title. Better inventory control has resulted in fewer returns.

 

The textbook business generates a lot of returns. It is difficult to anticipate what the pickup will be for a textbook or when it will be purchased. There have been two retailers in Gainesville in recent years that dominated the textbook business, but this past May the Florida Book Store closed. Its parent company, Barnes & Noble College Stores, had merged with Follett Educational Services, which leases the UF bookstore. The textbook business here in Gainesville and in other university towns will now be dominated by one massive corporation.

 

Impact on returns ? In theory, a monopoly on the supply of textbooks could better deal with inventory control than can a competitive market. Better inventory control; fewer returns. But on the other hand monopolies are not necessarily good for their student customer. For example, they can determine prices without worrying about their competitors’ pricing strategies.

 

To remedy that situation the University has encouraged Amazon.com and other on-line competition. Information about how on-line competition has reshaped textbook retailing and specifically returns is not presently available. If the amount of space devoted to textbooks at the UF campus book store is any indication, local textbook sales are hurting.

 

 

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part D.

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part D.

 

 

Louis Armstrong; The Master of Modernism by Thomas Brothers. W.W. Norton, 2015 paper. A discussion mostly of Armstrong’s music, rooted in African music and the blues.  Pulitzer Prize.

 

Stalin; Volume l: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 to 1928 by Stephen Kotkin. Penguin Press, 2014. From where did Stalin’s power come? Kotkin looks at the Bolshevik regime’s inner geography for the answer. Pulitzer Prize

 

No Good Men Among the Living; America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal. Picador, 2015 paper. A devastating critique of our intervention of the Afghani civil war against the Taliban. Pulitzer Prize.

 

Age of Ambition; Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015 paper. Hope and despair, idealism and crassness, mass social action and chaotic individual scheming: China’s gilded age. Pulitzer Prize.

 

Just Mercy; A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau, 2015 paper. The tragic character of incarceration in this country, both of the guilty and the innocent, most of them poor.  National Book Critics Award.

 

Thirteen Days in September; The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace by Lawrence  Wright. Vintage, 2015 paper. In September 1978 Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, and President Jimmy Carter came up with an agreement that has become the basis of a shaky but enduring truce.

 

Becoming Ottomans; Sephardic Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era by Julia Cohen. Oxford University Press, 2014. An account of the Jewish political integration into this modern Islamic state beginning with Jewish emancipation, a series of reforms between 1839 and 1876.  National Jewish Book Award.

 

Coming to Pass; Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change by Susan Cerulean. University of Georgia Press, 2105. The genesis of Florida’s Gulf Coast islands and their genesis, which is tied to the Apalachicola River. Florida Book Awards.  

 

George Merrick; Son of the South Wind; Visionary Creator of Coral Gables by Arva Parks. University of Florida Press, 2015. Merrik transformed his family’s citrus grove outside Miami into a planned community in the ‘Mediterranean Style’ using local stone and investing in substantial infrastructure. Florida Book Awards.

 

Defining Duty in the Civil War; Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front by J. Matthew Gallman. University of North Carolina Press, 2015. How the North understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in a long civil war. Florida Book Awards.

 

Factory Man; How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy. Back Bay, 2015 paper. The Bassett Furniture Company, once the world’s biggest wood furniture manufacturer and the center of work in Bassett, Virginia, finally lost its battle with Asian imports. Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part C

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part C

 

 

Doomed to Succeed; The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama by Dennis Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.  An active participant, he sees no usefullness in the distance that the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Obama Administrations kept  from our Isareli allies. National Jewish Book Awards.

Killing a King; The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron. W.W. Norton, 2015. The killing of Rabin by a Jewish fanatic helped destroy the Middle Eastern peace process; Israelis and Palestinians have never again been so close to an agreement. National Jewish Book Awards.

The Crime and the Silence; Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne by Anna Bikont & Alissaq Valles, trans. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, paper. This slaughter in a small Polish town of its Jews was revealed only after the end of the Cold War. Here is an account of the public debate generated in Poland since 1989. National Jewish Book Awards.

KL; A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nickolaus Wachsmann. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, paper. An account of the German camp system from its inception in 1933 to its collapse in the spring of 1945. National Jewish Book Awards.

