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No Happy Holidays For Publishing

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No Happy Holidays For Publishing


No Happy Holidays For Publishing

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Not a week goes by there isn't some story about endangered newspapers or layoffs in the broadcasting and entertainment industry. Now there's bad news from the world of publishing, where major houses have laid off staff, restructured management, limited the number of manuscripts they buy. Charlotte Abbott is a contributing editor for Publishers Weekly and joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ABBOTT (Contributing Editor, Publishers Weekly): Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: So, what's business like this year?

Ms. ABBOTT: Book sales have definitely slipped.

SIMON: What's your analysis of what's driven sales down then?

Ms. ABBOTT: Well, the general retail falloff, I think, has had a big, big effect. Interestingly, children's fiction is stronger than the rest of the book publishing categories. I think people do not feel that books are a luxury for children, perhaps the way they might for adults. And I also hear that libraries are seeing a lot of activities. So I think it's not that people are not reading, it's that they're not buying books and are finding other ways to get their reading fix satisfied, except in the case of children where they are buying books.

SIMON: Well, that raises this question. We've seen the introduction of electronic readers - eBooks, the Kindle from Amazon, and the Sony Reader. How are they selling? Does this represent a whole new movement in the book industry?

Ms. ABBOTT: It does in some ways. I think it's very notable, certainly. And as far as price point goes, eBooks are certainly the cheaper option, coming in about six or seven dollars per book. EBook sales are up as much as 300 percent for many of the major houses. But that's in a context where eBooks are still representing still under about one percent of total book sales.

SIMON: May I press you a bit about some of these new technologies?

Ms. ABBOTT: Sure.

SIMON: Because I can remember a time when people thought that, you know, nothing would replace the newspaper. And obviously, a lot of people have found some kind of replacement for newspapers - online and through other media. And then, you know, I've talked to recording industry executives who've said, we'd love to get out of the hardware business - you know, all the making CDs, making the tamperproof covers. Now, as I don't have to tell you, in books, to print them, to sell them is expensive and speculative. Can books really expect even for 10 years to not be subject to technological changes?

Ms. ABBOTT: Phrased that way, I don't think so, no. I think that eBooks will continue to grow. Experientially right now, the only place that I really see people reading them, using the Kindle or the Sony Reader, these electronic book-reading devices, is either on the subway in New York City where you have, you know, certainly a group who can afford these technologies and who, you know, can use them in public. And then also for business travelers - again an audience with disposable income, who is space conscious and technologically adept.

I do agree that there are certain kinds of books that may find their audiences eroded. We've already seen this. A certain kind of current affairs book - you know, the torn from the headlines story - enough of that is available on TV or in excerpts or online. People can blog now and tell their story directly to their audience. They don't have to have the intervention of a book, the way that they used to. So I do see some erosion there. I do see that there will continue to be an audience and a readership for books as objects as well. The book is still a technology that works really well. You can get it wet, and the most it'll do is wrinkle. You can slip it in your purse or your pocket. It works.

SIMON: Charlotte Abbott, contributing editor for Publishers Weekly. Ms. Abbott, thanks so much.

Ms. ABBOTT: Thank you.

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