Barnes & Noble For Sale, And Why You Should Care

A few days ago, I met a Frustrated Writer at a pizza place.  This Frustrated Writer had written what he thought was a pretty good book, but it had been rejected by all the agents and publishers he’d queried.  He was considering self-publishing, but complained that his book would never be successful because (and I quote) “the only way to sell books is to do signings at the major bookstores, and they don’t take self-published authors.”

This sentiment struck me as so ridiculously inaccurate that I choked on a mushroom.  But the truth is, many would-be authors share this Frustrated Writer’s outdated assumptions about the book business:  that brick-and-mortar stores are the most important outlet for book sales, that only traditionally-published authors are capable of going on book tours, and that in-person events like book signings are the most worthwhile and, let’s face it, glamorous use of a new author’s time and effort.

Nothing going on in the publishing industry today demonstrates the inaccuracy of these beliefs more than the fact that the Barnes & Noble chain of bookstores has recently been put up for sale.

Barnes & Noble has long been the biggest book retailer in the United States, with almost 800 stores across the country.  Many of those stores will very likely close their doors in the next few years, and those that remain will devote more floor space to promoting the Nook, B&N’s e-reader device.  In a few more years, there may be radically fewer brick-and-mortar bookstores at which people like Frustrated Writer can dream of doing book signings.

The “For Sale” sign on Barnes & Noble should be a red alert to writers everywhere that we need to update our assumptions about what it means to write, sell, and promote a book.  A great blog can be a thousand times more effective than an expensive, inefficient, and (cover your ears, Frustrated Writer) totally unglamorous series of book signings, and having the right link to your e-book can generate more sales than having your book face-out on top of an (imperiled) Barnes & Noble shelf.

In the next few posts, I’ll talk about how writers can adapt and even thrive in the changing publishing climate.  Until then, keep your ear to the ground.  Hear that rumble?  That’s the sound of brick-and-mortar model of book-selling tumbling down.

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