Tag Archives: Amazon

The Week in the News

Sorry I’m a little late getting today’s post up. I didn’t write it yesterday because I wanted to see the latest headlines before deciding on the day’s topics.

First, I want to brag on my hometown. Another reason I didn’t write the blog yesterday was because I spent most of the day at our new library’s grand opening. In this time of libraries closing or losing funding, our community has rallied around the library and build a wonderful new facility. Hopefully, I’ll have some photos next weekend to post. What is really great about the new building is the fact our teens are invested in it. Several years ago when the architects asked for input from the community, half a dozen different groups got together and drew up their ideal floor plans. The teens’ plan is the one that was chosen. That invests them in the library and their support was clear yesterday.

Any way, on to what’s happening around the publishing world.

I’m going to keep with local news for a moment. Earlier this week, Amazon sent out notices to its employees at the distribution center near DFW Airport that they would be shutting down the center. Why? Because the state comptroller wants to collect millions of dollars in taxes and penalties it says Amazon owes. Sorry, this is a distribution center. A center that employs a number of people. A center that was going to expand and hire up to another 1,000 workers.

Muddying the waters even more, Gov. Rick Perry has publicly announced he is firmly against the action taken by the comptroller and is going to do all he can to keep the distribution center here. The next month is going to be an interesting battle of wills between the governor, the comptroller and, quite possibly, the state legislature to see who blinks first. My take — unless the comptroller can prove the distribution center is actually a sales center, Amazon will be asked to stay. But at what cost? What sort of concessions will the state have to roll out to “apologize” for an ill-timed, if not ill-conceived, move by the comptroller?

The New York Times revealed its best sellers list this week and, for the first time, e-books were included. I haven’t had time to sit down and really study it, but the one thing that jumps out is the fact that the top five titles on the combined print & e-book list are the same as the top five titles on the e-book list. Two titles flip-flop positions, but that is the only difference. The same can’t be said for the non-fiction top five. Does this mean there are more fiction e-titles being purchased than non-fiction? Probably. What will be interesting is to see the reaction of traditional publishers when e-books brought out by authors digitally publishing their works on their own or by small digital presses break into the top ten.

Finally, no blog about the industry can close without mentioning the latest news about Borders. I don’t think it surprises anyone the speculation is now rife over whether or not Borders will be filing for bankruptcy this week. Borders hasn’t publicly confirmed this. However, it doesn’t take much searching online to find posts from employees or people “in the know” who say it’s a done deal. Now they are only waiting to find out if their stores will be saved.

What is of concern to me — beyond the worry for my friends and acquaintances who work for Borders — is how this will affect the publishing industry as a whole. Borders owes publishers and non-publishing vendors thousands of dollars for stock already in stores. (This figure may — and probably is — be substantially larger. We won’t know until the bankruptcy papers are filed.) A number of publishers have already ceased shipments to Borders. It’s a move I can understand. Publishers are, on the whole, struggling themselves. They can’t afford to ship product without guarantee of payment. On the other hand, how can a bookstore make money if it doesn’t have books to sell? It really is one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations.

But there is another factor to be considered. Ingram continues to ship books to Borders when so many of the publishers have stopped. Ingram is the distribution outlet for a number of publishers, many of them small to mid-sized publishers who don’t have their own distribution arm. What the immediate and long-term impact this will have on these publishers, as well as Ingram, when Borders files for bankruptcy remains to be seen. But it is worrisome.

I hope Borders can find a way to come through this without completely going under. I’m not sure it can. What we have to prepare for is that this isn’t the last of the upheavals that will happen in publishing over the next few years. This is just the opening volley. So grab onto something and hold tight. Publishing will come through this, but it is going to be an interesting ride for awhile.

