Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Good luck, Barnes and Noble...

While I'm waiting for a moment to write up this week's IFF and DPT, a random comment by Matt Yglesias about Barnes and Noble:
Because Barnes & Noble is a very successful chain of bookstores, except the number of people who want to buy physical books is plummeting. A digital bookstore can stock a much larger inventory with almost no warehousing costs, and can deliver the book of your choice to you within seconds. What's more, a Kindle Paperwhite or a iPad Mini is lighter than a book and yet can contain many books, greatly facilitating travel. Even better, you can highlight passages of your digital books and annotate them and then have all your annotations available to you on all your digital devices. The only real value of physical books at this point is a kind of nostalgia-soaked experience, and people want to experience that at a friendly independently owned bookstore not an impersonal chain.
I like an independent bookstore, I really do. But growing up in suburbia, Barnes and Noble was the awesomest thing alive. I actually sat in Barnes and Noble on a comfy chair and read Executive Orders by Tom Clancy cover-to-cover when I was a teenager. Can't get away with that at the supermarket!

I'm pretty old fashioned, so I like to give books as gifts. I like to drive to my local independent bookstore (who am I kidding? -- it's basically the only one still open in my town), browse and wait for a moment of inspiration. My kids will probably never have that experience. 

22 comments:

  1. Furthermore, our kids will probably never leaf through our kindles and get a taste of books outside their own tastes reading levels like I was able to do (my aunt let us borrow books from her extensive collection of sci-fi). One of the nice things is that books on the e-readers tend to be fairly cheap, and if I like it I will buy the paper copy to put on the bookshelf. This way my wife can read it if she wants while I am reading something new on the Kindle and eventually, my daughter might pick and read it as well.

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    1. That's a good idea, I'll have to remember it.

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    2. I've found that books on e-readers (newish releases anyway) are typically NOT much cheaper than physical books. Maybe you'll save a buck over a paperback copy of the book. Maybe.

      The rumor I've heard is that hardcover books will persist at high cost ($20-30) while the industry plans to eliminate paperback books entirely (both quality paperback and mass market paperback). I'm sure e-books will remain at paperback prices if not be a little more expensive (maybe $10-15), much the same way audio CDs were always more expensive than cassette tapes (even though they were cheaper to produce) because of the profits.

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    3. Yeah, I'm only buying physical books if I plan on sharing it. For example, my husband and I are reading the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones). I bought the books so we could share them. Now I just think of how much space books take up in the house.

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  2. Also, many digital formats have hazy definitions of ownership. Remember the whole 1984 fiasco from a few years back?

    Will the books you buy today still be "yours" in ten years time? Will you have a compatible e-reader for today's format twenty years down the road? Neither of these is guaranteed for many of today's proprietary e-reader formats. I'm not sure if DRM-free ebooks are the thing of the future or just a way for the industry to entice readers away from tree-books that will eventually be lost in the future.

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    1. There is a post to be written about how Our Modern Times are basically the Schumpeterian triumph of "dry" materials chemistry (chips, polymers) over old-skool wet chemistry (paper, photographs.)

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  3. 1) Eliminating paperbacks just means that there's no low-cost entry into books other than libraries, and see below for that. It helps publishers but no one else.

    2) Publishers have been trying to squeeze libraries over handling digital books. At minimum, they will cost more (and since library funding isn't increasing unless you're paying more taxes, there will be fewer books available). At worst, libraries will be fewer, which cuts off (or limits) access for the poor to the only real way out of poverty.

    3) Even with the cheaper bookreaders, they're still not all that cheap, and I lost everything when I was a kid.

    4) Publishers are getting sued over trying to prevent e-books from being issued at the same time as hardccover and cheaper; another response has been to refuse to issue e-books until significant time after publication has passed. In some cases, when both are available, the soft copy is more expensive. Publishers are going to get paid, and since there is no room to expand the market, they're going to squeeze money from readers.

    5) Color is expensive (in readers, it costs money and battery life). No cover art or anything else. All of Andre's complaints at 12:24 - e-books are NOT equivalent to the hardcopies. What happens when the tech changes - will you have to rebuy books in ten years (DVD/Blu-Ray/WTFever is next)?

    6) Reading a computer screen is a pain - e-readers are better but still not close to books. Portability and low-light reading are better for e-books (also easier to read around small children), but for lots of other things (journals), paper is lots better.

    7) The features I would value in e-books - hyperlinking to unusual terms or hyperlinks instead of foot-/endnotes, publishing of rare books that aren't available but which have a market and don't need hardcopy (*cough*Ignition*cough*)- don't exist. The added value in e-books for me is pretty limited relative to their costs.

    I was hoping that e-paper would be a reading technology - relatively cheap (almost disposable), like paper for things like newspapers and journals - but it hasn't happened.

    I think "Bollocks!" is about the correct response.

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  4. I miss when Tom Clancy (and other writers) actually wrote their own books (rather than selling franchising rights), or were not zombified (Robert Parker, RIP). I liked TC pretty much until he stopped writing himself.

    That might take care of the book problem - if there's nothing to read, I guess an e-reader is optional, anyway.

