So here we are, at the end of yet another decade. We figure that all of the other entertainment sources out there are going to have all of the “Best Of’s” for the past decade, but really, won’t they all have about the same answers anyway? Instead, Randomville is choosing to focus on what happened and how it happened this past decade. So this month we’ll be sporadically releasing stories reflecting on the past decade in music, film, comics, games and many other subjects in the entertainment industry.
It really doesn’t seem like an entire decade has passed since the millenium. The aging hipster in me realizes that the coming of 2010 means I’m no longer “twenty something.” But, the already aged hipster realized that the decade started out with me owning not much more than the Bible, as far as books – and now I’ve settled down and bought a house, partially to avoid moving all my books once a year when my apartment lease runs out. When it came time to look back at the last decade in books, I figured it would be better to sit down with someone who knows a little bit of everything about the industry, as opposed to an individual author that might only be able to speak to their specific genre.
Gail DiRe works for Seattle-based Xetera Media Services (a PR company working primarily with authors), dealing directly with the publishing houses in New York. She acts as the liaison when they send an author out on the road to do a publicity tour for their latest book. This entails keeping them in tune with the local media – radio, TV, print, blogs and bookstores. I chatted her up about all of the milestone changes the book and publishing industries have seen over the last decade, and got her opinion on what’s in store for the future.
Randomville: Has the economy had the same effect on book sales as it has the sale of everything else?
Gail DiRe: Yes, unfortunately we are still seeing independent bookstores closing. Even though books are such a great value for hours of entertainment. Not as many hardback books are being bought right when they are first published – people are tending to wait for the paperbacks. Then the giants like Wal-Mart and Costco have priced many of the bestsellers at such a below market price that the bookstores can’t compete.
Rv: Do you think the recession has rekindled the public’s interest in libraries? Not only does it seem like more people are utilizing it, but with with municipalities facing budget cuts that could affect schools and libraries mainly, most library levies are passing. It seems like something people have become a lot more passionate about.
GD: Budget cuts are really hurting the library system. They are closing a few of our libraries on Sundays and cutting back the hours of operation at several others – all when the volume of users has risen. The library is a valuable part of reading, research and community. I hear many people that come and listen to authors talk, say that they can not buy the book right now so they will wait and check it out at the Library. We do many events at public libraries because they work hand in hand with the book store.
Rv: I understand that Walmart and other similar “big box” retailers are using books as a loss leaders, marking the retail price even below their own cost for the book. I definitely see this hurting book-specific retailers, but I can never find the books I’m looking for in big box stores, and usually not at used book stores. So I can’t see them killing off book stores completely.
GD: They are using them as loss leaders to get people in the store – and only on a few titles. But they are of course the big best sellers that typically also help the bookstores sales – making a dent but not putting them out of business, but every ding hurts.
For my industry, cuts have been made in the number of authors they are sending out on book tours. The big names still go out on tour to promote their books, but often to less cities and it’s harder and harder for a first time novelist to get noticed or for mid-list authors to get any promotional support.
Rv: Did it seem like this decade had any trends that you hadn’t seen before in other decades?
GD: The invention of The Kindle and other e-books brought a technology of reading books that we hadn’t seen before. Exposing certain authors to private corporate talks increased as another way to promote new books. The Espresso machine that prints high quality paperback books is now physically in the bookstore – helping people get out of print publications and more formally accepting the self-published industry.
Rv: It seems that reading works on paper may be headed in the same direction as buying albums and films. As of now, it’s more legitimized, mainly having to go through online retailers as opposed to downloading through peer-to-peer networks and torrent sites. But, it all starts out that way.
GD: True, it looks like it might go that way, but we have learned a lot from the record industry. Some authors put their works on websites to be downloaded for free to build their audience and hopefully entice them to read more. Plus, I still believe that the tactical sense of holding and reading a book is not going to go completely away.
Rv: I’m surprised there’s not yet a feature on Kindle that allows you to “loan to a friend.” Do you think that might happen as part of the legitimate sharing?
GD: I hope so and Amazon really does listen to what its audience wants – so I think it will happen in the future. With a fee attached, of course. Have you heard about blogging on Kindle? You get only 30% of the subscription revenue. For example, if your blog sells for $0.99 cents and 1000 people subscribe to it via The Kindle, you’ll receive $297 per month rather than the full $990 per month paid to Amazon. International publishers must receive their funds via a U.S. check, which comes with a hefty international transaction charge.
Rv: Have audio book sales plunged with the emergence of e-readers?
GD: I don’t know for sure, but my sense is probably not. Audio books are great for traveling in a car or walking. They are a very important product for the visually impaired. We take a lot of authors for interviews at a station here called Evergreen Radio – a studio at the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. They have a service that broadcasts across Washington State for the visually impaired that reads the newspaper and does author interviews. They also have a library of books and articles on tape.
Rv: I think it’s safe to say that the literary world hasn’t seen the kind of pandemonium produced by Harry Potter and more notably, Twilight, in ages. Do you find it hard to swallow because they’re often not revered as “serious literature,” or are you all in if saving the book market is just a sparkly vampire away?
GD: There will be another sensation soon – there always is. I think if people are reading, especially teens, that is the most important thing. Serious literature is great, but so is a good vampire fantasy or an epic historical novel or a page-turning suspense thriller. Recreational reading should always be pleasurable. I think variety is the key, which is why book groups can be great. They stretch your exposure to different books you might not have picked up on your own.
Rv: Do you think teens and tweens are the ones that can make or break a book or series these days? The Left Behind series has gained quite an adult following, but surely doesn’t seem to have stirred up the kind of hooplah that the Potter and Twilight books have.
GD: I definitely see the “mega” sales in the teen genre. I have been with (Twilight series author) Stephanie Meyers on her book stops here and it was like going to a Beatles concert. All the girls screaming and excited and waiting in line for hours to get their books signed. Forks, WA is near us and I visited and saw the craziness. The teens definitely “make” a series and the frenzy that only the teens have the energy to give to it.
But well established adult authors like John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Diana Gabaldon – some of the recent authors I was with, are still having huge sales and support from their readers. You just don’t hear all the hoopla that you do with teens. Of course Dan Brown and Stephen King still get the mega sales too. There is always one big book – and many others are steady and enduring.
Rv: Do celebrity endorsements, like Oprah’s Book Club, really have a profound impact on sales?
GD: Hugely – she just has such a large audience – exposure, exposure, exposure. It gets the word out and gets people talking.
Rv: Do you think Oprah’s recently announced retirement will have the opposite effect on sales?
GD: I am sure she’ll still write about books in her magazine – and when Oprah talks, people listen.
Rv: Sad, but true. Who are some of the current authors that you’re representing that we should know about?
GD: Every month there are great authors on the road promoting their new books. Since the economy is tough right now, we see mostly the bigger names – the ones they know will get media and draw crowds and get the buzz talking about their books.
Coming up in January are: Dan Pink – DRIVE / Doug Preston – IMPACT / Jasper Fforde – SHADES OF GREY / Atul Gawande – THE CHECKLIST MANIFESTO / Ken Robinson – THE ELEMENT / Maaza Mengiste – BENEATH THE LION’S GAZE / Joe Sacco – FOOTNOTES IN GAZA / Robert Crais – THE FIRST RULE / Chris Bohjalian – SECRETS OF EDEN
Rv: What changes to the industry would you like to see in the future?
GD: I really hope that the publishing industry will be able to get back to supporting and promoting new voices and taking a risk on unknown authors.