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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Not Quite Time to Panic...


Booksellers spend a lot of time moaning about how bad business is these days. I was talking with a friend at a bookfair last fall and he asked "Ever notice how business is the worst for the ones who seem to be spending all their time writing to bookselling lists complaining about how bad their business is?"

Hey, you Bookseller! Time for a Perspective Check. My wife is connected to the photography business. Digital photography has simply eliminated certain parts of it. Film sales? Poof! Gone. Sure, camera stores sell cameras, but for many of them the profit base was film sales -I mean c'mon, how many cameras can you sell someone? But they come back week after week to buy film and have it processed (which is where the BIG profit was). Not anymore. If selling and developing film was your profit base, well, you're 'fuck outta luck', as they say.

And how would you like to be a record store owner right about now? There's a job that will make you lay awake nights wondering if Burger King is hiring...

Even the record industry itself can't win for losing. A story this morning was what made me think of this subject- the Justice Department is opening an investigation into wheether the major record labels have illegally colluded to fix prices on song downloads. Talk about an industry that can't get out of its own way. I swear to God, if these guys came up with a formula to turn shit into bacon, they'd wake up the next morning to find that the entire country had gone Kosher.

Bookselling is a Garden of Delight compared to many other industries right about now. So get over it. Have a bagel. Read a book.

Folks still do, I hear.

2 comments:

CKW said...

I read all sorts of books while unemployed - was better than TV or blogs. However this 'whining' not that its all that whiney - is normal. A business model starts and ends, has a lifecycle. Books and mags will be threatened too as soon as someone makes a decent digital book. The problem can be perceived as you have, markets threatened by new technology such as digital photography and film. So little film is sold these days its hard to come by, even pro photographers are making the move to digital grudgingly.

Another way to perceive the problem is that a business such as a camera store, record store, like your examples, get bogged down into ONE business model. The selling of one thing. ie - books, records, film. They can branch out but thats a special thing, not the bread and butter of their sales. When new technology hits, it comes in different flavors or guises and knowing which will be successful and which will flop can break even a solid, proven business.

The new technology threatening books will be these flexible screens. Eventually we may have something like an etch-a-sketch to read from and it'll make turning the page with one hand VERY easy. Plus you could download new books and magazines to the unit easily and refresh it. I'd jump for something like that. I have hundreds of books I may never read a second time and no way to get rid of them that I like. Selling used books online is too much work for too little reward. Having an etch-a-sketch and books on my computer would be awesome. Some book stores will close down because of that, actually probably most. If I can download the latest Grisham or Clancy book even while it's being written - that's too cool.

Another aspect is one of rights. Currently the industry makes more money than the artist. An artist makes a royalty on every sale so their royalty percentage is quite low but adds up. If an author, photographer, or musician can sell directly and price his or her work according to their own worth, then they make more even if they sell less. It cuts out a lot of middle men too. While the store owners and shop keepers are nice people and we consumers enjoy the physical interactions, the publishing and recording industries won't be missed by either artist or consumer.

Which is interesting and I'm starting to change my thoughs on DRM (digital rights management) from writing this. Before I didn't like the idea of DRM. I don't give away free songs, I don't download free songs either. Yet for an artist to self-publish online to the community at large, DRM is the ONLY way he or she can ensure they get their money. Wow - eye opening.

Colonel Colonel said...

I think you have a point about the future- the production of a decent digital paper will change a lot of things in the book business, though I don't think it will close all the bookstores or destroy the used-book trade (it will certainly close some stores and destroy some parts of the used trade, though).

But that's all in the future. These folks are bitching and whining now. Which is sort of my point, even though I did not say it- hang on, guys, and be thankful that you don't yet really have something to complain about...