15 December 2011

It’s Not All Bad News. No it’s Not. Yes it Is. No it’s Not!

My gift to you this season – good news from the wobbly world of books.

“McGraw-Hill Education Cuts 550 Jobs” No, that’s not the good news.

Amazon Unveils $6 Million Annual ‘Fund’ To Entice Authors and Publishers into its Prime Lending Library.”  No, that’s not good news either. The $6 million fund “designed to woo publishers and authors to participate in the Kindle store,” requires them to give Amazon “at least” a 90-day exclusive access in the Kindle store.

Those who receive gifts of the Amazon Kindle and other E-Readers may not yet realize that in some cases, e-books are more expensive than their printed equivalents, the Wall Street Journal recently concluded. That won’t be good news for them.

Oh, and this one: Amazon is paying you up to $15 to shop in local stores, but use your smart portable device to buy what you like online. Paying you to do this. Not good, and pretty damn offensive to retailers who pay rents and local taxes while helping customers find things. That’s definitely awful.

One reader asked, “What has Amazon done for your community? Do they pay taxes? Sales tax? Give you donations? Support your kid's school raffles/teams/theater productions? Bring interesting authors for you to meet? Create a cultural and social center for you to meet like-minded folks? Let you use the bathroom in an emergency? Employ your kid in school internship programs? Bookstores and other independent businesses do all the above and more. We are your neighbors, your friends, your teachers, your babysitters -- is Amazon? Support your family. Support your neighbors, your town and community. Unless all you want in the future is a glowing screen for a friend, that is.”

Roxanne Coady, a bookseller in Connecticut, made the modest proposal that Amazon pay brick and mortar booksellers a finder’s fee for purchases made online by customers who live near actual bookstores.

In a related development, the US Justice Department as well as the European Union are looking into how e-book prices are set. There are anti-trust implications, and lawsuits, and it’s a tussle among Apple, and publishers, and Amazon, over money. One reader commented, “ePublishers and traditional publishers are fighting over who gets the biggest slice of the pie. How authors make a living, what people read and the social importance of literature are secondary matters.” And that’s not good.

Another person added, “Independent(s) (bookstores) are the life raft, but some publishers don't believe that. Yet, when outlets -- or ‘showrooms’ as bookstores are called -- go, and readers can't find what they want, so will sales. The sales pie will shrink to become more like a muffin or moon pie.” That wouldn’t be good.

It’s not all bad news. Yes it is. No it isn’t. The American Booksellers Association, which works on behalf of independent bookstores nationwide, reported its members had sales increases in November, while book sales as a whole – read sales in chain stores and discount outlets – were significantly down. That is good news.

In recent months we’ve seen a number of small bookstores open, and only a few close down. And that certainly is good news.

Among the new store announcements: La Casa Azul will open next Spring in East Harlem, New York. The Maple Street Bookshop in New Orleans is opening two more branches there. Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame will open his new bookstore, Common Good Books, in April at Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota. The I Love Books Bookstore has opened in Kingsport, Tennessee, and owner T. Glen Moody shared a wonderful observation with a local reporter:

“This is the bookstore of the 50s and 60s, but it is also the bookstore of the future. The time of the big box bookstore has come and gone. The new model is the small, local bookstore where customer service is key.”

To that thought I can only say – wow. It is a mixed bag out there. The world of books and publishing is not only wobbly, it’s in turmoil, world-wide. Do your part. Read more books. Even buy a few, if you can afford it.

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