(Cross-posted to Mad Genius Club)

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Quick Notes

I’m hip-deep in manuscripts this morning, but wanted to pass along a couple of items.  First, Publishers Weekly has an interesting story about the breakdown of e-book purchases on the iPad.  I say “interesting” based on the earlier announcement by Apple that it had rejected the Sony app and all the speculation about how that might impact the Kindle, B&N and other e-reader apps currently available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

According to the PW article, e-book purchases by iPad owners breaks down this way:  40% from Amazon’s kindle store, 29% from Apple’s iBookstore, 12% from B&N’s nook bookstore, and 19% from other sources.  That’s a total of 71% of e-books purchased by iPad owners coming from sources other than iTunes and the iBookstore.  Perhaps it isn’t any wonder that Apple is looking for ways to direct sales back to the iBookstore.

The article goes on to discuss how publishers are using social media to promote their books and authors and how it really isn’t effective — yet.  “. . .while publishers are spending lots of time and money promoting books and authors through social media, few book buyers are learning about books from sources such as search engines, social networks, and Twitter, even though more book buyers use Google and Facebook (but not so much Twitter) than any other media by far. Fewer than 2% of book shoppers said they learned about the last book they bought through these major digital media.”  It’s pointed out how promotional trailers are made and thrown up on YouTube without an effective strategy for getting viewers to it.

Basically, bookstores — and book departments in big box stores and grocery stores, etc — are still where most readers discover books or authors they want to read.  So, until publishers figure out how to effectively use social media to reach their customers, they need to protect the physical stores.  Besides, I love bookstores and don’t want to see them disappear.

On a more depressing note, there’s more news on the Borders front.  Last Friday, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., filed notice with the SEC that it would “will take a pre-tax bad debt charge of $9 million in its third quarter of fiscal 2011 in regard to what it is owed by Borders. Wiley said it made the decision to take the charge, ‘based upon the status of our current business relationship with Borders Group Inc. and potential future adverse financial events that may affect this customer.'”  Because of Borders’ financial issues, Wiley stopped shipping books to Borders in December.

One last note.  I’m hearing some good rumblings from the editorial board as they discuss some of the submissions received last month.  If you sent us something last month, you should hear back by March 1st.  If you haven’t heard by the 7th, please drop us a line at submissions-at-nakedreader-dot-com.

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More Links of Interest

The NY Times has revealed “its new e-book bestsellers that will appear in print in its February 13 edition.”  It’s going to be interesting to watch this over the next few weeks and months, especially since they have the list broken down into bestsellers as e-books, as print books and then as a combined list.  The list is also broken down into fiction and non-fiction bestsellers.

There’s additional news on the “is Amazon a publisher or a bookseller?” front.   I think it’s pretty clear Amazon is a publisher, at least on a small scale when it comes to print books (CreateSpace not counting in my opinon since is it POD).  However, the fact they are willing and eager to go after authors who have been dropped by their publishers is yet another indication that the industry is changing.  It also proves what I’ve always thought — the publishers are foolish for cutting their mid-list authors loose.  These authors might not sell mega-numbers, but the publishers know there is an established fan base that can be counted on to sell X-number of books.  That’s money in the bank.  Unfortunately, the publishers don’t seem to understand this.

In an attempt to help members (independent booksellers) expand their online presence, the American Booksellers Association has partnered with Monsoon Commerce Solutions.  This will allow members to list their used inventory on more than a dozen online marketplaces for free.

Here’s more on the Apple decision to reject the Sony e-book app and its possible implications.

Finally, even more evidence that e-books are a market that publishers have to embrace.  Second quarter sales at Harper Collins were down.  Part of the reason for this, according to HC, were fewer titles being offered.  However, even as sales overall fell, e-book sales rose 400%.  Think what they would have done without the agency model.

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Borders Redux and more

Let’s start with the “and more”.  Today’s guest post by Sarah A. Hoyt is going to be delayed a bit…possibly longer than a bit.  Sarah has decided to mirror my life for the past 20 hours or so when I was without internet service.  She called a few minutes ago to let me know that her internet is now down.  So, as soon as it comes back up, she’ll send me her post and I’ll put it up.  In the meantime, more news on the Borders debacle.

