Bookstores: Dead or Alive? (Roundtable: 8/5/10)

#DBW RoundtableThe Roundtable is a live, interactive webcast gathering some of the most outspoken industry professionals to debate the hottest publishing issues of the week, as being discussed in traditional media, the blogiverse and on Twitter. From celebrity book deals to eBook rights and pricing to [insert YOUR pet topic here] — if it’s related to books, it’s on the agenda.

Topic: Bookstores: Dead or Alive?

This episode of The Roundtable was webcast live at 1pm EDT on Thursday, August 5, 2010.


Pablo Defendini, Interactive Producer, Open Road Integrated Media
Bridget Warren, Former Co-Owner, Vertigo Books

Special Guest:

Stephanie Anderson, Manager, WORD Brooklyn
Sarah Weinman, Publishing Reporter, AOL’s DailyFinance

Moderated by:

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dir. of Programming & Business Development, Digital Book World


Indie Bookstores Rising

New York’s independent bookshops were supposed to be long gone by now. After a decade of slow financial strangulation at the hands of the big-box stores, the web, the Kindle, and, finally, the recession, the fact that there are still Strands and McNally Jacksons standing seems positively miraculous. And while recent years have seen the shuttering of such well-loved stores as Gotham Book Mart and Madison Avenue Bookshop, we are suddenly, unexpectedly in the midst of an indie-bookstore renaissance. The past year alone has seen the arrival of Fort Greene’s instantly beloved Greenlight Bookstore, Williamsburg’s Book Thug Nation, Dyker Heights’s Boulevard Books, and Mast on the Lower East Side, among others (see the full lineup here).

Amid Rise in E-Books, 2 New Shops

“I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian,” Mr. McKeown said. “With Borders struggling, Barnes & Noble no longer building new stores and Amazon focusing on the Kindle, we saw an opportunity that if you really understood who was buying here, you could reinvent the book store. We saw a stretch from Huntington to Southampton that was under supplied, and the analysis was there was a lot of sales leakage to and bigger bookstores in the city.” The store features about 15,000 books; Martin Amis will read there in August.

One Big Reason Why Barnes & Noble Is For Sale: Ron Burkle

The likelihood that an offer for Barnes & Noble that involves Burkle in any way, shape or form would secure this Committee’s approval, then, has about as good a chance as seeing flying pigs circulating above the company’s Ninth Avenue headquarters. Where Burkle has leverage, of course, is that an attempt by Riggio to corral a private investor group to buy B&N might trigger another possibility: extended lawsuits by key shareholders. Burkle, of course, is the #2 company shareholder. He’s already proven that he can litigate when the need arises. If he were to make a play for the company, and is denied, that might be grounds for another courtroom battle.

Who Would Want to Buy Barnes & Noble?

First, you have to wonder what traditional book retailer could survive if Barnes & Noble is struggling. It has all of the advantages of scale. The retailer even began flirting with e-books with its Nook, though the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad provide fierce competition in that sphere. The company that once put small bookstores out of business through its novelty of scale might fall pretty to other innovations by failing to stay at the cusp of what’s next.

It’s Not About eBooks; It’s About Amazon

A direct customer focus has paid off for Amazon. Customers describe buying books from Amazon in ways that they seldom do when talking about bricks-and-mortar stores. And like it or not, the sense that books should and can cost less is now ingrained in our consciousness. The recent controversy involving an agent selling exclusive eBook rights to Amazon (you know the one) has focused largely on royalty rates, the role of agents and the exclusive nature of the deal. I think that debate misses the point.

2000 year old technological marvel still in use today

The printing press and the introduction of paper as we know it really just improved slightly on technology that was 1000-1500 years old at that point.  While paper invaded from Asia, the scroll still stayed popular a lot longer in Asia than in the west.  Scrolls are still used for some types of writing even now. The Jewish Torah is still traditionally written on scrolls rather than in a book format. The wax tablet was a variation on the book that was widely used during the era when parchment and paper were  expensive for use on temporary documents.  A sheet of wax inside a fold open case was used to scratch figures into for later transfer to more permanent paper records, or erased when no longer useful.  Once the price of paper and parchment started to tumble, they fell out of favor.

Twitter (as RTd by @digibookworld):

RT @Millerchick: #dbw @sarahw B&N doing better than Borders – but not well enough 4 Wall Street… Who IS doing well enough 4 Wall Street?

RT @Millerchick: #dbw @bookavore – What’s going on with B&N right now has very little to do with books or the people reading them…

RT @jfallone: #dbw Paradigm change needed to adapt to digital is hard for public cos. Going private means speed & flexibility w/o roadblocks

RT @deegospel: Is Amazon a Better experience than a Bookstore? good question #dbw

RT @babetteross: #dbw sense of community w/in physical space is advantage of bricks & mortar – ought to do whatever it takes to build comm

RT @QOfTheDayBook: #dbw Musicians, books, daycare, cafe AND liquor license…Vox Pop has all of these. Great model, still tough going…

RT @deegospel: do indies have to sell ebooks to stay viable? another good question #dbw

RT @rbertsindelar: #dbw More publishers need to get their lists on the Espresso Bk Machine – that will make it pay for itself for indies

RT @MatthewDiener: B&M bookstores can still get books thru daily distro deliveries faster than Amazon can deliver a book to your door. #dbw

RT @kellymcclymer: #dbw The strength of a bookstore is in what the staff reads. Sooo true!

RT @deegospel: i agree: “you can’t stock a store properly with books you’re not familiar with” Stephanie Anderson (@bookavore) #dbw

RT @muttinmall: Probably good reason genre readers adopted ebooks faster from @bookavore – tired of being sneered at in bookstores. #dbw

RT @emilyw00: #DBW wonder if there’s a market for service that curates genre book setions for indie bookstores. @SmartBitches


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