Posts Tagged ‘Borders’

The Loss of Book Culture

June 14, 2014

I was showering this morning when I started thinking about a coupon I’d just gotten from Barnes and Noble in my email for 15%  off a purchase, and how I probably wouldn’t get to one of their stores regardless. I used to live in Borders. I loved Borders. Their stores made sense to me, and I would make sure I went at least one a week just to browse. That doesn’t happen any more. Part of it is the lack of proximity. I now have to drive at least a half hour on the expressway to get to either a Barnes and Noble or a Books-a-Million, the latter of which is really more of a reincarnation of Media Play than a bookstore. Now, a half hour isn’t a ton of time. It’s not so far out of my way that it would preclude me from doing something I really wanted to do.

Which is part of the problem now. Going to a book store isn’t something I really want to do. And it hasn’t been since Borders shut their doors. This isn’t a knock on the remaining book stores. All of them have their positives, and can be very nice places. I just have no interest in going.

So I wonder how many more out there are like me. Former book people, maybe even current book people (the library now stands in for my book browsing fix), who just do not feel the same pull to go into a bookstore and just browse. With the collapse of Borders, among others, how many of us were turned into the cold and ended up finding other fires to warm ourselves by? I miss Borders. A lot.  The world of books hasn’t been the same since, no, not even with little indie bookstores that all us feel bad for not supporting better.

And then there is the elephant in the room, Amazon, which has been in the news lately for trying to badger Hachette into a poor deal for the publisher. If we’re going to think about book culture, going to the stores, wandering around, flipping through pages, Amazon is the antithesis of this. Yeah, you can sometimes browse a few digital pages, but you don’t have the other people wandering the aisles, you don’t have the clerks willing to offer advice and suggestions, you don’t have the communal coffee shop-ish area, you don’t have any real interaction. You have point. You have click.  You have no community that exists in any real tangible sense.

Maybe society is changing away from the sort of experience I have noticed myself dropping away from. This could be just a single story in a larger movement.  I miss my Borders, though.

Book Links 8-16-13

August 16, 2013

To visit a much posted topic here, yet more stuff about the Apple vs Government case. Anyone remember how way back at the beginning of the trial the judge commented that Apple was essentially boned? Well, she has a reputation for pre-judging her cases.  If you’ve read pretty much any of my other book links from the past few months, you know where I fall in this argument. I think Apple was entirely in the right, and it’s a joke that Amazon, the company that legitimately worked (works) to corner and monopolize the ebook market was hit with nothing.  I’m looking forward to Apple’s appeal.

Publisher’s Weekly has a blog post about bundling digital copies with damn near everything and wondering why the publishing industry doesn’t do it. My take is that it’s too foreign. Movies and music have always had a certain malleable aspect to their delivery the moment it became possible to be pulled into the home.  Each have went through a variety of formats (8mm, video cassette, DVD, reel-to-reel, audio cassette, CD, etc.) and have been open to being copied, swapped, and manipulated by their consumers in ways that publishing just hasn’t.  Aside from sitting down and either transcribing or xeroxing something, there wasn’t a convenient way of copying something for someone else to read.  You also couldn’t easily manipulate a text outside of a pair of scissors and some scotch tape.  The idea that your product not only can, but needs to, be creatively packaged and sold doesn’t have any real traction for publishing.  Their idea of a bonus feature has been an author interview in the back of the book, or perhaps a chapter or two of the author’s next book. If you wanted something with annotations, something that provided a weighty bonus feature, you were likely looking to pay a few extra books and having to special order a special edition.  What usually happened was that any sort of bonus usually became another book, or a magazine article, something that could be published entirely separately and monetized over again.

Which is awesome for writers and publishers. It’s just not something that has prepared them very well for what they should, and need, to be doing now.

Also, have to say, there are always exceptions to the rule. I don’t have the title off the top of my head, but I know at least one book I have had a music CD packaged with it featuring music created by the writer to go along with the book.  I think I bought it at a Border’s Closing Clearance Sale, and I still haven’t read it, or listened to the CD. So maybe there is also a lack of interest in readers for extra material, though I’m fairly certain that if I got a CD of some bizarre music with a Stephen King novel, I’d have probably listened to it in the car on the way home.

Anyway. The kid just brought me the mail, and it’s sort of thrown my entire thought process out of whack. I have no idea how anyone is productive at all when there is a kid in the house.

Some Books Links for the Day

July 19, 2012

Here’s a story at The Daily Book Beast about bookselling in the UK. Long story short, Amazon’s ruthless price gouging is bad for book stores and weakens publishers. But once the wolf is in the hen house…

Wondering how some Borders employees have fared since Borders closed shop? well, here are some answers to that question.

If you can’t beat them, apparently Penguin is deciding to join them. And by join them I mean Penguin is spending $116 million to buy the self-publishing company Author Solutions.  I’m leery of the whole self-publishing thing. Granted, every time I go to Amazon they seem to be pimping a new “success” story on their front page, but the numbers of Author Solutions should be a bit more sobering. They have over 150,000 authors publishing through them. How many have made it big?

