schadenfreude
August 5, 2010 7:43 PM   Subscribe

A book store is in trouble. But you'll never guess which one. Barnes and Noble, under increased competition, especially in the ebook market, is thinking about putting itself on the market.
posted by zabuni (115 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's interesting. I read a fair number of eBooks these days (especially on ye olde iPad -- seems to be all I really use that for). But I do enjoy regularly going to bookstores, perusing, and buying physical books. It's not like Blockbuster where I really kind of disliked going through the process of renting VHS tapes back in the day. Or even, really, music stores. Which I respected and enjoyed. But have no more use for their physical product.

So it seems like bookstores will continue to exist in some form. Which is why I'm mildly surprised by this news. Maybe they'll evolve into something more like cafes. Which, y'know, B&N has already kind of drifted towards, anyway, with the Starbucks in each one.

Anyway. Lovely weather we're having.
posted by chasing at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2010


Borders and Barnes and Noble fought head on and left the independents as casualties. In this war no one won and all fell to dust. I am glad I grew up in an era of music shops and book stores, but I am sad this is over.

Not sure why this is a surprise though.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the first things I said after buying my first book for my iPad was, "Well, never buying a paper book again..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I just bought a Nook. If things go downhill for B&N, I hope they at least keep a team working on Nook firmware updates. If support does in fact stop, by that time the ereaders will be down to 50 bucks or so.
posted by zardoz at 7:55 PM on August 5, 2010


I was just thinking about how much I miss record stores, and I guess soon it will be book stores too. I think I'll avoid buying an ebook as long as possible just out of spite. Change isn't always for the better.

PS Fuck Amazon.
posted by belvidere at 8:02 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Richard Nash has been predicting the quick death of B&N for a few years now (for example). Bob Edwards' interview with him back in April is one of the most intelligent talks about the future of bookselling that I've ever heard.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:03 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bookbuying decisions are way too knotty these days. I own a secondhand Nook (sold by someone who had just bought an iPad), a B&N membership card, and an Amazon Prime account. I've often bought ebooks from Powells.com just to support Powells, but I feel some obligation to support B&N's business model for the Nook by buying from them. For any sort of unusual or oversize book it's too tempting to go with Amazon 2nd-day shipment to consider alternatives. But a brand-new independent bookshop just opened (sic) in the town of 3000 people I live closest to, so I now feel an obligation to buy from them, too, when I can. If push comes to shove, though, I probably don't feel overwhelming loyalty to any of them. Yet to the end of my days I'll mourn the demise of Books West Southwest in Tucson, a splendid regional shop of the 80s-90s, and I would commit any act of civil disobedience to keep San Francisco's City Lights in business. Despite it all I still imagine that by the time I'm living in an assisted living facility I'll have my one tablet reader and maybe a small shelf-ful of books for pure nostalgia.
posted by Creosote at 8:08 PM on August 5, 2010


Given that you can fit an entire novel into a single TCP packet, the death of any information-selling store with a physical footprint that size seems pretty much inevitable.
posted by mhoye at 8:12 PM on August 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


There will always be a small market for used printed books - like any other antique. Anyone who wants the physical pleasure of a book will be able to obtain it at market price.

(sent from my iPad)
posted by Joe Beese at 8:16 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


This comes less than a year after Borders UK went into administration.

I love to support my local independent bookstore, considered by some to be among the best in the US however, the last book I bought was $26 at the Tattered Cover (and B&N) but $15 (new) from Amazon. Sorry to say I chose the latter.
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:24 PM on August 5, 2010


PS Fuck Amazon.

Amazon also gives thousands and thousands of small bookstores and individual scouts a chance to sell directly to a worldwide market at a fairly reasonable price, though - I've bought a dozen or so books through them in the past few years, and all of them were used. None of them were books that I could find in local used shops, and none of them were books that are still available new. Money into the hands of non-chain booksellers.

What's suffering - and what will disappear - is the "convenience store for print books" model that B&N represents. What will be left in the long run, probably, is a much smaller, but stronger, pool of independents and individual dealers, and a few huge online retailers like Amazon.

I do miss the bookselling economy that allowed so many disorganized, marginal, genuinely weird bookshops - esp. used bookshops - to survive, but their disappearance seems to have more to do with real estate prices in the cities where they used to thrive going up as it does with changes to way books are bought and sold.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:24 PM on August 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


I can't understand how they don't make money. Every time I go to B&N the parking lot is packed and there are people browsing right up to closing. I never seem to escape without buying at least one book and usually several and coffee.
posted by Tashtego at 8:25 PM on August 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Given that you can fit an entire novel into a single TCP packet

I will see your slight exaggeration and raise you a Mefite Technical Pedant -- MSS greater than 8K is rare (even in jumbo frames), which is really not enough for what people typically consider a novel.
posted by spiderskull at 8:27 PM on August 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Argh, you mean I have to buy my Miquelrius notebooks online now? Ugh.
posted by circular at 8:29 PM on August 5, 2010


Books are too expensive. I would love to read more, but I can't pay $25.00 for a book, sometimes they're even higher than that! I'm sorry, but if this significantly reduces the cost of books, then it's for the better.
posted by Malice at 8:33 PM on August 5, 2010


I can't understand how they don't make money. Every time I go to B&N the parking lot is packed and there are people browsing right up to closing. I never seem to escape without buying at least one book and usually several and coffee.

Last time I was there I read two books(cover to cover). I go there often but haven't bought a book in 2 years.
posted by Rubbstone at 8:49 PM on August 5, 2010


Books are too expensive. I would love to read more, but I can't pay $25.00 for a book

Oh hold on, there's someone here I'd like you to meet. Malice? This is your local public library. Local public library, here's Malice. I think you two may have a lot to talk about...
posted by Hildegarde at 9:02 PM on August 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Here is an article about how this is really more of an internal power play rather than a death knell for B&N. (Via Sarah Weiman's Twitter account, which has some other good links about this.)

Me, I think Borders will die first. And I have a Kindle and a Prime account and just got a giant box of books yesterday. Ebooks aren't going to make paper books go away for a long time.
posted by sugarfish at 9:04 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've always liked browsing bookstores like B&N, but it's gotten to the point where, when I find a book I want to read, I'll download it on my iPad in the store. It always feels vaguely illicit.
posted by painquale at 9:04 PM on August 5, 2010



There will always be a small market for used printed books - like any other antique.

"It was a peculiarly beautiful book. Its smooth, creamy paper, a little yellowed by age, was of a kind that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past. He could guess, however, that the book was much older than that. He had seen it lying in the window of a frowsy little junk-shop ... and had been stricken immediately by an overwhelming desire to possess it."
posted by scratch at 9:05 PM on August 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Books are too expensive. I would love to read more, but I can't pay $25.00 for a book, sometimes they're even higher than that!


Library cards, like butterflies, are free.

Also: How much is the cable/Dish/Directv bill?
posted by scratch at 9:09 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


"It was a peculiarly beautiful book. Its smooth, creamy paper, a little yellowed by age, was of a kind that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past. He could guess, however, that the book was much older than that. He had seen it lying in the window of a frowsy little junk-shop ... and had been stricken immediately by an overwhelming desire to possess it."