I’ve read two reports this morning stating that Borders has gotten a commitment from GE Capital for a $550 million credit facility.  Now, this isn’t a done deal yet.  Before receiving the lifeline, Borders is going to have to meet certain conditions.  According to Shelf Awareness, “the credit is contingent on Borders securing $175 million of senior credit facility with other lenders as well as $125 million of junior debt financing with other lenders or “certain vendors”–that is, publishers, who surprisingly enough do not seem interested in taking on Borders debt instead of being paid.”

In order to get this loan, there are certain things Borders will have to do.  One of the requirements is that it will have to close under-performing stores.  But wait, shouldn’t they have already done that?  This is a company that has been in trouble for years, not just weeks and months.  If there are stores that aren’t paying for themselves and don’t look to be able to recover, why are they still operating?  At some point, management has to recognize that you can’t continue operating in the red.

Other requirements are getting concessions from vendors and landlords.  But the most important one is convincing publishers to take on part of the debt load, something I wouldn’t expect them to want to do.  Why take on more debt from a company that, at the moment, is unable to pay you for stock you’ve already sent them?

Also from the Shelf Awareness articleBorders’s plan for the future has five key parts, it said, including expanding and enhancing the Borders Rewards Plus program; “aggressively growing” Borders.com and e-book market share; expanding the retail mix, “including non-book offerings”; “aggressively” reducing costs “across the business, including costs in the supply chain network and store portfolio”; and making “strategic investments in IT to improve the customer experience.”

So, let’s see, they want to expand a reward program that isn’t working because most people don’t want to pay to get discounts.  While I agree growing their e-book market share is a reasonable goal, it is probably too little, too late.  They waited too long to get into the market.  They don’t have an easily navigable site for e-books.

The expansion of their retail mix, “including non-book offerings” is what really boggles my mind.  Already when you walk into any of the Borders stores in my area, you are struck, not by the books they have to offer, but by how few books when compared to non-book items.  There are toys.  There are gadgets.  But there are fewer and fewer  books.  There is also a much smaller collection of music — if any — and it is the same with videos. Basically, when I walk into a Borders these days, it’s like walking into a modified Walmart or Target.  The only thing missing are groceries and diapers.

The last two items in their plan sound good but I am not going to hold my breath.  This is a company that has failed to cut costs as needed, running full tilt toward bankruptcy.  Now it wants those companies it owes money to to forget about bad business practices and to invest even more money into what is, in all likelihood, a failing venture.  This truly is a no-win situation, or has the potential of being one, for publishers and readers alike.

For more information on this, check out this article as well.

In other news, Amazon’s sales for the last quarter rose 36%, but their profits increased only 8%.  That sent stocks down last night but, iirc, they are back up this morning.  Amazon also reported that they are now selling more kindle e-books than paperback books.  This is despite the fact paperback sales continue to increase.  According to Amazon, they now sell 115 kindle e-books for every 100 paperbacks.   Amazon had predicted this would not occur until the second quarter of this year.  It is, in my opinion, another indication that the e-book revolution is here to stay.

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What is a Book?

According to Jeffrey Matthews (vp for corporate strategy for Scholastic), “That’s the $64 million question.”

It is also a question the publishing industry — publishers and authors alike — can’t seem to agree upon.  Ten years ago, it was easy to answer that question.  A book was, well, a book.  It was something you could walk into a bookstore or your public library and hold, take home and read.  You bought a book you liked and read it, sometimes many times.  You loaned it to your friends and family — often with threats of violence if they didn’t return it.  You could sell it to used bookstores for a bit of pocket cash (of course, if you did and then someone else bought the book, the author didn’t get any more money from it).

Now it’s not quite so simple to answer that question.  A number of publishers feel a book is still a book — that physical incarnation of an author’s words into print.  Print being the operative word.  E-books have thrown a wrench into the works and the industry simply hasn’t figured out how to respond.  This includes publishers, agents and writers.

