So Linda and I were in the paper this morning, in an article about e-books versus books (or book books, as I call them).
I'm always amazed by how little of what one actually says actually makes it into the paper -- having to share space with other storekeepers and all.
Anyway, I wrote the following yesterday, in response to a comment on my Alien's April Fool's Day interview, but didn't want to publish it ahead of the article and possibly steal a march.
Really, only one duplicate comment -- the remark that e-books have "no soul, no funk," so I'll print as is.
Boofa comments: "Bookstores are definitely going to take it in the shorts over the next ~10 years..."
Well, you know -- some bookstores.
Bookstores are beset by many problems, and have been for years. Most fail for internal reasons. I admit there is little margin for error -- but small indy bookstores haven't had a margin for error for decades now.
I figure that anyone who browses in my bookstore and then goes home and downloads a book was already the kind of customer who browsed my bookstore and went home and ordered it from Amazon or went out the Costco. I lost those customers long ago.
Border's problems were internally inflicted long before e-readers came around. Barnes and Noble stock is in the toilet, even though the last I checked their actual sales were pretty good.
I think everyone is extrapolating from the music industry....
It's still really, really early in the process, so it it's all guesswork. We're looking for things to compare it with -- but that's a little like fighting a new war with the last war's tactics.
It's a NEW THING!
I don't think it's going to play out the same way.
I don't think it NEEDS to play out the same way. Music is music -- and it seems to me the delivery system isn't as important as the music.
Same with movies -- the delivery system isn't as important as the movie.
(With the big exception of the theaters -- which are probably a better analogy to books -- people tell me all the time they have quit going to movies because of the cost. Whereas, true movie lovers love the immersion of the big screen. I suspect theatrical movies, like books, both have romance built into their very existence and will survive the digital revolution.)
I truly believe that the delivery system of paper-bound books is a large part of the appeal.
I know at one point of my own life, I shed all the books in my office to try to create a spare, zen-like room. Until I visited my sister's house, which was packed with books. I soaked up the atmosphere of literature and realized I missed it. I went back home and let books accumulate again.
E-books have no soul, no presence, no funk. No nostalgia. No feel and smell and taste and touch and....you know, it's all "bits." I can love a books, but it's hard to love "bits." When I finish an e-book, that's it. Vanished into thin air except a memory.
Whereas I finish a book, and I put it on the shelf, and it gives me a little frisson everytime I see it. And the sheer mass of memory on those shelves is going to be replaced by --what? An e-list? Gag.
Both Linda and I have had customers come in and tell us they bought an e-book and don't need their credit or whatever. You know what? I think those people will be back. I think they'll miss the romance of books. True lovers of books have a romance with reading. They'll see a friend curled up on the couch with a novel and they'll feel the pang of regret.
Others have told me that having so many books is a "burden." Really, a burden? O.K. shed the damn things. What's that got to do with anything? Your library can be as big or small as you want it.
Most of the arguments for e-books just don't really hold up that well. Access to thousands of books?
Ummm...how many do YOU read at a time.
If I gave you a device that produced thousands of pairs of pants, would that be something you want?
(I don't know, maybe some of you wear more than one pair at a time...)
As long as I have a book in the hand, and a book on the table, and maybe one more book on a bookshelf, I'm fixed. Hell, I may toss two or three books in a backpack for a week vacation, but I'll probably still only read one.
I can 'toss' it into my backpack and 'throw' my backback into the car and let the book rattle around and get dog-eared and 'drop' it on the ground and dust it off and write all over it and give it to a friend or throw it away or keep it forever.
You need more information? There's this thing called "the internet" that has more information than ALL of US could ACTUALLY READ in our ENTIRE LIFETIMES!!!
I think a big part of the appeal of an e-book is that it's a new gadget. So those predisposed to gadgets are all over those mothers.
I think bookstores are making a huge mistake -- aided and abetted by the American Booksellers Association -- of being enablers to the digital. My advice would be to shut the door firmly in it's face, and say, "Go sell yourself without MY help."
In fact, that's what I'm going to do.
I also think that even those people who buy e-books, will also buy book books.
Or, more likely, buy gadgets that have e-book components, like I-Pad. Hell, I might buy a I-Pad.
I might download free books that I never would have actually purchased in a million years, but which I might want to glance at or browse. Sort of like I read the N.Y. Times Book Review and read all the reviews but not actually read all the books.
If I lose a sale I never had, is that a problem?
I do think there is a danger, at least at first, of losing enough business in the book trade -- say, 10 to 30% -- that the whole book trade loses cohesion, which makes it weaker, which makes it lose more business, in a downward spiral.
But it doesn't have to happen. If the publishers and distributors and bookstores and writers are willing to fight for the book-book, and take the blows, and wait for the readers to come to their senses.
(And, most worrisome, they don't overreact, enable the e-reader to take their customers without a fight -- or buy too deeply into the music industry analogy.)
In fact, I'd deny them the right to call it a BOOK at all. It isn't a book -- it's a gadget that delivers information. It ain't a book. (Probably a lost cause that, idiosyncratic -- just like I think audio books aren't really books, but performances, plays...)
To me, E-books are like Pringles -- they have the same ingredients as potato chips, but they aren't potato chips.
Most readers don't give a damn about the "business" of books (or music, or films.) They don't really understand that much of what they love comes from the structure of business. Customers are like hippies -- they think that if they love music and books and films they will magically happen. Their favorite writers and artists will make money! And keep on delivering. Dude, let's all hold hands and wish really hard!
So are e-books going to put the bookstore business out of business?
In my gut, I don't feel it. In my gut, I think bookstores are here to stay because BOOKS are here to stay. C.D.'s ? DVD's? Who cares?
Books, I care.
E-books are like microwave dinners -- cheap and convenient and tasteless. Books are like fine meals, and bookstores are like fine restaurants. (And bookstore owners are like chefs, eh.)
I have predicated my entire existence in business with the idea that if I like something, or I think I have something other people will like, and if I buy it and carry it and display it, that there are enough other people out there who will like the same thing and buy it.
So...with that in mind, my attitude toward books hasn't changed one iota (I was going to say, bit, but I don't like that word anymore...), and I suspect there are enough people out there who feel the same way to keep me in business for at least the next few years.
I've also concluded that there are many many customers I can't have -- they buy elsewhere because it's cheaper or the other store is bigger or any number of reasons. So I deal with the customers I CAN have, and build from there. There have been many occasions when I've lost 10 or 20 or 30% of my customers because of changes in the industry, but I've found that if I keep doing the Core Thing, that I'll eventually get some people back.
And if I can't, I move onto the next thing.
But I think books are the kind of thing people are going to stick with, and/or do both and/or come back to. And those people who discard books onto the dustpin of history -- they probably weren't really ever my customers in the first place. (It's hard to see them as lovers of books -- lovers of info, maybe, but not books.)
I sell book-books. To people who love books. I think I'm O.K. with that.
3 days ago