This is about the saddest that Ninteen Eighty-Four has ever made me feel, and it's had about 20 years to work at it, now. It's not that people won't read books anymore. . .but man, how events have conspired to turn me into a Miniver Cheevy in my own lifetime, at three decades!
posted by tyrantkitty at 9:19 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Book prices keep going up; even paperback mass markets are what, 6, 7, 8 bucks now? They used to be the cheap option. And larger paperbacks are going for 20, and hardcovers are in the 30s and up. That's a lot of money for an item you may only read once (or even quit in disgust halfway through) and then put on the shelf till the next garage sale. Especially when you can get an ebook reader for the price of what, three hardcovers, and automatically get lots of copyright-free titles for nothing or nearly nothing? Fewer books printed would save a shit-ton of trees and reduce pollution from printing/processing/shipping/books ending up in landfills.

I love bookstores, and would rather spend my lunch hour in one than anywhere else, but the train's already left the station. Barring worldwide collapse in which case the survivors will have to scavenge for rotting copies of Shakespeare while fighting off zombies, we're headed into a low-paper future.
posted by emjaybee at 9:19 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to love to browse in bookstores, but most of them don't carry a lot of browsing material any more. The SFF section and the history section--the first two places I tend to look in a new bookstore--have some bestsellers, which are mostly recent titles, and a thin backstock of what's left from the last couple of years that hasn't been stripped and returned.

When I was in college, there was a wonderful bookstore called the Bookstop in an old movie theater in Houston. B&N ate it and we traded in our Bookstop discount card for a B&N card. These days, I'd rather borrow from the library than spend $9 or $10 on a paperback I may not even like (or more for a trade) and on the occasions I do want to buy, I feel better about buying from my local independent bookstore than from B&N anyway. The only advantage to B&N anymore is that the nieces and nephews like gift cards from there.

I used to love going to bookstores, B&N included, and now they just make me sad. I know there are economic reasons for thinning the stock, but it's like they killed the biggest advantage they had over Amazon. Now if I want to browse and look for SFF backstock, I'm likely to go to Half Price Books because my odds of finding what I want are so much better.
posted by immlass at 9:42 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I say good riddance to these 'booksellers'. No matter how convenient these newfangled codexes may be, they'll never replace the tactile, engrossing reading experience that only a reed stylus pressed into clay can provide.
posted by phooky at 9:45 PM on August 5, 2010 [19 favorites]


I could be totally wrong but I don't think print books are going to die out completely because you don't need to be that careful with them. I like to read on the beach and in the tub and there's no way I'm bringing a Kindle or anything into the bath with me, whereas with a paperback I can do pretty much whatever I want with it. When I was a kid and my family went to the beach I'd float around in an inner tube and read. My books got SOAKED, but it was relaxing, and I still read books not just at the pool but in the pool or in the rain or wherever. Yes, it means some of my books are in really, really crummy shape but I can still read them and, as a bonus, I haven't been electrocuted!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:48 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Mrs. Pterodactyl: I use my kindle in the bath; I just toss it in a ziplock bag. More resistant to dunking than a paperback.)
posted by phooky at 9:53 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


As Sugarfish's first link mentioned, this reallly isn't about B&N's imminent demise; it's about Len Riggio telling Ron Burkle to go fuck himself. In all likelihood, Riggio will buy the outstanding shares and make it a private company again. The upshot of this is that it gives B&N time to retool its long term strategy w/o having to obey the incessant demand for higher dividends every quarter.

Full Disclosure: I used to work for B&N, albeit only as a department manager in two of their stores. While I had my beefs about some of the things that went on (the lack of integration between Inc. & .Com, etc.) the one thing Riggio is good at is running bookstores; I wouldn't count him out just yet. Ron Burkle, on the other hand is one of those guys who makes his money buying and selling companies, as opposed to actually running a retail business.

On a side note, while I am fully supportive of independent bookstores, they were largely a mythical beast in the area I grew up in (semi-rural Hudson Valley NY), even back in the late 70's. I didn't have a bookstore that I could get to in under an hour until they put a Waldenbooks in the Newburgh Mall. While I'm not trying to sentimentalize chainstores, I think it's worthwhile to dispel the notion that there was this magical time in America that every town and village had a locally owned bookstore. Retail bookselling is a low-profit margin business, whether you're a large chain or a mom & pop outfit. While B&N and Amazon may have hastened the decline of the independent bookstore, the reality is unless you're in the right market (urban areas, college/university towns), an independent bookstore is more than likely to fail regardless of the effect of chainstores, the internet and ebooks.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:02 PM on August 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well - I used to be more enthusiastic about eReaders, until my BeBook died during the middle of a particularly good read this May. So - it lasted from October to May, perhaps the kindle has better engineering.

(I loved my BeBook because it could read soooooo many formats, including CHM - I have a huge library of technical books in CHM format... Oh, and you could load books onto it via an SD card...)
posted by jkaczor at 10:04 PM on August 5, 2010


This is such a strangely sheltered thread. As if most of you thinks books have already stopped being printed. "Of course they have, we all own Kindles and iPads!" No, we don't. As sugarfish pointed out, this is really more of an internal power play by the founder to get control of his company again, not the death of the fucking book.
posted by Roman Graves at 10:04 PM on August 5, 2010 [18 favorites]


My local library (in a metro city) doesn't have a lot of the types of books I'm interested in - and in the shops they're usually pricey. Boo.

(which e-reader is best for Australia? Starting to seriously consider one now, mainly so I can get my fix of performance-art/feminist/gender-theory goodness without the shipping costs.)
posted by divabat at 10:07 PM on August 5, 2010


Every time I go to B&N the parking lot is packed and there are people browsing right up to closing

I always wonder how many more people would just use their local libraries if they had a freaking Starbucks inside
posted by windbox at 10:07 PM on August 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


Library cards, like butterflies, are free.

What's scary, though, is the increasing number of e-only books. If the trend continues, then what of the livelihood of not just book stores, but also those fabulously free libraries?

Hopefully I won't live to see the day. Physical books are wonderful things. Especially when made from recycled paper.
posted by erstwhile at 10:09 PM on August 5, 2010


When B+N changed their return policy last year to more stringent terms, I had an inkiing that things were not going so well for them.

A lot of US campus bookstores are really rebranded B+Ns, which make massive profits over horrendously expensive textbooks.

If the Kindle and Apple's iPhone and iPad start selling e-textbooks this fall, I imagine B+N is done for, if it isn't already in dire straits.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Mrs. Pterodactyl: I use my kindle in the bath; I just toss it in a ziplock bag. More resistant to dunking than a paperback.)

God damn it, that must work on sand too. I leave it to you to explain to Mr. Pterodactyl why spending that $150 is such a good idea; you've converted me.

I mean, in theory. I haven't bought one yet or anything because, you know, poor.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:15 PM on August 5, 2010


Sometimes I feel like the only person who hates e-books. And I mean hate.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:31 PM on August 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


Do people pay for ebooks? I spend $100 to $200 dollars a month on paper books but I've never spent a dime on ebooks. Sometime this year my digital library surpassed my analog library. My e library now takes up around 250 GB of space. I haven't even come close to reading or even sorting them all. I have a bad addiction. I blame metafilter because someone, I can't remember who, turned me on to several resources...ahem... for finding ebooks online.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:42 PM on August 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


reductiondesign, you aren't the only one!
posted by wayland at 10:45 PM on August 5, 2010


Do people pay for ebooks?

More than pay for hardbacks according to Amazon.

Sometimes I feel like the only person who hates e-books. And I mean hate.