That’s one of the reasons we find so many publishers applying DRM to their e-books.  Not understanding that doing so is like telling a recalcitrant child “no”, publishers say they have to apply DRM to their e-books to protect them from piracy.  They don’t stop to think that that merely waves a red flag saying, “I bet you can’t find a way to break our code.”  Guess what, that’s a challenge and what happens when you issue a challenge?  It’s usually taken up.  Don’t believe me, simply google “how to break DRM” and see how many hits you get and how many verified codes using Python and other programs there are.

DRM does something else.  It adds to the cost of e-books.  And, honestly, there will always be people out there who will post digital versions of books online for free.  Their reasons vary.  Some do it because, in their countries, the books may not be available in digital — and sometimes even in print — formats.  Some do it because, as noted above, it’s a challenge and they hate being told they can’t do something.  But digital piracy isn’t limited to books released in digital formats.  If I remember correctly, the last Harry Potter book — none of which have been legitimately released as e-books — was online as a PDF e-book before the book hit the shelves.  So, how did applying DRM to a digital file help prevent piracy?

And this brings me to the question posed in the title of this post.  What is a book?

This is a question those of us involved with Naked Reader Press asked ourselves long before we opened our digital doors.  We’d seen interviews with publishers who hold that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work.  Under this definition, those of us who buy e-books aren’t buying the book.  Instead, we are buying only a license to read the author’s work in a certain digital format.  DRM is their way of enforcing this by preventing us from doing with digital books what we can with physical ones — loan them, sell them, donate them.  Even so, these same publishers who are so adamant about limiting our access to these e-books — and if you don’t believe me, buy an e-book using Adobe Digital Editions and try to read it on a machine that isn’t tied to that specific Adobe account — are more than willing to charge us as much or more for the digital version than we’d pay for the paperback copy of the book.

Still, not all publishers feel this way.  There are some like Baen Books who believe that, once you buy an e-book, it’s yours.  They don’t apply DRM and don’t limit the number of e-readers or computers you can view the e-book on.  This is the camp those folks behind NRP fall into.  To them, and to me, a book is made up of the words an author writes.  A book can take many forms — physical paper versions, electronic, audio, enhanced, etc.  A book is something meant to be enjoyed by readers in whatever form they are most comfortable with.

This divide in thinking may be narrowing.  The Nook, and now the Kindle, allow lending of e-books (with publisher approval).  Mind you, it’s limited to only being able to lend a book one time, for a period of two weeks.  During that two week period, the original purchaser of the e-book cannot access it.  There is the option being offered through these sellers for authors and small publishers to bring out their books DRM-free.  Guess what, most of them — just like NRP — choose no DRM.  Why?  Because they are selling BOOKS, not licenses.

So, what is a book?  Here at NRP, a book is the collection of words, written by an author for readers to read on whatever computer or smart phone or e-reader they want.  After all, why should it make a difference if the book is printed on paper or on your computer screen?  A book is a book is a book and it’s time the industry’s definition caught up with technology.

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Knights in Tarnished Armor

It’s taken a bit more than a week, but I think I’m mostly over whatever bug had hold of me.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been knocked as flat by a cold/flu/whatever as I was this time.  So apologies for the sparsity and possibly incomprehensibility of what posts I did manage to get up.

I’d like to take a couple of moments to talk about Knights in Tarnished Armor by Kate Paulk that will be coming out over the weekend.  Some of you may know Kate from Baen’s Bar or any of the other discussion boards she takes part in.  To say Kate has an interesting sense of humor is to put it mildly.  She manages to take the ordinary, twist it in a mixture of Aussie irreverence and American cynicism and come out with something unexpected.  That’s exactly what she’s done with KITA.

When I was trying to describe it briefly yesterday, my first thought was it’s a comedy of errors.  In many ways, that’s exactly what it is.  But it is also a comedy of LETTERS, because the action is all revealed through a series of letters between our not so shining knights and their all too willing and frustrated maidens.  Throw in disapproving parents, a dragon and all too many schemes and, well, you have Knights in Tarnished Armor.

