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01/09/2011

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Patrick J Dickey

I think that your point is cogent for large bookstore chains, which have to bear the overhead expense, distribution and inventory problems all the while not being able to provide a differentiated product or service, which has allowed well managed independent bookstores to currently thrive by providing literary knowledge the the National Chain cannot offer and creates premium value. Small bookstores that closed were those that terribly mismanaged or only had a solo profit line (new book sales) an could have boosted profits by engaging the more lucrative used book trade.

GN

Professor Becker makes a convincing case that the traditional bookstore is doomed by e-readers and online sales of hard copy books. His argument also has implications for how universities build and manage libraries. The University of Chicago, for instance, is on the verge of completing a facility (at a cost of over $25 million) that will hold over 3.5 million volumes. In an era when books can be stored digitally at a fraction of their physical counterparts, this seems to be a tremendous waste of money.

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Jim

There is probably a need for at least several major repositories of hard cover books, magazines and papers lest technical or social failure wipe out all electronic based knowledge.Save that, large bookstores and most public libraries will indeed disappear. In my own community recently there has been a lively civic debate about the need to save several branch libraries from the budget cutting necessity. The argument never contained an element of book availability in that there is a more than adequate main library. Rather the save the brances group argued that the branches were "meeting" places for them and their children. In the case of Bookstores, the opposite may be true. The large ones will fail; and the smaller ones will be places of quiet and comfortable thought for a community. I cannot imagine, for example a place like Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris disappearing. As for owning only electronicly based books, I cannot imagine not having Hard copy books around. I believe that they have a positive influence on a person even if never read. After all is said and done, Your analysis is quite correct. The entire discussion makes me wonder is large restaurants will close and we will evolve to a system of buying our meals from mobile trucks and eating them with friends in rental spaces which serve no food and have no employees.

Citizen R

To be honest, and I speak as an internet-soaked, computer-loving member of the Internet Generations, I don't see myself ever using an e-reader or anything else in lieu of a real book.

Steve

I've been an early and enthusiastic adopter of Amazon and ebooks. I no longer really like either, but suffer them. I'm trying to find alternatives, which is hard for convenience and cost reasons. Amazon is like shopping at Walmart and reading on ebook is like eating a frozen dinner. They are both cheap and convenient and utterly bland.

I *really* appreciate bookstores, and books, and can't imagine having to deal only with ebooks and Amazonish online retailers. Just as slow food, organic food, etc.. is changing what America eats and where it shops, there will always been books and bookstores challenging the cardboard experience of Amazon and ebooks.

Also, Ebooks are scrolls. Paper books are codex's. They are not the same technology. University students for example prefer paper books, as anyone whose tried to read end notes or flip back and forth between pages knows. Ebooks work great for novels and creative non-fiction.

Danny Bloom

Dr Becker re ''John'' wrote: "What is being lost is that the evidence shows that reading on the computer is not the same as reading a book or hard copy."

Dr Becker do you have any evidence to back that up, links, refs, citations? All I know so far is that some researchers are using MRI and PET scan studies to try to determine if in fact different parts of the brain light up when we read on paper surfaces compared to when we read on screens, and my hunch is that they do light up diff parts of the brain and that the parts are superior for when we read on paper, brain wise, brain chemisty wise that is, in terms of how the brain processes info, retains the info, analyses the info and thinks critically about the info just read. We do need more research on this. Because WHAT IF if turns out that reading on screens is vastly inferior to reading off paper in terms of the above items i noted just now? Ouch.

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Jack

No discussion of the difficulties of the book, or for that matter, newspaper and magazine biz would be complete w/o mention of those media tracking the inflation curve while wages for most working folk have not.

Books have probably doubled in price over the last 20 years even as publishers and authors may have tightened their belts, while wage gains have been essentially flat, making what was once a whimsical buy on the way home a far more serious "investment" decision.

The same is likely the case for other local businesses such as restaurants with the "white table cloth" dinner house yielding to the cafe, and the cafe ultimately to the "fast food" fling of obesity causing fame.

Geez! I guess it's now 20 years ago that in this "richest of nations" that I was handed a box of "buttered" popcorn at the show with some vile tasting, heart stopping corporate glop on it instead of real butter............ and no choice. Ahhh, progress, eh?

Guess the "digital copy" will be the way of the future if for no other reasons than our not being able to afford the "real book" should we wish.

Gilgamesh

Continuing his inimical efforts to amuse the reader, Jack writes:

"Books have probably doubled in price over the last 20 years even as publishers and authors may have tightened their belts, while wage gains have been essentially flat, making what was once a whimsical buy on the way home a far more serious "investment" decision."

The factual premise -- a doubling of book prices over the last 20 years -- is false. That aside, Jack's feeble efforts at commentary prove true Wilde's adage that a cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.


CRose

Do these guys read? I mean really read? I admit to reading on an ereader on my smartphone out of convenience... It's a great way to deal with those inconvenient waits, places, and times. But the feel of a real book cannot be entirely replaced with an ereader... And the time spent browsing in a bookstore, exploring new genres, discovering new authors, scanning book jackets, chatting with fellow bookworms cannot be fully replaced by surfing at Amazon... Both are invaluable to real readers but maybe that value can't be fully apreciated if you're more about thee gadget and the technology than the book!

Jack

Geez, Gilga Sorry that you take my earnest efforts to trigger some debate and discussion, and to amuse the prospective reader as being unfriendly.

Since you state with such certainty, that by some means? the publishing of books has escaped the inflationary pressures of paper, transportation costs and cost for the retailers, I'm fairly sure readers here would be greatly charmed as well as amused were you to accompany your claim with some data? I offer a dab on textbooks below:

http://ctwatchdog.com/2009/08/25/college-textbooks-costs-rising-twice-as-high-as-inflation

BTW.......... how would "Wilde's adage" illuminate a discussion of either increased prices for books? flat wages for working folk and the resulting change in ratios? or even the loss of our bookstores from our communities? Thnx, Jack

GreeceRUS

Books are a free market so people’s desire for better and cheaper goods and services will be satisfied, which probably involves printed books becoming obsolete.

What seems more interesting from a public policy debate standpoint is what will happen to public libraries. Publicly funded monopolies that are likely to continue to spend taxpayer money in an ever less efficient manner as the utility of paper books keeps declining and their relative cost increasing. Has the funding and construction of new paper book public libraries followed the same decline as the brick and mortar bookstores? To the extent that they have not, it would make an interesting politico-economic story.

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Christian Marks

Amazon's creative destruction combines innovation with intellectual monopoly and rent seeking behavior. I used to have an Amazon Kindle. Amazon advertises low prices for electronic books. But those purchases are tied to an Amazon Kindle account, not to you. You cannot transfer ownership of a book you have purchased to someone else, as if it were a real book. The putative analogy between physical property and intellectual property breaks down. Amazon controls downstream copies of the electronic books you purchase from them. You pay $9.99 to Amazon for an ebook in the mistaken belief that you are saving money on the purchase of merchandise that purportedly behaves like physical property. In fact, that $9.99 helps Amazon stifle markets. If I sold you my Amazon Kindle with the books I purchased, and you re-registered the Kindle in your name, my books would vanish. It would be as if I sold you my bookshelf with books I purchased from Amazon, and Amazon removed the books once you claimed the bookshelf.

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The traditional bookstore is doomed by e-readers and online sales of hard copy books.

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