Some people love books, just like some people love records. I have always loved stories and music, the delivery mechanism is just about convenience. Having said that, I vastly prefer reading my Kindle than paper books, to each their own.
posted by markr at 11:18 PM on August 5, 2010


Blazecock Pileon: "If the Kindle and Apple's iPhone and iPad start selling e-textbooks this fall, I imagine B+N is done for, if it isn't already in dire straits."


The Kindle just can't handle the graphic intensity of textbooks, so that's not gonna happen. B&N just released NookStudy, an eTextbook application packed full of useful features like highlighting and tagging, document importing, etc. So aside from the blind popularity of the iPad, they already seem way ahead of everyone in that race.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:19 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm of two minds of this. While I have no love for the warehouse-style bookstore, I was slightly more favorable inclined to B&N due to it's tendency to donate to Democrats - as opposed to Amazon, which heavily supported the Republican party (all this information came from the sadly defunct buyblue.org). For years, I've shopped for books online (when I have to) buy searching for things on Amazon (because, quite frankly, bn.com's search algorithm is trash) and then gone to bn.com to actually buy things.

It's sort of like Sam's Club vs. Costco - if you're forced to go with a big box offering, you might as well go with the one that leans progressive. As others have mentioned, I hope this allows B&N to refocus its strategy and refine its products a bit.
posted by TheRoach at 11:21 PM on August 5, 2010


I work for BN now and KingEdRa is pretty much correct. BN is not really in any financial trouble, this is just a battle amongst the bigger investors. When BN bought BN College, a company that was privately owned by Len Riggio, Burkle got all pissed and has since been pushing to take over.

If there's any company that's weathered the recession with flying colors, it's B&N. This is being made into something it's completely not. The company, brand, and stores aren't going anywhere if the Riggios can help it. And that's fine, because with the recent change in CEO, things are looking good for the future.
posted by dopamine at 11:21 PM on August 5, 2010


You are not the only one at all, reductiondesign.
posted by kyrademon at 11:27 PM on August 5, 2010


Also, sometimes B&N just has nice books. They give me a reason to shop there, which no other big box bookstore does. They always have cheap inhouse editions of great works (like the only complete collection of Lovecraft's work, which I think is 11 or 12 bucks), and their leather-bound classics are really swank and inexpensive.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:28 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


B&N employee here.

As sugarfish and KingEdRa noted, this is about a powerplay and not about B&N being in any sort of trouble. They are in no debt, not even after their recent purchase of B&N College Bookstores. This is just another shot at Burkle in addition to the poison pill from last year. Len Riggio even noted that he was open to purchasing the company through an investment firm.

If anything, it may serve as a precursor to justify major changes in the strategy of the brick 'n' mortar stores to push the NOOK as well as online sales. As articles in the past week indicates, most stores will be expanding their e-reader demo displays and offering more accessories. Most stores will also see a huge expansion in their educational games, workbooks, and materials by the holidays, as well as an expansion of the gift departments. That means physical books leaving the stores, so that they can be offered (cheaper) as eBooks.

They've already been pushing the online business at the expense of the stores, in my opinion, including revamping the online prices to be at least 10% off the list price (often more than that). EBooks are another way to do that and the market currently seems to be encouraging them to move in that direction. This powerplay by the Riggios enables them to be more severe in their activities I suppose.

I'm waiting for the stores to just turn into a vast array of terminals where Ebooks and albums and movies can be downloaded onto NOOKS, iPads, and other devices, with a nice cafe in one corner, Kid's Bargain books in another, random tchotchke around the registers, and about dozen sad looking "booksellers" trained to do little more than act as a poor man's IT when a CAPSLOCK is left on or a terminal freezes. ;)
posted by Angulimala at 11:40 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not a leap to distinguish people with money* from people without - not only do physical books cost more, they're much harder to move with you.

That said, I'm sad that people in the future may only know what I read, and treasured, up until about 2000.

* subtract cases where (books =happiness)
posted by porpoise at 11:59 PM on August 5, 2010


Well, NOOK is a somewhat stupid name. (And, apparently supposed to be capitalized?)
posted by delmoi at 12:30 AM on August 6, 2010


On what planet (excluding, of course, the Wide Wide World of eBook Piracy) do more than a tiny fraction of books cost more in print form than electronic?

I have no real philosophical objection to eBooks, but neither am I willing to spend ten bucks for a DRM-locked copy of Pebble In The Sky when I can go to a used bookstore and get it for a buck-fifty. Instant gratification only goes so far. And the number of titles available is still ludicrously small—literally none of the last half-dozen books I've read were available as eBooks, as far as I can tell, and most of them are completely mainstream titles: The Monkey Wrench Gang, At Dawn We Slept, Rhodes' Dark Sun, Phil Plait's Death From The Skies, Lucifer's Hammer, Chaikin's A Man on the Moon...
posted by Lazlo at 1:03 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have no real philosophical objection to eBooks, but neither am I willing to spend ten bucks for a DRM-locked copy of Pebble In The Sky when I can go to a used bookstore and get it for a buck-fifty.

Or, more likely, the trend will be to download it for free because, you know, even a buck-fifty to way too expensive compared to the free. That'll show those greedy sellers of used books. Someone already paid for it once, how dare they charge someone else to read it!
posted by three blind mice at 1:17 AM on August 6, 2010


Someone already paid for it once, how dare they charge someone else to read it!

I'm surprised people so opposed to piracy would take up the mantel of used book sellers, when the author doesn't get a penny.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, Roman Graves, I didn't know about NookStudy. I remember when the Kindle first came out, everyone was talking about how it would revolutionize the textbook business. Besides the limitations of the device, the other problem with that idea was that Amazon didn't have the leverage with the textbook publishers to get them to publish digitally (on favorable terms for Amazon), because most textbooks are still sold through on-campus college bookstores.

I had forgotten just how much of the college bookstore market is dominated by B&N College. The textbook publishers now find themselves in a position where they may HAVE to negoatiate a digital publishing strategy that is on favorable terms for B&N. With NookStudy, I can realistically see a point in the not too distant future where incoming freshman are given/required to buy a Nook and they just download all their textbooks.

And, yeah, that collected edition of Lovecraft is pretty sweet. I wish they would issue a leatherbound edition now.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:37 AM on August 6, 2010


not the death of the fucking book.

If you care about books to any degree you'd have to be very blinkered not to notice what's happening to the fucking book and extrapolate those trends into the future.

I was thinking just yesterday about the huge number of places I used to be able to go to buy a book here, until 10pm at night. Now there are hardly any, and what there are are just glorified airport stands that shut at 6pm.
posted by bonaldi at 1:58 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's so surprising to read how many people are declaring the e-book the inevitable winner. It's really not, particularly not at this point in the game. The technological (and well off) circles you run in are not the majority of Americans, much less the majority of the world. "Roughly 2% of American book buyers over age 13 are active ebook users, meaning they obtained an ebook or a reader device in the last year. [...] The most-used device for reading an ebook is a personal computer (47%)."
posted by stoneweaver at 2:33 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, yeah, that collected edition of Lovecraft is pretty sweet. I wish they would issue a leatherbound edition now."

UGH I KNOW. I would give myself to Azathoth for that.

If you care about books to any degree you'd have to be very blinkered not to notice what's happening to the fucking book and extrapolate those trends into the future.

