What I Learned at THAT Camp BSU 2013
On Saturday, one of our sessions at THAT Camp BSU un-conference was about the future of the book. The beauty of an un-conference is that topics organically center themselves on what really concerns those in the room: the root of the topic. Here’s what we talked about.
Print vs. Digital: Obvious right? In the group were two librarians. In the print vs. digital world, the library is one of the most widely impacted institutions, right next to book stores. So what does a library full of e-books look like? What of preservation, one of the clear missions of the library? What do these modern collections look like?
The answer is that libraries morph into more of a community information and technology rather than just a paper book repository. Print books will likely never go away, but they will be more of a niche market novelty than the mainstream way to read and find information. Some books will always be better in print, and that too will never change. The role of print books is and will continue evolving. But e-books are the new paperback, and libraries and others need to recognize this and adapt accordingly.
Marketing: Bookstores used to be the market, shelf placement one of the keys to sales. Change your last name or the title to earn a more advantageous spot? You bet. The shelves are now the size of the internet, and the plethora of self-publishing hides even the best of titles amidst thousands not nearly as well done. How do you stand out? How do you get your book on that shelf close to the front of the new virtual store?
The hour long think tank session raised as many questions as it answered. The point is that the old marketing strategy does not work anymore. Books are a unique product and need to be marketed accordingly. Authors need to join conversations, not interrupt them. Sales come from personal connection and recommendations. It is the best and worst of times. Word of mouth has now become world of mouth, but it takes a lot of skill and a little luck to strike the spark in the right spot to start the fire.
Distribution: Who is the largest book distributor? Amazon is the current big boy, but do they have staying power? How many versions of the Kindle will appear before folks wake to other devices, other formats, and other outlets? And what about those print books that keep hanging on? How do you get those into the hands of eager readers when the once popular book store sells more coffee, toys, and trinkets than they do books?
Amazon likes to make money, and sees every loaned book from a library as a potential lost sale, so they don’t play nice. Book stores often won’t carry Amazon produced books, perceiving them as the enemy rather than accept the changing role of books and book stores. So how do you distribute your books? A friend of mine and I called it “Back of my Bronco” marketing, involving carrying copies of your books around in your trunk and selling or giving them away that way. Unless you travel a lot, this is marginally effective locally.
So what is the future of the book? We don’t know exactly. What we do know is that it’s changing, and if we are going to survive as authors we too must change with it.