A new survey has peered into our bookshelves, and it’s revealing some good news about the reading habits of young Americans.
A new survey has peered into our bookshelves, and it’s revealing some good news about the reading habits of young Americans.
A few years ago, observers projected that the rise of chain stores and Amazon would lead to the decline of independent bookstores.
Photo by Raylipscombe/Thinkstock
The recent news of the opening of an independent bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was greeted with surprise and delight, since a neighborhood once flush with such stores had become a retail book desert. The opening coincides with the relocation of the Bank Street Bookstore near Columbia University, leading the New York Times to declare, “Print is not dead yet — at least not on the Upper West Side.”ZACHARY KARABELL
Zachary Karabell is an author, money manager, and commentator. His most recent book is The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World.
Two stores don’t constitute a trend, but they do point to a quiet revival of independent bookselling in the United States. They also underscore the shifting sands of physical bookselling, where the biggest losers are not—as was once assumed—the independent booksellers, but rather the large book chains.
Only a few years ago, observers projected that the rise of chain stores and Amazon would lead to the vast shrinkage of independent bookstores. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of member independent bookstores has increased more than 20 percent since the depths of the recession, from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,094 in 2014. Meanwhile, Borders went bankrupt in 2011, and the fate of Barnes & Noble, which failed to make the Nook into a viable e-reader competitor with Amazon’s Kindle, appears murky. What happened?
The short answer is that by listing their shares as public companies, both Borders and Barnes & Noble were drawn into a negative vortex that destroyed the former and has crippled the latter. Not only did they become public companies, but they positioned themselves as high-growth companies, focused on innovation and disruption. That forced them to compete with the growth company par excellence in their space: Amazon. It also forced them to pursue high sales volume at the expense of inventories. Those strategies, as it turned out, were precisely wrong for the actual business they were in: selling books to a selective audience. Which is precisely what independent bookstores are good at.
Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and even Costco looked to be squeezing the life out of indies in the 1990s and into the aughts. Borders alone went from 21 stores in 1992 to 256 superstores in 1999. Barnes & Noble saw even greater growth. Those stores offered more choices, cafes, magazines, and for a while, music. Many independents, already operating with razor-thin margins, couldn’t compete. Between 2000 and 2007, some 1,000 independent bookstores closed.
Sales at indies have grown 8 percent a year over the past three years, which exceeds the growth of book sales in general.
But even as they were expanding, the chains were beset by questionable management decisions pressured by the demands of public markets to grow, grow, grow. Facing the need for expensive investment in technology, Borders sold its online distribution to Amazon in 2001 and threw its efforts into more stores and bigger stores, using its share price to finance massive debt. Barnes & Noble opened more superstores as well, but it also decided to challenge Amazon by developing the Nook at a cost of more than $1 billion.
The results were disastrous. Barnes & Noble bled money; it just announced earnings with yet another quarter of losses and declining revenue. Amazon dominated because it could spend far more money on technology than the chains, and because its core competency was in the disruptive technologies of e-readers, distribution, and inventory management. Amazon was never seen primarily as a retailer, and hence it could carry massive inventories that were a drag on its earnings and then spend billions on research and development because investors accepted Amazon’s narrative that it was a disruptive technology company redefining how everything is sold, not just books.
The chains, however, were valued as retailers, which meant that they had to have higher sales, more stores, and lower inventory to justify their stock prices. Because investors viewed the chains as retailers, they had to move product. That is what clothing stores do: Old inventory gets put on sale and then off-loaded to discount stores. Unsold inventory shows up on income statements as a negative against sales. To demonstrate higher profitability, retail stores have an incentive to turn over their inventories quickly.
For clothing and electronics and automobiles, that workflow is in sync with consumer behavior. Consumers want new fashion, the newest flat-screen, the latest model car. Book consumers aren’t the same. Yes, new titles can drive sales, but book buyers also look for forgotten classics and hidden gems. That means poring over shelves, and that requires old inventory. The chains and their management could have tried to set investors’ expectations for higher unsold inventories as a healthy part of the specific business of buying and selling books. But they didn’t. They treated old inventory as a drag rather than an asset and began to trim their shelves of titles. (Alternatively, they could have tried to position themselves as larger, better-stocked versions of the independents, focusing on the particular desires of book customers.)
Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage.In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”
Teicher is hardly a neutral observer, but the revival of independents can’t be statistically denied. Not only have numbers of stores increased, but sales at indies have grown about 8 percent a year over the past three years, which exceeds thegrowth of book sales in general. One of the strongest categories last year and into this year is hardcover nonfiction, and that has not been the most robust area for Amazon-dominated e-books. Amazon’s sales have been strongest in mass-market fiction. No independent bookstore could thrive on mass-market softcover sales. Instead, they do well with hardcovers, illustrated children’s books, cookbooks, and the like. And while indies cannot compete with Amazon’s inventory, Amazon evidently cannot supplant indies as shopping and social experiences.
The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability. But the same is true for many small businesses, which makes them no less vital—but also means they’ll never be candidates for public markets. The chains competed in public markets for investor dollars with precisely the wrong metrics and with Amazon undercutting their growth prospects. They churned inventory and tried to become digital players, and they lost. (Barnes & Noble may yet reverse that trend with its recent partnership with Samsung to develop a next-generation tablet and e-reader.) The independents, meanwhile, offer something neither Amazon nor the chains can: attention to the quirky needs of their customer base. For the Upper West Side and thousands of other neighborhoods, those stores have turned out to be irreplaceable.
Sadly, you won’t be able to read Margaret Atwood’s new book. When it’s finally published you’ll be dead. Well, you’ll probably be dead. Because her latest work is going to be placed in a time capsule that won’t be opened until the year 2114. And hers isn’t the only book.
