Archive for the ‘Bookselling’ Category

Chances are there’s a Borders store near you that’s either closing or will close within the next year. Fortunately, the store in my town will remain open – for now – though another location 15 minutes north of here isn’t quite so lucky.

I’ve visited the unfortunate Borders store three times since they put up the deadly yellow “Store Closing Sale!” and “Everything Must Go!” banners, and each time felt a bit like a vulture. Every time I visit I’m effectively picking the bones of the carcass that was once a bustling store. And it’s a distinctly cringe-worthy feeling I don’t like at all.

I know it’s inevitable the store must rid itself of inventory, but at the same time it’s just so sad. I’ve spent a lot of time there since it went up, though, admittedly I preferred the Barnes & Noble down the street (better selection, more comfy chairs, more neutral decor), but I still spent a lot of time at Borders, partly because I’m a member of their rewards program and received regular coupons, because I spent that much there (DID I EVER!). There’s another reason I’m shocked it’s closing, that I wasn’t able to keep them in the black with my purchases alone.

But it’s not just the local closings that’s bothersome. It’s more the fact Borders is one of the two book mega-chains, the brick and mortar biggies that were responsible for putting the independents – with few exceptions – out of business years ago. Now they’re going bankrupt, struggling to keep themselves alive by streamlining, cutting jobs and closing less profitable stores. So, without the assurance Borders will make it, everything now hinges on Barnes & Noble. And it’s having its share of problems, too.

Why? I see the reason as two-fold: first, GIANT retailer Amazon is able to undercut the prices of all brick and mortar stores, and second, the spectre of eBooks that require no manufacturing, no shipping and the convenience of instant delivery. Oh, and they’re generally cheaper than regular books.

So, what will happen to books once eBooks eventually take over? Or will they? Look at the music industry. Once there were Victrolas, then reel-to-reel and vinyl records. Along came 8-track tapes (a travesty!), cassettes, then CDs. Now, iPods and electronic downloads.

Recording artists are also having their works pirated, downloaded for absolutely free online, cutting their profits to the bone. Once books go all electronic the same will happen with them, you can bet on it. Writers who’re unable to live off writing proceeds alone will have that much less incentive to write – assuming they’re not in it for the love of the art itself. What will happen to the publishing industry? As goes music, soon will follow books.

Best case scenario, used book stores will thrive. Those of us who covet the written book will be able to get our fix buying lower-priced, pre-owned if you will, books. And there’s always print on demand, too. Not a bad option, at least if they’re priced reasonably.

For the sake of disclosure, though I love books I own a Sony eReader. I even have the Kindle app on my iPhone. And, when Kindles are given away for free – which is rumored to start happening by the end of this year – I’ll take one of those, as well. I do buy eBooks. I love the portability of them, the fact I can load up on library and bookstore books, carrying a virtual library with me wherever I go.

So, have I stopped buying books? Not by a long shot! Instead I’ve been buying way too much, between eBooks and book books. Not the best financial strategy, but I’m putting the brakes on that right now. Right. Now. Or, after I’ve bought the last batch of cheap books at the doomed Borders store that’s a mere 15 minutes away.

Ahem.

None of us can predict what will eventually happen, but the writing is on the wall. Resist though we may, this is already in motion, such a strong tide can’t be stemmed. All well and good to try to fight it, if it makes a person feel better, but in the end logic, and economics, will prove the big publishers get their way. They’re already struggling. Tell me how the prospect of making larger profits on eBooks, which don’t have to be manufactured and shipped, won’t keep ailing publishers afloat. Or at least assure the survival of the most powerful of them. There’s no way around it.

I’ve posted a lot re: eBooks, and with a great deal of passion, but from here on I see there’s not much point in denying the inevitable. The demise of Borders is a dire event. The bell is tolling for bookstores.  Soon we’ll be left with just Amazon, which I predict will still be standing when the mega-chains are shuttered. Where Amazon goes, there goes publishing.

Keep your eye on the Amazon basket. That’s where the remaining eggs lie. But this librarian/book reviewer/manic reader predicts what will be left, when the dust settles, are eBooks and print on demand. What will happen with picture books, graphic novels, etc., is a different kettle of fish. Likewise, children’s books. Maybe specialty publishers will continue to exist for those. But this may turn out to be the exception to the rule.