Well consider me blinkered. I'm not saying that ebooks aren't catching on, but sweet Azathoth, this whole thread makes it sound like we'll run out of the paper ones at any moment. Stonewater's link should make it plain just how absurd that is. Maybe it's because I live in Middle America, but I consider myself and my circle fairly tech savy, and I know exactly zero people who read ebooks on a regular basis. Now paper textbooks on the other hand, good fucking riddance.
posted by Roman Graves at 2:46 AM on August 6, 2010


>> Given that you can fit an entire novel into a single TCP packet

> I will see your slight exaggeration and raise you a Mefite Technical Pedant -- MSS greater than 8K is rare (even in jumbo frames), which is really not enough for what people typically consider a novel.

The largest possible TCP packet is constrained by the window scale option, not the maximum segment size. A window scale factor of 2^14 permits a receive window of (2^16 - 1) * 2^14, slightly more than one gigabyte. On the other hand, the maximum segment size may be as large as 2^32 - 61 on links supporting IPv6 jumbograms. See:
RFC 1323: TCP Extensions for High Performance, Sec. 2 TCP Window Scale Option.
RFC 2675: IPv6 Jumbograms, Sec. 5 TCP Jumbograms.

Note to writers: one gigabyte TCP packets may not be supported by all internet hosts. Authors wishing to avoid fragmentation must not publish novels greater than 536 octets. (Still better than Twitter!)
posted by ryanrs at 2:55 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


ryanrs,

Well, look at that. I was about to catch you mistaking TCP segments (the sum of whose data outstanding is described by windowing) with TCP packets (which is an individual, discrete message sent on a network, generally but not exclusively over IP).

But then you brought up IPv6 Jumbograms, which I admit I hadn't seen. Are they implemented anywhere? A 32 bit wide reassembly buffer is sort of hilarious.

Interestingly, IPv6 fragmentation doesn't seem to jibe with IPv6 Jumbograms. There's no way of saying, for example, "this is byte 500,000".
posted by effugas at 3:25 AM on August 6, 2010


I wonder how much this provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008 reauthorization) is going to hurt B&N (went into effect in July 1, 2010):
Section 112 -
Requires publishers informing teachers or those selecting course materials at IHEs about available textbooks or supplements to include written information concerning: (1) the price the publisher would charge for such items to the bookstore associated with such institution and, if available, the price the publisher charges the public; (2) the copyright dates of the three previous editions of such textbooks; (3) substantial revisions to such items; and (4) whether such items are available in other formats, including paperback and unbound, and the price the publisher would charge the bookstore and, if available, the price the publisher charges the public, for items in those formats. Requires a publisher that sells a textbook and any accompanying supplement as a single bundled item also to sell them as separately priced and unbundled items. Directs IHEs to include on their Internet course schedules the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and retail price for each required or recommended textbook or supplement for listed courses. Requires an institution to: (1) use the author, title, publisher, and copyright date if the ISBN is unavailable; and (2) indicate that the required information has yet to be determined if its disclosure for a course is impractical. Requires IHEs to provide college bookstores, upon request, with: (1) their course schedules for the subsequent academic period; (2) the information this Act requires to be placed on Internet course schedules regarding each textbook or supplement required or recommended for each course; and (3) the number of students enrolled, and the maximum enrollment, in each course. Encourages IHEs to inform students of ways to save money on course materials. Directs the Comptroller General to report to Congress on the implementation of these requirements by IHEs, college bookstores, and publishers.


That sound make it a shit-ton easier to buy your over-priced textbooks online (ie. not at your school's B&N College bookstore). I imagine it's going to hurt that business model a little (or a lot).
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:51 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The technological (and well off) circles you run in are not the majority of Americans, much less the majority of the world.

But that argument also applied in 1984 when those same circles were buying Macs and saying "some day *everybody* will have one of these", and it was equally as rubbish then. Fewer than 2% were using computers with windows and mice in 1984, but 80% of them knew that this was the future. It's the same with eBooks.

The infrastructure and cost of printing, storing and distributing anything on paper, especially books, is ludicrous and unsustainable. It's going to go away, as the cost of providing a reasonable screen with some minor electronics plummets.

It's happening to every media that can be digitised, even if the replacements lose some physical attractions. Why should novels be any different?
posted by bonaldi at 3:58 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


That may be the case 20 years from now. It is certainly not the proximate cause for B&N or any other book seller going out of business or restructuring today.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:04 AM on August 6, 2010


It is certainly not the proximate cause for B&N or any other book seller going out of business or restructuring today.
Not B&N, but we've already established this is a dull story of corporate intrigue and are talking about the wider field. As for other book sellers: they've pretty much been done down by Amazon, which has laid the groundwork for the next step into not bothering with the paper at all.

The changes in the book market over the past 15 years have been dramatic. To think that this trend is suddenly going to come to a halt and everything will stay just as it is right now is very strange.
posted by bonaldi at 4:24 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the mystique of "browsing" physical books. Digital books are a godsend for scholars, because they make browsing (untargeted as well as targeted searching) so much more powerful and efficient.

I'm an author. I won't miss the paper book at all. I've already left it behind. When my book came out on Kindle last spring I was thrilled, and sales shot right up.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:49 AM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not going to be 20 years. I think 5.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:50 AM on August 6, 2010


Can you give an example of how browsing is better on a digital book? I totally agree that targeted searching is much better for digital books, but I'm not sure I grok what you're saying about browsing. (For browsing I'm thinking of serendipitously flicking through the book, not quite sure what you're looking for - is that similar to what you mean?)

[My wish: a physical book to read (and browse); with a digital book alongside to search - both for non-fiction and fiction (thinking of long novels with multiple characters who appear briefly, then come back 10 chapters later...would be nice to be able to Ctr-F and find where they first appeared)]
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:08 AM on August 6, 2010


Well, NOOK is a somewhat stupid name

Where is your sense of whimsy or love of Dr. Seuss? It's better than Kindle with it's whiff of "Fahrenheit 451" or iPad.
posted by drezdn at 5:21 AM on August 6, 2010


Can you give an example of how browsing is better on a digital book?
In terms of flipping aimlessly through, it depends on the speed of the display, but on my iPad I can scroll about just jumping from place to place as easily as I do on paper.

There are other great things about browsing that paper can't do, however. When I make notes or highlight sections, they're pulled out into their own table of contents so that I can return to a book and quickly move about between only the bits I've cared for. I can also see these on the Kindle website when the device isn't to hand.

On top of that, they've started sharing (with permission) other peoples' highlights. So I can turn it on for the book, and I'll see an underline where others have made highlights. It's that amazing serendipity and insight you get from paper marginalia, but on your own texts. They haven't even scraped the scrapings of the surface of where you could go with that. Imagine the possibility of a global community of shared readers all on the one text.

The big drawback for me -- and I'm hoping this is a bug rather than by design -- is that they don't respect the concept of the "page" they're showing you. I remember areas in books spatially, so I know that eg the key death scene was about 20% in, near the top left. The Kindle and iBooks reformat as needed, even if the font size hasn't changed, so sometimes what was top left is now bottom right. That messes with my head.
posted by bonaldi at 5:24 AM on August 6, 2010


When it comes to ebooks, B&N is actually situated far better than any of its brick and mortar competitors. It's actively pushing it's own ereader that has some really cool features (iirc, it even let's you share ebooks for a period of time).

In the long run, the Nook may not catch on, but it has situated B&N to last into the future if physical book sales drop of dramatically.
posted by drezdn at 5:25 AM on August 6, 2010


Last time I was there I read two books(cover to cover). I go there often but haven't bought a book in 2 years.