If you’d like to see more of Kate’s work, check out Born in Blood and Hell of a JobBorn in Blood is a novella that basically sets the stage for her novel, Impaler, that will be coming out next year.  If you are interested in a new take on the history and mythology surrounding Vlad Dracul, check out both of these titles.

In the short story Hell of a Job, Kate gives us a refreshing look at what might happen if a scheming woman who really doesn’t approve of the decor in the underworld becomes a Dark Lord and sets her cap on higher office.

Both Born in Blood and Hell of a Job are available at our webstore, simply follow the links above, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  You can also find them at Smashwords.  Most of all, anything you buy from Naked Reader Press is DRM-free.

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Back to Work — Sort Of

This past week has been the week from Hell in a lot of ways.  As my last post noted, a dear cousin passed away.  Add to that my son having his first wreck — and totaling his truck — and, well, you get an idea of what my life’s been like.  Add in the 350 mile drive each way to attend my cousin’s funeral (which was held on the anniversary of my dad’s death — not that her family realized it when they planned the service).  So today I’m trying to play catch up, at least some, even as my brain and body are begging to go back to bed.

First off, for some business matters.  The website store will be back up either tomorrow or Tuesday.  Probably Tuesday.  I’ll announce it as soon as it’s live again.

Also, Dave Freer’s collection of short stories — The Goth Sex Kitten and Other Stories — will be available for purchase when the store goes live.  It will take a couple of days for it to show up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  We are now publishing directly through BN, just as we are Amazon.  Of course, you can still find us on Smashwords and through their affiliates as well.  Naturally, all our books and short stories are available through our site as well.

Okay, a couple of items of interest.  The review process for Amazon has come under fire again, specifically because people can rate books — and ebooks — without reading them and that their ratings can be based on anything.  The issue has been around for a long time but has been gaining notoriety after the agency model pricing of e-books came into being.  What is happening now is that a number of folks are giving 1-star reviews to e-books when they cost as much, or more, than the hard cover books.  This happens almost exclusively to e-books published by those houses under the agency model.  The hard cover prices can still be discounted by Amazon and are.  However, the publisher sets the price for the e-book.  This often means there is little or no difference between the cost of the digital copy and the cost of the hard copy.

What some people see as the crux of the matter is that Amazon allows customers to post reviews whether they’ve read the book or not.  As with other on-line retailers, all you have to do to post a review on Amazon is have an account with them.

I understand the concern over these negative reviews.  But to require Amazon to police the reviews so that only someone who has read a book can post would mean they would have to buy the book from Amazon.  That would prevent someone who borrowed it from the library, or who purchased it elsewhere, or who received it as a gift from ever posting a review.  That’s not the way to do it.

In my opinion, what Amazon needs to do is simply add another section to their reviews.  Rate the book for content and quality and then rate the book for pricing.  Most folks who give negative reviews for books due to their cost, say so in the body of the review.  That leads me to believe they would be honest and simply mark the cost/value portion of the review if they were offered that option.

But let’s face it, these reviews are anything but reliable.  If you follow any of the e-book boards, you will have seen instance after instance where authors (or their friends or family) have created multiple accounts to post glowing reviews for their loved one’s book.  This isn’t something unique to just Amazon.  So, if you are relying on the reviews by customers, you need to take them with a grain of salt.  Or at least you need to look at what else that reviewer has rated.  Often, you will find that they have never reviewed anything else.

In the meantime, remember that the review you give can and will impact an author’s sales.  So, until there is a way to show up front that you are marking the book down because of price, limit your review to what you liked or didn’t like about the contents of the book, not just the price.  Oh, and let the publishers know if you think the price is out of line.

Going hand-in-hand with the above is this article from the NY Times.  With the availability to look at, touch and play with e-book readers in such places as Walmart and Target this holiday season, there is the potential for the e-book market to really soar.  Will this be the tipping point?  I don’t know.  But it will be one giant step toward it, in my opinion.  With the explosive growth of e-books sales over the last couple of years, the lower prices for e-book readers, the wide availability of PC/Mac versions of the kindle/nook/sony/kobo, etc., programs so you can read on your computer, laptop or cellphone, e-books are no longer only for the technically inclined.  It is going to be interesting to see how the figures pan out over the next few months.