What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives by Christine Hayes. Princeton University Press, 2015. The first century debate on divine law, untangling the classical and biblical roots of the Western idea that included early Christians but also Hellenistic Jewish writers. National Jewish Book Awards.

The Burdens of Brotherhood; Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France by Ethan Katz. Harvard University Press, 2015. Jewish/Muslim relations in Franc-a-phone France from WWI to the present. National Jewish Book Awards.

Somewhere There is Still a Sun; A Memoir of the Holocaust by Michael Gruenbaum with Todd Hasak-Lowy. A young boy’s growin up in the Jewish ghetto in Prague. For young readers. Hasak-Lowy is a former Gainesvillian.  Aladdin, 2016, paper. National Jewish Book Awards.

Empire of Cotton; A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, 2015, paper. The cotton and cotton textile trade in Europe was instrumental in the emergence of capitalism and also slavery in the Americas and Africa. Bancroft Prize.

 

The Empire of Necessity; Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World by Greg Grandin. Picador Press, 2105 paper. An experienced seaman comes upon an apparently a ship in distress carrying a cargo of West African slaves. It was discovered that they had seized the ship and killed most of its crew and passengers.  Bancroft Prize

 

Encounters at the Heart of the World; A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth Fenn. Hill & Wang, 2015 paper. Their teeming, busy towns on the upper Missouri were a vital part of the economy of the western plains. Louis and Clark spent a winter with them.  Pulitzer Prize

 

The Pope & Mussolini; The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David Kertzer. Random House, 2015 paper. Both came to power in 1922; how their interactions shaped fascist Italy. Pius’s death in 1939 may have removed an ultimate opponent. Pulitzer Prize. National Book Award.

 

The Sixth Extinction; An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert Picador, 2015 paper. Pulitzer Prize. National Book Critics Circle. By burning fossil fuels, humans are changing the atmosphere, the oceans, and the climate causing massive extinctions. This sixth extinction is of a much different character than that of the first five.

 

Empire on the Edge; How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker.  Vintage, 2015 paper. Money, it turns out that money or lack of drove what turned out to be a limited interest in colonial Britain on the part of the public. Imperial Britain had no plan or guiding vision. Pulitzer Prize.

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part B.

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part B.

 

The Transformation of the African-American Intelligentsia, 1880 to 2012 by Martin Kilson. Harvard University Press, 2014. A modern African-American intelligentsia evolved in the face of institutionalized racism. The contrasting approaches of W.E.B. Du

Bois and Booker T. Washington to black intellectual leadership. American Book Award

 

This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2015, paper. Not just another issue brought to our attention by well-meaning environmentalists, climate change is effecting an array of issues confronting late capitalism – widening inequalities, vast amounts of money entering the system of democratic election, and faltering local economies among others. American Book Award

 

The Universal Tone; Bringing My Story to Light by Carlos Santana, with Ashley Kahn & Hal Miller. Back Bay Press, 2015, paper. The journey of Santana from his teens playing in Tijuana through his appearance at Woodstock and an illustrious career that followed. American Book Award

 

Southside Buddhist by Ira Sukrungruang. University of Tampa Press, 2014, paper. Personal essays about his growing up on Chicago streets that contemplate the complexities of the Thai immigrant life. American Book Award

 

The People’s Platform; Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor. Picador Press, 2015, paper. Hailed as a democratizing force, the Internet amplifies the real-world inequalities as much as it ameliorates them. A handful of giant companies, recently made fabulously rich, remain our gatekeepers. American Book Award

 

Negroland; A Memoir by Margo Jefferson. Pantheon Press. Mostly upper-class black ways of being and performing. A warning: she wants nothing from the reader but their attention: you don’t have to like what you read. National Book Critics Circle.

 

Romantic Outlaws; The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelly by Charlotte Gordon .A dual biography of this mother-daughter pair responsible for A Vindication of the Rights of Women. National Book Critics Circle.

 

Dreamland; The True Talk of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Bloomsbury, 2016, paper. The spread of OxyContin addiction has been compared to the crack cocaine phenomenon of the 1980s but the difference is that it arose from the prescription pad and the marketing machine of its maker.

