Tag Archives: barnes & noble

Barnes & Noble: The Injured Kid on the Block?

I worked for an independent bookstore in the late 90s where we saw our foot traffic plummet when a Barnes & Noble opened up in the neighborhood. They were open until 11 p.m. We closed two hours earlier, and that apparently was enough to lure many of our customers away. All around, my poor independent had the feel of a sinking ship about it, back then.

How much things have changed.

It’s been widely reported that Barnes & Noble put itself up for sale earlier this month, and that this may be a gamble on the part of founder Len Riggio to take the company private. This weekend, the New York magazine ran a fantastic article detailing both the company’s history and its battle with investor Ron Burkle. The piece doesn’t mince words:

Riggio was trying to say that, whatever becomes of books as physical objects in this new age of digital distribution, he is certain people will still pay for the pleasure of reading. Assuming he’s right, the more pertinent question is whether they will be spending their money at a Barnes & Noble. Sales numbers are down, and the company is valued at a third of what it was worth four years ago. If it is to avoid the fates of Tower Records and Blockbuster, it will have to figure out how to compete in a world where prices are falling and nimble competitors like Amazon and Apple are offering in actuality what the superstore bookseller used to promise only figuratively: immediate, cheap, and limitless selection.

The article gives a great account of both Riggio and Burkle, as well as a history of how the chain came to be where it is today. After seeing this bookstore chain as the behemoth enemy for so long, it’s odd how much I feel sorry for it now. I really would hate to see it go. I’ve become used to having gargantuan bookstores everywhere. Barnes & Noble has been a mecca whenever I’ve spent more than a week back with the parents in suburbia. There’s something about having this massive chain so fully permeate American society that makes books feel front and center. I love humongous bookstores, even if they are part of a chain.

It does seem that Barnes & Noble has its work cut out for it though. Just as it’s facing the most serious shakeup the book industry has witnessed for a few centuries, it’s also distracted with squabbles amongst shareholders. It’s sheer size works against it. Stockholders want profits, and all that real estate is worth a pretty penny too. Independents have far more freedom–no stockholders or crashing stock markets, much less billionaires bent on hostile takeovers, to fret about. They can focus on readers and their local community. Who else do we depend on for all those book readings?

It’s amazing how quickly things have turned. The once mighty goliath now seems the injured kid on the block.

Comments Off on Barnes & Noble: The Injured Kid on the Block?

Filed under Bookstores

Amazon Introduces Kindle 3

Amazon announced the third-generation Kindle today. On their home page, they detail what’s new, summed up as amazingly small and light. This new Kindle also includes the revised e-ink originally introduced in the Kindle DX, and claims battery life of up to one month.

It’s available for pre-order now, but won’t release until August 27. All around, it looks like a sleek, dedicated ereader, one that’s miles ahead of the clunky, first-edition Kindle.

Other things that struck me, not all of which are noted by Amazon:

  • The second-generation Kindle is no longer available, it’s still there but just sold by third-party sellers (many of whom have priced it far beyond what it’s now worth).
  • Similar to the Barnes & Noble Nook, there is now a Wi-Fi only Kindle available for $139.
  • The third-generation 3G Kindle remains priced at $189 (same as Kindle 2). They’re obviously underpricing the Nook, which has similar models available for $10 more.
  • They’ve incorporated a more prominent D-pad, that’s similar to, but much smaller than that on the Kobo reader.
  • The Kindle DX is barely mentioned and difficult to find on the Amazon site. It seems the DX has waved the white flag and surrendered to the onslaught of the iPad.
  • Includes native support of the PDF file format.
  • The page featured on the faceout shot of the new Kindle is from a book called “The Art of Choosing,” complete with a quote from Joseph Campbell. Chapter title: Past Is Prologue. Is this a not-too-subtle reflection on Gutenberg, his fancy device, and how customers can handle a world where every book written gets published.

All around, this looks like the no-brainer choice right now for a dedicated ereader, though Borders/Kobo and Barnes & Noble will react soon. It’s more certain than ever that the $99 ereader will be here by the holiday season.

Comments Off on Amazon Introduces Kindle 3

Filed under eBooks

Odyssey Editions Covers Reminiscent of Early Penguin

Invisible ManI’ve been fascinated by the announcement from Amazon and the Wylie Agency. For those not following the story, Wylie published 20 novels on Kindle as an exclusive deal through Odyssey Editions, a new imprint created by the literary agency. Calling it “E-Book Editions of Modern Classics,” Wylie is bypassing not only traditional publishers, but also Apple, Barnes & Noble, and a slew of the other usual suspects. And their list does indeed include some modern classics, such as Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer.

I won’t dwell on the details of the arrangement, that has been covered exhaustively elsewhere. (I’ve given links to some of the better reports below.) But one thing stood out for me: the covers. When I saw them I immediately thought of another publisher, one at a similar stage in publishing history when a new format was first catching on: the quality paperback.

Penguin Books: Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row by John SteinbeckPenguin originally also launched with stripped down covers that featured little more than the author’s name and the title of the book. As detailed in this fantastic article from Smithsonian, Penguin used different colors to denote fiction, biography, mystery, etc. but other than that the covers are essentially blank. These stripped down covers branded the publisher much more than any specific author or book. Similarly, it seems Odyssey itself is the brand for the 20 ebooks it just released. While no plans to publish new titles have been announced, one can see this minimalist cover conveying some of the trappings of these first 20 titles to any new titles it may publish. Instant classic anyone?

My hunch is that Wylie studied the Penguin model, and is imitating it. Other similarities between the two ventures are apparent. They are both new imprints that launched during a down time in the economy. Each chose a limited number titles and placed a premium on quality fiction. The titles they initially published were all previously available in other formats, all that’s new is the packaging and the reduced price it brings.

The one major difference: Penguin needed to sell 17,000 copies of a book to break even. Since launching last Thursday, Odyssey Editions is most likely already profitable.

Of course, the cover design for Odyssey Editions has to be a lot more versatile than that for early Penguin. Though they look fine on the Odyssey site and Kindle itself, on the Amazon site they’re far too small to be legible. Also, the Kindle logo covers the Odyssey logo in the lower right corner of each cover. Is a slight redesign is forthcoming?

It’s surprising that more publishers haven’t gone this route of clearly branding their titles as ebooks continue to rise in prominence. How else can publishers distinguish what they bring to the free-for-all ebook market?

Notable coverage of the latest ebook kerfuffle:

2 Comments

Filed under Publishing