I am very unsure about these creatures: part of me is intrigued and delighted but the other part of me would definitely recoil in disgust if I were to ever come across a book scorpion.
via Scientific American:
Book scorpions are the best/worst thing to happen to books, because book scorpions! But also book scorpions…
Properly known as pseudoscorpions, these tiny, tiny creatures have a fondness for old books, because old books also happen to contain delicious booklice and dust mites. And they’re really not book scorpions… at all because they can’t hurt us, and they’ve basically been performing a free pest control service since humans started stacking excessive numbers of dusty, bound-together piles of paper along our walls and nightstands. This arrangement works because old book-makers used to bind books using a starch-based glue that booklice and dust mites love, so without a healthy population of book scorpions patrolling your collection, those gross parasites are probably having a horrible, silent field-day chewing them all apart.
A set of four wooden bookcases magically build themselves in a wood shop in this charming stop motion animation by woodworker and filmmaker Frank Howarth. In addition to being a very entertaining work of animation, the video doubles as a surprisingly fascinating step-by-step demonstration of how to make a bookcase. This is the fully animated […]
The post A Charming Stop Motion Animation of Bookcases Magically Building Themselves in a Wood Shop appeared first on Laughing Squid.
via http://ift.tt/eA8V8J Whether it’s Oliver Twist or Harry Potter, Hester Prynne or Katniss Everdeen, literary characters offer us a chance to vicariously experience life in all its drama, humor, mystery, and adventure. […]
Author Karen Traviss has published a slew of successful books, from her own Wess’har Wars series to a number of Star Wars, Halo and Gears of War novels. But for her new techno-thriller Going Grey, she decided to walk away from a mainstream publishing contract and self-publish. She explains why.
Once again, we find a cake that I love too much to eat. On the other hand, does eating cake versions of books make you smarter? Because that sounds like a learning avenue that we should be exploring.
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Photos of books made by PediaPress with Wikipedia content. By Jann Glasmacher for PediaPress via Wikimedia Commons.
I can’t believe that I just found out about this service: you can create your own book of Wikipedia articles. After gathering the articles you want to include, you can compile them into a book, and then download it as a PDF, ODF, or even get it printed. I think I just checked a few people off of my “What the Hell Do I Get Them?” Christmas list.
Tips for creating great books
Topic and title
There are almost no limits when creating books from Wikipedia content. A good book focuses on a certain topic and covers it as well as possible. A meaningful title helps other users to have the correct expectation regarding the content of a book.Length
Books should have a reasonable number of articles. One article is not enough, but books that result in PDFs with more than 500 pages are probably too big, and may even cause problems on older computers.
And the battle against Amazon rages on…
via The Guardian:
Readers of the New York Times will have to steel themselves this weekend, as the unseemly brawl between Hachette and Amazon erupts on to the tranquil pages of the Grey Lady. Perhaps the most incendiary item in Sunday’s edition is due to be a full-page ad paid for by a group of bestselling authors – and backed by over 900 other writers – calling on Amazon “in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business”.
The extraordinary move is the latest salvo in a battle over terms which has seen Amazon delay delivery and remove the possibility of pre-orders on a swathe of books by Hachette authors, including JK Rowling and James Patterson. The online leviathan Amazon says it is attempting to “lower ebook prices”; publishing conglomerate Hachette argues that it is seeking “terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them”.
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Late last night, Amazon unveiled a letter in response to the 900+ authors who have united against the company and its ongoing commercial dispute with publisher Hachette.
The FCC is slated to close the written comment window for the net neutrality proceeding on September 10th, but that doesn’t mean that the FCC is going to make up its mind anytime soon. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that the FCC will be done hearing from the public. Technically, the public can continue to comment, and the FCC, if it decides to do so, can continue to listen to Americans who speak out against proposed rules that would allow Internet providers to discriminate against how we access parts of the Net.
This is about the future of our Internet. It’s a big deal and the FCC should treat it as such by holding public hearings in geographically diverse locations around the country to hear directly from Americans who will be affected by the Commission’s net neutrality decision.
The FCC has held public hearings before. In 2007, the Commission hosted a series of events, in places like Nashville, Los Angeles, and Tampa, to discuss how new rules about media consolidation would effect the information needs of Americans. Thousands of individuals spoke out, standing in line to testify in person, share stories, and build a robust public record that undeniably demonstrated the interest of the public. It’s time to do that again.
Filing a comment with the FCC is largely done via webforms on advocacy sites, like EFF’s own DearFCC.org. While online comments are a wonderful way to participate, we believe the Commission would greatly benefit from hosting public meetings to hear directly from the vibrant and richly diverse American public. If anyone can tell the FCC what is right and what is wrong with a potential rule set that would allow Internet providers to offer pay-to-play service for certain websites, it will be the students, entrepreneurs, artists, public safety officials, and everyday people for whom the Internet is a vital tool.
While written comments can be powerful, on an issue as important as this one, the Commission should listen to the voices of people who would stand up at a meeting, tell their stories and share their concerns about the future of the Internet. It’s time for the FCC to put faces to the over one million who have written to the Commission to speak out in defense of a neutral net.
So join us in calling for field hearings after the written comment period closes in September. And don’t forget to take action and get your comments into the FCC before September 10th. Now is the time to speak up. Let’s make sure the FCC listens.
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via http://ift.tt/eA8V8J Douglas Preston, a Hachette author, wrote a letter to his readers asking them to contact Jeff Bezos. Nearly 1,000 other writers have joined his cause.
via http://ift.tt/eA8V8J St. Mark’s Bookshop, an independent bookstore in New York City’s East Village, recently moved into a new retail location that features a dramatic bookcase that flows around nearly the entire perimeter of the space. New York City-based Clouds Architecture Office created the unusual bookcase design to keep the center of the store uncluttered, allowing the […]