Darwinist Consumerism: What’s the most ethical way to buy books?

Street performer dressed as an angel poses in Harvard Square in front of two hipsters dressed in black.

An Angel of Death (or perhaps just an Angel of Street Performance) hovers near Wordsworth Books in Harvard Square. Photo by me.

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. — Ever since Books & Books opened its doors on Main Street here last month, it has missed out on some of the adulation usually reserved for new independent bookstores in the age of Amazon.

Terry Lucas founded Open Book in 1999. The new location now has less foot traffic.Several storeowners nearby have ordered their staffs not to shop there. Indignant older women have marched inside the bookstore to yell at employees. And someone, or perhaps several someones, may have sneakily placed used chewing gum between the pages of new books.

The animosity seems to have stemmed from the fact that Books & Books moved in when there was already an independent bookstore, the Open Book, around the corner. And as some people saw it, there was no room for another one.

via Books and Books Arrives and Sides Are Taken – NYTimes.com.

Actually, I originally followed a link via Fark.com. But that’s beside the point. I thought this was an interesting article. It demonstrates that it’s possible to be a Darwinist consumer — to feel very strongly that you’re doing the right thing both as an individual and as a logically-minded citizen — and to still feel like a jerk.

I’m sure there’s a proper academic economics term for this idea. What I mean is that when I patronize a business, it’s solely because of the level of service that they provide. Every transaction is a selfish one. I don’t buy things to make a political statement or to support A Way Of Life. I love bookstores. I just don’t particularly care if any given shop survives or not.

And yet, I love books and I love independent, locally-owned businesses. What can I say? It’s a complex world.

When the first Barnes & Noble opened up in my old neighborhood, I was thrilled. But local, independent bookstores were up in arms, crying about how this was another tragic case of Huge Corporations putting the screws to honest, decent, local businesses. They were vocal and active, trying to draft other businesses and community organizations into forming a grassroots movement of some kind. All I can say is that they certainly put way more time and effort into getting articles into the local papers than they ever did in courting me as a customer of their shops.

Before the Barnes & Noble opened up, there were only two or three bookstores within a short drive of my house. Two sold nothing but sappy romance novels and other books solely of interest to Ladies Who Sew Little Outfits For Their Pets. I distinctly remember walking into one of these shops and getting a glance that communicated “We have less than $20 in the register” the moment I wandered within range of the owner’s trifocals.

The third seemed to be little more than a storage area for the owner’s book collection. It was a secondhand shop — I love secondhand bookstores — without any organization to it whatsoever. During the colder months, I believe that one or two area homeless people would build a little igloo of books and live there, warm and unnoticed among the other shapeless heaps of great literature.

I walked into this new Barnes & Noble for the first time. And here I saw thousands and thousands of books covering nearly every topic. Multiple clerks would help you find whatever you were looking for. The wide, well-lit aisles were dotted with comfortable club chairs and you were welcome to just sit and read for a couple of hours if that’s what you wished. “This ain’t a library, kid!” was articulated solely through the sentiment “…none of your tax dollars are paying for this.”

Inevitably, those three locally-owned bookstores went out of business. It was (I hope) the only time I had an actual, practical demonstration of a favorite phrase I had once come across:

“I could watch this die and feel nothing.”

I wasn’t pleased. I wasn’t unhappy. These stores had absolutely no relevance to me.

I should draw a distinct line between the awful stores in the suburbs and the fantastic ones in downtown Boston and Cambridge. As a kid, I used to make regular excursions (involving a bus and two different subway lines) to Harvard Square. First, I’d hit Wordsworth. Then, I’d rummage through the two or three used bookstores along Church Street. Finally, I’d wander around in the Harvard Bookstore and get lunch at The Greenhouse while I read my new treasures.

My book-buying habits smoothly transitioned over to Amazon.com when the time came. But I still kept brick-and-mortar bookstores in the loop. Amazon’s automated recommendations are often uncanny and the discounts can be the difference between being able to afford an art book and having to let it go. But no online retailer can replicate the experience of wandering through aisles in search of a book that you don’t know exists, but which will become your consuming focus after reading just the first twelve pages.

So I still relied upon traditional bookstores for “discovery.” I’m a sucker for that pair of bookcases that display “Staff Picks.” If I found it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I bought it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, dammit. It would have been gauche to jot down the title and then go home and save four dollars and thirty cents by ordering it online.

