Archive for the ‘Book Stores’ Category

Why can’t I pick it up at the store?

October 22, 2014

So, one of my kids is having a birthday and my mom wanted me to order a book she could give him – the Complete Calvin & Hobbes. My mom lives in the middle of nowhere, so we agreed that it would probably be easiest, and best, for me to buy it, wrap it, and give it to my son for her, rather than her try to find it and then give it to him whenever we get back in her general direction (though that’s happening next week).  If you don’t know, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is a box set of either trade paperbacks or hardcovers.  Since I don’t really want to give Amazon my book buying business, I went to Barnes and Noble’s website and was thrilled to see it was about 40% off.  I noticed a button that said, “pick up in store.” Clicking this gave me a list of local B&N’s, and suggested I call them for pricing and availability.

wait, pricing? But I just got a price off of your website. Why would I have to call a store to see what their price is when you just told me your price?

Because the brick and mortar stores charge whatever the hell they please, that’s why. Instead of being 40% off, it was 0% off.  Contrast this to my buying experience at that company on the leading edge of online retail, Menards. I was able to buy a trashcan, a handcart, and a broom, click on an option to “pick up in store,” pay for it, and then magically pick it up at a service desk at the store. Memards can manage to figure out how to make this work for trash cans and push brooms, why can’t Barnes & Noble figure out how to make it work for books?

Needless to say, I saved myself forty bucks, ordered the book off their website, and had it shipped to my mom’s house at this point. Because, well, why wouldn’t I? I saved myself a good chunk of money, saved myself the drive to the store, and I didn’t find myself tempted to buy some stuff I didn’t need like I did at Menards when I got there and then shelled out for a back of Brach’s candies and some on-sale sanding disks. I guess the Barnes and Noble store I didn’t go to didn’t have to sell something at a lower than retail price, but then they didn’t get to sell anything at all. It’s still sitting on their shelf. On top of that, my order qualified for free shipping from B&N, shipping that has to cost them more in the long run than just chucking one extra box set of comic books onto a truck that would have been going to one of their stores regardless.

I get not wanting to take money out of the mouths of their stores, but they did that today when I couldn’t just buy my book and pick it up at one of their stores. It was silly, it was stupid, and it gives people no reason not to just go to Amazon, because they’ll mail the thing to your door just as well. Get in the game, B&N, and use your natural shipping/distribution hubs -your stores –  more to your advantage.

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Barnes and Noble Holiday Sales

January 15, 2014

Barnes and Noble’s holiday sales were a mixed bag. The sales at their actual stores were pretty similar to last year (fell .2%), but nook devices fell through the floor. This isn’t surprising since they’ve quit putting out new Nooks. Given the choice between an old Nook or a new whatever, it’s not surprising that people took the whatevers. I thought the meat of the article was the last paragraph, where Huseby (CEO of B&N) made a comment that digital content was the “lifeblood of digital business” and that the company was busy making progress in linking their content through other devices – in other words, apps.  the first quote is obvious, your print content isn’t going to be the lifeblood of digital business, but it seems important that he didn’t say it was the lifeblood of Barnes and Noble. It also seems as if B&N is committing to the push away from the hardware side and pushing harder into the software end. they realized that they don’t need a device of their own, if people with ipads, surfaces, notes, etc. can and do click on their apps to buy their books through their store.

Also, I have to think it’s a helluva lot cheaper to make a really good app and then plough extra money into the company. Also, as I’ve linked to before on here, digital sales of stagnated a bit. They roared up for a few years, eating up a chunk of book purchases, but it hasn’t continued its rapid ascent this year. Is this temporary or is there just that much of a desire for printed copy that we’ll see this hold for several years? I don’t know, but it means B&N can probably do very well if they work on maximizing their profits at their brick and mortar stores, while laying a better infrastructure for a strong digital presence in the future. I think B&N has this distinct advantage over Amazon. There have been countless articles about people wandering through bookstores, browsing at the books, only to leave and buy it cheaper from Amazon once they’ve read a few pages and know they like it. there is no reason this couldn’t work to B&N’s advantage. Make it easy to walk through a store, find a book you like, then purchase the digital edition. People could do it now through their phones or whatever without leaving the store.  Find a way to encourage this and make it easier.

So, the sales numbers were a bit of a mixed bag, depending on how you look at them. While the Nook devices took a beating, in a world where I can go and grab a $50 tablet from Meijer, I think getting out of the hardware side where profit margins are shrinking and competition is growing is a good idea. Put your limited funds to better use elsewhere.