 
Alright, that’s what I’ve seen so far today that I found interesting.

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.

Half Price Books and Borders Outlet – North Olmstead

August 19, 2009

Finishing up the reviews for North Olmstead bookstores today.  Despite my largely negative review for The Book Rack in North Olmstead, I have to say that the town itself is impressive for the bookstores it harbors. It’s on the outskirts of Cleveland, close enough to drive to but far enough away to have its own identity. My g/f and I went to a japanese steak house for dinner (Dasaki?) and were seated with a group of four who were celebrating one couple’s twelve year anniversary and these were the most “like” the people I am used to being around than anyone since I have moved to Cleveland. Maybe that means they were just “small townish” compared to the cleveland-ites, and this isn’t a knock on the people of Cleveland, but they were people I was familiar.  What impressed me the most about North Olmstead was the sheer volume of bookstores – used and new – and how tightly they were packed together. Within a five minute drive of eachother were three used/outlet bookstres (two literally across the street from eachother) and a mall with a walden books. Not only were there two used bookstores, and I had significant problems with one, but they were both well stocked.

The Half Price Books in North Olmstead was, for all intents and purposes, a clone of the one I reviewed in Cleveland Heights. And this is not a bad thing. Everything the one store got right, this one also got right. From cleanliness to pricing to organization to lighting to everything else – Half Price Books in North Olmstead is a wonderful used bookstore. The strengths of it being a chain store are evident. It is clearly that the corporation sets forth some clearly defined standards and is sure that its stores comply with them. Their clearance racks are impressive, their help is good and their pricing is fair. If there is a Half Price Books near you, or if you see one while travelling, don’t hesitate to stop. Outside of some bizaar outlier, like a crazy woman ransacking the store or turkeys being thrown from a helicopter, you will be able to shop for affordable books in a nice environment.

The Borders Outlet (right across the street from Half Price Books) was something that piqued my curiosity.  Anyone familiar with the Borders chain knows that they have massive clearance racks within their stores so I was curious what exactly could be sent to a Borders Outlet. The answer is pretty much what you see on the clearance and discount racks at your every day Borders. The same essential cookbooks, the same helping of fiction books that didn’t sell, the same anthologies and assorted non-fiction books and kids books.  It’s not a place where you’re going to come across a great find or anything. But, if you don’t have a regular Borders nearby, I can see how the Borders Outlet would have some appeal. What it lacks in selection, the store was rather spartan and occupied a space far larger than it currently needs, it makes up for with cleanliness and presentation. If you’re going out on an earnest bookhunt, it’s not something to go out of the way for. But if you have thirty minutes and want to just browse some cheap books, it’s not a bad place to stop.

As a whole, North Olmstead is a bookshoppers paradise. Even if you don’t necessarily like the setup of a store or two, the stores are still there and you can find some great bargains (my g/f and I each spent around $10 on the day and we each brought home 4-7 books).  We didn’t get around the whole town but the only thing North Olmstead appears to lack is a big bookstore along the lines of a full fledged Borders or Barnes and Noble. But they do have a Walden Books in the mall and there’s always the internet.  Another big plus for North Olmstead is that all of this shopping is within minutes of the interstate.  We got off at our exit and the mall was right there, along with Borders Outlet and Half Price Books while the Book Rack was a very short drive to, essentially, the other side of the mall. So if you’re travelling through the area and looking for a quick book splurge, plan ahead, print off some maps of the area and it’s an easy way to kill a few hours and hit numerous stores.

Larry McMurtry:The Book Is Dead

January 22, 2009

Over at the Houston Chronicle they had this short interview with Larry McMurtry that focuses on books and culture. His 29th novel is to hit bookshelves later this year and he’s beginning work on the second book of his biography (the first, Books, was published in 2007 and the third, Hollywood, has yet to be written). He also owns a used and rare bookstore in his home town of Archer City called Booked-Up.

Within the interview McMurtry uses his upcoming speaking engagement at Rice to touch upon the fact that he sees few young people come into his store. Nearly everyone is “over 40” and this has caused him to worry that the our “Book Culture” is in its final stages. Despite an early love with stories, he mentions how kids hit an entertainment blitzkrieg when they get around eleven or twelve years of age. A world of MP3 players, video players, movies, cell phones, the internet, satallite radio, and television come together as a horde of mice attacking the child’s time and attention with each taking away its fair morsel.

Which might be true.

But I also think that it might be overstating it a bit. I don’t see a lot of young people at the used bookstores I frequent, either. But I don’t think this is because there is a severe lack of young people reading, only that there is a severe lack of young people willing to go to a store that isn’t in a shopping mall.

