Could book publishing suffer the same fate as the comic book industry?

As Amazon.com's dominance grows, we're only just starting to see the shape of how different the publishing industry is going to look in another five or ten years. And web developer Baldur Bjarnason has a scary thought: if the e-book revolution and the rise of Amazon succeed in chipping away at the web of bookstores and libraries that help bring in new readers, could books go the way of comic books after the rise of specialized comic book stores?

Image by Origami Potato/Flickr.

Bjarnason explains:

The analogy I've been using is the comic book's direct market. This enabled comics publishers to cater to their expert readers, those with an intricate knowledge about past continuity and a burning passion for the medium.

But, nobody else went into comic book stores. Kids don't grow up seeing comics on the newsstands or in bookstores anymore. Comics ceased in the late eighties, early nineties, to have a presence in our public spaces and renewal of the reader-base halted.

Publishers discovered new ways of squeezing money out of their regulars, but put no thought to where future customers would come from.

So, today we have a situation where bestselling comics sell an order of magnitude fewer comics than bestsellers did in the nineties (100 000 copies versus a million versus millions, plural, in the eighties/seventies/sixties).....

Novels could easily fall into the same trap. Publishers are raising prices to libraries and, in the UK, cutbacks are threatening their very existence. Bookstores are disappearing from malls, retail parks, and the high street. Retailers like WH Smiths focus more on stationary and general goods than they do books, and what few books they have are dominated by celebrity bios and churned non-fiction. Like comics before, novels are slowly disappearing from the public sphere.

Of course, paperback novels have been disappearing from drug stores and places like Wal-Mart for quite some time, in any case. And lots of people are finding new authors via Amazon all the time — as Wool author Hugh Howey could tell you — but it's still a scary scenario. [Baldur Bjarnason, via Tim O'Reilly]