ooh, i get it… publishing really *is* in trouble


my wife works in publishing (children’s book publishing, to be more specific), so i’m always hearing about the death of publishing. while that would be a huge blow to our household income, from my more tech-focused side of things i’ve seen this as a necessary evil. we’re all carrying around gadgets that let us read books almost as good as good ol’ paper, and it’s so much easier to buy new reading material online than it is to schlep to a store and wait in line and dig up the cash and…

did i mention a huge part of my household income is tied up in the publishing industry…

this is terrible! 

i used to wonder why amazon.com seems to offer every product under the sun — they’ve certainly come a long way since they were just a bookstore. it turns out that it’s because books themselves aren’t profitable. publishers sell their books to stores at 50% of list price, and anything over that price is profit for the seller. because of the low(er) overhead involved in selling online, amazon can charge very little over list and make up for that lower price with sheer volume. makes perfect sense. 

the problem with online stores — amazon, itunes, whatever — is that it’s a pretty targeted experience. you go the online store to purchase a specific item. if you’re lucky, you’ll see a recommended or similar product as you checkout that you want to add to your cart, but in my experience that doesn’t happen that often. just this evening, i was looking for a secret santa present and realized that neither amazon or barnes and nobles could help me out. how do you browse?

here’s what amazon.com showed me when i first visited it tonight — where are the books?!


 the situation wasn’t much better at barnes and noble, though at least there were some books on the front page.


how do you find a random book (or, fine, a CD or DVD or encyclopedia set) in these online stores? they’re not really made for browsing. you get in and get out, without ever leaving your seat. 

but that’s a bad thing. i won’t argue that paper is stil the better reading experience (even though it is) or that brick and mortar stores are the better shopping experience (they’re not), but the combination certainly has a more immersive experience around it. walk into any bookstore and there’s no doubt that you’re there to look at books… and maybe have a cappuccino while you’re at it. but you start looking at other books while browsing for whatever you’re looking for, probably finding one or two other books you didn’t even know you needed to have (even though you did).

i could never walk into kramerbooks without carrying a mountain of books out of there, and i like to think i was never more well-read. i know i can click around the web, tumble from article to post to rant, but it’s just not the same. so this holiday season, help your local multi-national publishing corporation… and my family… by wandering into your neighborhood bookstore — even if you just end up buying a gift card for an ebook purchase. it might be the last holiday season you can do it.