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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Recently on Facebook, a spokesperson for an independent bookstore said, "Small stores like ours will continue to be successful by providing something that many readers find critical--human interaction and meaningful conversation about books."

But will they continue to be successful?

I like human interaction and meaningful conversations about books as much as anyone. But then I enjoyed human interaction and meaningful conversation about records and movies, too. My preferences, however, didn't save all the record stores and video rental stores from disappearing, and it won't save most of the bookstores from disappearing either. Sad, but true.

I love paper books, and I still buy them sometimes. But, when you get down to it, e-books are a vastly superior delivery method for the written word; so, naturally, e-books will eventually take the lion's share of the total book market. We can fight it, or we can embrace it, but the end result is going to be the same.

So, we might as well embrace it, IMO. I'm 52, and I happen to love e-books, and I love my Kindle. And, when I think about the enormous amount of pollution created by producing and transporting and storing paper, I love my Kindle even more.

Trying to make the point that some people will always insist on good old fashioned paper books, the same bookseller I quoted above mentioned that the sales of vinyl records increased 40% from 2010 to 2011. But it seems to me that any sort of increase in the sales of obsolete formats is largely irrelevant. What we really have to look at is total market share, and that remains very small. Way too small to support the brick and mortar stores of yesteryear. Vinyl records are a niche market, and that's all they'll ever be from now on. Forever and ever and ever. Just like buggy whips.

And, in the not-too-distant future, dead tree books.

Thoughts?
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Edward M. Grant said:
Regardless of print vs e-book market share, an Indie store probably doesn't need huge sales to survive, and a reasonable number of people will pay for good service, such as staff who know what they're talking about and can recommend books you'll like.

We apparently have at least three or four record stores specialising in actual vinyl records in the city and I didn't even know they existed until my girlfriend asked me recently about buying a record player.
One of the last record stores in my hometown closed last year. It had been around for over a quarter of a century. I'm friends with the owner's wife, and I asked her why they finally went under. She said, "When you're not bringing in enough money to make the payroll and pay the light bill, it's time to close."

It was a great store, and I was sorry to see it go.
 
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We have a few small mom-and-pop stores in South ********. Most are too far away from me to visit regularly, but there are a couple I stop in once in a while when in the area visiting relatives. Indie stores cater to their community interests. They don't carry a lot of the "popcorn books" that make up the bulk of what indies publish. Instead, they tend to carry niche books that are of interest to their specific patrons.

But, when you get down to it, e-books are a vastly superior delivery method for the written word; so, naturally, e-books will eventually take the lion's share of the total book market. We can fight it, or we can embrace it, but the end result is going to be the same.
Define "superior?" If by faster, OK. But I dislike the lack of permanency in ebooks. If it is a book I only plan to read once (i.e. a popcorn book), then yes I prefer the ebook format. But for meaty books that I intend to spend a week or two reading and maybe go back and read again in the future? I want a print book. And I would go further to say that with classics I often actively seek out older editions in print because I have a venomous disdain for the white-washing and politically correct editing some people have done to certain books.

Archivists have for a long time worried about the amount of digital content that does not have a physical counterpart because of the nature of digital degradation. Photos and books and such fade over time, giving you ample opportunity to restore. Whereas digital files either work or become corrupted. There isn't really a middle ground with digital content. And while you can back things up "on the cloud" that back up exists only as long as Amazon chooses to allow it. It was an interesting part of the History Channel's "Life After People" series. The more portable a means of communication, the more susceptible it is to destruction. The rosetta stone is over 2,000 years old and still mostly readable. Most ebooks only last as long as their format is supported by whomever sold you the device.

We apparently have at least three or four record stores specialising in actual vinyl records in the city and I didn't even know they existed until my girlfriend asked me recently about buying a record player.
Vinyl has actually made a huge comeback. 20 years or so after everyone declared it a dead format, over 3,000,000 vinyl records were sold, and many believe that number would have been more if the albums were actually available in that format. Again, much of this is the idea of permanency. Digital content becomes corrupted. Digital content gets accidentally deleted. Digital content doesn't even belong to you (it's actually a license, you don't own those digital files. You just have a license to use them). While digital content is more convenient, it isn't a replacement for a physical item.

So while I love digital stuff as much as anyone, I think these statements of the death of print are exaggerated and don't take into account either the more nuanced realities of the print side of the industry or actual human behavior.
 

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""Small stores like ours will continue to be successful by providing something that many readers find critical--human interaction and meaningful conversation about books."
Sure they will. I'd simply ask how many consumers value that service? How many are willing to pay for it? That will tell us how many of those store can succeed.

And shelf life? Paper does have a pretty good track record. i question how many people are concerned with keeping a permanent copy of the fiction they read. Mine usually went to Goodwill when the Xerox box was full.
 

