Wednesday, April 24, 2013

James Patterson Wants Us to Have A Conversation

This past weekend the prolific author James Patterson took out ads on the front page of Publisher's Weekly, The New York Times Book Review and Kirkus.  His advertisement poses the questions, "Who Will Save Our Books? Our Bookstores? Our Libraries?"  His goal here is to start a dialogue that the industry and society as a whole has been largely ignoring.  He argues that the government stepped in to save our banks and automobile industry but where is the government on bookstores, libraries and the importance of reading?  There is article after article about the collapse of the book business, but no one has proposed any suggestions for how to save it.  Patterson doesn't make any suggestions either, he's just trying to "stir the pot" as he says.  He's looking to start the conversation in a constructive manner instead of just ignoring it like we have thus far.

It is also interesting the adversarial relationship that has developed between publishers and librarians over ebooks.  When only physical books were available libraries and publishers worked together cordially.  With the rise of the ebook format publishers have suddenly seen libraries as enemies.  Libraries typically get physical books at a 40-42% discount off the publisher's list prices.  For ebooks they are expected to pay 10 times the retail price and sometimes more.  That's if the publisher decides that their ebooks should be available at all to libraries.  With ebooks for whatever reason, publishers feel that libraries having ebooks will undercut their sales of those books.  The lack of anything physical or tangible associated with these books means that there would be little point in wanting to keep them forever, unless you are the type to reread books.  Why not just borrow them from the library and return them when you are done?  Why bother amassing an ebook library when no one will be able to use it but you?

Which is one issue facing libraries.  The constant cuts to their meager budgets is another.  They can't really afford to pay $100 for an ebook when that would equate to 5 hardcover new releases.

The problem facing bookstores is the same one that has existed for years and years.  Bookstore sales have been falling for years (typically between .5-1% per year) not because people are buying fewer books, but because people are not choosing to buy their books from bookstores.  They are buying online from Amazon, or at Target or Walmart, but not from bookstores.  This may in part be a chicken and egg situation.  Are people choosing alternative ways to acquire books because their local bookstores have gone out of business or have their local bookstores gone out of business because people have chosen to buy their books elsewhere?  In reality it's probably a little of both.

Personally I have experienced nothing but growth since purchasing Broken In Books in 2010.  And we are doing fine, but every store that says they wouldn't rather be doing better is lying.  

Sales of ebooks are also included in these figures, as most bookstores now have the ability to sell them online, so for our purposes they are merely a format of the book, not a replacement for the book.

What do you think?  How do we get consumers to choose the physical bookstore over the myriad of other options available to them?  Should we try?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So Last Week Amazon Bought Goodreads

Last week Amazon bought Goodreads.  While I am excited for the monetary reward the creators of Goodreads received as a result of all of their hard work, I am also disappointed and angry.  I am angry because there is only one reason Amazon would have any interest in purchasing Goodreads, and that is data mining.  They want to know what we read.  They will use this information to market specifically to people so they can sell more stuff.  This tactic isn't really a problem.  That is what businesses do.  When I sign up for your site, I am giving you permission to use my data.  I fully expect you will do everything in your power to monetize my data, particularly by directly marketing products and services to me.  That is the way of the world.  However, knowing all of this, when you later tell me you are going to sell my data to a company that was heretofore not associated with your company, that is when I get a bit twitchy.

The same thing happened when Barnes & Noble purchased Borders Rewards information.  When you sign up for a rewards card, you can rest assured that the company is using that information to try to make more money.  If you would assume that your purchasing history would die with the company, you would clearly be wrong.  One of the assets Borders liquidated was my buying history.  They sold their rewards information to Barnes & Noble.  This includes purchasing history and God knows what else.  We were given the option to opt out of our histories being sold to Barnes & Noble, which I immediately did.  That is not what I signed up for.

Now the main issue I have with opting out of Goodreads is I really enjoy the site.  I love the shelf system, and to see what all of my friends are reading, and to be able to track and rate what I read in a year.  There are several other sites I have encountered as a result of my attempts to leave Goodreads, and take my data with me, thank you very much.  I think the one I enjoy the most in Booklikes.  It has most of the same functionality as Goodreads (although the inability to place the same book on multiple shelves is a bit of a downer) and also includes a blogging function which is nice.  If I can manage to get my entire Goodreads history to upload it's probably a no-brainer.  And magic of magics, it allows you to rate half stars.  I can rate something 3 and a half stars instead of having to decide between 3 and 4.  And they respond in live time to help requests.  That is amazing.  And there is the part where the site actually looks better than Goodreads.  It is more modern in appearance.

So Goodreads account deleted.  On to the next chapter.

Now to prevent Amazon from buying anything else I love.  There's the rub.

Do you have a Goodreads account?  Will Amazon's purchase of Goodreads make you delete it or otherwise change your social book tracking habits?