Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

There are days when it feels like what we're doing at Micawber's is an anachronism. We sell books and that is pretty much it. Sure, we carry some cards and magazines and blank journals. We don't sell reading glasses or stuffed animals or any other kind of sideline--all of which are markets that many small bookstores have made work for them over the past 20-30 years. The discount is often better on non-book items and if it works it works. But it simply wasn't something any of us were interested in doing.

From major media to industry publications to literary blogs the chatter is comprised largely, of late, about e-readers and electronic media and new ways to bring in revenue for publishers and bookstores. And while I don't thumb my nose at the Kindle/Nook/Ipad devices, it seems to me to be something best left to other to worry about. Just yesterday I read a very interesting piece about indie publishing. Like a lot of other industries, the book world is filled with subterfuge, evasiveness and blatant lies when it comes to what is actually selling. Publishers will say they are printing X number of copies of a book when it is actually Y. Bookstores will say they've sold twice as many copies of a book than they actually have. It's part of a larger disease--we all want to seem important and are willing to juke the numbers to make it seem so.

Over the course of time, I've taken a hard-line approach to this. When people ask about numbers of sales or attendance at an event I go with the truth. It's disappointing, at times, to certain people but it keeps things on the level. The craziest statistic, to me, from that post was the fact that the indie presses stated that 90% of their sales still come from brick and mortar stores. Even I was astounded by that figure.

But it cemented for me the idea that real bookstores can still help individual books and their sales. Convenience and price can be had on-line or electronically and there is something to be said for that. Yet the small press, the true defender of the new idea or the avant garde or the book that won't sell 50,000 copies but is important nonetheless still depends on stores to sell books. I found that heartening.

So, is the paper book dying? Maybe. But we still have customers from 10-20 and 20-30 who say they want books. And we still have E-Book users who also want paper books. The real answers to the book industry problems are in flux and unknown to even those of us in the industry. Time shall tell.

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