Finally, for the writers out there.  I recommend you take a look at this entry from Lucienne Diver’s blog.  Not only is she an agent with the Knight Agency, but she’s a wonderful author in her own right.  (Vamped and ReVamped)  Earlier this month, she had a post that really hit home with the writer side of me:

I suppose that the long and short of what I took away from this is that publication has never been easy…not the path to it or the continuation of the journey.  It’s never been painless.  No artist of any stripe has ever been universally loved or acclaimed.  In order to reach out and grab readers by the throat, authors have to be able to throw open the doors and windows to the soul.  Unfortunately, in letting their creativity out, those open doors allow for stiff, bracing and sometimes stormy winds to sweep through as well.  To me it’s a comfort that the literary greats went through the same vicissitudes we do today.  They survived.  Their names have gone down in history and, perhaps more importantly to them as writers, their works have remained in print.  We read them today, often thinking that they must have been aware of their own genius and been gratified by their success, while the truth is that authors do not sit back content with the accomplishment of their last release, but are constantly struggling with the new and wondering whether they’ll be able to live up to or exceed expectations.  I’m not sure whether there’s an actual saying that you’re only as good as your latest novel, but I do know that that’s how all writers feel.

So, for those of you battling toward attainment of your dreams, whether they be of initial or continued publication, take comfort in the shared pain and find compatriots with whom to celebrate your triumphs.  Appreciate them when they come and pull out the memories of them to get you through the hard times.

And, with that in mind, I leave you to the rest of the weekend.

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What Should Be Done?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I spend time each day checking out various discussion boards relating to e-books.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, far longer than NRP has been in existence.  One reason is I’ve been an advocate of e-books from the first time I was introduced to them via Webscriptions.  The second reason is that, not matter how contentious the boards get at times, they are populated by readers.  These are people who are passionate not only about the technology behind e-books and e-book readers but are passionate about the books as well.

One of the topics that comes up from time to time is how e-books and online retailers have impacted bookstore sales and why.  It’s not a new discussion by any means.  It started with the first online order from Amazon and has never really gone away.   There have been different permutations of it, including the possible cannibalization of hard cover purchases by e-book sales. It’s too early in the morning to kick my ulcer into full gear by going into the agency model.  We’ll do that later.  Today, a few thoughts on bookstores.

The U. S. Census Department released the September figures for bookstore sales.  New book sales were down from September 2009 by 7.1%.  August figures were down 6.5%.  For the year, sales are down 2.6%.  To translate that into dollars, year-to-date sales for new books from bookstores is $12.3 billion.

According to John Marmaduke, CEO of Hastings, their sales for stores open at least a year fell 6.2%.  That includes a 9.3% drop in new book sales.  However, they experienced an increase of 7.8% in sales of used and “value” books.  Marmaduke claims that e-book readers are impacting the sale of new books but noted that they are countering this by offering used and value books at “price points that resonate well with our customers.”

That last phrase is the key, in my opinion.  Books are not, to most people, a necessity.  Especially not in this day and age of the internet.  You can go online and find something to read, no matter what your taste.  Be it fanfic or your local newspaper, it’s there.  If you don’t mind breaking a few laws, you can find the newest best seller for free.  (And I am not advocating this!)

There’s also the local library.  Most of us can go a few miles from home and take advantage of free library services.  Not only can we check out books, but there’s music and video as well.

But let’s take those out of the equation right now and just look at why bookstore sales are down.  I’ll start by saying this is my opinion, based solely on my own experience as a customer and my discussion with booksellers in my area.

To me, the problem began with the influx of big box bookstores.  Before they came in and took over the market, we had small, often specialty stores.  The national stores were in the malls — where there was lots of foot traffic so they got a great deal of people just stopping in to browse.  That turned into sales.