Probably not what you wanted to hear, and it’s definitely not what I like to say. I’ll take no pleasure in “I told you so!” in this case. And nothing would make me happier than being proven wrong. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

The question is when, not if. And it may be a gradual shift, as in cassettes and albums giving way to CDs. Like LPs, maybe books will enjoy a renaissance, for the novelty. But I’m afraid to say it’s not looking good for lovers of the book. Never mind I already own more books than I can read in my lifetime. In several lifetimes, I think. I’ll mourn the passing of books regardless.

Just let me be wrong. That’s what I hope.

Current list of Borders closures.

Of course I want you to say the library is your primary source for books. I sort of have a vested interest in that. While we’re at it, let’s include music CDs, DVDs and books on CD, all things you can get for FREE at your public library.

But sometimes, I know, one would like a personal copy of the materials listed above. And when you do, how often do you visit one of the big chain stores? How much of an impact will it have for you when those eventually go away. And they are. Rapidly.

Borders is a prime example. It’s in serious trouble, in the last stages of treading water before it sinks to the sea bottom. Today I found this article on the presumed reason for its demise, and this is the synopsis:

“In 2001, just as Internet commerce was beginning to thrive, Borders made the mistake of turning its online sales over to Amazon, a competitor, which gained vital customer information such as purchasing habits. “It’s unheard-of,” book publishing expert Al Greco said. “It’s as if Coca-Cola asked Pepsi to distribute Coca-Cola.”

Sure enough, Amazon was able to lure away Borders customers with its slick website functionality, especially the widget that matched a buyer’s choices to other commensurate book titles. By the time Borders finally launched its own online service in 2008, it was way too late to catch up to Amazon and even Barnes & Noble, though that chain is also in trouble.”

Who’s running Borders, anyway? Shouldn’t they hire people with more than half a brain?

Book GIANT Amazon undercuts pretty  much everyone else in price. They seem to have pretty much everything you can think of, including snack bars (I reviewed one for them once!) and electronics. So Borders decided to partner with them, sharing a website?

Really, really bright move. Duh.

I love buying books cheaply, but I also love browsing in actual stores. Sure, it’s fun hopping around Amazon, following their suggested reads and what-not, but it has nowhere near the experience of hanging out at a bookstore, having a latte while you read the first couple chapters of a book you’re considering buying. And, sure, Amazon usually allows you to read some sample pages of their books. But where’s my latte?!

Then there’s the feeling of companionship being around other bookish people, quietly co-existing alongside each other. And I personally love the sound of pages turning. Maybe it’s associated with bedtime stories as a child, but it’s a sound that soothes me. Can Amazon provide that?

Seeing these big chain stores failing is tough. Will Barnes & Noble be far behind? Not far, according to some articles I’ve been reading. They’re in deep trouble, too. With Borders on life support shouldn’t Barnes & Noble be happily taking up the slack? With Amazon’s siren cry apparently not.

The public library will soon be the one left standing. That’s a great, great thing, don’t get me wrong. Still, the loss of any book outlet is a bad thing. It only contributes to the potential demise of the book in general, taking away another source from which people browse or buy books.

How many times have I heard a patron come in and ask for a book he or she just saw at Borders, unwilling to pay the cover price? Answer: several. And that’s partly because their books are arranged by subject rather than the Dewey decimal system, making browsing very easy. And the more browsing someone does, the more unexpected, serendipitous finds.

So, to survive do public libraries need to abandon Dewey and go with the same floor plan as big box bookstores? Kind of makes you think. And should libraries put in coffee bars?  Some already have, but not all can afford it. But for those that can, will that be a good extra draw for people used to drinking coffee while perusing books?

It’s something to consider during these tough economic times, preferably before more libraries are lost and the profession takes any more hits. After all, I never imagined bookstores would just go away *poof!* like that. Kind of makes you wonder what’s next, doesn’t it?

From Huffington Post:

” Anyone who believes this new technology is going away is dreaming. Anyone who believes the print publishing industry has a chance to survive in its present form is dreaming. It’s now possible for any small publisher to have free and almost immediate access to the largest bookstore in the world — Amazon. In a few days, a small publisher can have its entire backlist in Kindle format available at Amazon to readers. Salesmen are bypassed, distributors are bypassed, bookstore buyers are bypassed. What will not change much is marketing and promotion — new books will still need to be brought to the attention of the public. But the new books will be Kindle or Kindle-like digital books. ”

Read more…

World's most beautiful bookstores

Posted: February 26, 2008 in Bookselling

Think your local Borders can top these?