I’m satisfied with the logical reasons that define my book shopping. Nonetheless, I felt a pang of complicit guilt when I hit Harvard Square one winter day after a long absence and found that the enormous Wordsworth store — which had occupied the entire crescent of that block and defined the Square for me since the first day I got off at the Harvard stop on the Red Line — was vacant. They’d gone out of business a few months earlier, after two unprofitable years and an inability to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

I absolved myself by noting that (1) I stopped going to that store because I rarely had an excuse to be in Harvard Square; (2) As much as I liked the idea of this bookstore, my book-buying needs were being better served by Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com…on a personal level, it was simple Consumer Darwinism.

…And finally (3) Oh, for God’s sake, you stinkin’ hippie…there was a Barnes & Noble in Harvard Square as early as 1962!

My basic book-buying scheme remained in place. Amazon.com was for search-and-purchase missions. Brick-and-mortar stores were for “discoveries.”

Great. And then I got a Kindle, and it left me with a big, big quandary.

I just don’t buy physical books any more. If a book is in print, it’s probably available via the Kindle store. If it isn’t, I can wait until it shows up in the catalogue, and I’ll almost certainly find a different ebook that I’ll like just as well. And if the book I want is out of print, it’s far easier to locate a used copy on Amazon.com than in a secondhand bookstore. Even if the store in question isn’t studded with street people living in forts made from Jackie Collins novels like my late and unlamented old neighborhood used bookstore.

And when I buy secondhand books through Amazon I am indeed purchasing them from local, independent sellers. They’re just not local relative to me, that’s all.

Where does that leave my local bookstores? I still drop by to browse. But my old system has stopped working. If I discover a great book at the store and I buy a digital edition for my iPad, it feels a little bit like shoplifting. And yet I know I can’t pay $23 for a physical book that will do nothing but remind me to buy the $9.99 Kindle edition when I get home.

Fortunately, my favorite stores still sell magazines, and cards, and other things that spin in the close orbit of hardcovers and paperbacks. I’ll happily spend $15 in other departments; I feel as though I’m paying the store their “finder’s fee” while still getting items of useful value.

I have to be honest and say that I’ve no idea where this is all going. I’ll be terribly, terribly sad if my favorite regular bookstores close their doors…but I don’t know what I can do to stop that. They no longer sell a product that I use on a regular basis. As a kid, I couldn’t imagine a future in which I’d describe a book that way. But I also couldn’t imagine a device which weighs little more than a single hardcover but represents a reading library of…

(hang on, I’ll actually count them out)

…eighteen books, close to a hundred comic books, and dozens of feature-length articles. To say nothing of all of the movies and music I’ve got on this thing.

Back to the New York Times article. I confess that I can’t see what all the fuss is about. A new bookshop opened up “about a dozen storefronts away” from another bookstore, and that’s gotten a lot of people upset. If it happened in my neighborhood, I certainly wouldn’t be yelling at the new shop owner, or sticking used gum in the pages of his merchandise.

I’d just shop at the better store. I enthusiastically believe in charity for people…but not for businesses.

38 thoughts on “Darwinist Consumerism: What’s the most ethical way to buy books?

  1. Dave Inman

    As a voracious reader of paper books (and, now that I have an iPad, a budding voracious reader of electronic books), I’ve often weighed the relative merits of bookstores of various flavors.

    I’m pretty much a bookstore omnivore. I don’t care much about the size, who owns it, whether the books are new or used, or whether I’m shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store.

    All I care about is where I am. If I’m on the couch, I shop Amazon, or Powell’s Books, or one of the online iterations of Barnes and Noble or Borders. If I’m out for a walk, I stop at one or more of the local bookstores within several blocks of my house. If I’m driving to the other side of town, I stop at one of the big boys.

    I’m still not enough of an e-book convert to read exclusively on my iPad. These days, I tend to weigh the pros and cons–ease of portability vs. aesthetic preference. Do I just want to read it, or do I want to have it on my shelf (or be able to lend it)?

    As a consumer, I still very much feel the need for physical books. I’m just not so wedded to any of the physical aspects of the stores from which they come.

  2. Jeff Edsell

    I was thinking about this very topic in relation to comics. You don’t run a comic book store because of all the sweet cash you’re going to pull down. You do it because you love the medium and what it offers. I enjoy my weekly visits with the proprietors of my local shop, however brief, to talk face-to-face with a real live person about what’s good to read. It also varies my routine commute to drop by.