Bet you don't throw money in buskers' hats either.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:50 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


A lot of US campus bookstores are really rebranded B+Ns, which make massive profits over horrendously expensive textbooks.

I wish I could find the textbook profit breakdown diagram we used to have posted at the Follett campus bookstore I worked for; it pretty much destroys this notion. Bookstores across the spectrum—especially college bookstores—operate on very slim margins. A large amount of the money from textbook sales goes straight back to the publishers; where college bookstores (and students alike) make the most money is in textbook buyback/resales.

So yeah, let's get this straight right now: Booksellers != publishers, and booksellers are not making "massive profits" on even the most "horrendously expensive" textbooks.
posted by limeonaire at 6:13 AM on August 6, 2010


This saddens me, if it's actually true and not - as someone above suggested - some manifestation of internal company politics.

I love books, and I love buying books. I am not at all interested in ebooks of any kind, and I will put off buying a kindle or nook or whatever as long as its physically possible to buy paper books. I'm not a Luddite or anything, I just like the look and feel of paper books, be it massive hardback tome or small mass-market paperback. Usually the latter, honestly, as I can stuff one in a pocket, and I am genuinely uncomfortable without a book on my person most of the time.

Nor to be honest am I much interested in libraries - they're never open when I'm home (i work fairly long hours) and I have to give the books back, which annoys me tremendously. I work around the corner from a B&N, and I'm there at least twice a week, ad I almost always buy something, or several somethings.

So, yeah, I love B&N, despite their role in killing off a lot of smaller booksellers (the smaller booksellers don't have enough books, sorry) and hope this blows over.

*returns to his bookshelf-lined cave and sulks*
posted by Aversion Therapy at 6:15 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Digital books are a godsend for scholars

Yes, but what about for readers?
posted by Aversion Therapy at 6:19 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


/can't remember the last time he was in an actual bookstore
posted by unSane at 6:28 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Browsing" no more needs to be linear than "reading." They're both a mode of searching, and the addition of search tools to a digital interface makes a digital text far more potent as a means of communicating information, period. I can search for every instance of a word (thus, a concept) across an entire book or an entire author's published work or all the books published in a given year, etc. To me, that's a way of "browsing" hypertextually, and it introduces me to far more literature than I could ever scan manually on a bookstore or library shelf. Efficiency, we has it now.

A hypertext is just more powerful than a linear text as a medium for ideas. It gets closer to how the mind actually works with ideas and words. It's like the difference between monody and polyphony, absence or presence of perspective -- it's not just a difference in medium, it's a new way of reading. You may not like it, but its power to change the world of ideas has already been demonstrated on a mass scale, and day by day the linear, paper text recedes in cultural importance.

No one begrudges the linear reader the paper book. It will be around forever, because computers have this awesome thing called a "print" key.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:03 AM on August 6, 2010


Waitaminute, you people still read? Who has time for that?

Myself, I'm a busy roach, so I've outsourced my reading; I go to one of any number oif review sited, and they'll tell me if the book was good, and enough about the plot and characters that I can fake a learned discussion about it while trying to chat attractive people up at parties.

I hear Google now has an app that will automatically read and review a book for you as soon as it's published ans send you a Twitter about it. So you e-book readers need to stop doing things the old fashioned way and get with the program already.
posted by happyroach at 7:13 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Digital books are a godsend for scholars

Yes, but what about for readers?


Right, because scholars are only looking at the pictures.

It's true, I cannot remember the last time I walked in a bookstore other than to entertain my kid (the last profitable niche in paper publishing will be kids' books), and I also cannot remember the last time I read a book cover to cover *other* than the dozens I have had to review for presses or journals in recent years, when I do sit down and read every word in a few hours over a few days at most. The experience always reminds me what a plodding exercise reading that way is when you aren't reading to enjoy the sensuousness of the prose or to enjoy the form of a large scale work. Those are real pleasures, I grant, and I have known them, although I find myself far too converted to the postmodern hypertextual mode of reading to long nostalgically for curling up with a novel (I certainly don't remember the last work of long-form fiction I read; it might have been in college.)

So I'm a philistine, a traitor to my intellectual heirs, and I'm missing out on one of the fundamental pleasures of many generations of the better classes (only recently, as in within the last 200 years, has reading printed text been a pastime of the lower classes at all).

On the other hand, I've managed to make a good living being a wordsmith. Words are work to me as well as pleasure. I like doing little construction projects too, but I don't think twice about using a power drill or a jigsaw instead of hand tools.

If I were stuck alone on an island, I'd be very happy to have crates and crates of paper books. But I'm not.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:13 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, NOOK is a somewhat stupid name. (And, apparently supposed to be capitalized?)

I think it's a nice name. It rhymes with book. I like to think of it as a shortened version of net-book.
posted by morganannie at 7:18 AM on August 6, 2010


I might end up in a book store once or twice a year but order online fairly often. I usually know what I want and don't have the time to drive to the suburbs (since B&N closed both their stores in my city) and look for a book that they probably won't have anyway. There is a Borders still open in the city but it's hard to find an actual book in there for all the other crap that they sell.
posted by octothorpe at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always been a book guy - I love books and book stores. I have spent way more money than I'd probably admit to on books during my lifetime.

That said, I love my Kindle. It's convenient and dependable - and I can carry an entire library with me. Everything is searchable, I can make notes and annotations, and I can surf the net (in grayscale) for free. I lose the physical satisfaction of holding a book, but the tradeoff is a good one, IMO.

Going forward, though, this may be a disaster for booksellers. I have 60 books on my Kindle at the moment. The average file size is .6 megs. A well-seeded ebook torrent literally takes seconds to complete. The hassle factor of trading files of this size is zero.

Big-box bookstores are bucking two trends, I think. First, they are trying to be a one-size-fits-all solution in a marketplace where the future is (more and more) specialization. And, second, the physical product they are selling is, to most people, actually an intellectual product that can easily be spread as bits and bytes.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:43 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


[My wish: a physical book to read (and browse); with a digital book alongside to search - both for non-fiction and fiction (thinking of long novels with multiple characters who appear briefly, then come back 10 chapters later...would be nice to be able to Ctr-F and find where they first appeared)]

__

The big drawback for me -- and I'm hoping this is a bug rather than by design -- is that they don't respect the concept of the "page" they're showing you. I remember areas in books spatially

I feel like I've been needing a new skill recently which is the ability to mentally sync between reading the same text on paper and in e-form. I'll be reading something and then grab a copy for my ipod Touch so I can keep going when I'm out and about or traveling without having to lug the book around. (Gutenbergy free stuff mostly, haven't really been buying ebooks yet.) It's kind of a pain because though I've never been big on bookmarks and have generally relied on skimming for my spot in a book, those techniques don't transfer well to ebooks. I'll wind up searching for a phrase I remember or character's name and then paging along from there.

I also have this problem in syncing my newspaper reading - I'll read part of the paper on my Touch in the morning on the subway and then the rest in paper form when I get home. But sometimes I find myself reading the same article twice because my sense of whether I already read it is so informed by where it is on the page and what it looks like layout wise.
posted by yarrow at 7:54 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always wonder how many more people would just use their local libraries if they had a freaking Starbucks inside.

