walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Retail and Books

Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader does a Morning Coffee post (almost?) every day, full of linky goodness about ebooks.


Today, he posted a link to Konrath's response to Shatzkin.


It's a bit snarky (not Hoffelder, at least not in this case).

Shatzkin's original post (worth reading, as Konrath notes) make some salient points about the dependencies between Traditional Publishers and Shelf Space in chain booksellers and/or indie bookshops. He notes important relevant recent history, like the demise of music and video stores, and he notices what my husband and I spent hours talking about around the time Borders rolled over, which is that booksellers were going to attempt to stay in business by turning themselves into general merch/gift shops, but there were already kind of a lot of those (think Hallmark in its many incarnations, and its myriad competitors) and really how many of those does this country need? Usually at this point, I got distracted and started contemplating how much square footage we devote to retail space in this country versus others (a lot), how that compared to the past, how that had changed over time, zoning, New Urbanism, and blah blah bleeping blah. Not About ebooks after a certain point.

Konrath (Eisler and others) responded at length, making some salient points about Shatzkin/publishers and the publishing ecosystem tends to focus more on their customers, the booksellers, and less on their Customers, the readers (the disintermediation argument). Along the way, Everett Rodgers' _Diffusion of Innovation_ was mentioned and I went haring off to go read that (which makes me chuckle, because he's another one of these old guys that came up through research on agricultural communities and adoption of tech in farming from Back in the Day, and I really have a soft spot for these guys. Wicked smart, very attentive to detail. I had no idea he came from that background. Hopefully, I'll finish and a review will ensue, but it won't matter, you should probably read it, too).

I will now make a few observations of my own. I know someone younger than me (born in the mid 1980s), who consistently spends around a hundred dollars at a bookstore (usually B&N these days, but sometimes Willow Books) every weekend, except in December when she rereads books and spends her money on gifts for her family and a few friends instead. Her family got her one of the Sony ereaders years ago, and I believe her mother bought on of the Kobo readers, got disgusted with it, and then switched to a Nook, but I don't really remember the details; I try very hard not to engage with that family's tech purchase decisions, because they are really all over the map. They all had iPhones before we bought them, but they were long time Saturn owners, so honestly, the iPhones thing was really more about being persistently Apple purchases than early adopters on iPhones.

My friend likes to listen to the audio book as she reads the physical book, and she is by no means the only person I know who does this (altho all the other people I know doing this are considerably older than me). Recently, I realized that Amazon was discounting the ebook to people who bought the audiobook and vice versa -- that was kind of interesting. And I've pointed out to my friend that over the long run, I think she should switch to some sort of ereader that will support her preferred method of reading all in one device. Obvs, I think that should be the kindle, but I don't really care. I just think it would save her some money and a lot of storage space, altho she's quite good about purging her library over time and moving things she is done with to a local library and they integrate her audiobooks and some of her hardcover purchases into the regular circulating collection -- it would be sad for that to come to an end so what's the rush, right?

There are a few percent of units and/or dollars going to vinyl in the music industry in the US. There is every reason to believe that for a lot of reasons, there will be paper books around long after we are all dead and cremated or buried or composted or uploaded or whatever. Shatzkin is doing his best to help the people he has been around his entire life (longer than his working career, IIRC) make it through the transition to paper books being the oddity, rather than the norm. And so to people like Konrath (Eisler, etc.), who are pushing disintermediation for fun and profit (and savings to the consumer, as well as a much greater selection of reading material than the traditional publishers could ever be goaded into providing), Shatzkin is Missing the Point. And vice versa.

I think it would be hard to say that anyone here is "wrong", altho I do think Konrath and Eisler were a bit hard on Shatzkin, who actually bothered to correctly _write_ what he meant (slowing of _growth_, the second derivative, IIRC) -- but why even bother, because everyone probably misread Shatzkin anyway. What was fantastic to see what that "William Ockham" in the summary Konrath made of comments on Shatzkin's original post got something fantastically, amazingly right. I've been screaming words to this effect since _before I started working at Amazon_ in 1996 and honestly, no one has really paid any attention (usually people think I have no idea what I'm talking about), so it pleased me no end to hear it from someone else.

"Just like the bestseller list accounts for a substantial portion of immersive books' sales, a relatively small part of the adult population is responsible for a large portion of the total books read. People who read 20 or more books a year make up 15% of the population and read 65% or more of all the books that get read. The folks who read 50 or more books a year probably read 40% of all the books. Online stores are the only ones that have the breadth of selection to satisfy folks who read

I would add: there's a rarefied group that doesn't show up in surveys that is reading a lot more than a book a week. I'm not much of a reader compared to many of my oldest and best friends: I barely break triple digits annually.

Alas, Ockham's predictions of how publishers will adapt/prescriptions for how publishers should adapt to a world in which offline bookselling is primarily moving a very limited list to people who buy a book every month or so are going to have the perverse effect of forcing my young friend to shop more and more online. The more she shops online, the more likely she will be transitioned that last step to ebooks fast, rather than pbooks slow (altho not that slow -- Prime! If she were to switch from a weekly store run to ordering books once a week, it would net zero change. If she ordered twice a week, mail order would be _faster_ than going to the store on average).

Further, Shatzkin observes:

"We are already seeing big publishers quietly moving away from publishing books that haven’t demonstrated their ability to sell as ebooks: illustrated books, travel books, reference books. That implies an expectation that the online component — particularly the ebook segment of it — has already changed the marketplace or certainly will soon."

This is the _opposite_ of what I anticipated! When I concluded that bookstores would turn themselves into general merch/gift shops, I anticipated they would preferentially stock books that _don't_ work well as ebooks and which one would really rather see in person before committing to buy: books with a lot of photos and other illustrations, whether of food, other places, art, etc. The kind of book you buy for someone who is hard to buy a gift for (Dad Might Like This!). But Shatzkin's logic is compelling. You have to sell where people buy -- and what people buy when they shop there. I wasn't wrong about booksellers becoming gift shops and stocking gift-y books; I totally failed to work through the implications for the publishers.

This is the tl;dr point at which I would probably say something about photography not putting an end to painting. Painting sure changed a bunch, tho.
Tags: our future economy today
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