Posts Tagged ‘book retailing’

Everybody Loves the Bookstore, But Nobody Buys

Occasionally, we find a comic that crosses over into the realm of retailers, and this one has been on my desk since I read it on March 16th in The Hamilton Spectator. It’s ironic to include this at this particular blog however, since “Edge City follows a hip, Jewish-American family juggling relationships, careers and tradition at the fast pace of modern life.”  (In Canada, the Sunday panels appear in the Saturday newspapers, dating back to a time when Sunday papers didn’t exist here.) The comic is drawn by Terry and Patty LeBan. Visit their website at















A Decade and a Half Later, Wither Lightning Print?

At the beginning of 1998, Michael Lovett had just been named President and CEO of Ingram Book Group and Larry Brewster was Ingram VP and GM of the new Lightning Print division. Heralded as “an alliance between Ingram, IBM,, and Danka Services International, Lighting Print will store books in a digital library and print each book, one at a time, as ordered…”  Brewster extolled: “…With print on demand technology, titles never have to go out of print.”

Lovett said, “It’s the best of all worlds. Specifically,

  • Publishers win because they sell books that otherwise go out of print.
  • Booksellers win because they sell more books and bring in more customers.
  • Consumers win because more titles are available.
  • Authors win because they continue to receive royalties.”

Oh, if only this were true nearly 15 years later.  Here’s how the story has really played out:

  • The eBook has become the default vehicle for out of print books, mostly bypassing the retail chain.
  • While many publishers have a portion of their catalog available in print-on-demand format, consumers remain frustrated by O/P titles they cannot access, and authors who hoped the new technology would prolong the shelf life of their titles are frustrated that their titles weren’t chosen for the extended run.
  • Booksellers are often faced with everything from shorter-discounts to short-discounts to no-discounts on print on demand titles.
  • Consumers are frustrated by extremely unjustified suggested retail prices.  (As I type this, I’m looking at a 63-page paperback booklet — with 1/3 of each page blank — that a customer refused to take after seeing the $26.99 price tag.)
  • Customers in the market for O/P titles are frustrated that the titles continue to exist in eBook formats, but not print, when they were promised — in extensive articles in major newspapers — that Lightning Print technology would be the default mechanism for keeping books in print.

Introduced as “…the answer you were looking for;” it appears that nearly a decade-and-a-half later, the promise of Lightning Print has been hijacked by even newer technology.

Quotation(s) source: Ingram International in-house publication, “Around the World;” Vol III, Number I, Feb/Mar 1998

World Book Day Encourages Reading Among Children

Today both is and isn’t World Book Day.  Let me explain.

The first Thursday of March is World Book Day in the UK, while in other countries it’s celebrated on April 23rd.

In the UK, the event was launched in 1998.  Students receive a £1 voucher which can be redeemed in bookshops, and in the Christian bookstore environment there, publishers are offering kids books at special prices, including some that may be sold for only £1.

While books play a small role in a similar event in California, it’s hard to imagine something of this nature here in North America, but it’s something both literacy advocates and the publishing industry would deeply embrace. 

In reality here in North America, the school system stands in competition to the retail book trade; sending home advertising flyers to parents from marketers such as Scholastic from which the schools (and daycare centers) receive kickbacks in free books based on monthly sales.

But what a difference a program like World Book Day would make in Canada or the U.S., if only to increase the awareness of what children’s products retail stores have to offer kids and parents.

If You Were Starting a New Publishing Company…

Thanks to Brian for sending me this article.

The writer describes seven current publishing avenues, but notes that print books still control at least 85% of the present market.

There’s also a link to a Reuters story about a New York publisher who is dropping print.

This kind of discussion is vital to people who want to keep abreast of current trends.

# # #


Last week I was talking with a customer about the time I purchased a VCR for my parents as an anniversary gift.  (A gift I used myself frequently while living in their home!)  I paid $648 for it on sale (dating myself!) and it literally lasted forever.

The discussion was about the surplus VHS inventory I’m displaying this week in a vain attempt to move some of it out of my stockroom.  I explained to the customer that when DVD players became almost instantly available at $29.99 it was the end of VHS as we knew it.  (Bet your wedding movies are all on VHS, though, right?)

The threat to book publishing isn’t the available ‘software,’ but rather the consequences of what happens when the ‘hardware’ or ‘devices’ are so very cheap, or even given away.

But I’m encouraged that this article still pegs print in the 85% range.