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The store that starts using this will be successful. Eliminates all waste from over ordering. They will still order in best sellers in bulk, but everything else will be pod. People will stand and watch their book being made like at the Krispy Kream doughnut shops.

 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Define "superior?"
E-books are faster, cheaper, cleaner, and weightless. They have adjustable font size, audio capability, and you can carry an entire library in your pocket.

You make some good points, Julie, and I certainly don't see paper books ever disappearing altogether. I do think e-books will be the dominant format, though. Maybe an 80/20 split when everything settles.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Terrence OBrien said:
I'd simply ask how many consumers value that service? How many are willing to pay for it? That will tell us how many of those store can succeed.
I would say the numbers are getting smaller every day. And eventually all the diehard paper fans will, you know, die.
 

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Jude,

Your post is likely to not be that controversial in a forum inspired around Kindle loyalty. ;)

However, I do agree that eBooks are no more a "passing trend" than mp3s were. Anymore than CDs replacing vinyl for most folks, or cassettes replacing 8-tracks. There will always be die-hards for older formats, but that won't change the eventual outcome.

And even today's formats will eventually go by the waysaide when something better is innovated.

All that said, print will continue to be a superior format for some types of books.

For example, books that are extensively footnoted, or require special layout considerations, are still better off in print.

Case in point: Many scholars of biblical texts have print books that, on one page, show parallel texts where you can see the same passage, at the same time, in Hebrew, Greek, and English. For the academic, that sort of layout will always have value, and is darn hard to pull off in eBooks, if at all.

(Current eBook readers don't even support a native Hebrew font, for example.)

And one would need far more than a six-inch screen of much higher resolution than current to successfully pull off a three-column/parallel style layout.

There are many other layout styles that are better off in print than in eBook. Anything with tables is another good example. Tables generally look HORRIBLE in eBooks, unless you're looking at a fixed-format book like a PDF file... but then you have the inconvenience of either scrolling to see everything, or having things appear too small to be legible.

Also, so far as bookstores go, I think they'll survive but will necessarily transform even further than they have to do so.

Examples?

Well, bookstores that are hanging on currently sell way more than books. DVDs, Blu-Rays, music, coffee shops and such are all part-n-parcel of most modern bookstores.

I think, to survive, they'll have to diversify further... not so much away from literature, but a bookstore will have to become more experience-driven.

Live readings and book signings by local and national authors will need to become more frequent, not rare treats.

Expanding to include, perhaps, coffee-house-style acoustic music performances by local artists, may help as well.

And... perhaps... adding in food service that goes deeper than scones and lattes. In the right market, even a liquor license.

Ideas like these have already been experimented with by more localized bookstores like Powell's here in Portland. Those impulses could be built upon, so that rather than primarily an in-and-out commerce experience, a trip to a bookstore is seen more as "a night out." Make it a destination event, and bookstores can continue to thrive.
 

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Yeah, I think print books will eventually be a niche market only, but that day may still be some time in coming.  Some of the commercial publishers still sometimes seem to regard ebooks as more of a threat to their business than an opportunity, and some of them still do what they can to protect print sales from the impact of ebook sales where possible.  But in the end, we can expect to see more brick-and-mortar bookstores close (or move to online operation, selling print books over the internet but not maintaining much in the way of walk-in-and-shop hours so that they can keep the overhead costs down).

As to the idea that bookstores will survive because they offer human interaction and meaningful conversations about books -- well, it's pretty to think so, and perhaps in the right kind of community that might work out.  But many moons ago, I spent 9 years working for Kroch's & Brentano's at the main store on Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago.  The staff there was as knowledgeable a group of people as I've ever worked with or seen at any other bookshop.  The store's gone now, and so are most of its competitors in the neighborhood.  When I was there, one luxury we didn't often have was time for meaningful conversations -- there were always other customers waiting; you didn't blow off a customer, but you couldn't linger too long either.  I used to go to a number of used book dealers in the city where you could in fact have such conversations; a lot of those places are gone too.

Most of the books I buy now are ebooks, and I'm replacing many of my print volumes with ebooks as more backlist becomes available.  There are some print volumes I'll keep until I'm planted, and I'll occasionally buy new ones but not nearly as often as I did in pre-Kindle days.

I don't expect the print books niche market to disappear entirely, ever.  A well-produced print book is a delight, and there's a feeling of longevity and permanence about a printed volume that I don't get from an ebook (and I don't think I'm unique in that feeling).  But for ease of acquisition and reading, I'll take ebooks where possible; I'm 63 now and I've been a convert to ebooks since 2000 (Palm IIIxe, anyone?).

 

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This is what I'd like to see: Bookstore of the Future

Also: am I the only one who thinks that digital books are more permanent than paper? Isn't that why we've digitally scanned ancient 100+year old books... to preserve them? The digital copy will live forever, not yellow or turn to dust, mutating its form to fit the formats of the future. It's possible to delete your ebooks from your Kindle, but you'll never erase them from the internet. Once it's in the digital ether, it lives forever.
 