It's being discussed, and has been tried...with some good results.
posted by dylanjames at 8:08 AM on August 6, 2010


Hey B&N, stop pulling the bait and switch between the web store and the brick and mortar store and maybe I'll come by again. Until then I'll just get it faster and cheaper from any of the thousands of vendors on Amazon.
posted by Big_B at 8:26 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


That means physical books leaving the stores, so that they can be offered (cheaper) as eBooks.

This is my sadface.
posted by immlass at 8:27 AM on August 6, 2010


This thread seems to be using a very most limited definition of the word "book."

Members of my family are enthusiastic books readers and book purchasers, yet none of us own an e-reader of any kind. Why? Well, I might buy one to read crappy fantasy novels, but I can get those at a used bookstore. I certainly wouldn't be able to buy the knitting pattern books I love, with lavish photographs, for either a Kindle or NOOK, nor would my mother be able to buy her endless supply of photo-heavy quilting books, fabric embellishment books, or sewing pattern books.

My sister lives in an area with many used bookstores and loves to shop for long out-of-print novels in her favorite genres. My husband loves travel guides, O'Reilly books, and photo-heavy art, architecture and design books. From a quick search it looks like only of those three genres is available for Kindle.

I guess the Apple readers might be a good fit for most of us, but I can't even figure out (have a splitting headache) how to find which books are available for iPad.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:36 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Balrog Prediction Time: e-books will never replace the textbook. Ever. I desperately love my kindle, but there's just no way I could do any meaningful research on the thing. I need to be able to move through a textbook fast. Turning dozens of pages, back and forth and back again. I need to be able to scan pages in seconds and I can't visualize an e-book that would let me do this. And I have to write on the pages, shorthand, no time or patience to bring up a keyboard and actually type marginalia. Textbooks will be around until we have actual digital pages that I can write on.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2010


I'm trying to put off buying an e-reader (lol scientology) until the tech gets good enough that I can have a 500 page tome that reprints itself to be whatever book I want.

Also I'm poor.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2010


I need NookStudy, or something like it, for iPad please. Can it be made to deal with non B&N materials w/o needing to convert back and forth with Calibre or similar?

Ideally, I think there should be a cross-platform app for this done by a university or open source team and given away. Some kind of non-commercial e-textbook application suite standard for the academic world would be really nice. More than just the existence of file formats--actual freely available tools to use them portable across platforms that could gain the kind of adoption to force the industry to make commercial solutions compatbile.

Trying to find a good PDF annotating solution that works seamlessly in both OS X and iOS (and ideally Windows as well) for school use has been a real pain. PDFkit apparently does not support Adobe's annotation features very well, so DevonThink (for example) won't index annotations. They have some horrible broken user-developed script that's supposed to link items and export/import them as annotations--but it's hopeless for heavy use. Skim's markup tools are cool, but its special sauce doesn't work well with anything else, so you wind up in a Skim walled garden.

Also, regarding the future of physical books: print on demand. Your favorite corner book/zine store and coffee shop IS your big-box bookstore. The Espresso Book Machine, for instance.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:13 AM on August 6, 2010


Note that NookStudy restricts printing to "page allowances" per title in your library over time. Boo! Hiss! That's not going to work for serious students.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:18 AM on August 6, 2010


I'm a book lover, with over-flowing bookshelves lining the den on two walls, and that's after forcing myself, rather tearfully and full of nostalgia, to purge many many more for lack of space.

So I fought against e-books for a while, because I just love the feel of a book in my hands so much. And then I was at, of all places, B&N, buying some of The Dresden Files , and the lady behind the counter mentioned how great it was when, late at night, she finished one book in the series, she was able to immediately download the next one and start reading.

And a lightbulb went off.

So now I have a journal-style holder for my iPad, which feels like a book in my hands but also doubles as a hands-free easel, and I read ebooks. I'm a total convert. Room for more books without having to trash my old favorites? Win. Reading by just the light of the screen when everyone else is sleeping? Win. Same, or even cheaper prices, without stiffing authors whose work I admire? Totally win.

Seriously, if you haven't at least tried an e-reader, you don't know what you are missing.
posted by misha at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can I read non-Barnes & Noble books and textbooks with NOOKstudy?
NOOKstudy is built primarily to support eBook files sold by Barnes & Noble.


Way to shoot yourself in the foot there, guys.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2010


Lazlo: And the number of titles available is still ludicrously small—literally none of the last half-dozen books I've read were available as eBooks, as far as I can tell, and most of them are completely mainstream titles...

Seriously. I have no idea how any serious reader can be excited about ebooks at this point. The selection in all of the major stores is poor, and for reasons commercial and legal it seems unlikely that the selection will ever come close to what one can find through a first-rate library or a network of small booksellers. Digital media triumphalists have been trumpeting the ability to cater to the "long tail" of interests, but all I've seen are Internet equivalents of airport bookstores. It's hard not to notice, too, that the popularity of digital music hasn't resulted in a flood of previously unavailable back-catalog material.

And then there's the topic of ebook quality, usability, and design.
posted by cobra libre at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, you people talk about eBooks as if they're a mature product instead of something in its early infancy. What you're looking at today is basically MS-DOS or System 7 or the like and you're sneering because it doesn't work as well as your MacBook.

Yes, people are excited about them, but a lot of it is the potential, just like it was with PCs back in the 1990s. And the potential is staggering.

Right now, ebook prices are similar to hardbacks, but production costs are 98% less. You think the number of available titles won't increase? Wrong. The horrid typesetting? We saw the same thing on most newspaper websites as they struggled to marry their legacy production systems to modern outputs. We rarely do nowadays.

As for skimming too quickly to read and jumping about and shorthanding, there are new patterns of navigation to be learned. And nobody's saying you'll just have one screen. You could have many. And some of those could handle a stylus, easily, or smart keyboards that let you link/annotate/highlight faster in ways paper just doesn't allow.

The book's not getting any better, but eBooks are improving rapidly. They'll only make the grass on your lawn greener.
posted by bonaldi at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I stopped buying books when I had to move from London to the US. I hated having to part with all those books, but I hated paying for them to be shipped so I could move around even more. it was such a waste of money, buying books.

Barnes and Nobles seems very outdated. The forest green and brown, it all reminds me of when Friends was on the air, forever ago.
posted by anniecat at 10:25 AM on August 6, 2010


I don't doubt that the e-book technology will evolve. In fact, I'm afraid that it will. Let me explain:

It isn't just DRM, although DRM is a big part of it ... knowing that Amazon can just make that e-book disappear from my reader and throw me a few cents in its place, that's unappealing. DRM that could make my e-books hard to back up, that's fairly awful. DRM services that could vanish, leaving me with locked e-books, well ... we've seen it happen with music services before. And then a personal future dread, e-books that could be silently "updated."

That's what the technologically evolved e-book looks like me: books vanishing, statements retracted, deniable facts, and me, eternally tethered to them in that "personal relationship" businesses want with their customers. Probably some reporting. For, uh, marketing purposes. That is what the publishing companies crave and that is probably what we will get.

What do I like? Handing five bucks to someone who takes the five dollars and gives me a book, and we're done. No automated subpoenas trawling through the accounts of major companies to scan for terrorists or whoever the latest boogeyman is. No revocation. The book is mine and our transaction is complete.
posted by adipocere at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't have a bookstore that I could get to in under an hour until they put a Waldenbooks in the Newburgh Mall.

