Carnac the Magnificent strikes again

I believe I have already established that I am psychic, but in case anyone missed it, let’s check out a different subheading of ‘nailed it’ from my original post:

As electronic distribution (and web-based shopping) becomes more and more prevalent, and the percentage of electronic vs. analog versions of the same products continues to move toward electronic, brick-and-mortar stores will become progressively obsolete. Physical bookstores already account for less than a third of all book sales — in ten years Barnes and Noble will be the publishing equivalent of Sam Goody and Blockbuster.

God, I’m so crazy. Where would I come up with something like that?

Well, like every other ‘prediction’, I’m just creating publishing-industry ‘events’ by taking things — excuse me, that should read “easily observable, fairly recent, stupid fucking mistakes” — that already happened in the movie and music industries and coloring them with a publishing brush.

For instance, in the case of that ‘prediction’ up above, I simply looked at the history of Musicland swallowing Sam Goody before it, too, succumbed to obsolescence.

And I think to myself: “well, there are two major brick and mortar chain bookstores left in the US today — I expect we’ll see them go through similar death throes.

As my dad has been known to say, “Wellwhaddayafuckinknow…”

[…] a $960 million merger of Borders Group and its larger rival, Barnes & Noble […] could help both companies pare back the number of stores they run, as well as cut costs in their back-office and distribution operations.

But any deal would face a formidable hurdle: sales at the bookstores of both chains have declined and the competition on the digital front is intense.

That’s not a ‘formidable hurdle’. That’s death.

And don’t fucking tell me that chain bookstores are some kind of inevitable creature that must exist, like a gelatinous cube in a ten foot wide hallway — music stores and brick and mortar video rental chains were inevitable creatures too.

Preliminary graphic representation of the merger details. I call the piece 'Fighting over End-Cap Placement'.

9 Replies to “Carnac the Magnificent strikes again”

  1. I think there is a lot to what you say, but …

    There are fundamental experiential differences between a music store, a video store, and a book store.

    While some music stores allowed some sampling of some wares, in most cases it was “here is a place where you can find the latest album by X. Buy it here.”

    Video stores were even more that way. Aside from the monitor showing a movie or two, their business model was primarily “here is a place where you can find the latest movie starring X. Buy/rent it here.”

    There is nothing there that cannot be emulated online. If you know you are looking for X, you can drill right through to it. With streaming of video and MP3 downloads, you even avoid the relative “inconvenience” of it being shipped to you.

    Now, a lot of that is applicable to book stores. If all you do at a book store is walk to the Z section to buy the book you know X just wrote, then there’s nothing it can do for you that Amazon can’t. And that’s clearly a large enough proportion of the population that bookstores are in real trouble.

    My book store experience is often more fuzzy than that. I browse. I graze. I pick up a book read through a few pages. Flip through it. If it’s a recipe book for Margie, I do the “go to three pages and see if it’s something I’d want to eat” method. I follow up on an interesting cover. I go to different departments in the store. I look in the remainders section.

    Maybe I even sit down and read a bit while I’m there. Or grab a coffee. Or listen to a guest author talk.

    Now, those experiences can be emulated to some degree online. But I’ve yet to find the experience browsing at Amazon to be as convenient in those things as browsing at Buns & Noodles. (It’s more convenient in some ways, of course — larger stock, recommendations, reviews.)

    I do think there’s room for b&m book stores, in a way, perhaps, that b&m music and video stores couldn’t compare. But it will, yes, certainly be a much smaller business over time.

  2. For me, nothing that you say you do at bookstores, with the exception of grabbing a coffee while you’re there — which isn’t a function of a BOOKstore, really — is something I haven’t done at, say, Amazon. That’s me, though.

    What I want to point out is that everything I’m talking about refers to CHAIN brick and mortar bookstores. I readily agree that smaller chain or non-chain bookstores will continue to succeed.

    I’ll also note that you can do most of that ‘face to face’ stuff you listed just as easily at a library, which is arguably better equipped for it in many cases, as customers sitting and browsing without buying anything is actually their model for success.

  3. I’ll also point out that chain-store-failure despite small-chain/non-chain success is also a predictable publishing outcome, based on the current music industry.

  4. Agreed. All that stuff can, as I said, be done at Amazon. (I can buy coffee there, too, but will have to wait a few days to drink it.) But it’s not, to me, usually as efficient. I can flip through a book, skim a shelf, look for things that catch my eye, a lot faster in person than through the Amazon interface.

    On the other hand, I can go to Amazon in my pajamas, which has something to be said for it.

    I think Borders & Noble (or however the mess shakes out) will continue to survive. But as much smaller entities. Private and small chain bookstores will also continue to survive, but fewer in number.

    Good note on libraries, though they have their own challenges (between having a more limited selection, in general, and being seen as a Useless Drain of Our Tax Dollars by certain yahoos).

  5. For an example of an online company monetizing what is essentially a library model of check-out-and-return, I offer Netflix.

    Kindle book users can now loan out books for something like 2 weeks at a pop before the loaner expires. The ‘library’ technology exists.

    I see no reason why an online book loaning company with an X-dollar-per-month subscription fee wouldn’t be a similarly solvent success.

      1. Honestly, Amazon should work out some way to do this themselves. It would be a goldmine, both in monthly fees (give to Premium people for free, even), and in resulting sales.

        Someone ‘checks out’ a book. They get distracted and don’t finish it in time, but it was a good book, so they say “screw it, I’ll just buy it”.

        1. I suspect publishers would be aghast at the idea of someone “borrowing” their book for “free.” Never mind there’s already a model for it; I suspect that, given their druthers, they’d rather that model go away, too.

Comments are closed.