When people ask me questions like, “Alis, why did you choose a digital-only publishing deal over p&e?” the answer gets long and complicated. But this is part of it.
The biggest problem bookstores have–from publishers, authors, readers, and themselves–is the fact that they just (to paraphrase the meme) can’t stock every book. So they have to try and pick which ones they think will give them best bang for their shelf space. Except publishing is a subjective beast and the numbers are impossible to get right, which is why the returns system exists. (In a nutshell: if books don’t sell, bookstores strip the back cover, chuck the book into the bin, and send the cover back to the publisher to get credit against future purchases. One of the corollaries to this system is that it makes calculating author royalties monstrously difficult, given that a stripped and returned book isn’t considered a sale… but publishers don’t know that until the book is returned, the timing of which is up to individual stores.)
Bookstores will, I think, always carry pre-printed stock of bestsellers and anything publishers have bought co-op for. These will be your trades and your hardbacks, plus all the books that don’t lend themselves well to PoD.
But for everything else, and in particular novels from midlist/debut genre authors, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more print-your-own stuff going on. PoD machines like the Espresso will get better, because technology always does, and, in a decade or so, in-shop prints will have largely replaced the mass-market paperback.
That’d be my bet, anyway. If I’m wrong, y’all can come back here in 2024 and gloat about it, I guess.