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Jude Hardin said:
E-books are faster, cheaper, cleaner, and weightless. They have adjustable font size, audio capability, and you can carry an entire library in your pocket.

I do think e-books will be the dominant format, though. Maybe an 80/20 split when everything settles.
I am currently writing erotica fiction and focusing all of my energy into the ebook market. I think a lot of erotica readers appreciate the privacy a Kindle or a Nook gives them. I have "Babysitting the Baumgartner's" on my iPhone (via the Amazon Kindle app), but I couldn't see myself walking around with a paperback version in public.
 

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Susan Kaye Quinn said:
This is what I'd like to see: Bookstore of the Future

Also: am I the only one who thinks that digital books are more permanent than paper? Isn't that why we've digitally scanned ancient 100+year old books... to preserve them? The digital copy will live forever, not yellow or turn to dust, mutating its form to fit the formats of the future. It's possible to delete your ebooks from your Kindle, but you'll never erase them from the internet. Once it's in the digital ether, it lives forever.
Hi, Susan.

They are and they aren't. The notion of paper being more permanent than digital is one that operates on the individual reader level rather than that of the archivist. While it's true that the digital scan is intended to preserve those books, and that those files can be converted to other formats as needed, you can lose your own digital copy and wind up having to buy it again (if it's still available). If you're one of those folks who had purchased, say, the ereader edition of Zelazny's The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories when the iBooks edition was available from eReader.com, you'll find you don't have it any more unless you've still got the file on your hard drive and eReader software in place; if you didn't download the file you're out of luck because it's no longer out there for sale. But my physical copies of Zelazny's short fiction are still on my bookshelf. Vulnerable to flood, fire, and my own clumsiness, but still there and not vulnerable to the glitches of technology. Even though it's true that the existence of digital copies means that the book is more likely to survive, as readers we're usually more concerned with the survival of our own single copy; when you're talking digital copies tied to a particular device and a certain software program and burdened perhaps with DRM, it's easy to feel that paper still has some advantages.
 
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K.T. Parks said:
I am currently writing erotica fiction and focusing all of my energy into the ebook market. I think a lot of erotica readers appreciate the privacy a Kindle or a Nook gives them. I have "Babysitting the Baumgartner's" on my iPhone (via the Amazon Kindle app), but I couldn't see myself walking around with a paperback version in public.
I really do believe that the enormous romance and erotica digital market creates an illusion of print's demise. I believe that most of the decline in print is the natural result of the economic downturn as both government expenditures on libraries and disposable income among consumers had its natural impact on the sale of print. At the same time, two demographics that were early adopters of the digital format (romance and erotica) created a new market with readers who (just as you stated) enjoyed reading those genres but were embarrassed to be seen with them (or didn't want them lying around the house with the kids!). It's also opened up these "womens' books" to men who enjoy reading them but wouldn't be caught dead with one in their hands (I know several men who rather enjoy reading their wives/girlfriends erotica). Several reports put the romance/erotica market at anywhere from 35-50% of the total ebook market.

Meanwhile, it looks like print is only down by 9% in 2012 from the previous year, mostly with genre fiction and adult mainstream fiction (nonfiction print is up, as is YA print). The rapid growth of ebooks compared to the relatively small drop in print indicates that ebooks aren't cannibalizing the print market nearly as much as some would have us believe, but are reaching a completely NEW market that wasn't buying certain print books in the first place.

Further, the digital marketplace includes tons of stuff that either was never available in print or would be too impractical for print. Much of the ebook market is being driven by shorts, novelettes, and other literary formats traditionally published in magazines. The void left behind with the demise of many of the fiction periodical markets has been filled by individual stories sold in digital format. But these are products that never existed in print to begin with and are feeding a demographic that was looking for something print books didn't provide. So again, we have a new market emerging instead of the cannibalization of an existing one.
 

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Susan Kaye Quinn said:
Also: am I the only one who thinks that digital books are more permanent than paper? Isn't that why we've digitally scanned ancient 100+year old books... to preserve them? The digital copy will live forever, not yellow or turn to dust, mutating its form to fit the formats of the future.
Maybe.

A few years ago I worked with some people who were trying to recover the on-board guidance software from the Apollo program so they could run it in an emulator. All the digital copies had gone, unless you could somehow get permission to try reading the memory of the computers in the Apollo capsules in various museums, and even that wouldn't work for the Lunar Modules unless you could afford to fly off into space to find the ones that didn't crash into the Moon after the astronauts were finished with them.

Fortunately some of the original programmers had kept printouts in their attics, and with a lot of hard work they were able to scan and OCR those old paper copies and recover the software used on two or three of the Apollo missions.

