Of course, they can. How can you even ask?
I learned yesterday that another one of my books is going out of print. This book received quite a few reviews, was nominated for two readers' choice awards, and went into a second printing. Yet it's gone out of print after only four years and without a paperback edition.
There are a number of things to ponder here.
1. I made my greatest pre-publication effort for this book, influenced by all the how-to-market-your-book info I'd been consuming over the years. I created a marketing plan, sent out press releases, contacted bookstores, sent gifts related to my book to the marketing people at my publishing company (which my sources told me would help them to remember my book), and did some other stuff I can no longer recall. I believe I might have done a mailing that year to school libraries regarding my author presentations. The brochure would have included the new book. I managed only one bookstore appearance, at which the bookseller did not sell a single book all afternoon, forget about one of mine. I was able to get coverage in only one extremely local publication. I did get a mention on a local NPR station. The effort I made didn't seem all that successful at the time and, clearly, didn't do a lot for me long term, either.
2. Yes, I wasn't terribly successful with the marketing. But I've heard since then that nothing sells books, anyway. C'est la vie.
3. The poor economy factors into book selling woes in many ways. Specifically, I've been told that a lot of children's literature hardcover titles are disappearing early because school and public library budgets are being cut.
4. And then we get back to the huge number of books being published and the difficulty in bringing them to readers' attention. Readers have less money to buy books while there are more and more out there to buy. With the overwhelming number of self-published titles now available, quality is going to vary widely. By no means am I saying they're all bad. But buyers definitely have to beware. Wary buyers with less money are going to be conservative in their purchases.
I am not particularly distraught about this latest career setback because things have been bad professionally for a while, and I've gotten used to it. I'm also into the big picture. I fully expect a revival in my career, sometime later in this century. It would be nice to live to see it, but, if not, that's fine, too.