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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It isn't just Borders

Changing times also hit closer to home.

Comments (15)

As the great Michael Powell once said, "Streetcars are the best defense against e-books."

I supported downtown bookstores, especially the used ones for years. Gradually they vanished and Powells remained.

Nowadays, two out of the last three times I've been downtown I've been menaced by city officals over their very peculiar auto related complaints and sensitivities.

This last spring, summer, and early fall the bicyclists made it very clear that I was a problem for them.

Yes, it could be me and the way that I drive, however this is more grief than I've had in the prior 40 years of Portland area driving. My thinking is that they don't want me driving downtown.

Anyway, I use abebooks online. They like my custom and never harass me or thereaten to fine me. Hell, they never even scowl at me. But, perhaps my existence isn't objectionable to them.

And the unemployment rate among English Lit majors just went up.

Seriously, I'm very curious to see what happens now. Considering that Powell's was the closest thing to an all-year tourist attraction in Portland (I remember people joking about building a hotel atop the Burnside store), is anything going to fill the niche? Or will the City of Portland just pretend that Kickstart projects and bike lanes will make up for the lost revenues from folks who used to ship crates full of books back home?

For a project I had to do I stood outside of Powells and counted the percent of customers walking out with purchases in their hands. It was 17%. Incredibly low. Sad to see. I went in (to buy a book) and saw a person getting on their iPhone to buy a book they saw on the shelf on-line!

Hey, I can get books anyplace plus I can get reasonable parking anyplace but Downtown.

The solution is obvious, if streetcars don't help, then we need another PDC hand-out.

Robert wrote:
I went in (to buy a book) and saw a person getting on their iPhone to buy a book they saw on the shelf on-line!

This is the challenge for Powell's, B&N, Borders, and the other brick and mortar booksellers. They have the shelf space to display books and provide easy browsing. Apps for the smartphone let you scan the barcode or type-in the ISBN number, reveal reviews, suggest alternatives, and show purchasing alternatives - for new, used, and e-books.

Sadly, bookstores become a front for Amazon and other online resellers, but the brick and mortar stores don't get to participate in any revenue sharing. Making matters even more difficult for the stores is that list prices are the norm, while the online resellers sell at significant discounts, with free shipping.

B&N offers a reader advantage discount program that helps somewhat.

Browsing the online stores for e-books or printed books just isn't the same as the in-store experience. Closest Amazon comes to bridging this gad is the ability to free sample book excerpts that can be downloaded to the Kindle or the various Kindle readers on computers and smartphones. B&N nook has similar capabilities but their library is considerably smaller.

Big problems for sure; no easy solutions in sight.

Support your local book store!

"I don't think this was a surprise, they've been sending out e-mails for days about employee's rights and the bumping process," he said of a union stipulation that allows folks with at least 14 months of seniority to take the jobs of employees with less tenure.

I never really thought much about unions, but, boy, you read about this "bumping" business and you realize how unwieldy it must be for a small(er) business like Powells.

There was an interesting article about British used booksellers, and about how many of them were going out of business. The reason? Because non-profits were competing heavily against them with donated books.

It's something that I think about when I drop off clothes/books/etc at Goodwill. Isn't it more economically productive of me simply to trash these items, rather than donating them?


There's two forces at work here:

1. A much more market-educated customer - they can find the lowest price anywhere long before they walk into your store. If you aren't it, then you aren't getting the sale from people who have the patience to wait.

2. There is a growing segment of buyers that don't want to buy, use, and then store a wedge of dead tree. Amazon, B&N, and Apple's e-book sales are exploding year-over-year due to the relatively cheap price of reading devices, the convenience of them, and the value-add utility of them.

The horse and buggy guys probably wailed about the decline of their industry too. The ice delivery man really feels for them.

(Yes, I understand that there is some value for people to enjoy the paper-and-ink versions of modern literature, and publishers will continue to cater to that market for what it is, be it mainstream or niche. Such is the nature of a {relatively} free market.)

PJB--donating your items to Goodwill also helps the economy. It just helps the lower end of the economy. Maybe you should donate your items to a local non-profit's thrift store rather than a national chain like Goodwill?

Who ever thought that we'd have to consider the ethics of shopping (and donating)? My ethical-financial dilemma lately has been, to what extent to I shop at local retailers rather than the Big Box Boys? As much as I want to support local, it costs more! (And let's not even get into the organic-sustainable aspect of things.)

Do you have any recommendations on local thrift stores? I looked at the Albertina Kerr web site and it doesn't appear that they accept books/clothes/furniture donations?

to what extent to I shop at local retailers rather than the Big Box Boys?

I've given up on the whole "buy local" whoop-di-do. I've gone into a number of local, "boutique stores" lately and look very carefully at the items for sale.

99% of them say "MADE IN CHINA". So they are distributed by a German, or Italian, or British company...they are still made with the same raw materials, with the same Chinese labor, in the same Chinese sweatshop, then shipped over on the same Chinese flagged steamship lines to some port somewhere...

The only difference is because of the European name on the box and the "local" store selling it, the price is marked up 75% compared to a similar item sold at the big box store that imports the item directly from China on a container ship that sails across the Pacific instead of across the Pacific and Indian Oceans through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, offloaded, reloaded, on another ship across the Atlantic to the Port of New York/New Jersey, to the trucked to an intermodal terminal, loaded on a train to Chicago, unloaded/reloaded, to Seattle, then trucked to Portland.

The big problem with ebooks as I see it is they depend on electrical power of some sort, are environmentally unfriendly to manufacture (even in 3rd world countries), are expensive translate=exclusive for many, can't get wet or dropped or they die, and can be easily censored or altered by authoritarians.

PJB--on NE 111th & Halsey is the PACS thrift store, which funds their food bank and medical clinic. They take books, most furniture, clothing, and household items. And if you want to shop at their thrift store, you'll find that their prices are way cheaper than Goodwill's.

Ditto on PAC's. They really seem to help people. Good prices too.

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