Roads Taken; The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way by Hasia Diner. Yale University Press, paper. 2016. They entered the homes of our great-grandparents to convince them of their need for possessions; they knew their customers well. National Jewish Book Awards

 

Young Lions; How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel by Leah Garrett. Northwestern University Press, 2015, paper. A tour of this literary terrain so familiar and yet gone unnoticed is its chapter in American Jewish cultural participation. National Jewish Book Awards.

 

Lincoln and the Jews; A History by Jonathan Sarna & Benjamin Shapell. Thomas Dunne Books. By the 1860s Jews from central Europe were finding new lives in eastern cities, and Lincoln embraced they as refugees but also valuable citizens. National Jewish Book Awards.

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part A

It Has Come to My Attention; Book Prizes and Finalists, 2015. Part A

Rain; A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett. Crown, 2015. Gainesville’s Cynthia Barnett begins four billion years ago and marches us through our always tenuous relationship with this natural phenomenon. National Book Award. Florida Book Award.

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Spiegel & Grau, 2015. Letters to a teenaged son who grew up in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, from there to Howard
University, then New York and Paris. National Book Award.

Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes. Yale University Press, 2015. His death and the deep national mourning that followed was complicated by the end of the Civil War and the possibility of Southern complicity. National Book Award.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. Easy enough to observe the intelligence of crows, dogs, and chimpanzees, but Octopi. National Book Award.

Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterni. Dial Press, 2015. Essays about interesting people he meets from Ukraine to Dodge City, Kansas. National Book Award.

Paradise in the Pacific; Approaching Hawaii by Susanna Moore. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015. Many arrivals from the early Polynesians to the flotsam of Europe. National Book Award.

If the Oceans Were Ink; An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Powers. Holt, 2015 paper. Friendship with a Moslem helped her confront stereotypes and misperceptions that too often inform attitudes toward their communities. National Book Award.

Ordinary Light: a Memoir by Tracy Smith. Knopf, 2015. Coming of age in a world of uncertainties. National Book Award.

Travels in Vermeer; A Memoir by Michael White. Persea Books, 2015.Decides to drown his miseries by a pilgrimage to six world cities to see a Vermeer painting. National Book Award.

Hold Still; A Memoir by Sally Mann. Little, Brown, 2015. When sorting through family papers, you can sometimes find more than you bargained for, and that is particularly true if the family is Southern. National Book Award.

Rebel Music; Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture by Hirham Aidi. Vintage, 2015, paper. The musical subcultures that have emerged among Muslim youth around the world and over the last decade: hip-hop, reggae, and rock, among others. American Book Award

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Beacon Press, 2015 paper. Euro-Americans have convinced themselves that we have been divinely chosen to impose free-market capitalism on the rest of the world, dumping the detritus of that industrial cultural on the land they once cared for. American Book Award

Forbidden City, USA; Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936 to 1970 by Arthur Dong. Deep Focus Productions, 2014, paper. Asian-American performers who defied racial and cultural barriers to reveal a sassy, daring and vibrant popular culture in the nightclub scene in San Francisco. American Book Award.

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

“E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” an article about the book industry, shared the front page of The New York Times (23 September 2015) with the visit of Pope Francis. The author of the article, Alexandra Alter, reminded us that only five years previously, pundits were proclaiming the demise of print books. Sales of Kindle readers, Nooks, iPads, various other electronic devices, and books in the electronic format were soaring.

Surprise! E-book sales have fallen by 10% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year (quoting from the NYT article). And e-book sales have not been increasing in recent years at anywhere near the same rate as they had in the earlier half of the period (2005 to 2015).

The impact of the electronic format on print books (mass paper, trade paper, and hard) has varied with format and category. The mass paperback format (the old ‘pocket book’) has been the most affected, by far. Print editions of mass paperback genre fiction, particularly romances but also mysteries, thrillers, science fiction & fantasy, suffered most from competition with e-books. Hardback fiction was also adversely affected. Less so, non-fiction, and less so, kids’ books.

When they first came on the market, electronic books were presented as a godsend to travelers who didn’t want print books weighing down their luggage. However, the chains that run bookstores at airports are reporting that print books are regaining traction with travelers.

