Minding the Bookstore Redux: How a Mentality Turned into a Mistake
Of course, when the Kindle was finally released, that mentality got even worse and led to stories in the media supporting publishers' assumptions. But in hindsight, a lot of these stories could be knocked over with a feather: For instance, when Amazon first announced it was selling more ebooks than print books, the fact remained that an ebook unit -- often priced under a dollar and a very quick read due to a short length -- would obviously outsell the more expensive and longer print counterparts on a unit basis.
Another knee-slapper was the reports saying a person who owns an ebook reader is more likely to read a lot of books compared to someone who doesn't own an ereader. It's true, but wouldn't you expect a person who owns a bicycle to take more bike rides in a given year than a person who doesn't?
We also -- especially as Borders began drawing its last breath -- kept reading statements from self-appointed digital gurus about "the end of bookstores." Of course these same people could often be found standing needlessly in line at an Apple Store whenever a new gadget was about to land, which begged the question: If physical retail is dead, then shouldn't you be at home hitting a "buy it now" button?
But publishers -- having long forgotten about the role bookstores played in the success of the Harry Potter series by hosting midnight parties on their own dime -- didn't ask these kinds of questions and continued stuffing their content into online and offline stores that didn't need to sell them. As big as this industry is, book sales are little more than a rounding error to entities like Target, Walmart, and Amazon.
One glance at Amazon's financials tells that story plain as day: In 2010 Amazon's media division, which includes books, was eclipsed by its "electronics and other general merchandise" segment. For its most recent fiscal year (during which Amazon made almost $75 billion) media came to represent just 28% of the company -- and I'm sure it'll represent even less than that when this year closes. The fact the company actually suggested customers could just go buy books elsewhere when the Hachette price feud broke says very clearly how little value a happy book buyer has for the entity.