Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Are The Supermarkets Bad For Authors?

I heard recently that Tesco will be stocking ‘Fire Force’ when it comes out in paperback late this month. For a popular thriller author, that’s probably up there with winning the Booker prize. The supermarkets have become crucial to promoting and selling books.

That was confirmed today, with a story in The Bookseller about where people are buying books. They now account for 20% of adult book sales, compared with 9% two decades ago. The internet accounts for 19% compared with – fairly obviously – nothing back in 1989.

I expect to read lots of wailing from authors and the publishing industry about that. But I’m not so sure it is really such a bad thing.

Of course, it puts a huge amount of power in the hands of a relatively small number of big supermarket chains, and Tesco most of all. Publishers and authors have to work very hard to get the approval of the BMFC (the Big Man from Cheshunt).

But there are a couple of interesting points to make.

First, I’m sure the supermarkets are expanding the market. On the whole the supermarkets present books in an attractive way. The prices are great – less than £4 for a paperback, and you don’t have to buy two or three to get the lower price. They present books to tons of people who probably wouldn’t go anywhere near a bookshop. Overall, that must mean more books get sold.

Second, it’s not really the bookshops that are suffering. Their share is doing fine. The losers have been the old mail order book clubs and the stationary stores. They probably catered for the fairly general, casual reader anyway – the people who now buy their books in supermarkets. And they didn’t do such a great job anyway.

The book market is evolving into two audiences. The supermarkets for the mass market. And the bookshops and the internet for more committed readers.

There needn’t be anything for authors to worry about in that. They just have to make sure they find their own place in the market.

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