Saturday, June 25, 2011

JK Rowling says, "Bookstore? I don't need no stinking bookstore!"

I love bookstores. I've been an avid reader since I was a little kid, and anyone who loves books will be able to relate when I say there aren't many things better in life than spending a couple of hours browsing through the new releases, trying to decide what to buy next.

I mention this as a preface to the following question: What obligation does an author have to try to support bookstores, the vast majority of which are struggling mightily, caught between a down economy and the ebook publishing revolution?

As basically an outsider to the debate (my debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR, was published in ebook form only, as will be my followup, THE LONELY MILE, at least for the time being), I can't help but be amused by the bookstores' hysterical reaction to the news out of Merrie Olde England that JK Rowling intends to make the ebook editions of her smash Harry Potter series available ONLY through her own Pottermore website, bypassing not just Amazon, but the brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstone's, and all other physical booksellers.

Why am I amused? Because as a mostly unknown author it would be just about impossible for me to have ink-and-paper editions of my upcoming StoneHouse Ink thriller, THE LONELY MILE, stocked in any of the gigantic chain stores, even if there were ink-and-paper editions to sell, even in my own local area.

Space is limited in a bookstore, obviously, and why would Barnes and Noble allot any of that valuable space to an author most people have never heard of? Even if I begged and groveled? It's a financial reality that the bookstores have to allot space to the books they believe will best sell. In genre fiction, that means stocking the biggest names only.

Nothing personal; it's just business. It only makes sense from a financial perspective.

But of course, JK Rowling is one of those "biggest names." She might just be the biggest of the biggest names. The launches of her Potter books have been EVENTS, each one more gigantic than the last, with anxious and adoring fans lined up around the block outside the stores, waiting breathlessly for the midnight opening of the store on release day, so they could rush in and spend their money on the latest Harry Potter adventure.

But here's the rub, the thing I find so deliciously ironic. JK Rowling is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. I don't mean that literally - she looks quite lovely - but in a very real way she has outgrown the need for bookstores or anyone else to help sell electronic editions of her work. The very thing that made her book releases so attractive to bookstores - her unparallelled popularity - has made her realize there is no reason to share any of the take with bookstores or anyone else.

I'm sure there's nothing personal; it's just business. It only makes sense from a financial perspective.

So all of this leads back to my original question: Does JK Rowling - or any author, for that matter - have any obligation to support brick-and-mortar bookstores? Or does the continuing rise of ebook popularity mean the symbiotic relationship between authors and bookstores is doomed?

1 comment:

Dani said...

Interesting...I never thought about this when I heard about "Pottermore". You don't need the bookstores do you? I guess a good online following, some social networking and a good blog could get you noticed right?

Got my first e-reader a few weeks ago, I'm loving it. Time to embrace the future...and maybe consider selling one of my books someday for 99 cents. :)