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The Future of Bookselling
How to Succeed in Spite of It


by Craig Stark

#71, 26 June 2006

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) quietly released a report on the used book market several months ago, but the results were anything but quieting for booksellers - anyway, for those that actually read it. Not that there wasn't any good news. Our market, in case you hadn't noticed, has experienced vigorous growth in recent years, something in excess of 10% annually, and much of this can be attributed to a sharp increase in online sales - in fact, online sales of used books now comprise over half of total used book sales and are climbing as we speak. When I listed my first book on eBay 7 or 8 years ago, that number was (if I recall correctly) under 1%.

Statistics like these make you wonder why it's so much more difficult for some booksellers to make money now. The problem, in large part, is that the supply of common books is outstripping demand. Too many readily acquired books, not enough buyers. In recent years especially, many open-shop booksellers have either established an online presence to supplement walk-in sales or shut down their 3-D businesses altogether to sell exclusively here. Is the migration over? No. And many new booksellers have come on board as well. And will continue to.

So, if you think the market is saturated with booksellers now, wait. It's going to get worse, and newly arriving buyers (or failed, departing sellers) absolutely will not make up the difference. More bad news: E-book sales continue to supplant print book sales too as readers become more and more accustomed to - or less put off by - the format. And note that e-books often compete directly with less common books. Additionally, as prices of Print-On-Demand books come down, these will compete more favorably with sales of original copies - also less common titles. And don't forget about audio books. All trends, that is, are pointing in the direction of increasingly intense competition from every direction, and the more the online market floods with new booksellers (and books), the more difficult it'll be for us to find quality inventory and resell it for adequate profit.

The purpose of this series of articles is to combat these ominous trends, to show you how to adapt and succeed in spite of them. As with any process that promises to improve your situation, it helps to look at the attitude you'll be bringing into it - and adjust it if necessary. Look for Part II soon - "New School and Old School Bookselling." Be prepared. Torches will be passed.

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