Hm -- I feel as if I must have gone to school with you, KingEdRa. Anyhow, I bought books at that Waldenbooks in my teens, but before the Newburgh Mall was built I probably got most of my (scifi) paperbacks at the Rexall drugstore in the Mid Valley Mall (and periodically a hardcover from the SF Book Club). Talk about eras that have passed -- that Rexall drugstore also had a TV tube tester back by the rear entrance which fascinated me, and which my dad sometimes actually tested vacuum tubes on when the Zenith started acting funny.
posted by aught at 10:31 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere: "I don't doubt that the e-book technology will evolve. In fact, I'm afraid that it will."

These points are also my biggest problem with ebooks, not the romanticism of paper. When Amazon took back all those copies of 1984, I knew that just wasn't going to work for me.
posted by Roman Graves at 10:51 AM on August 6, 2010


fourcheesemac: "I won't miss the paper book at all. I've already left it behind."

At one point, I owned more than 1,000 printed books. I consider myself a book guy.

Recently I was beginning to miss owning a copy of Gravity's Rainbow - my fondly remembered mass market paperback edition having wandered away years ago. So when I noticed the Penguin trade paperback in an airport bookstore, I picked it up. Then I saw the $20 price and put it right back down.

So I found a PDF posted at Avax. I downloaded it to my laptop and then placed it in my Dropbox folder - from where the Goodreader app on my iPad was able to import it in less than a minute.

Having done so, I now would decline a copy of the Penguin trade paperback offered for free. It would just be clutter. [I'd be willing to take a first-edition off your hands - but only for its fetish value as a physical object.]

My point is: If even a book guy like me will no longer be purchasing printed books, who else is going to?
posted by Joe Beese at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2010


and I also cannot remember the last time I read a book cover to cover *other* than the dozens I have had to review for presses or journals in recent years

Out of curiosity, are the books that you write meant to be read cover to cover?
posted by ersatz at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2010


Plus, isn't anyone worried about the disappearing social experience of shopping? Two of the greatest places to meet people, or just pine over them, are the bookstore and the record store.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:16 AM on August 6, 2010


I regularly miss the vanished book shops from where I live, even Borders. But ... so?
posted by bonaldi at 11:33 AM on August 6, 2010


There's a lot of talking past each other here on this issue. E-books and physical books both have pros and cons, which vary with context; different people put different values on these. The exact advantages and disadvantages of e-books are a moving target as the technology changes, and whichever apply right now might not in the future. Having a strong preference for one or the other doesn't, of itself, make anyone a luddite or a technofetishist.

I bought a Nook a month ago when the wifi model came out at $150, to have portable reading for some upcoming travel. Reading it is very pleasant -- there's a night and day difference from gadgets with LCD screens. I've already read some things from the web that I wouldn't have gotten around to otherwise, in one case something I'd saved a copy of long ago, in another case something new. I've dumped some indistinguished fat omnibus volumes of work in the public domain for the shelf space -- I'll read them on the Nook if I want them again.

The only things on my Nook are things distributed legitimately on-line, mostly public domain, mostly from manybooks.net (which is mostly from Gutenberg.) I haven't registered my Nook with Barnes & Noble, and don't plan to; I don't plan to use their store, and I leave it in airplane mode. I'm not feeling a lot of concern over Barnes & Noble ever deleting anything from it.

I still love paper books and am surrounded by them at home, and I'll continue to patronize my local libraries and spend money at bookstores. Cheap used copies of in-copyright work remains a killer feature of paper books. But free online copies of public domain work (that take no shelf space) is a killer feature for e-readers.
posted by Zed at 11:35 AM on August 6, 2010


> Seriously. I have no idea how any serious reader can be excited about ebooks at this point.

Speaking as someone with a houseful of books (in all rooms on the open shelves and more in boxes in attic, basement and various closets) I've got way more in electronic form than I have on paper and I've been excited about ebooks since gutenberg.org got started (before that, actually--went out searching for books in Latin in the 1980s and found more than I could possibly read in a lifetime, as .txt files on ftp sites.) Ebook availability makes it possible to have huge amounts of stuff on hand that I might want someday or that might be useful as reference material. My attitude is pretty much the same as Nennius's: coacervavi omne quod inveni, I have made a heap of all I have found. I would never be able to go out and buy on paper and find storage space for this stuff but now it's here, on the HD so I don't have to pick up monstrously heavy boxes of it and load 'em in the U-haul when I move. And I don't need some dumb dedicated reader to read gutenberg-style non-proprietary ebooks. Plus, every ebook including graphics that I've wanted badly enough to d/l from gutenberg in the last couple of years has been available in perfectly good html with the graphics properly inlined rather than as a separate zip file full of jpegs.

As for portable ebook readers, a feature of the first importance that paper books provide is the ability to see an attractive (if bookish-looking) lady sitting in Borders with a book in her hand, or B&N or the used-paperback store or the university library or the public library or on the farking bus; to observe what she is reading by the cover or the title on the spine, and, if I know it, to offer an ice-breaking comment about it. Or even, sometimes, to be the one seated with the book in my hand and to have the very great pleasure of being offered an ice-breaking comment about it by the attractive (if bookish-looking) lady.

Match that, iPad.
posted by jfuller at 11:58 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Match that, IPad.

Actually, for the moment, the iPad is much more effective stranger-bait than any book.

When they become as prevalent as mp3 players - which I think will happen sooner rather than later - that will end.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:25 PM on August 6, 2010


Maybe it's just me, but if I see a cute girl with an iPad, I'm not going to say anything. If I see a cute girl with a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, it's on.
posted by Roman Graves at 12:59 PM on August 6, 2010


Out of curiosity, are the books that you write meant to be read cover to cover?

I've only published one book, that went from concept to project to book over the course of the late 90s and early 2000s, during which time the internet exploded and the possibilities for a hypertext came into focus. It wasn't there yet when my book was published, really (2004). But even then I thought about the book hypertextually -- I think of it as two different books in two different voices that can be read separately or in a linear way and converge on the same points. Thing is, most academic books are read this way -- a chapter or two, the intro and a chapter, a fast skim of the middle, etc. On Kindle, it looks like my old book in print, but you can jump around and search in cool ways I wish I had anticipated more carefully.

My own opinion is that the big breakthrough (and the reason the future ereader will be more like an iPad than a kindle) will be when we get full multi-media integration in the book. I write about music, and instead of having to direct readers to a separate website, I'd like to embed audio and video in the book text itself.

Academic presses still review books as linear texts, and still publish them on paper, but the sales are small and shrinking and the money -- if there is any -- is in licensing parts of books for course readings anyway.

Just last month I reviewed a behemoth manuscript (1800 pages) for a major university press, full of musical transcriptions and analyses. I told the press this was their vehicle for trying out a fully multimedia ebook. The book is about an instrument that can be well modeled on an iPad, too, so you could actually have a physical instrument for the examples. The press is afraid to publish the book at this length in all but a very small run. Maybe they'll listen to my advice.

These days, I'm not really interested in writing books, although I have a few in the pipeline (edited volume in one case, collaborative community-based book project in the other -- another possibility greatly enabled by digital formats and media -- in the other). I see the market for whole printed books as waning fast and want to get ahead of it with my own work and for the sake of my students' careers.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:05 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


BTW, I have well over 2000 academic books on my office shelves.

Or I did. A few months ago the top three shelves fell off the wall -- luckily I wasn't in the office -- and 1000 or so books cascaded over my office, burying my guitars and my desk.