Amazon, Apple, The Big Five (or is it Six?) and the Government

April 12, 2012

I’m sure everyone who cares has already noticed, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed suit against Apple and major publishers for price fixing. Okay, not a big surprise. It’s something that’s been rumored for months, while some other folks are already hitting them with a civil suit because they just can’t buy their ebooks cheap enough.  What this will boil down to, as TPM wraps it up, is that the agency pricing model will likely go out the window, or be much more difficult to do. Media Decoder, over at the NYT,  has a nice article up detailing the case being made by the government.

What’s not getting talk about, though, is that Amazon is just as bad for the book business, and has been operating just as ruthlessly. The LA Times article just linked has gobs of additional links inside of it, including this one to a series done by the Seattle Times about Amazon. Did you really think Amazon was making any money selling eBooks for $10 a pop when no one else was able to sell them for less than $13? They weren’t, and they weren’t caring. Their goal was, and likely still is, to push as many other companies out of the eBook business as possible, corner the market, and charge what they want in the end, both to you, the consumer, and from the publisher – if they still exist.

It’s something I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with supporting. I’ve never been a big Amazon fan (I always bough more books through ebay, if I bought online, but I buy the majority of my books through brick and mortar stores).  I love second hand shops, and any price I could get on Amazon could usually be matched, once shipping and handling was included, by a local shop. Even if it couldn’t, there was the added effect of getting the book right then and there, having something tangible in my hands. ebooks are a bit of a different creature, though.

What is there that is tangible to a digital file? Not a whole lot, that I’ve found.  Because of this lack of tangibility, I think it becomes all too easy to overlook the repercussions of our purchasing an item through this retailer instead of that retailer. We lose sight of how important our actions are.  The truth is, Amazon kills community bookstores. It kills community. It is the new Wal Mart. Do you sell something that could be sold online? well, you’re in the crosshairs. People will walk into you store, look at your merchandise, and then buy it for five cents cheaper from Amazon after using an app to check online prices. And when your store is out of business, they will wonder why, and where they are going to have to go now to preview the novel they aren’t sure about buying, or the television, or the couch or whatever else. You get the idea.

Amazon isn’t doing any  favors for your community bookstores (from the little independent to Barnes & Noble). How is Amazon hurting publishing, though? By pushing harder and harder deals on publishers to sell their books. the cost for printing a physical copy of a book isn’t the biggest money sink. You have to pay the author, the editor, proofreaders, marketing, tech people to run the growing digital side, etc. So, let’s take Amazon’s $10 price. Amazon wants to take 30% right off the top, so we’re down to seven bucks. The other gets around a buck of it (10%) so we’re down to $6. From that $6, a cut is taken out to pay for all of those things listed above, plus everything else (building maintenance, secretaries, security, taxes,…). In other words, the profit margin is pretty damn slim. At some point, the costs of doing business are going to eclipse the returns they get from sales, and Amazon’s pricing structure will go a long way towards expediting that.

I began writing this last night, and I’m not surprised that I woke up to find this in my newsfeed this morning. Amazon is already looking to slash prices again in an attempt to gain greater market share.

This isn’t to say that  publishers are faultless. This article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution talks about how publishers have made it very difficult for libraries to expand their ebook lending. Give how one of the problems with Amazon is their work to gain a monopoly on ebooks, making them more readily available from libraries would seem to be a solid way of fighting that – especially if they adopt an open format that isn’t tied to any one device, allowing consumers more latitude in selecting their ereaders. one of the better ideas I’ve seen (other than just not dealing with Amazon) is to give away a free digital edition with the purchase of a print edition. So, instead of paying $10 for a digital copy, pay $15 for a trade paperback and get a digital copy for free. You put a balance against the ebook market, while also pushing sales for the print version the publisher seems to want to move more.

Alright, somewhat rambly post is over. I know there are gobs of stuff that I haven’t touched on, but I have only so much space and time. The short of it is that I think we’re jumping from the pan and into the fire by going after Apple and the publishers, and shifting power towards Amazon. They’re not a cuddly gentle giant looking to do right by readers everywhere, they’ll looking to make just as much money and grab as much power as anyone else. They can’t be trusted, just as we know we can’t really trust Wal Mart, and the effects of shopping with them are larger than we may initially perceive. If things continue, I won’t be surprised to see more brick and mortar stores close, publishing houses fail, and the quality of products (literature) slip, while the Cult of Amazon grows.Personally, I find it to be a bit of an ugly future.

