Betting on Physical Books


This doesn't surprise me. A lot of tech commentators tend to assume that whatever the next new thing is, it's going to completely obliterate everything that came before. This model is true with tech gadgets (the market for old brick-sized cell phones or 25-lb "portable" computers is nil) but not for traditional media that still has value. They can coexist.

Your differentiation between major chains and indies is exactly analogous to the music biz. It's Tower Records that went out of business, not Easy Street or Sonic Boom. Indie music stores are doing OK. One of the things that really confuses old fogies is that a lot of this is driven by sales of vinyl LPs -- old fogies are readily identifiable by their continual insistence that "kids today don't know what records are, they only like these new-fangled CDs", which is pretty much the opposite of the truth.

I expect in a few years to hear the next generation of fogies saying "these kids today don't even know what real books are", even as those same kids are loading up on interesting used, and new, books from indie stores, at the same time as they are downloading e-books.
Paul, is it true that no analysis has been done regarding ebook buyer's previous shopping habits? And whether they shopped independent or not? Not sure about the iPad, but I'm thinking most e-reader owners love books and shop everywhere for books; online, indie, and chain. I have a Sony e-Reader and use it for everything but I also shop at Elliot's, my local indies, Amazon, and Borders.
@2, Amazon has an incredible database of customers' buying habits, but they're not sharing it with anybody.
Robert Sindelar is a Really Bright Guy and should be on the ABA (American Booksellers Association Board) board. I'm starting a campaign to draft him... The ABA, the professional organizing body of the indie bookselling community, needs some help tackling the real-time issues facing booksellers. Their track record on being proactive is spotty...
My data point of one says that Robert is completely wrong. I used to buy paper books. In fact, I used to buy them from his Third Place Books store in Lake Forest Park. Now I mostly read ebooks. I was never a huge book buyer (maybe 1 a month, often used) so there's no way I've impacted his bottom line, but if he thinks that ebooks aren't going to take away from brick and mortar retail sales he's wrong.

Again using my single data point of me, I prefer instant gratification. If I'm buying a book, it's because I want to read it now. The fact that I could save a couple dollars by buying on Amazon and waiting a couple of days for shipment is not as important as the fact that I could drive a couple of miles, buy a book in person, and begin reading it immediately. Switching to ebooks only enhances the instant gratification factor because I don't even have to get in my car and drive somewhere. I just pull open on my iphone, 1-click purchase the book, and it's right there in my Kindle reader ready for me to dive in.

(at which point I backup my iphone, extract the book from the backup, strip the DRM, load it into my Calibre library, and archive it. Because I've paid for that book, it's now mine. I'm protecting myself for the future, in case Amazon goes under, or they stop selling ebooks, or they cancel Kindle service, or they change formats and want me to re-buy my library, etc. Without the DRM, most AZWs are just plain old MOBI format books, which can be converted to EPUB, PDB, HTML, or pretty much any other format to support forward-compatibility.)