It's not just a matter of having the data, but having it somewhere that you can retrieve it. I dumped a lot of old 5" floppy disks when I emigrated because, while they might contain some useful files, I had no way of reading them. I believe NASA has to keep a lot of ancient tape drives working because they're the only way to read data tapes from space missions of the 60s and 70s if someone wants to study the data again.
 

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Edward M. Grant said:
It's not just a matter of having the data, but having it somewhere that you can retrieve it. I dumped a lot of old 5" floppy disks when I emigrated because, while they might contain some useful files, I had no way of reading them. I believe NASA has to keep a lot of ancient tape drives working because they're the only way to read data tapes from space missions of the 60s and 70s if someone wants to study the data again.
Migrating old files to new is the hiccup, but still, I think we're quickly moving toward a realm where there isn't a going to be "inaccessible" information any more. There's a gap right now, especially in data generated post-1950 but pre-2010 - all of that is trapped in one form or another, dependent on 8mm film reels or tape drives or paper books(!). But post-2012, almost everything is going to be generated first-form in some kind of in-cloud format, stored in ether and transmutable. In the case of books, vast quantities of books published pre-1920 are public domain and available in Google Books. Nearly every book post-2012 will have an ebook format at first publication. Eventually everything in-between will be converted. So, talking about what will be around in 100 years, the ebooks will win out (IMHO).

As for personal collections being lost, that is definitely the growing pains of the early-ebook-market. Something I fully expect technology to solve (easily for the lay person) in 5-10 years. (You can convert non-drm files now, but there will be some integrated, easy, "import my epub file collection to my new kindle device" option in the 5-10 year time frame.
 

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CraigInTwinCities said:
I think, to survive, they'll have to diversify further... not so much away from literature, but a bookstore will have to become more experience-driven.

Live readings and book signings by local and national authors will need to become more frequent, not rare treats.

Expanding to include, perhaps, coffee-house-style acoustic music performances by local artists, may help as well.

And... perhaps... adding in food service that goes deeper than scones and lattes. In the right market, even a liquor license.
You just described Kramerbooks, as well as Busboys & Poets here in DC. Delicious gourmet food (actual full meals) and alcohol available, in addition to live readings, book signings, accoustic performances, and well, of course. Books. ;D
 

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Susan Kaye Quinn said:
Also: am I the only one who thinks that digital books are more permanent than paper? Isn't that why we've digitally scanned ancient 100+year old books... to preserve them? The digital copy will live forever, not yellow or turn to dust, mutating its form to fit the formats of the future. It's possible to delete your ebooks from your Kindle, but you'll never erase them from the internet. Once it's in the digital ether, it lives forever.
Yes and no. On the one hand, yes, it's pretty darn permanent. But I tend to use my Kindle for more "disposable" books -- the popcorn that Julie refers to. I read them once, and then either delete them or lend them out to my mom if I think she'll enjoy it. Otherwise, delete. It's the print books that I keep on my keeper shelves. I have no digital keeper shelves.
 

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How about a way that combines the two?

Many, many years ago, probably over 20 when I was going through my teenage cyberpunk days, I had a concept for a physical e-book.  Yeah before there were such things as ebooks.  I cant really recall if the idea was inspired by something Id seen or heard either.  It was a while ago now after all.

You have a physical book with proper pages and what not, all treated with a special chemical layer.  In the spine you could load an ebook via a plug in device.  20 year ago he idea of thousands of books on a single small device was unheard of, so that part could be changed.

When the book was loaded, it sent an electrical signal to the pages which reacted with the chemicals to write the book.  At the end you just set to blank and write your next book to read.

All the convenience of an ebook with the joys of still reading a paper book, as well as saving on space.

Okay, it is pretty much a glorified etch-a-sketch but I was a teenageer at the time and in the early 90s it sounded like cutting edge technology.
 

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MP3 hasn't driven out CDs. You can buy directly in MP3 format, but some people prefer to buy the CD and rip the tracks, and put the CD on the shelf for backup. Others just play the CD. Paper books do offer some advantages that some people will prefer. With CD vs. Vinyl, if you are listening to the music, you might not be able to tell whether you're listening to digital or analog. Some people insist that you can't, others insist that a trained ear can tell the difference. Most people can't tell the difference. But with a paper book vs. an e-book, it's obvious which is which. Some people like to have their books on a bookshelf where they can see them. It's really a difference experience searching for something to read on a bookshelf vs. typing in a search. Some people prefer one or the other.

The horse and buggy couldn't coexist with the automobile because there really wasn't any advantage to the horse as a mode of transportation.

So, I think paper books will stick around, even if e-books make up the majority of the market. The lion's share isn't the whole thing, after all. If the big box stores go under, that will free up space for the independent bookstores. The indies are better able to respond to the local market than are the big box stores. I think they will be better positioned to serve a smaller market.
 
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