As I surveyed the scene the next day, I realized that I didn't use 90 percent of those books enough to justify shelving them in my office anyway, and proceeded to box and store more than half of my office library. I'm looking at the remaining 800 or so books now and thinking, why did I even keep these?
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:08 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plus, isn't anyone worried about the disappearing social experience of shopping? Two of the greatest places to meet people, or just pine over them, are the bookstore and the record store.

OKCupid is the Amazon.com of dating.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2010


I don't like e-readers. I like electronic books well enough, but not enough to pay for one. And here's why:

When I was in second grade, my dad came home from work with a book for me. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase it was. He said he found it at my grandmother's and he thought I would like it. He was about my age when he first read it, and it was one of his favorite books. In fact, this was the very copy that he read. I thought that was the coolest thing. This had been my dad's book, and not just the book as a concept, but this very copy in my hands. That's a very special moment to have, and one that really can't be created with an e-reader.

I have books with my notes in them. I have used books I've bought with other people's underlinings and notes. I have books with inscriptions from the people who gave them to me. I write inscriptions in nearly every book I give. Physical books have a human history and a human quality, and it is unlike computers and electronic forms of reading because books can survive years and all sorts of weather and wear and tear. Electronic devices do not hold that staying power, and it will be some time before they can and do.

Also for me, reading is much a tactile experience as it is a mental or imaginative one. When I read a book, I note the feel of the page, the smell of the book, the particular type of font used in this book (and not all fonts in books can translate well to the screen). This is a part of the reading experience for me. I don't just use my eyes, and in fact, after staring at a computer screen all day at work, the last thing I want to look at on my commute home is another screen. I welcome the break from the screens as I pull my book out of my bag.

I think e-readers are good tools and have their place, but I still don't like them. I don't even like the digital searches at libraries and greatly preferred the index cards. When I search digitally, I often come up with, "No matches found," but when I used index cards, even if I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, I inevitably found something else cool or interesting or similar. There were no "No matches found" when using the index cards.

But that might just be me. And I'm a little weird about books and libraries and bookstores.
posted by zizzle at 1:44 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, I used to watch my dad wash his LPs and now I can run my fingers over the grooves he touched and listened to the warm tones that come out the deck and marvel at the full-size gatefold sleeves and it's all great.

And I remember inheriting my grandfather's typewriter, and there's nothing like seeing your words embossed as deeply as you can whack a key, in real ink on creamy paper, tangible existence of thought.

The creaking of my mother's photo album and the little collages she made of us as kids is a nice sound. The yellowing prints harken to a time now gone.

Etc, etc, etc. For all the wonderfulness of physicality, we have iPods, Microsoft Word and Flickr.

Readers love books, it's basically a truism. We love bookshops and libraries and the stacks and the smell and the feel. But mostly, unless we're just fetishists, we love the *content*. For a few years there, the fear was that we'd lose both, as the people who love newspapers are: the book shops would close, and there'd be no replacement.

Instead, as a lot of people here are attesting, e-reading isn't turning out nearly as bad as we feared.

And for heirlooms, there's still dad's watch.
posted by bonaldi at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


> This had been my dad's book, and not just the book as a concept, but this very copy in my hands.

That hits home! My 20-year-old daughter was feeling a bit mopey last night and asked me to read aloud to her from one of the books I read to her when she was a little girl. She picked Ozma of Oz, a volume that was purchased by my grandparents for my father and read aloud to him when he was small. I have a fair number of these still in holdable, readable condition, and even three little ones that were read aloud to my grandmother in her childhood by people I've never laid eyes on.

I can't think of any better way to say to a very young person, about reading, "Dear, this is a gift that was given to me by people who loved me way back when. It's the same gift--the same exact one--that was given to them by people who loved them when they were little, and so on back into the mists. And now I'm giving it to you, along with the hope that you too will one day have the joy of giving it to someone else I may never know. You'll know them, and that's enough."
posted by jfuller at 4:01 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work in a used bookshop, and thankfully, we're doing ok. The shop has been around 20 years, and is a staple in the neighborhood.

Before I worked there, however, I spent 6 years at Borders. And everything that is happening to BN and Borders are things they brought on themselves. It's a shame that both companies are slowly sinking, but it's something people have seen coming for a while. (especially at Borders. I got out right before things got REALLY bad, but it is a shell of its former self.)

ALSO - I own an e-reader. Waaaaaaayyy up at the top, Creosote mentions having a nook and hoping they continue customer support for it. I hope (for his sanity) he never has a need to call customer support, because I had to return the nook I bought after 2 really bad interactions with customer support. They were incredibly unhelpful, and if that is how it continues to be, I can see the nook go the way of the dinosaurs (which is a shame, because it really is a beautifully designed reader). I now have a Sony Daily Edition, and am very happy with it.

(and man this is the rambliest comment ever).

And having the e-reader causes me no consternation as a bookseller. Unless there are huge leaps in technology, and the price comes down a ton, they will never replace paper books. I use the reader for my daily commute and initially got it for vacation (I'm the kind of person who spends more time worrying about what books I'll take than clothing), but I still nove to read and collect actual BOOKS.

The publishing industry will change, no doubt. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. This could end up being like the iPod making bands more excited in pressing vinyl again.

I'm very interested to see what happens, especially since I'm on both sides of the equation.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:15 AM on August 7, 2010


blazecock pileon, FYI - the BN bookstores and BN college stores are run as different divisions. I'm not sure how the ownership works out, but they are run as basically separate companies (or they were a couple of years ago when I worked for the accounting dept of a small distributor.)
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2010


Right now, ebook prices are similar to hardbacks, but production costs are 98% less.

Not true, bonaldi. Just not true. Unlike with blogs, it's not even true for those who self-publish. Someday, as you note, due to advances in layout/publishing software and the like, we may be at a point where all of the carefully edited/designed/paid-for text and graphics of physical books can just be slid straight into ebooks without a ton of additional labor costs, and that will make certain ebooks' production costs drop a good bit. But still...anything carefully edited/designed/produced costs money (or many hours of devoted volunteer labor) to put out, and ebook-only titles bear all of those costs.
posted by limeonaire at 7:59 AM on August 7, 2010


A few months ago the top three shelves fell off the wall -- luckily I wasn't in the office -- and 1000 or so books cascaded over my office, burying my guitars and my desk.

Ouch, hope the guitars were in hard cases. Thanks for the comprehensive answer.
posted by ersatz at 8:08 AM on August 7, 2010


Not true, bonaldi. Just not true.
Sorry, I was more ambiguous than I meant. I was talking purely about the physical costs. (I would have said 100%, but I wanted to allow for a bandwidth charge.)

It's no different really from the costs of a digital-only album compared to a CD one. The physical costs are dwarfed by the upfront investment. But the digital way is still, and always will be, cheaper. With margins what they are, if there's a reasonable market for digital -- which there increasingly is -- that's where the attention will go.
posted by bonaldi at 11:23 AM on August 7, 2010


The guitars were ok!
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:42 AM on August 8, 2010


Thanks for reminding me of the Barnes & Noble complete Lovecraft, Roman Graves and KingEdRa. It can't be ordered from B&N online, 3rd-party sellers are asking $45 for it, and according to the B&N website, most B&Ns local to me are out of stock.

But one wasn't, and now I have a $13 complete Lovecraft. Yay!
posted by Zed at 8:42 AM on August 17, 2010


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