A story about Barnes & Noble and similar large book store chains feeling the heat due to lagging sales and the increased popularity of online competitors such as Amazon.com and e-book sales caught my attention a few days ago.
Six years ago while I was attending a writer’s conference luncheon, an industry expert announced to us that smaller chains and independent bookstores were in danger of extinction, being replaced by the mega-bookstores. “If you can’t imagine your book finding a place on the shelf in Barnes & Noble, you haven’t got a chance for success in this business,” she announced to a room full of hundreds of aspiring and published authors.
For more than a decade the publishing industry has been changing dramatically, printing fewer titles, tightening markets, taking fewer chances on new concepts or unknown authors. We expected all those changes with the merging of many of the largest publishers into even larger media groups. I couldn’t imagine e-books replacing printed books then, or ever people preferring to browse websites for books over browsing through a bookstore.
Barnes & Noble and similar large bookstore chains that I once disdained for their influence in publishing industry are now sort of a guilty pleasure of mine.
These companies manage to take a store the size of a department store, attach a café and some comfy nooks (hey, look, that’s the name of THEIR e-book reader!) with big upholstered chairs, and give the store the feel of a library—a place you can escape to and explore the wonderful world of books.
They even host writers’ groups, special events, book signings, and preschool story hours in these establishments, almost like a neighborhood library. And in the world of electronic books, none of those perks are necessary. But that doesn’t mean some of us don’t still want them.
Barnes & Noble was actually smart to release the Nook, their version of a digital reader. In a way they have one foot in the emerging market that’s supposedly killing them and one foot in the past—just in case the speculators are wrong.
I confess I have never held an e-book reader in my hand, but I have read plenty of text on digital screens and I don’t believe I would relish reading an entire novel that way or first investing over $100 on the low end or even upwards of $399 to read books on screen.
As a reader, unless you are voracious who needs to carry hundreds, even thousands of titles and can afford another average $10-14 per title to download your favorite books, I don’t see the cost advantage. I do understand the convenience and savings to distributors.
Reading to me is a warm experience—paperback or hard cover book in my lap, a cup of tea or coffee on a side table, and an opportunity to unplug from the glare of electronic devices. If a novel is enthralling, I can imagine reading it for hours on paper. Electronic screens are irritating to me. The way I read my books now is an experience I don’t really want to change. Many old-schoolers like me seem to have similar concerns.
Just last Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning ran a story entitled “Judging a Book by it’s Cover” about the importance of book covers and the future fate of books as works of art if digital readers (and e-books make up 9% of the book market now) gain in popularity. I wonder, who are these people who want to read their books electronically, and why? I suspect they like having the choice of print or electronic, of shopping online or in a favorite bookstore.
Right now, everyone is happy, but we may not be able to always have it that way.