Tag Archives: independent

First Thoughts on My New Kindle

I finally broke down last week, and bought myself a Kindle. I debated for a long time between it and the Kobo reader, but with the problems Borders is facing, ultimately opted to go with the industry big boy. I also was tempted into the ebook world, in part, to see what indie authors have been producing. Almost all of them seem to worship at the altar of Kindle.

Here’s my initial thoughts:

  • Absolute first impression: The screen resolution is amazing. This is more apparent with the pictures that come up when you shut the thing down than text itself, but all of it really does look a lot like paper. I spent a big chunk of this weekend reading on my new toy, and my eyes might even feel less strain (bigger text, after all) than they would from a paper book.
  • The case is essential. I didn’t get it at first, and the thing was just too light, didn’t feel anything like a book. But now that I have the case, it opens like a book and has the right weight to it. Plus, it has a handy little night light that’s great for reading in bed. The leather cover also has a good feel, and smell… yes ebooks can smell nice too.
  • It’s not just a bookstore at my fingertips, but instant access to pretty much every book in print today, plus tons of classics in the public domain (available for free) and new offerings from indie authors. It’ll be interesting to see if I continue my lifelong habit of stockpiling books, or prowl for a new book once I finish (or give up on) the one I’m currently reading.
  • When I first sat down to actually read a book–not to play with the settings–it all felt a bit surreal. I had an immediate urge to put the thing down and go find a real book. This passed, and part of the problem may have been that I didn’t like the first book I tried to read on it. I’m now working my way through The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and not noticing the Kindle. (The House of the Seven Gables is fantastic by the way, and I do occasionally wonder what Mr. Hawthorne would think of having his books available on such a new-fangled gizmo.)

Still, I don’t see me giving up paper books any time soon. Nostalgia aside, I have a ton of them (probably literally) around the house, both books I’ve not read yet and those I’ve read and will want to revisit someday. Though I bet I won’t buy all that many new paper books, not when the ebook variety doesn’t take up space.

Those piles of unread books that stare at me and inflict much guilt… they need trouble me no more.

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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.

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