    I have stacks of comics at home I probably won’t revisit. I’m a reader, not a collector. (I know you’ve stated that you go ahead and throw them out; I just can’t bring myself to do that—not because of some misguided idea that my “collection” will be worth something someday, but just because it’s hard for me to throw out so much of something I paid good money for and is still perfectly good. My plan is to cull out the few issues which have some importance to me, then sell or donate the rest…as yet, this plan remains unrealized.)

    The idea of buying digital comics appeals to me greatly. But I know that cancelling my pull list will deprive my local comics shop of income…and these are real people, people I see and talk to every week, who do what they do because they love it. And it’s something I love too. Every time I try a digital comic I think about those people losing their jobs, of the shop closing.

    I know that as a consumer I should choose the path that benefits me most. That is the idea, after all. Voting with your wallet and all that. But still…

  3. Ihnatko Post author

    @Jeff — It’s understandable to include “the experience” in the list of things that a specific retailer is selling you. There’s a comic book shop practically within walking distance of my “new” (as of two years ago) place and yet I drive more than an hour a few times a month to buy my comics at a store that’s no longer just a few miles up the highway.

    There are MANY problems with digital comics (mostly selection) but so long as The Outer Limits in Waltham is still in business, I’ll still be buying most of my comics at a real store.

  4. Tom Gehrke

    It amazes me how much time is spent crying over store closures or the death of business models in a country so allegedly tied to Capitalism and Free Enterprise.

    It should be about the consumer experience.

    It’s not that the smaller shops offer a bad experience necessarily. It’s just that something that the majority of shoppers perceive as being better comes along.

    Now to turn this into a more technological discussion, there are several eBook stores. The Kindle store offers the best experience by far, in my opinion, with readers on the most platforms. But let’s expand eBooks to include eComics because I think the model is largely the same. The problem I have with the entire electronic book experience is that it seems to force us to make purchase decisions based on the target consumption device/app/platform. If you don’t stick to just one stack, your books are sandboxed. The analog would be something along the lines of having a room for each store from which you have bought books. “I want to read ‘War and Peace’. Now which store did I get that from? Let me check the Amazon room. No. Is it in the Barnes and Noble room? Nope.”

    What we need in the publishing arena is what eventually happened in the music arena. A widely used format (MP3) with no DRM and multiple vendors who distinguish themselves by offering different experiences. Do that and I suspect more people will be upset over the fact that the “analog bookstore” just became a little less relevant. (For the record, I do love analog books.)

    If I strayed a little from the topic, I apologize. I do enjoy reading and hearing your thoughts on the whole book/ebook ecosystem (among other topics).

  5. David Jenkins

    I appreciate the dilemma. I love books and bookshops, but I have books on shelves, other shelves, the loft…. I have no more physical space but I have an iPad…. And suddenly I have books on the kindle app and I’m listening to the ‘picks’ and getting ‘daemon’ and ‘mincemeat’ recommended by people I like on the tech shows I love. I mean, who would have predicted tech broadcasters would be helping me find great books! How the world changes.

  6. Eddie Ever

    Nice piece. Fact is, Mom&Pop bookshops mostly stink.

    No one Ioves bookstores more than I do. (As much as, okay. But not more. Not even you.) But one of the first things I did when I was old enough was forsake my local haunt and head to Manhattan all by my lonesome to visit Barnes & Noble — back when there was only one. (well, a few little ones too.)

    Because the little Mom and Pops didn’t have what I wanted. Also, not for nuthn, they really didn’t know how to sell books. But that’s another story.

    In other words, just because a shop sells books doesn’t mean it has inherent value to bookbuyers.. Blockbuster offers movies, everyone likes movies, doesn’t mean you gotta give them money. Nor to your local video rental place (if any still exist).

  7. Sean OBrien

    The durability of paper books is measured in centuries. The durability of any file format (and more importantly the hardware to read it) is measured in years.

    One slight mistake and you have deleted your e-books forever. One short decade and the files cannot be read by new devices. Ebooks cannot be loaned, or donated.

    I’m tempted to spout hyperbole about the (lack of) future of our society but I’ll leave it at this. I have 4 books in my home which are more than 400 years old. They are still readable and will probably last another 400 years before they disintegrate from simple handling.

  8. Ihnatko Post author

    @Sean — There are advantages and disadvantages to any format. All of the points you make are good ones. I have a few ebooks that I converted from 50-year-old printed copies. Print is the one universal format. If it’s on paper, you can turn it into bits, no problem!