Other explanations for the short-lived e-book bubble. Lighter to hold, they would suit people who read in bed and would like to snuggle up to a Kindle. Some thought electronic books a boon to the industry because they would entice a new group of book buyers.

There were two trends worrying publishers. Rising expectations for the future of e-book and Kindle sales, they worried, would discourage print editions. It was not so much that print sales were off dramatically, but publishers noted that print was losing market share to electronic. Secondly publishers worried about the fact that the book business was increasingly concentrated in one mail-order operation, Amazon.com.

Publishers had welcomed Amazon as a solution to their fledgling direct sales efforts. But Amazon began to acquire an ever-growing share of print sales and then almost immediately 65% of the electronic book market. Publishers awakened to a world where one dominant retailer could dictate the prices it paid publishers for the e-books, their retail price, and hence the publishers’ margins. The older arrangement of the publisher setting a “suggested retail price” that included a fair return for themselves but also for the wholesaler and retailer was being remodeled. When negotiating price structures with Amazon, it has been a “take it or leave it” proposition.

Meanwhile, Amazon has begun selling all kinds of other merchandise, and the books’ share of its revenue is shrinking.  Amazon.com was becoming less dependent on book publishers just when book publishers were more dependent on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly recently celebrated the contribution that Amazon.com has made to the world of book retailing (”20 Years of Amazon.com Bookselling,” PW  7 September 2015).  The retailer was given a good part of the credit for creating best-sellers for the industry. The article provided a list of Amazon’s 20 all-time bestsellers. But the books on the list were titles that any brick-and-mortar book store would have sold well in that same 20 years!

Other achievements of Amazon’s first 20 years. The Kindle, introduced in 2007, was a significant contribution. However, their self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing, rolled out in that same year, entered an already well-established and crowded field. Textbook rentals, another listed achievement, had long been around by the time Amazon entered the market (2012). There were numerous subscription services when it got around to launching its own last year. The pattern is that Amazon enters a competitive market dominated by mostly startup companies and soon gains its usual “tight grip” on the sector, forcing out competitors (see “Digital Comics” Publishers Weekly 10 August 2015).

Readers have always availed themselves of ‘gatekeepers,’ beginning with acquisition departments of publishing houses. Gatekeepers determine the array of titles that are made available to a book-buying public. Traditional gatekeepers closer to the consumer include brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries – and now websites including this one. Goodreads.com, a popular web site and definitely a gatekeeper, has been, wouldn’t you know it, recently bought by Amazon.

Well then, who are the winners and losers of this rise of Amazon, the e-book “explosion,” and now its contraction? The presence of small publishing houses probing the “nooks and crannies” of readership for publishing opportunities is still inspiring. There will always be entrants and exits, but this sector of the industry remains remarkably vibrant. Also, mid-sized book publishers and the conglomerates are adding warehouse space and promising faster delivery to their book store customers. They seem optimistic.

Local book stores lost big time, though it looks like they are returning to discerning communities. The resilience of print is giving them opportunity. The American Booksellers Association reports an uptick in membership over the last five years. And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon Books has just opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, with more to come.

The group that seems to have suffered the most from the e-book bubble has been authors. Authors Guild recently released a membership survey, and the median income of its membership is down significantly over the last five years of this decade. According to its report in Publishers Weekly (21 September 2015), full-time book authors’ incomes are down by 30% comparing 2009 with 2014, and part-time authors’ income by 38%. There are several causes discussed in the article. The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores has been a factor. Certainly they are receiving fewer royalties on e-book sales than was the case with print books. Authors, it appears, have been shouldering a good chunk of the cost of Amazon’s discounting.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly and The New York Times. Both diligently read and much admired.

 

 

 

 

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

 

“E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” an article about the book industry, shared the front page of The New York Times (23 September 2015) with the visit of Pope Francis. The author of the article, Alexandra Alter, reminded us that only five years previously, pundits were proclaiming the demise of print books. Sales of Kindle readers, Nooks, iPads, various other electronic devices, and books in the electronic format were soaring.

Surprise! E-book sales have fallen by 10% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year (quoting from the NYT article). And e-book sales have not been increasing in recent years (2005 to 2015) at anywhere near the same rate as they had in the earlier half of the period.