New Electronic Book Device Supplants Audio Books

Just as various electronic book readers have threatened the future of print editions, now comes word that similar electronic devices are under development to replace need for audio playback hardware and software.

Using science similar to that used in cochlear implants, the new technology would allow users to “hear” the audio text being read to them without the need for audio CDs or mp3 players.

The only current downside is the need for some kind of data port direct to the human brain.

The picture at right shows an average, randomly selected citizen volunteer who has been fitted with an early, somewhat clumsy version of the device. Critics of the new technology have been swift to suggest that the device is the ultimate ‘re-invention’ of the wheel, claiming that such direct-to-brain transmission of audio already exists in the form of the human ear.

But developers respond that the ear is old technology, not to mention that it uses a completely analogue technology; further arguing that human ears become less discerning of higher frequencies at middle age.

Borders Books Bankruptcy Coverage

February 17, 2011 1 comment

The bigger they are…

Borders Books is second only to Barnes and Noble in the United States retail book market.  The chain filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday.

  • Bloomberg News matter-of-factly buries the story after leading off with the chapter 11 filing for Blockbuster Video.
  • In Australia, Borders there also filed for bankruptcy, but did so within 24 hours of that county’s largest bookstore chain, Angus and Robertson.  The Australian dollar, like the Canadian dollar is high right now and brick and mortar stores there are losing out to online sellers such as Amazon. A “savage day” for the book industry, reads one report.
  • A judge overseeing the U.S. situation has already approved the closing of 200 Borders stores as part of the restructuring.
  • Wall Street Journal blogger Christopher John Farley insists that reading is still alive and well despite the recent news.
  • Christian Retailing reports on the impact on Christian publishers, including the $1.9M owed to Zondervan that is distinct from the $25.8M owed to parent Harper Collins.
  • The blog Department Store Retailing says the greater hit to publishers is now the loss of shelf space.
  • USAToday reports that Borders will lay off 6,000 people, almost a third of its workforce.
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) notes that Borders “pioneered superstores which put countless small local bookstores out of business.”  It notes that Borders peaked in 2003 when it had “1,249 stores under the Borders and Waldenbooks names, but now it operates barely half that. Its annual revenue has fallen by about $1 billion since 2006, the last year it reported a profit.”

Here’s a list of the top major creditors from Naked Press blog:

  • Penguin: $41.1 million
  • Hachette Book Group:  $36.9 million
  • Simon & Schuster:  $33.75 million
  • Random House:  $33.5 million
  • HarperCollins:  $25.8 million
  • Macmillan:  $11.4 million
  • Wiley:  $11.2 million
  • Perseus:  $7.8 million
  • F+W Media:  $4.6 million
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  $4.4 million
  • Workman:  $4 million
  • McGraw-Hill:  $3.1 million
  • Pearson Education:  $2.8 million
  • NBN:  $2 million
  • Norton:  $2 million
  • Zondervan:  $1.9 million
  • Hay House:  $1.7 million
  • Elsevier Science:  $1.6 million
  • Publications Intl.:  $1.1 million

My Hometown Bookstore Faces Closure

January 30, 2011 2 comments

I sent this letter to the editor of one of our two local newspapers yesterday, upon reading that an iconic downtown bookstore in our little tourist town is facing closure.

As another local bookstore owner, I feel [owner] Bill Edwards’ pain. I just hope he’s not giving his (former) customers too much credit in suggesting the major issue facing brick and mortar booksellers is the switch to e-book readers.  Frankly, I would be pleased if that were the only factor.

My view is that people simply are not reading. Both leisure time and leisure time spending is now consumed entirely with other media.

Think about it.  Several decades ago the water cooler topic of the day shifted from the latest book to the latest film  Movie characters and plots are now the reference points for office conversation.  Publishing is part of the broader entertainment industry, but discretionary spending begins each month with the satellite or cable company as well as the internet service provider; costs we didn’t have in times past.  Even e-mail is in decline as people switch to the shorter formats of 420-character Facebook status updates and 140-character tweets.  Spelling and syntax are being lost to a generation being raised on text-speech and increasingly teachers aren’t bothering to circle the abbreviations as errors; a trend definitely not something to be LOL about.

As we examine the prospects for our own business, I am increasingly gravitating toward as greater cause:  I find myself more interested in promoting reading than I am in promoting my store. While books are not yet an endangered species, and while economists expect the tide to go out again on the Canadian dollar, bringing customers back to supporting local stores; I feel we should be addressing a larger problem.

Literacy, in my view consists not in just knowing how to read; it consists in being a reader.

Paul Wilkinson.