    But the weakness of paper is on exhibit in my storage unit. I have boxes and boxes and BOXES of books that cost me $X a month to store because I don’t have room for them in the house. And frankly, I might as well set ’em all on fire. What good are these hundreds of books if I can’t get my hands on them at the moment when I want them?

    With ebooks, my whole library is accessible. I can even delete titles from the device. Amazon and Audible know that I’ve already paid for “The Michael Palin Diaries” and will happily send me another copy whenever I want. If the whole house burns down, my paper books are gone forever but the digital ones will still be available to me.

    As for file formats — that’s why you keep re-archiving your content. I have files dating back to the 80’s, thanks to the fact that I copied 3.5″ floppies onto 3.5″ MO cartridges and then onto CD-R’s and then onto DVD-R’s and then onto a Drobo that backs up onto the cloud.

    DRM continues to be a worry, of course. But I’m fairly confident that the number of books I’ll “lose” over five or ten years won’t be more than the number of paper books I’ll lose, due to some accident or another, or simply deciding that $X a month is way too much to pay for books I haven’t read in ten years and no longer have any actual attachment to.

  9. Jot Kali

    I have the exact same issue, love the comment about finding a book in a bookstore then buying the ebook feeling like shop lifting. What needs to happen is pretty straightforward. These independents need to assign themselves to an online bookstore, when I’m in there store have a bar code or number on the shelf below the book. I find the book in the store, scan it with my phone, and buy the ebook version right there. The store then gets a cut. I pitched this idea to the greatest bookstore of them all, Powells books, I hope they implement it.

  10. DerekM

    …And this is *exactly* why all print books need to include a coupon, code, or whatever to get you the ebook.

    Ebooks should still be sold for less than the price of the print book, but the print book should come with the ebook.

    Look at the movie industry… many, many movie discs now include a digital copy… and some come with both the DVD and BluRay. But, you can still purchase the digital-only copy for less.

  11. Joe

    I distinctly recall laughing when Amazon announced the Kindle, and chuckling when Apple announced iBooks on the iPad. I had convinced myself that I would never buy in to such a thing.

    Then I bought an iPhone 4 and downloaded an “iBook” just to try it out… and like that I was hooked. I have made 6 other book purchases since that initial purchase, and I haven’t made a single physical bookstore purchase, or an online purchase of a physical book.

    They got me. It really is convenience and ease.

    I agree with Sean that the physical paper product will endure long after the digital, but I’m not buying collectibles, art books, or even anything all that important at the moment. For a book about humans in the far future fighting alien machines… well, I don’t need stacks and stacks of those. Particularly when I traveled for these last three weeks. I would never have been able to pack all the books I was going to read –a serious consideration in the days of $25 checked luggage.

    Unfortunately, the actual situation in the NYT article is entirely different. It isn’t even eBooks destroying the world –it’s a little old lady that hasn’t been running her store in a competitive fashion because she’s been the only business in town for the last 30 years. I don’t feel it’s cruel to point out that Books & Books is not a megalithic corporate entity, undercutting her prices. Even the story acknowledges the prices are largely the same. So other than pity, why would I shop at her store? Shouldn’t she have a business plan other than pity?

    In Culver City, CA, a very nice woman ran a restaurant and catering service called “The Double Dutch.” She made some very poor business decisions, and when negative reviews circulated –mostly bad word of mouth, mixed with a little Yelp– she was done for. I initially felt guilty because I had avoided eating there, and had told others not to –explaining how the service and food had gone downhill– but then I came to the realization that I was only being an honest person and that I should have never felt any obligation to patronize her business over others because she was struggling. I didn’t owe her anything for the cold sandwiches I had been served, or the “serve yourself” pitchers of iced tea and lemonade –which were on a console table wedged behind other dinners. I can’t feel sorry for some West Hampton bookstore owner that has not –in 30 years– managed to perfect a sustainable business model to keep her Main Street lease.

  12. erganon

    Paper books have DRM (or analog rights management): The book once read is no longer new. A certain percentage of the market will not want to read it. If it’s simply thumb soiling, that percentage will be small. As you get cracked spines, torn covers, yellowed pages, “powdery” acid decayed paper, and so on, a larger percentage will pass it up for a new book. And distribution of physical used books is hard, compared to e-mailing or downloading an e-book.

    E-books without DRM? They would last forever. They could be duplicated by simply copying files. You’d only have bestseller authors and vanity press people writing. I think it would be a really bad idea to remove DRM.

    The percentage of the population that uses multiple e-reader technology is fairly small. Don’t extrapolate from your own, rather unusual, experience. Most people aren’t concerned about DRM.

