Midlist Becomes the E-List

Daily Finance reports that the shuttering of Borders, and the dire situation facing bookstores in general, make it even harder for mid-list authors to break-through, much less even stay in print. A Borders sales exec says that even if the company manages to survive, mid-list authors are facing doom.

· Borders will likely be even more cautious about investing in midlist authors. While their new loans from GE Capital will allow them to finance, among other things, the purchase of new stock, Borders is not in any position to gamble. They're likely, in my opinion, to skipmore midlist titles than usual and to only spend their money on names they know they can sell. This will be exacerbated by the aforementioned store closings.

· Publishers may offer lower advances, especially on midlist titles.The industry has depended on Borders as a major market for new titles. If the publisher can't trust Borders to take a sufficiently large number of copies of a given title, this will factor into their profit and loss statements. As a result, they may advance less money to authors in order to increase the odds that any given acquired title will earn out.

Publishers are going to double-down on their bestsellers and their established, successful franchises — and so are bookstores. That's already the case at the biggest booksellers of all, the big-box general retailers like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Costco, where mid-list authors are already barely represented on their limited shelf space.

It's no wonder that more and more midlist authors like me are opting to self-publish — which can be far more lucrative, and far less risky, that a publishing contract, especially if you can get back the rights to your backlist.

5 thoughts on “Midlist Becomes the E-List”

  1. I had been toying with this e-publishing thing for a while, but the Borders bankruptcy gave it a new sense of urgency for me, for just the reasons described above.

  2. This is very depressing. I am in the process of having two manuscripts shopped by my agent and news like this really just makes me feel the situation is dire. . . what do you think of people who are entering the market right now?

  3. I’m wondering how bottom-list authors will fare. In terms of sales I’ve never made mid-list status and my novels rarely were displayed by BN or Borders. Year after year, I’d wander into Montana and other outlets of these chains and find little or nothing of mine. But Hastings, which runs bottom-list titles, always has had a bunch of my titles.

  4. In other words, Borders now wants to be Crown Books, only without the discounts. I wonder who they’re planning to sell to, or if they remember that Crown Books went out of business back in 2001.
    A bookstore with little in the way of a selection is a bookstore that a customer has no reason to visit. While I’m sure that the exec’s friends love the idea of eliminating risk, I think that they’re failing to grasp the fact that we live in an era in which populations have spread very far out from the cities, traffic on the clogged roads has slowed, and a trip to the “neighborhood” bookstore represents a real investment of time for the average resident of the US. If somebody travels for an hour or two, and finds nothing to reward him for his troubles at the end of his trip but a store that looks like it belongs in a strip mall, selling him nothing but books he’s already heard of, and could have purchased more cheaply on Amazon, he’s not going to repeat that trip. Why would he?
    The whole point to being in a bookstore is to be able to browse and be exposed to titles that one hasn’t heard of. Haven’t the books that everybody has heard of, already been reviewed by the better known critics? Haven’t the members of the book buying public, when they haven’t heard about these books from their friends and others who’ve already purchased them, had a chance over the years to learn which critics to follow and which to ignore, eliminating much of the risk of buying those books online, sight unseen – and again, with less trouble and at a lower cost?
    The only uncertainty that the people at Borders would seem to be eliminating is that of whether or not they will survive as a company – following this strategy, they won’t, not unless they manage to find a lot of really stupid customers who will always have cash to burn, and how likely is that? If one walked into a Crown Store, toward the end, one found empty aisles and bored cashiers, who were waiting for something to do – and their employer, at least, had given some thought to how one might pull people in the door. Borders seems to just be taking it for granted that their customers going to walk in.
    Nothing can explain such an assumption, other than a blend of narcissism and general cluelessness. These people have lost touch with reality.


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