Up to 40% means pandemonium

July 24, 2011

First, I love books (as evidenced by this blog). Second, I’m bordering on dirt poor. So, hearing that Borders is going out of business and will be liquidating their stores fills me with conflicting feelings. On the one hand, I hate seeing Borders go out of business. I enjoy the place, I get great deals for their free membership,and they are damn near everywhere. On the other hand, store liquidations means discounts. And, by the end of it, big discounts.

So the girlfriend and I made a point of going to the nearest Borders over the weekend to see what was going on, only to find the parking lot plastered with cars and 40% signs in the window. The first thought for both of us was, “This is happening quick.”

But once we got inside the store, we realized it wasn’t happening that fast, and that the 40% thing was only on select merchandise (magazines and cards). So, we were a bit disappointed, hoping to walk in and grab pretty solid discounts on some of the things we’ve looked at in the past and decided was overpriced and not worth our cash. After all, $20 for a paperback sounds kinda high, but take 40% off that thing and we’ll grab a couple of different books and end up paying $30 on our visit instead.

But seeing the discount being a bit more limited than we expected from the parking lot and the signs, we didn’t get much (I got a couple of lit mags). But other people were walking out with crazy amounts of books, and just because they were saving maybe $2.50 off the cover price.

At which point my girlfriend and I shared another WTF moment. Why are these people going nuts for a fairly mediocre sale? After all, I got much larger discounts in my email from Borders every single week. Which essentially guaranteed that I would be willing to at least step into a Borders every week and do my damned well best to find something to blow my money on. But these books were a whopping 10% off (unless you got them from the animal section,  which was 20% off). The only other time I had seen Borders (or nearly any other store) so busy is around Christmas when shoppers flood the stores in a near panic as they try to avert ruining the holidays for their loved ones with crappy gifts.

I had to wonder where these people were a week ago, or  a month ago, or a year ago, when Borders could have really used this sort of business? Would lopping 10% off the cover price once in awhile have pulled these people out of the woodwork to spend like sailors on leave?

And I, more of a true clearance shopper I guess, could only look on in disgust at my apparently more amateurish brethren. 10% isn’t enough to make me bat an eye, let alone consider opening my wallet. But here was a store full of people going batshit for it. And not just sort of batshit, but having to shift the line from going straight out from their roped off area, to doubling back on itself like a coiled snake batshit.

Maybe Borders should have tried this sooner. Throw up a bunch of 40% off signs, which are only applicable to a couple of sections, give everything else a much more modest discount, and see if the herd would stampede through the door.  Instead of constantly remodeling stores that didn’t need to be remodeled, or revamping their stocking systems, what they really needed was a good sale. Because, as we witness from every clearance sale, every store liquidation, every holiday free-for-all, people are willing to buy anything if they believe they are getting a good deal on it. I know I’m happy with my copy of the Paris Review. The William Gibson interview is fantastic.

So, Borders is Liquidating.

July 19, 2011

Anyone who has followed this for the past year or so can’t be overly surprised. There was always doubt that they would be able to right the ship or get someone to ride in and rescue everything with a huge bag-o-cash. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to some part of me hoping for just that.

Since Media Play shut its doors, Borders has been my official (non-used) book store. I’m a member. I use the coupons, I browse the shelves and I paw through the clearance racks. Over the years, the place has become a lot less cool. As hey continuously re-organized the stores, they also kept not bringing in any real assortment. If you had been in one Borders, you had been in them all, so there was never much of a point in going to the Borders in Ann Arbor if you had been to the one in Toledo the week before. If one place didn’t have what you were looking for, neither would the other, and it would take half a year and a pint of blood to get something you ordered from them.

But, honestly, the coupons kept me coming back. Which, apparently, is more than a lot of people can say. While the selection ceased to be the best, and they didn’t have a lot of places to sit down and browse through a book you were thinking of buying, it was still a comfortable place, if only because of its relative anonymity. Towards the end, it was as if Borders was flaunting the fact that they weren’t a great bookstore any more, and they were all the more likable for it.

But when Borders finally closes up, and I have picked through the bones of every store I come across (I can’t help it, I’m a whore for clearance sales of any sort and liquidation screams cheap), my days of bothering with bookstores, at least the kind that only sell new, crisp, fresh from the printer books, will likely be over. I’m sure I’ll still wander in the occasional Barnes and Noble, or even Books-A-Million, but they won’t be destinations on my shopping trips. Instead, I’ll probably now stick to the second hand stores.  And if there is something I just have to have, and can’t wait for, well, Amazon is a couple of keystrokes away.