Even though space was limited in these stores, the selection was broader than it is now.  New authors were highlighted.  Mid-listers had shelf space.  At least once a month there was some sort of activity going on, be it a signing or a release party or what, to bring in more customers.  Most of those working in the stores knew their product.  If you asked where a title was, they could take you right to it.  And they knew your name.  In short, there was good customer service.

There was a difference in the quality of the books, too.  I don’t mean they were better written — although, on the whole, I think a lot of them were.  What I mean is they were copy edited and proofread more closely.  Sure, you might find a couple of errors in a book — not a couple per page which seems to be happening more and more often now.

In short, when you walked into one of these smaller stores, be they a national chain or your local independent bookseller, you could be sure they had what you wanted or would get it for you.  In a lot of cases, you felt welcome and valued as a customer.

Then came the big box stores.  Oh, I welcomed them along with so many others because of the lower prices.  I didn’t think about the impact they’d have on the local independent sellers.  Living in the DFW area, I was lucky.  A number of our independents held out far longer than they did in other parts of the country.  Still, almost all of them eventually closed their doors, leaving only the big, often cold, box stores.

Prices creeped up and the smaller national chain stores located in the malls closed.  The once free “memberships” either became for purchase memberships or the requirements for the “free” benefits doubled or trebled.   To bring in more people, coffeeshops were added to the stores.  More big box stores were built, increasing competition but not lowering prices.

Basically, they flooded the market with locations at a time when the economy had to take a downswing — nothing keeps growing without hitting a bump somewhere along the line.  So costs were cut by hiring more and more part-time help that often didn’t read, much less know the product.  Books by new authors and mid-listers were taken from the shelves.  If they manage to get there now, it’s only for a very short period of time.  Instead, the “guaranteed” best sellers are stocked ad nauseum.  This hurts everyone, the reader and the writer AND the bookstore.

As book sales slipped, non-book items started slipping into the stores:  stuffed animals, board games, etc.  You walk into some of these stores now and they bear little resemblance to the bookstore they’re supposed to be.

Are bookstores doomed?  Absolutely not.  But, as with publishing as a whole, they need to retool their business plans and development plans to meet changing demands.  I think the days of the free standing mega bookstore are numbered.  Stores need to relocate to malls and other areas where they will get the walk-in traffic.  Getting people in the door is the first, and greatest, challenge.  The second is figuring out how to handle those who want e-books.  Follow the Barnes & Noble example and have you e-bookstore available in the physical store.  Offer discounts on coffee or something if the customer shows the Nook or that stores reader application on a smart phone or laptop.

People still want to go to bookstores, even if they also use online retailers like Amazon, or even Barnes & Noble or Borders online.  There is still something about seeing row after row of books and being able to take you time browsing through the titles, flipping pages and reading back covers.  If you don’t believe me, look at the outcry when the closure of a bookstore is announced.

It’s more than just a few people saying how they wished the store was staying open.  There are campaigns to find new owners or new locations for the store in question.  Don’t believe me, check out the facebook page for the Davis-Kidd Bookstores in Nashville.  Or look at what happened in Fort Worth when Barnes & Noble announced it was closing one of its stores because they hadn’t been able to negotiate a new lease.  There was so much public pressure put on not only B&N but the landlord of the shopping center where the store’s located that favorable lease terms were finally agreed upon and the store was saved.

This is a trickle down effect.  The bookstores can’t solve the problem by themselves.  It has to include the publishers and the customers.  If you want to keep your favorite bookstore open, visit it.  BUY something there.  Sign up for their email newsletters so you know when there’s a sale or they have a discount coupon available.  Don’t rely on someone else to do it for you.

There is room in this world for both physical and digital books.  The day of the big bookstore may be over soon.  I don’t know.  But there is a place for bookstores.  Let’s not forget that.

