I think we are seeing the effects of the so-called digital revolution coupled with a down economy creating churn in the publishing industry.
Two years ago Borders was trying to find a buyer. I'm not sure they ever did, but I know they closed stores and shed their UK operation.
This week, I heard an NPR story about Barnes and Noble, One of the reasons for their problems was cited as their late entry into the ereader market with their Nook.
The rise of ebooks has happened far quicker than industry analysts forecast. Ebook sales were supposed to double in four years. Instead, they doubled in one year and are expected to quadruple again by next year.
The down economy has also had a devastating effect. I believe the statistic is that Christmas book sales account for close to 80% of book sales for the year! Don't know what to buy Uncle Harry for Christmas? Let's just go to the bookstore and pick out a book or a calendar. That usually works, But retailers have suffered from three dreadful Christmas selling seasons in a row, and bookstores are still reeling from the effects.
Of course, the business model for publishing is a hundred years behind the times. What other business allows retailers to ship back all their unsold product and get a full refund?
Years ago, I worked in Barnes and Noble. Hardcovers can be returned to the publisher for a full refund. (They end up at places like Crown Books or Half-Off books where they are sold at deep discounts.) With paperbacks, the book store tears off the covers, which are shipped back to the publishers for full credit, and the books pulped as it is cheaper than the cost of shipping dead trees back and forth across the continent.
Like it or not, ebooks are the wave of the future. I think it will be good for authors and readers, and probably bad for publishers. Amazon.com is now getting into the publishing business, competing directly with existing publishers.
Epublishing will allow more books to see the light of day and will potentially give readers more choice. Historical fiction does not typically generate the revenues that another genre like mystery, celebrity bios, or cookbooks, so increased access to the market will be good for our favorite genre.
The Luddite in me is very uneasy about the decline of the printed book (just as I grudgingly accepted a lot of new technology like answering machines and cell phones), but each generatrion of ereader gets better and better. Ereaders like the Kindle us Eink technology which allows you to choose your font, font size and no flickering screen! Like it or not, change is upon us.
I think it is likely we will all be reading historical fiction on some kind of Ereader in the near future.