Kerouac Letters, left on the shelf

September 5, 2010

Went to Half Price Books yesterday. They’re having a sale, 20% off everything, which doesn’t sound like much but, considering everything is already discounted, it adds up. Enough to make it worth going. My girlfriend found a couple of things off the clearance rack and grabbed something about knitting off the shelves. I had a more difficult time. What I came the closest to buying were a couple of books of letters of Jack Kerouac. They were the books from the 90s that Ann Charters edited. nice, big hardbound things, in excellent shape and things I have taken out of the library in the past and read bits and pieces of.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. There’s something about having his personal correspondence put out there to buy and paw through that turns me off a bit.  I’m curious, I kinda want to read them, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want my letters put out there like that. Considering he’s dead, he doesn’t have that choice.

At the same time, I can see how such things might be really interesting and helpful for scholarly work. And Kerouac wasn’t exactly shy about putting his life out there in his writing. And it’s not exactly hurting anyone since damn near anyone who could be mentioned in the things have to be either at or nearing the end of their lives. The media doesn’t exactly clamor after authors, anyway.

Still, I left the things on the shelf. Maybe I’ll go back and buy them anyway. It wouldn’t be the first time I ventured back to a bookstore to snap up something I had previously left but I doubt I will this time.  I understand their value, I understand why and how they could be interesting to people, but it still feels invasive to me. I don’t, personally, need to know what he wrote to his friends and confidants. I’ve become happy with his books. It’s all I need.

Price War?

November 10, 2009

Well, November is nearing the halfway point and I’m wondering if anyone remembers the Price War of October where retail giants tried slugging it out humanities style. At the time I said it was a blip on the radar-something to take advantage of while you could because it was unlikely to last or even to repeat itself in the near future and, so far, it looks about right.

I haven’t seen any of the major retailers continue to discount preorders to the $9 range. Once the books were released their prices jumped to more normal discount levels for best sellers. And no one is going crazy about how the publishing world is going to be placed on its head and how the 21st century would officially be leveled upon writers and how their work will have to change.

So. Blah. The price war is over and the new publishing world looks damn similar to the old publishing world. Much like the file sharers found with the ongoing fight with the music industry, lumbering giants die hard and, when they fall, they tend to leave everything maimed beyond recognition – not just the horrors of the old regime.

The publishing industry will change. It is inevitable. As music has had to shift gears (while missing second entirely and still trying to make an ugly grinding stab at third), as newspapers have falled from venerable institutions to vulnerable endeavors and as the movies still blame those damn pirates for falling box offices rather than shotty movies, the writers and makers of books will have to find new hotels to occupy, new frontiers to letter over.

And I have no doubt they will. And people will continue to make money off of it. Change will come and money will not be far behind.  Just not today.

Read(h)er well and Kindle some Nook-E (reading)

October 23, 2009

I’m a fan of e-lit.

Now, if you’ve spent any time in a university hallway in the English wing, you would know that this isn’t a very welcomed feeling. Critics and lit majors have a hard on for the physical body of books. It’s the lover they can never keep. While the writing majors/profs mostly see a changing economic landscape that could forever deprive them of any book deal that would be worth cashing at some place other than the corner liquor store.

alright, exaggerations (slight) but still largely true outside of the pop culture studies majors/profs who get off on technology and our evolving culture in general. But the point is that the only people who really get e-lit are the normal, every day people. They are the ones fueling the sale of e-readers and making publishers hold back electronic publication dates to christmas eve (or christmas day).  they’re the ones blowing around $200 and better for these things so they can tote four novels around with them wherever they go.

but lets go back here for a moment. $200. For something to read a novel with. Or a newspaper. or a magazine. All of which you also have to purchase (though at discounted rates from their pulp and binding twins).  and all these things do is allow you to read books and purchase more books. Granted, Nook-E looks appealing, but that’s still a pret price point to read Kafka on the Shore.

And then your ebook collection isn’t even safe. As Amazon has demonstrated, it appears to be very easy for an outsider to simply go in and erase books from your reading device.  While it may be arguable that their reasoning did have some basis, it is still an appalling invasion of an individual’s world. Can anyone imagine Barnes&Noble coming to their house and, for any reason, demanding to take back a book you bought from the? But they wouldn’t even demand it. They would just pry open a window one night, creep in, take it from the shelf and leave a few bucks on your night stand. That’s what Amazon did.

All of this has made me wonder about the popularity of such devices. They are expensive, they are limited in function and they appear to be some of the most un-secure devices you can own. What is the appeal? and why don’t more people simply use tablet PCs? For anyone who doesn’t know, a tablet PC is essentially a big ipod touch but with a ton more functions.  it’s a computer that you can interact with either through a stylus or through a conventional keyboard/mouse (depending on each particular make/model of your tablet PC).

