Editor’s note: Don’t write off the noble book just yet

April 7, 2013

Lately, I’ve been thinking about books.

It happens that I know a few just-published authors, including my nephew and two colleagues here at The Washington Post. I admire how they persevered in an age when so many forms of media compete for our attention.

It helps to be entrepreneurial. Among my small cohort of authors is one who self-published, another who wrote an e-book and a third who did it the old fashioned way and found a publisher.

I wonder if books might be making a comeback. I find myself consuming more and more, including one of those business self-help guides by my bedside, a couple fiction titles on my iPad, a nonfiction in my briefcase and a biography at the office.

There might even be hope for paper. Terrance G. Finley, the new chief executive of Books-a-Million, the superstore chain, told Wall Street analysts recently that he believed the print book business had reached a level of “stabilization” with the digital variety.

“I do think that the low-hanging fruit has been picked as it relates to digital,” he said, according to a transcript.

Success in the book business is not a necessarily a triumph for great literature. Finley said last year’s best sellers were E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, and graphic novels, driven by cable TV’s “The Walking Dead” series. “Hunger Games” fare did well, too, creating a challenge for 2013 sales. Books-a-Million’s hopes are pinned to new efforts by David Baldacci and James Patterson and nonfiction titles from the likes of Dr. Phil and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. (Not to mention novelties and books related to TV’s surprise “Duck Dynasty.”)

I remember my first encounter with Books-A-Million at Potomac Mills. I was so smitten with the piles of bargains, I loaded up a cart with all manner of weighty tomes only to then have to lug them to the other side of the sprawling mall where my car was parked.

My arms still hurt thinking about it.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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