A quick search of the Amazon Kindle store reveals over two million titles, both legacy and self-published. But a search for books tagged “African American” reveals only slightly more than 15,000 titles combined. Add to the lack of dedicated reading material, stores that focus on demographic-specific titles are facing hardship as well.
An article by Judith Rosen for Publisher’s Weekly this week indicates that African American bookstores are suffering, even during this month that is so typically a high point for sales due to the attention given the Black History Month. According to the article, the number of black bookstores who were members of the American Booksellers Association has resulted in more than 200 store closings in the last twelve years alone, down to 100 member stores from over 300 in 2002.
Rosen pointed to certain economic factors, such as the destruction of major metro neighborhoods that at one time played host to bookstores who stocked black literature. That has been compounded by the loss of platforms like key magazines that at one time promoted black authors’ titles.
But while it is the physical bookstores that are suffering, what is the correlation between that and the unequally low number of titles available on Kindle? Are publishers and self-published authors simply not writing and releasing books that speak to a specific market of readers? And if not, why not?
One source in the article quite openly stated that black consumers simply don’t read as much, but that is too easy a statement to oversimplify, one that could quite easily be the result of a chicken-and-egg situation. Do publishers not produce as many African American titles because they, too, believe this? Or is the lack of titles that speak to the consumer the reason for this generalization?
Recent news from a number of successful authors has made it quite obvious that self-publishing is the great equalizer in the book industry, one that is presumably open to authors from all walks of life. During this month of historical awareness, hopefully more concerted efforts will be made to open the doors of self-publishing to a far underserved group of readers.