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The writing on the wall for: Booksellers, libraries, newspapers?

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Finally, somebody does the math. According to the Wall Street Journal, under the new pricing model for e-books “championed” by Apple when it released the iPad, in which digital booksellers receive 30 percent of an e-book’s price, the booksellers get rid of their loss leaders. However, the fact remains that 30 percent of $12.99 is $3.90. So, the WSJ article says:

But for Barnes & Noble, the model can’t hide a brutal reality: $3.90 is a fraction of the $12.50 it now earns on a full-priced hardcover priced at $25.

Now I’m no math whiz, but as more people embrace e-reading, the $3.90s will never catch up to the $12.50s. It’s imperative that the book superstore find a new business model, and quickly. Books won’t join VHS tapes anytime soon, but obsolescence has its way of creeping up on you. Better to be prepared.

2. Speaking of books, here’s an interesting article from the Mercury News about Stanford’s foray into “the bookless library.” Stanford is conducting the experiment with its physics and engineering libraries first. Its reasons: It’s running out of room for physical books, and the availability of technical information online.

3. And now, for newspapers. The Atlantic’s How to Save the News is a fascinating, in-depth look at the newspaper industry’s troubles, Google’s role in all of it, and what can be done to fight the fact that print newspaper ads still pay the bills (sort of) while online ad prices have yet to catch up. The article’s overall tone: Online’s the future; publishers need to keep trying new ideas to make money; and information won’t be free forever. Apparently, Google executives think it’s inevitable that people will start paying for information. For the newspaper industry’s sake, I hope the brilliant minds at Google are correct. But I doubt most consumers hope the same thing.

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Google Editions could mean e-books everywhere

May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Books on your browser? Some people already read books online without a dedicated e-reader. But Google’s reportedly imminent entry into the e-books world could make the practice much more common.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google will be launching its e-bookstore as early as June. The e-books customers purchase can be read on a good old Web browser — no fancy iPad, Kindle, Nook or (Sony) Reader needed.

I can imagine how this might be exciting to avid readers. Because many people have Net access almost everywhere they go, Google Edition customers would never need to lament that they wished they had brought a book with them. They could finish those last few pages of a really good book during a break at work, or on their smartphone as they stand in a long line for a latte.

Read more…

In this round of e-books battle, consumers lose

April 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Kindle users can kiss many of those $9.99 e-book titles goodbye. The impending release of Apple’s iPad has forced Amazon.com to renegotiate terms with publishers, and now the WSJ reports that under Amazon’s new deal with Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, most new bestsellers will be in line with iPad e-book pricing: $12.99 to $14.99. And it’s not over yet, because Amazon has yet to come to terms with other book publishers.

Perhaps American consumers are spoiled. It’s the Wal-Martization of our nation; we expect to be able to buy things at rock-bottom prices. Now, I know authors and agents and marketing and publishing executives have to be paid. But what I’d really like to see is a detailed comparison of the cost of publishing a printed book vs. the cost of distributing an e-book. In other words, are these new prices for e-books fair to consumers? I can see an argument for publishers. They still have to deal with the costs of distributing books in print as well as the added cost of distributing it in electronic form. But some consumers would argue — and rightly so — that owning an e-book is not the same as owning a physical book: You cannot really lend it out (or have to work within your e-reader’s constraints); you cannot read it if your e-reader’s battery runs out; you would be forced to read it on your PC if you dropped and broke your e-reader. All this brings up another question about the true value of information: Should its price be determined by the medium on which it is delivered?

At Barnes & Noble, the future is now

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Keeping up with the e-reading industry is really cutting into my writing time. But the business and tech geek/reader in me is just fascinated by all the twists and turns in the epic that is digital books. The latest news — the shakeup at Barnes & Noble — is notable because William Lynch, the company’s dot-com president, is now the struggling bookseller’s CEO.