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    1. Same here. I read Clancy all the way through "Teeth of the Tiger"; when the sequel was ghost-written, that was the end for me.

      (FWIW, I am a serious, serious Clancy fan (I know, it speaks poorly of my intellect a bit) and when I was a teenager, read through his books multiple times.)

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    2. Nothing wrong with "Rainbow Six" or "The Bear and the Dragon"

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    3. No, I liked both of those pretty well. One of my friends thought "Red Storm Rising" was his best work, and while I don't agree (because I miss the characters - considering the style should have been a flag, because it reads like Larry Bond, although that's not a bad thing), it's pretty good too.

      I don't think I disliked any other books he wrote himself or RSR. Anything he writes with someone else, though....my mom bought me one of the Op-Center books (in paperback - thank (deity)), and I got about a hundred pages and put it away out of disgust. I guess that's an improvement - I at least finished the ghostwritten TOTT sequel.

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    4. Neither of them ghost-written, so far as I remember. Both were favorites of mine.

      My all-time TC list:

      1. Red Storm Rising
      2. Cardinal of the Kremlin
      3. Sum of All Fears
      4. The Hunt for Red October
      5. Debt of Honor
      6. Clear and Present Danger
      7. Patriot Games
      8. Executive Orders
      9. Without Remorse
      10. The Bear and the Dragon
      11. Rainbow Six
      12. Teeth of the Tiger
      13. Red Rabbit

      As you can see, I think his quality has gone down in years.

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    5. Well, I guess not *that* much of a favorite.

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    6. My list would probably be:
      Patriot Games
      Executive Orders
      The Hunt for Red October
      Rainbow Six
      The Bear and the Dragon
      Red Storm Rising
      Debt of Honor
      Clear and Present Danger
      Cardinal of the Kremlin
      Sum of All Fears
      Without Remorse
      Red Rabbit
      Teeth of the Tiger

      I thought the (implied) hypothesis in Red Rabbit that we might have withheld pressure from the Saudis over 9/11 because they helped lower the price of oil and drive the USSR under was interesting, even though written after 9/11. I hadn't heard it before.

      I generally concur with the quality dropping over time hypothesis (although BATD and RS are both outliers) - I think once TC signed the video game deal that his attention was split, to the detriment of his stories. You could also hypothesize that once he reached the end of the story arc he had (HFRO -----> BATD?) that things got worse. I don't know.

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    7. I thought "The Sum of All Fears" was the best combination of science, whiz-bang technology and shoot-em-up goodness. Cardinal is an emotional favorite, probably simply because of the Misha character.

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    8. Don't really now why I like PG so much. EO is long but dense, and interesting (although an Ebola bioweapon seemed like a requirement for a story for a while). I like lots of of COTK, but the compare-and-contrast traitors argument is sort of helpful and sort of not (our traitors are always noble and acting for their nation's good, theirs are jealous or angry or messed up or want to do others ill, which I don't buy). I like the part of CAPD where Chavez gets to smoke (for pretend) a jungle-warfare instructor. I think SOAF integrates where Clancy started (Ssubs) and where he was going (international relations/war) well. I like the shooting in RS best I think.

      I argued with some of my friends as to whether a WMD terrorist event is more or less probable than it looks - I'm glad one hasn't happened, but don't know why one hasn't.

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    9. Embarrassingly enough, I keep mentally inserting that phrase whenever I read Stellaluna to my daughters.

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    10. I got "ionBMe" as my last challenge phrase. Are you sure the website isn't leaking any strong acid or base somewhere?

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  5. "Teeth of The Tiger" fell off a bit, but wasn't bad. (I don't think the idea was well thought out - if people at NSA got them the data keys so that they could eavesdrop, they know more than they need to, and if two people know a secret, it's not one anymore unless one of them is dead). The sequel was not so good (and I wasn't smart enough to look at the inner cover to realize it was ghost...er, co-written). I don't like his politics and don't understand his books conclusions on torture, but he could write well when he wrote himself (I liked his characters and he actually understood the concepts of internal consistency and coherence). Contrast to Patrick Robinson, who has similar politics and probably more particular knowledge (diesel subs), but made me gag (at least it was only in paperback), because 1) having only one idea sucks, and 2) his characters weren't palatable.

    It's of secondary amusement that for a while, it seemed as if to be a technothriller writer, you had to slag TC while being transparently jealous of his fan base. That's power as a writer, I think.

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  6. Barnes and Noble has played an important role in my wife's life, as she was (like you) someone who would spend hours browsing and reading at the book store (she actually just read a whole book there a few weeks ago). She is already missing the comfy chairs (which have been removed from B&N) and doing her best to purchase as many paperbacks as possible. Although she has a B&N nook, she still likes the feel of paperback books (and will bring both when traveling).

    Hopefully our support will ensure that we have a place to go for a little while longer.

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    1. Yeah I also noticed the comfy chairs were taken out of B&N. I think that's a huge mistake. They don't want people to linger anymore? More likely than not I end up buying the book I'm leafing through. Do they worry people will look at the book and then go buy the digital copy at home?

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