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Monday Morning Mash-up

Well, it was an interesting Sunday, in the proverbial sense of the word.  When I posted yesterday morning, I had every intention of spending the day writing and watching football with friends.  Well, I accomplished the latter. Friends came over to watch — gasp — the Cowboys beat the Giants.  That was the high point in the day, sandwiched between news of how my almost 91 year old cousin did in surgery (partial hip replacement) and news that my son had been involved in an auto accident.  Both are okay, but it did sort of take the focus off of more mundane things like football and writing.

But it’s back to work today.  Let’s start with an article by Julie Bosman that appeared yesterday.  This will be the first holiday season when e-readers will be available in such retailers as Walmart, Target and Best Buy.  More importantly, they’ll be available at prices likely to entice purchases as gifts.  As noted in the article:

“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”

If things go as forecast, according to the article, there could be as many as 103 e-readers in circulation by the end of the year.  To which I have only one thing to say:  COOL!  Especially the part of the article where the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, says she expects e-book sales to “shoot up” on Christmas day.

To revisit a couple of topics from last week, Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine has apologized again for using material from an author without permission.  In an interview, Griggs has pledged to be more vigilant about copyright.  It may be too little, too late to save the small magazine.  The internet uproar over what happened has cost the magazine advertisers, something no publication can afford to lose.  However, so much of this could have been avoided had Griggs either not used the article without permission or had simply issued an apology when requested.  Instead, her defensive stance may have cost her more than just a few advertisers if, as alleged, she did take articles from such big name sources as Food Network.  You can find more about this here.  Many thanks to Chris Meadows and TeleRead.com for keeping up with this situation.

Next up is the continuing saga of the book supposedly promoting pedophilia over at Amazon.  That slippery slope we discussed last week keeps getting more and more slippery.  Amazon has found itself in a no-win situation.  If they had left the book up, they would have been crucified for promoting a truly heinous crime.  By taking it down, they get crucified in some fora for censorship.  Then there are the cries that they didn’t act quickly enough — read that as immediately.  And, as predicted, they are now being hit with more demands from other groups to take down yet more books.  PETA has sent emails to Jeff Bezos demanding the removal of books about dog fighting, etc.  People on the different kindle and amazon boards are posting links to books they want taken down because these books are objectionable.  Barnes & Noble is now adding a disclaimer to book published through its PubIt program telling readers to report any objectionable material.

Then there is this article from PC World.  Entitled “5 Things to Learn from Amazon’s Latest PR Disaster”, it starts out by talking about how Amazon has backpedaled from an earlier stance about the book.  Yes, there is some backpedaling, no doubt about it.  The problem arose because Amazon responded too quickly, imo.  They issued their no censorship statement before reviewing the title in question.  Had they waited — and, yes, it would have been difficult to do so because of all the cries of outrage going viral across the internet — they could have issued a statement saying they were pulling the book due to a violation of their terms of service.  Instead, they jumped the gun in a knee-jerk reaction and it’s come back to bite them.

The one thing I will agree with in the article is that this has potentially tarnished the reputation of legitimate e-books.  I say potentially — a qualifier the author of the article does not use — because I do think most readers are more forgiving than the author is giving them credit for.  Otherwise, the first time someone read something they didn’t like, they’d quit reading — e-book or not.  Most people know there are books out there they aren’t going to agree with or enjoy.  They simply refuse to buy the book.  This is a storm that will blow over.

The real culprit when it comes to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate e-books is poor editing and proofreading.  Go to almost any e-book related forum and look at the number of instances where e-books are being criticized because of poor proofreading.  It doesn’t matter if the e-book comes from an established publishing house or a new e-press or the author himself.  OCR errors, overlooked spelling and punctuation errors, formatting errors are all driving readers up a wall.  This is what will hurt us the most in the long run

Overall, however, I think the author of the article has it right.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy or quick answer to keep this from happening again.  If it does, I just hope that the protests go straight to Amazon or whomever and they don’t go viral again.  If they do, I’m afraid we will see more and more restrictions being put on the DTP-type platforms, making it all but impossible for small presses and authors to publish through them.  And that will be a loss for everyone.

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