It’s like a metaphor for the cultural shift that is happening with books and the transition to e-reading. Out with the old, in with the new. Lynch’s experience is in online commerce: Before he joined B&N last year, he was at HSN, founded gifts.com, worked at Palm. At 39, he’s relatively young. A quote in the Wall Street Journal by B&N Chairman Leonard Riggio  — brother of the 55-year-old CEO being replaced by Lynch — speaks volumes:

We need someone who has a vision of the new space, somebody who can recruit great people in technology. We have to be more than a retail bookseller.

Read more…

The plot thickens: Barnes & Noble preparing e-reader for iPad

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Barnes & Noble, which already has e-reader apps for various platforms, including the iPhone, announced on its blog yesterday that it is preparing to roll out an app designed for the forthcoming iPad. On the surface, this might seem counterintuitive. Could the bookseller be surrendering, and acknowledging that Nook, its own e-reader, isn’t doing too well?

But here’s why it makes a lot of sense: Like the rest of us, B&N has heard and seen and felt the hype. Apple’s iPad is coming — the day before Easter! — and despite its apparent shortcomings, people are going to buy it. And B&N could crawl under a hole with a Nook and pretend the iPad doesn’t exist, or it could sell books on the thing and make money. In the nascent e-reader world, it’s probably smart not to put all your books in one basket — unless you were there first, like Amazon, or you have a cult-like following, like Apple.

What remains to be seen is whether notoriously prickly Apple will like the idea of a competitor making it easy for iPad users to choose where they buy their e-books. Just ask Palm: When the Palm Pre first rolled out with the ability to download songs from iTunes, Apple updated iTunes so it couldn’t sync with the Pre. When Pre engineers fixed the “bug,” Apple blocked it again. And again. It’s entirely possible Apple won’t play nice with Barnes & Noble and its e-reader app for the iPad.

Roger Ebert can’t eat, drink or speak, but he can still write

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m a recent — not longtime — fan of movie critic Roger Ebert. I would watch “Siskel and Ebert and the Movies” from time to time when I was younger, and I think I only caught “Ebert and Roeper at the Movies” one time. But I did become a regular reader of his blog last year, when he wrote so passionately and eloquently about the health care debate, first with an entry called “Death Panels. A most excellent term.” and followed it up with “I’m safe on board. Pull up the life rope.” Both are must-reads. Here’s an excerpt from the second blog entry. For me, this about sums it up:

It is a moral imperative. I cannot enjoy health coverage and turn to my neighbor and tell him he doesn’t deserve it. A nation is a mutual undertaking.

Now comes a beautifully done profile of Ebert, whose thyroid cancer led to many operations and his present condition: He has no jaw. He cannot speak. He cannot eat or drink and is fed through a tube in his stomach. It’s fascinating, not only because Ebert is famous, but also because the profile so perfectly captures the tenacity of the human spirit. He still travels with his wife, still dines in restaurants — although only she orders food, of course. But what really prompted me to blog about this was the fact that if you only read his movie reviews and blog entries, you wouldn’t know Ebert was “dying in increments,” as Chris Jones writes in Esquire. Ebert can still watch movies, and write (and does he). Therefore he lives. And that’s beautiful.

Categories: Life, Reading, Writing Tags: ,

Libraries without books: What is this world coming to?

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

In the age of the Kindle and the Nook and the upcoming iPad, and a world in which there are Facebook groups called “People Who Like to Read the Newspaper on Paper,” the New York Times recently posted a written debate titled “Do School Libraries Need Books?” The lightning rod for the discussion: a boarding school in Massachusetts that last fall decided to give away most of its books and turn its library into a digital center.

After reading all five viewpoints — from two educators, two authors and a library director — plus the multitude of comments this topic generated, here’s what I came away with:

  • Libraries need to be updated. This is true. But in the please-digitize-microfiche kind of way. Cushing Academy, the aforementioned school, is right in saying that research is done differently now — libraries need to keep up with the times. Getting rid of all physical books may seem bold, but it’s ridiculous. Sure, most students turn to the Internet to do research for a term paper, but when they have to read “Anna Karenina” for class, they pick up the book. And that makes sense. Update libraries, yes. Have the digital tools complement the physical ones. But take away the books and they’re no longer libraries. Read more…