Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Games

Okay, so book sales keep going down, we know that. I think that's going to continue because the books are so expensive and people simply can't afford them. Publishers can spin their wheels all they want comparing their cost to that of DVDs, computer games, or light sweet crude, the problem remains. I believe that, for the most part, people who buy books want to buy more units than, say, your typical video game purchaser.

(Why kill the mass market paperback? They said sales their sales were down and trade paperbacks numbers were up; therefore, eliminating the mass market format in favor of the crappy and expensive trade format means more money in the pocket, right? No, it means fewer books sold, regardless of the numbers of the mass market format as a whole. I looked for the mass market version of a science fiction book--no longer available. What is in print, lucky me, is a trade paperback version for fifteen dollars. Guess what I won't be buying?)

Anyway, if bookstores are so convinced that newer, alternate forms of entertainment are what is to blame for bad business (note that I don't think I agree with this, at least not across the board), why not sell video games? Take out those endless racks of DVDs and CDs and put in precisely those forms of entertainment that are actually selling.

This seems quite obvious to me, but they'd have to offer them at competitive prices. C'mon, who out there has actually gone to a Barnes & Noble or a Borders (or an independent) and actually plunked down list freaking price for a DVD or CD? That shelf space may as well be designated as the Display or Browsing section because they sure can't contribute much to the bottom line. I'd be willing to bet that they don't cover their costs per square foot in an average store.

The only argument against this that I can think of is a water and oil mentality, where books and these newer entertainment forms can't mix because they really oughtn't. Get over it. Sell something and stay alive. Publishers sure seem to have sold out, the booksellers may as well, too. Something positive needs to happen until books can become affordable again even though that seems to be the absolute last thing publishers are willing to consider.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I love Amazon. Their books sometimes ship with missing or cursory packing in the boxes. But most of the time they come very well packed. Occasionally other problems crop up: the wrong books show up, books listed as available really aren't, etc. They used to discount all books, now they don't. They used to discount books more or less uinformly; now they don't. They used to have a "featured book" listed on their home page at an extra special discount; now they recommend something based on your buying habits. I HATE this. I already know what I like, open up new doors and introduce me to something I might not be familiar with. At the very least, allow me to choose whether to see a featured book or the ones based on my history. It'd be easy enough to do (but they declined when I e-mailed them).

Now I must make clear how top notch their customer service is. They are accessible, they speak English over the phone, and despite some occasional odd responses to issues via e-mail, they do everything that can be expected to make you happy. Yay, Amazon.


Along comes their Kindle eBook, their expensive and bludgingly obvious named eBook reading device. Everyone knows about it. eBooks scare me, though, mostly because I see too many comments from people saying things like, "Print books will disappear and be replaced with electronic devices. I wish it weren't so, but technology is technology and if it can be done electronically, it must be better."

I'd say this is utter hogwash, despite the fact that I have and use a Sony Reader (I use it instead of large print books to work my repaired right eye; plus, it's good on the road if I'm away from home for long enough periods). But I can't discount the notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy. I think publishing is enough out of touch with the reading public that someday they will only offer us eBooks, tell us that's what we, the market, really want, and poof! it will thus be so.

The point in all this is that I caught part of an Oprah a few weeks ago where she gushed over the Kindle, said it was her new favorite thing or some such, and gave everyone in the audience one to take home. Cool stuff. But more than once she talked about how much money everyone will save on books. I've written before about how this just isn't the case although logically you might assume that it would. After all, there's no paper in an eBook, no shipping, no packaging, no handling.

A while back Amazon began showing their Kindle bestseller list right below their print book bestselling list. I took the top five from each list, which were all the same titles, and compared their current prices:

Title Book Kindle
Breaking Dawn 12.64 11.38
Eclipse 10.99 9.99
The UltraMind Solution 16.50 14.85
New Moon 6.04 6.04
Twilight 6.04 6.04

In other words, I could buy the print editions of all of these books for a total of $52.21. Since the amount is over $25 I'd qualify for free shipping. If I bought the Kindle editions of these books, I'd be spending $48.30. I'd save a whopping $3.91, assuming I'd already shelled out $359 for the Kindle and didn't mind having DRMed files that are useless to me without batteries.

Sadly the other notion regarding eBooks that I can't seem to let go of is that they will just be an attempt for publishers to charge the same price while lowering their costs by a whole lot. This will not change publishing, it will further change readership. I can't see how that would be a good thing.

Lastly, I'll repeat something I've said before: a collection of books is a library; think of all that word entails. A collection of eBooks is a floppy disk. Or maybe a CD. I suppose even a Kindle. All of that is something different.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Off the Rails Again

Yes, yes, yes, I've ranted over and over about what I think the biggest single problem in publishing is today: the books cost too much, and most of them aren't very good anyway. I am down to buying at least 80 (maybe 90) percent used books; it would be very difficult for me to "find" a new author because I'm not going to drop the money for a new book on a wild guess.

I hear theories that publishing is hurting because people are reading less (books cost too much), the blockbuster mentality caters to known sellers and hurts the nurturing of new writers (whose books cost too much), and today I read one from author Dave Zetlserman that postulates the flood of manuscripts by people using computers has bogged down the industry (regardless, books still cost too much).

I just saw on Amazon what may be the ultimate example of this absurdity. Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir's Executioner series, started in 1971 and running to something over 130 books, are being reprinted in trade paperback editions for $14.95. Each. (Their books cost too much.)

These were paperback originals that originally sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of a dollar (these books didn't cost too much, even back then). Who is the market for these books? Millionaire retirees? Who do the publishers think can afford these? And they want to tell me used books are bad for business?

I'm telling you, Mr. Publisher, if it weren't for used books, I really would be reading less. There's a difference between how much people read and how much people are willing to spend. Maybe you all should get into the video game business and give publishing back to people who actually care about books. Given all the layoffs, restructurings, and acquisition freezes that have been reported lately, what you're doing now isn't working. And it's not going to (a lot of it is because your books cost too much).