Businesses change, evolve, expand and contract all the time. When I was a high school student, I recall reading the Lawrence Sanders novel, The First Deadly Sin. Written in the early 1970’s, the novel was a study in the sexy, deadly, incredibly expansive and creative times that the 1970’s really were. As a teenager, I couldn’t get enough of the weird characters: how straight-laced the protagonist Detective Francis X. Delaney seemed in comparison to the urbane, cool, detached and decadent Daniel Blank.
Ten years later as a traveling professional, I rarely left home without at least one paperback in my briefcase and I came across the book in a bargain bin. Leaving aside all of the unusually deranged sex and murders, the part that stuck with me then and today was the fact that the murderer, Daniel Blank, worked in the circulation department of a major New York publisher. And Daniel Blank was the one who updated the department from a floor full of secretaries and typewriters, to a room full of computers. As Blank maneuvered his mentor into early retirement, he get’s confronted and called a “cold bastard”, or something like that.
Check out the book http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780425104279-7 and you’ll see what I mean. (Editor’s note: I haven’t read it in awhile so I may have some details wrong).
The single copy sales industry is a long way down the road from the easy breezy times of the early 1990’s when almost anyone could launch a 100,000 copy print order onto the mainline and hope to get some traction. Since rapid consolidation in 1995, the Uni-Mag implosion of 1998, and last year’s Anderson News extinction level event, the circulation road has washed out, signage is missing, you’ll want to engage that four wheel drive, and you have to wonder if your fancy GPS is taking a few too many Darvocets because you’re pretty sure this isn’t the way you remember.
B. Dalton Booksellers evolved into Barnes and Noble. B. Dalton is long gone. Those fine Waldenbooks folks from Connecticut have been missing for many years and Borders Group, their new owners, are onto, well, who remembers? Some new incarnation with some new management group and who knows what will happen next.
The news this week was that Barnes and Noble has put itself up for sale.
What I find remarkable in all of this coverage is how much everyone immediately takes the conventional wisdom route. Take this article from WBIR: http://www.wbir.com/news/national/story.aspx?storyid=129750&catid=16
“Older Americans” are the only people in bookstores? Seriously? That’s news reporting? Hmmm. How do I explain then that some of the titles I work with that are aimed at the younger crowd have increasing sales in 2010? Maybe they’re young people who think old?
I love the snark attack in this blog posting from “24/7 Wall Street”: http://247wallst.com/2010/08/03/barnes-noble-the-titanic-goes-on-sale/
Yeah, I’m a sucker for a good Titanic comparison and illustration.
You can just feel the sarcasm and contempt dripping off of the writer and puddling in your shoes. The author has completely dismissed the publishing industry, told everyone to pack it up, turn over your keys, and quietly head out to the door. Nothing to save here. Digital is greener.
Really dude? Is that how it is? Are we already generating all of our power with windmills and solar panels? Are all of those cool, fast processing chips getting baked by the Keebler Elves in the few trees that weren’t pulped into books? Are those powerful long lived batteries created like so many Tootsie Rolls?
And you’ll find variations on the theme all over the place:
It’s interesting to note that just a few short weeks ago, B&N and their e-book store was riding high in the conventional wisdom. The Nook was yet another “Kindle Killer”. They were selling the Nook everywhere. It was awesome, people! Really! It was going to save the company! They were going to save publishing! The B&N strategy to bring people into the store with their Nooks and to then buy stuff in B&N stores because of their Nooks was genius.
And then the Kindle 3 was announced.
The real crux of the B&N story seems to me to have a lot more to do with proxy fights, the interest of Ron Burkle in acquiring the company, or more power over it’s future, and the struggle of the founders to hang onto something they hold dear. The fact that it is happening in the middle of a technological and possibly cultural shift in the public’s reading habits only makes it that much more interesting.
If dancing on the grave (or at least where you and some other predict the grave will be dug) and spewing snark all over the publishing industry makes you happy, well, have at it. If you’re a reporter and you’re too lazy to actually go beyond the conventional wisdom, well: Thank you for proving my point that news reporting in this country is in more trouble than the publishing industry.
Keep in mind. When you buy a digital book, you’re giving money to Amazon and you’re saving a few bucks, unless you rarely bought hard back books in the first place. Or maybe the money goes to Apple. Or someone else. And maybe Random House or Simon and Schuster get no cut, or a little cut. And maybe that’s cool for you because you hate those guys.
All digital books mean, in the end, is that the money gets divided differently. You pay less. And that can be a good thing. Unless you forgot to back up your Kindle and it crashes. But wait! There is the cloud. And it’s powered by pretty purple unicorns! But your device crashed and wifi is out so…