  13. Bryant

    Heh. I used to shop at Wordsworth all the time. They went downhill pretty severely in the last few years — the Harvard Bookstore, which hit a similar niche and is about the same size and is a block further from the heart of the Square, is still around and doing fine as far as I know.

  14. Larr

    I would like to see the publishing industry embrace bundling – paper, electronic & audio. As a consumer I would only use one at a time but have the option to choose depending on where I’m at at the time. With a litle effort a synching scheme for audio to paper would be relative eases to do.

    Recently I read the book Freedom TM on my iPad with the B&N Nook app. Then I loaned it to my son to read on his Nook reader. The only problem we had was that he read it in 3 days but it wasn’t released back to me until the 14 day loaner time expired. I’m sure there’s a setting that I just need to find. But loaning worked, something that wasn’t available before.

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  16. Tony

    Sometimes it has to be paper, big books full of glossy colour pictures couldn’t be done on the iPad. Not in the same scale anyway. And we are loosing the pleasure of handling physical objects, I really miss the ritual of using my Olympus OM 1 or playing a record on my Ariston turntable. Little rituals that give a tactile pleasure are leaving our lives.
    On the other hand I wish I had every magazine, book, record, tape, eight track, cassette I have ever bought in a non physical format easily searchable and taking up no shelf space. My house would be bigger because you could loose all the storage solutions I bought from Ikea, I would use the more obscure media more because I would be able to find it and I wouldn’t have to throw things out to save space.
    The only thing that worries me is that we are leaving ourselves the problem of archiving all this data and transferring it into different storage media and formats for the rest of our days.

  17. AlastairC

    Maybe the local bookstores could put one of those mobile phone bar-codes on each book, which is an affiliate link to the Amazon e-book?

    That way you come to the store, they get an actual finders fee, and you get the e-book you want.

  18. Craig

    I like the idea of eBooks, and would like to try to only get digital books going forward so that I can avoid acquiring more physical items have to be stored somewhere, but there are two significant stumbling blocks, one of which, DRM, was mentioned above.

    The other real killer is availability. A lot of new books are likely available as an ebook from one or another of the sellers, but what about older books that are out of print, or the publisher just isn’t bothering to provide a digital format for?

    And even when the digital format is made available by the publisher, it’s probably only *actually* available in a few countries. I’m in Australia and there is NO paid content in the iBooks store at the moment. None, zip, nada. So I can’t by a book via that mechanism even if I wanted to. I *think* some kindle content might be available for purchase here, but again that leaves you with that segregation issue someone mentioned above.

    So that leaves me having to look into the smaller 3rd party sellers if I want to get ebooks, such as Books on Board.

    eBooks really aren’t going to take off everywhere until they are available everywhere, and who knows how long that will be?

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  20. Eolake Stobblehouse

    Andy Ihnatko really hits the nail on the head with this one. I also love books and book stores. But I also rarely shop there anymore, and post-Kindle/iPad, I actually rarely buy paper books. I wouldn’t like a world without book stores, particularly ones with a café, but… ??

    I am hoping that this will be one of the times when whatever replaces the thing, though different, is as nice or perhaps even better.

    I think that it’s to Andy’s great commendation that his first and biggest thought is not “how can I save my job” but rather “how can I save this culture I love”.

  21. Adam C. Engst

    A few thoughts…

    * It’s hard to share ebooks beyond members of your immediate family. Tonya and I can both read the same ebook downloaded from the iBookstore or the Kindle, but we regularly share books (and subsequently talk about them) with her parents, my parents, and several friends. Even now, if I’m going to buy a book, if there’s a chance that others will want to read it, I’ll probably get the physical book.

    * In Ithaca, the Friends of the Library hold a twice-yearly book sale that sell about 250,000 books in the spring and again in the fall. It’s reportedly one of the largest, if not the largest, book sales in the country. The price starts at maybe $1 for a paperback and drops throughout the sale, so if you go a few days in, you can easily pay a quarter for a book. We buy a box or two of books each year, read many of them, and give most of them back to the sale. That’s the primary way to get books, and it’s really great. But…

    * Because of this, it’s hard not to see even full-price ebooks as expensive. A fluffy mystery that might take me two hours to read feels expensive at $9.99, even if Tonya will also read it. I can do the math, and it’s not a terrible cost per hour of entertainment, but it’s still way, way more than the used book from the book sale that costs a quarter.