For when I go into Borders, I see plenty of young people. Being a bit of a crotchety old man, I’m often annoyed by the sheer volume of young people taking up space in the book aisles. Though, to be fair, I’m fairly annoyed by anyone in the book aisles taking up space. But the point is that they are there. Granted, there is a larger number of them filtering over to the graphic novel and manga sections, both of which were recently expanded at my local Borders, but I think we are past the point of denigrating the graphic novel as a lesser form of reading.

Also, I think the written word may have a larger place within our society now than nearly ever before. While this may no longer be a golden age of letters, the young are not bashful about picking up their keyboard and putting their thoughts to the page. With the imprint that blogging, instant messaging, chat rooms and message boards leave on the virtual and real worlds, I would wager that there is a greater segment of our society today putting the written word to daily use than ever before.

Whether there is quality riding along with this quantity is debateable but I think that is more of a question of the technology and the forum having existed outside of the social norm until very recently. Instead of embracing these forms of communication and expression, bringing them into the mainstream and incorporating their strengths into legitimizing their forms, we have allowed them to remain on the outside where their influence is still felt but not controlled in any real way. Bloggers are still looked upon with suspicion while the other forms are looked upon as amateurish time wasters.

But kids are reading these things and kids are writing these things. These are places that are engaging, demanding and are beginning to carry formidable weight. So while the internet might take customers away from the bookstore, it isn’t taking people away from the written word. Despite the thunderhead of etnertainment distractions that descend upon the young, they still find time to write and read something they are interested in and which they find accessible.

What I think this really shows is that the literary world needs to change with the world around it. I’ve talked about a couple of e-books in past blogs and the majority of us know of Project Gutenberg but it needs to go further. Literature needs to be created solely for the internet browsing crowd, incorporating HTML, flash, etc. to create the dynamic reading experience that people have come to expect.

This isn’t to say that the conventional printed word is dead or that it doesn’t have a place in society. I can’t realistically see any point within my life time where I will quit wandering into a conventional bookstore and buying a conventional book. This only to say that the world of literature has a new frontier into which to expand. Having these alternate forms emerge is an opportunity to expand the influence of the written word and to stave off the demise McMurtry prophesies.

The Evolution of the Paperback

December 17, 2008

Paperback books are beautiful things these days. Their covers are stiff and thick, their coverart has clearly had some real effort put into it to make it look modern and relevant, and the general quality is very good. Unfortunatley, they’re also called Trade Paperbacks and cost $14-18 a pop.

I think my generation has been the one that has straddled the the transition for Literature from the basic paperback to the trade paperback. I think I remember seeing the change begin in earnest about ten years ago, as these large, obviously well-made books began creeping onto bookshelves amongst their smaller, flimsier brethren. Where this happened first was The Classics, thier status amongst the other books apparently lifting them to higher quality stock.

I also remember noticing the clear price difference between the conventional paperback and the Trade Paperback.  Where I could grab a copy of Breakfast of Champions for $5 in the standard paperback, the Trade Paperback wanted to pry $15 out of my wallet. but I guess that’s the price you pay for Classics.

And now it’s the price you pay for Literature. I got a couple of Borders gift cards through my credit card company last week and, coupon in hand, ventured into Borders to get a “free” book. Well, as free as having used my credit card for hundreds of dollars of purcases so that I could use my Reward Points for a couple of $25 gift cards, at any rate.

I picked up The Last Town on Earth, a debut novel by Thomas Mullen. This in no way is to reflect the quality of the novel. I haven’t read it yet but I bought it so I clearly think it’s something that at least stands a chance at being pretty good.  But it also cost $14. With my coupon, it took the cost plus tax down to just under twelve.  And we wonder why it’s hard to get young people interested in books. I’m betting price has a reasonable hand in it as they make movies look affordable.

And we’re starting to see the Trade Paperback drift into the genre sections as well. Phil Dick and Ray Bradbury were among the first of the genre writers I remember seeing with these big, sturdy editions of their classic work. And now I’m seeing William Gibson’s Spook Country retailing for $15 (though, kudos to Amazon for having it and many other books on significant markdowns). 

For all of the talk about the RIAA pillaging music fans with ridiculous prices on CDs and deserving to be similarly plundered by filesharing programs, I can’t help but think that the publishing companies have followed a similar path. The covers might be a little nicer and the books a little bigger but I’m not sold on these developments requiring a $10 price hike over the more conventional paperback. And I also wouldn’t hesitate to just buy a conventional paperback if given the choice.

But we’re not given that choice and I have to wonder if the prices are not hurting the growth of the book industry. While once someone becomes a reader they are probably hooked for life, and will continue to buy (and gripe) regardless of the price,  I have to think it turns away potential readers. I also wonder if it doesn’t limit the possibilities for success of new writers. If someone is on a bit of a budget and they have a choice between the new novel from a writer they’ve read and enjoyed or a new novel from a new guy, I’m betting the old and familiar usually wins that tug of war.

And maybe I just miss the days of being able to buy a good book for $6.