People have argued that the size of such things are prohibitive. They’re too big. They’re too clunky. Etc. But most tablets I see are between 10 and 14 inches long and around four pounds. Slightly bigger than Kindle, nook-E and Reader but that also means the text can be bigger. And they are far, far more functional. I’ve also heard people talk about the screens and how the readers are easier on the eyes. Well, you’re reading this blog, ain’t ya? A normal, well-maintained monitor screen is fine for reading text.

Apparently, Steve Jobs has had similar thoughts. Apple is prepairing their own tablet PC that appears to be aimed at the Kindle crowd. And it looks pretty much like a really big I-Phone or I-Pod Touch. Granted, it’s going to be a good deal more expensive than the other e-readers (around $700-900) but I’m betting it will also be a LOT more functional. Given the massive following that overprice Apple gear has, maybe this will be the push that people need to move away from these e-readers and start doing what music lovers have been demanding for quite awhile now: less specialized gear, better price points and easier access – along with more consumer rights, despite publishers/record labels wanting to strip these rights to the bone.

The Insanity Continues!

October 21, 2009

I was going to do a blog on a few articles I came across when looking up the whole Price War thing a couple of days ago. They were about how e-readers could spawn a new age of literature piracy and, I thought, provided a nice jumping off point (or points) for a blog. So I go to find these pages again to do the blog tonight and what do I find?

Target Has Entered The Fray!

Another link that didn’t load even had Sears stepping into the trenches.

or maybe it’s more apt to say “stepping into the ring.” Something that started off as relatively cute and, I thought, short term,is apparently growing into something legitimately large. After all, I didn’t even know sears sold books other than the instruction manuals for radial arm saws.

Still, I don’t think this is going to be a long term trend -at least not until digital versions become a legitimate option to bound pages. So I still think you should take advantage of this while you can. Go and get one of those books you’ve been wanting and get it as cheaply as you can. It’s not going to last.

Cheap Books are Bad for Business?

October 19, 2009

I go away for a weekend and Amazon and Wal-Mart get locked into a price war over upcoming bestsellers.

As someone who has lamented (bitched and whined) about the price of books, especially books in the “literature” section, this doesn’t bother me. I don’t share the agent’s worry that this is going to somehow destroy the market for new writers. I’m hoping the effect is more along the lines of keeping the James Patterson’s of the world from making $150m for the next three years (and 17 books).

But I know this is probably just a delusional fantasy of mine and that we are probably more likely to see the publishing industry go the route of Hollywood and just start churning out as many “blockbusters” as they think they possibly can.

what would that mean? It would mean that Stephen King would no longer have to fret over that extra novel he occasionally writes in a year and can just publish it under his own name than under “Richard Bachman.” It means we would see more Grishams, Rices, etc. etc. etc.

so the emerging writer wouldn’t get priced out of the medium so much as pushed to the side for the authors guaranteed to bring in the money.

Which would also be bad.

But maybe, just maybe, we will see the beginning of book prices just coming down across the board. If this means the end to the Trade Paperback (or at least its being scaled back for only selected works and not every work), I’m fine with it. If it means prices drop to around $25 for a hard cover and $10 for a paperback, it wouldn’t stop me from trying a new author.

Which is what I think the high price of books effectively does. I would even say that it doesn’t just push buyers of books towards authors they feel safe with (like Stephen King) but away from books as a whole. When the price of one hardcover is the same as three (or even seven) DVDs, I don’t think it is any wonder that people move towards the movies. They get more bang for their buck.  I have two degrees in English and the prices turn me off. What does that say for people who are, more or less, looking for an entertainment option???

Of course there is the worry that this won’t be a minor blip on the radar screen and that $10 will become the new price point for hardcovers. I’ve read a few articles now proclaiming how the business of selling books will have to be fundementally changed to accomodate this sudden and drastic price change. And I don’t buy it for a second. While I have hopes that the overall price for books comes down, the reality is that I don’t expect this to have any real, long lasting effects. It’s a price war. These two will fire their shots, stuff will get cheaper for awhile, and then it will be over. Prices will go back up and reading will still be a wholly unaffordable act for the majority of people.

So take advantage of the moment. If you’re a fan of the ten or so books being heavily discounted and you don’t want to wait for either paperback or the second hand shop to get them in, grab them now. I’m thinking of getting the Stephen King book.