The impact of the electronic format on print books (mass paper, trade paper, and hard) has varied with format and category. The mass paperback format (the old ‘pocket book’) has been the most affected, by far. Print editions of mass paperback genre fiction, particularly romances but also mysteries, thrillers, science fiction & fantasy, suffered most from competition with e-books. Hardback fiction was also adversely affected. Less so, non-fiction, and less so, kids’ books.

When they first came on the market, electronic books were presented as a godsend to travelers who didn’t want print books weighing down their luggage. The chains that run bookstores at airports, however, are reporting that print books are regaining traction with travelers.

Other arguments. Lighter to hold, they would suit people who read in bed and would like to snuggle up to a Kindle. Some thought electronic books a boon to the industry because they would entice a new group of book buyers.

There were two trends worrying publishers. Rising expectations for the future of e-book and Kindle sales, they worried, would discourage print editions. It was not so much that print sales were off dramatically, but publishers noted that print was losing market share to electronic. They also worried about the fact that the book business was increasingly concentrated in one mail-order operation, Amazon.com.

Publishers had welcomed Amazon as a solution to their fledgling direct sales efforts. But Amazon began to acquire an ever-growing share of print sales and then almost immediately 65% of the electronic book market. They soon woke up to a world where one dominant retailer could dictate the prices it paid publishers for the e-books, their retail price, and hence the publishers’ margins. The older arrangement of the publisher setting a “suggested retail price” that included a fair return for themselves but also for the wholesaler and retailer was being remodeled. When negotiating price structures with Amazon, it has been generally a “take it or leave it” proposition.

Meanwhile, Amazon has begun selling all kinds of other merchandise, and the books’ share of its revenue is shrinking.  Amazon.com has become less dependent on book publishers just when book publishers were more dependent on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly recently celebrated the contribution that Amazon.com has made to the world of book retailing (”20 Years of Amazon.com Bookselling,” PW  7 September 2015).  The retailer was given a good part of the credit for creating best-sellers for the industry. The article provided a list of Amazon’s 20 all-time bestsellers. But the books on the list were titles that any brick-and-mortar book store would have sold well in that same 20 years!

Other achievements of Amazon’s first 20 years. The Kindle, introduced in 2007, was a significant contribution. However, their self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing, rolled out in that same year, entered an already well-established and crowded field. Textbook rentals, another listed achievement, had long been around by the time Amazon entered the market (2012). There were numerous subscription services when it got around to launching its own last year. The pattern is that Amazon enters a competitive market dominated by mostly startup companies and soon gains its usual “tight grip” on the sector, forcing out competitors (see “Digital Comics” Publishers Weekly 10 August 2015).

Readers have always availed themselves of ‘gatekeepers,’ beginning with acquisition departments of publishing houses. Gatekeepers determine the array of titles that are made available to a book-buying public. Traditional gatekeepers closer to the consumer include brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries – and now websites including this one. Goodreads.com, a popular web site and definitely a gatekeeper, has been, wouldn’t you know it, recently bought by Amazon.

Well then, who are the winners and losers of this rise of Amazon, the e-book “explosion,” and now its contraction? The presence of small publishing houses probing the “nooks and crannies” of readership for publishing opportunities is still inspiring. There will always be entrants and exits, but this sector of the industry remains remarkably vibrant. Also, mid-sized book publishers and the conglomerates are adding warehouse space and promising faster delivery to their book store customers. They seem optimistic.

Local book stores lost big time, though they may be returning to discerning communities. The resilience of print is giving them opportunity. The American Booksellers Association reports an uptick in membership over the last five years. And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon Books has just opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, with more to come.

The group that seems to have suffered most from the e-book bubble has been authors. Authors Guild recently released a membership survey, and the median income of its membership is down significantly over the last five years of the decade. According to its report in Publishers Weekly (21 September 2015), full-time book authors’ incomes are down by 30% comparing 2009 with 2014, and part-time authors’ income by 38%. There are several causes discussed in the article. The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores has been a factor. Certainly authors are receiving fewer royalties on e-book sales than was the case with print books. Authors, it appears, have been shouldering a good chunk of the cost of Amazon’s discounting.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly and The New York Times. Both diligently read and much admired.