If so, I’m moving to your neighborhood.

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Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, Netherlands

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Even though I’m not really a bookseller any more, these things still catch my eye.

This copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio went up for auction today at Sotheby’s and has been sold to a London bookseller for £ 2.8 M. Estimates for the sale were in the area of up to $ 6 M, so this auction actually fell a bit short. As it was sold to a bookseller, though, that suggests it will be sold again in the not-too-distant future.

This is not a complete copy, as one of the front endpapers is reportedly missing. Also, the original Ben Jonson poem has been replaced with a 19thC copy. There are scribbles in the margins, circa the 1600s, with comments like “similie,” as though some 17thC school child was reading this for a homework assignment. Still trying to get my mind around that concept.

There are somewhere around 200 copies of this particular volume in existence, which makes it technically not even rare, but the bulk of those books are in university, museum and private collections. Original 1623 editions don’t come up on the market very often, thus the hefty price tag. The only people with access to most of the other copies are scholars, or those given special permission to handle the books.

Welcome to the world of rare books, where supply and demand rule. The price of any rare book is determined by what the market will pay. There are price guidelines, but they are only that. If you have the right product for sale in the right market there’s no telling what it will fetch.

When I was a bookseller I handled some rare books, but unfortunately nothing on the scale of a First Folio. I did once arrange for a collector to be united with some rare William Blake books with gorgeous illustrations like these:

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These were actually early 20th century copies, but of such fine quality they were valued in the thousands. They were by far the most expensive, and also possibly the most beautiful, items that passed through my hands. The books passed from an antiquarian seller through me, and I checked to assure everything was in order with no pages missing, nothing not as described, etc. Shipping those on to the collector meant wrenching them out of my hands, but wrench I did.

The oldest books I’ve handed would either be a partial set of the works of Jonathan Swift, or a first edition of Fanny Burney’s novel Camilla, both from the 18thC. What makes the Burney truly interesting is the fact it’s from the same circulating library Jane Austen used, and her name is listed among the subscribers in the back of one of the volumes.

In the 18th century books were so tremendously expensive your average middle class family couldn’t afford to own very many, thus the popularity of these circulating, or lending, libraries. The choice was basically either feeding and clothing your family or owning books, so most middle class families chose the former. However, for a more reasonable fee one could sign up for a circulating library and virtually rent books. Even these would have been somewhat expensive, so books were loaned around the household so everyone could read them before they were sent back. Then the next set of books would be sent, and so on.

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So, this particular set of Burney’s Camilla that I own could have passed through the Austen household. There’s no way of knowing for sure either way, as there’s nothing in them saying “Jane Austen was here,” but it’s nice knowing it’s a possibility. These books are crumbling, and the bindings need to be replaced. They’re not pretty to look at, and are held together with string. Still I wouldn’t sell them for anything, just on the off chance Jane Austen may have read them.

Another item in my collection is given its value due to a note tucked inside. The book itself isn’t particularly valuable. It’s one of what’s referred to as a uniform edition, or a set of complete works of an author published in the exact same binding, same dust jacket, etc. In this case it’s from a set of the works of Virginia Woolf. What makes the book exceptional is a note from Leonard Woolf, widower of the late Virginia, found tucked inside. The note was written by Leonard to someone who wrote asking where she could find a particular Virginia Woolf essay, and the book it’s tucked inside contains the essays she’s seeking. It’s written on the Woolf’s stationery, in Virginia’s trademark violet ink (which would quite possibly have been inside one of the late Virginia’s own fountain pens), with their address imprinted on the notepaper. Still, due to the fickle nature of book collecting, Leonard’s note isn’t worth a fraction of what it would be had Virginia penned it. Leonard’s a mere accessory, but the fact the ink was hers boosts the value.

Not even a nutshell explanation of rare book selling, but this is a taste of it. I’m sure I’ll have more blog postings on the subject sometime in the future. It’s a strange and fascinating profession, with lots of quirky variables. There aren’t too many Shakespeare First Folios out there, but there are plenty other great finds if you have the patience to look.