    * At this point in my life, I’m not much of a bookstore browser, not because I don’t like doing it (I very much do) but because I don’t have the time. An hour or two at the Book Sale each year gets me a lot of reading material in a short time, and I generally supplement that with orders from Amazon, books lent by family and friends, and…

    * Remember the public library? Billions and billions of books, all free for the borrowing. Your tax dollars at work.

    cheers… -Adam

  22. Mike J.

    I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I’ve started to buy books that I appreciate as physical objects…even as I get rid to titles I’d just as soon read electronically. My library of physical books is getting smaller but better.

    Most of the books I buy are photography monographs. However, last year I bought a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis by Arthur Golding, in the King’s Library edition. The original work dates from A.D. 8 (that’s eight), the translation dates from 1567, and the book was gorgeously printed by letterpress (in an edition limited to 350 copies) in 1904. It was a book that charmed me when I was in college–the physical book as well as its contents–and I’ve remembered it ever since.

    So I found the edition information through Dartmouth’s online card catalog, located a copy through the internet, and bought it, for $425, from a little antiquarian book store…in England.

    It’s a possession that in no way could be duplicated electronically.

    I do the same thing with music. I buy most of it online as electronic files of one sort or another. But most months I’ll buy one or two things on reissued vinyl from places like Acoustic Sounds, Music Direct, and The Elusive Disc. The discs are splendid, far better in almost every way than when vinyl LPs were the standard music carrier format. Most days I’ll play one or two LP sides. The rest of the time I listen through a USB DAC. I have a small but stellar collection of LPs that I enjoy very much, and a much larger collection of music on the computer than I listen to most of the time.

  23. Bill

    A few things come to mind, in considering the ebook vs. the actual book, and the wonder of brick & mortar bookstores:

    – The wonderfully time-worn 1950 hardcover Illustrated Junior Library edition of The Jungle Book that I have on my bookshelf, read by my father growing up, read by me growing up, and lying in wait for my future children to read when the time comes. I’d think that anyone would scoff at the suggestion that reading The Jungle Book via ebook could bring a comparable experience for anyone in my family.

    – So Many Splendid Sundays, the astounding collections of Windsor McKay’s Nemo comic ‘strips’ reproduced in their full-newspaper-page-sized glory. The pinch-to-zoom experience falls well short of the visceral pleasure of poring over those pages.

    – The New England Mobile Book Fair (http://www.nebookfair.com/) hopefully occupies an almost Alexandria-like place in the mythology of every Boston area bookstore lover. If you’ve never been, you owe yourself a pilgrimage of sorts. Their appropriate tag line, “I only came for one book…”

  24. Paulie [eatl/ga]

    You know what really hampers bookstores? The fact that the majority of the American population no longer reads many books — myself included. In fact, I’ve purchased more books since getting my iPad than I have in the past three years. It’s not about the eReader technology, it’s about the convenience of having my collection of books readily available.

    I’ve been on a “Buy only digital media” campaign since June ’08. The only physical media I purchase is that which cannot be purchased digitally, and those purchases are scrutinized to make sure my already-full house can handle another piece of potential clutter.

    As for those who work in bookstores? Sorry, but no one really cared when my grandfather’s pipe organ tuning career collapsed. What about black smithing? Why did we let that vanish? There are times and places for all careers, perhaps the book selling retailer is headed for the same fate as the pipe organ tuner or the blacksmith.

    Thanks for the read, Mr. Ihnatko

  25. Mark P

    @Ihnatko — I’m curious … brick-and-mortar stores provided you with “discovery.” Now that you’re only doing eBooks, how are you discovering? The question I most frequently find nagging at me is “what am I going to read next?” With so many great books out there, I always want to make the most of the small amount of time I can dedicate to reading. Like you, brick-and-mortar stores aid tremendously with discovery for me. So are you just doing with less “discovering” or have you found suitable replacements? If so, what are they?

  26. Harry Henderson

    “I enthusiastically believe in charity for people…but not for businesses.”

    *cough splutter* Andy you old kidder, you! Ha ha! (Ietquay, oolfay. Ethay Upremesay Ourtcay illway earhay.)

  27. Nevin ":-)" Liber

    If the online experience is so great, why do you go to physical bookstores to browse at all? If you want that physical experience to survive, find a way to pay for it while it still exists.

    Check out the documentary “Paper Dreams” , which is a documentary about two independent booksellers in the Bay Area.

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  29. Jim King

    I really don’t understand how anyone can prefer reading a book on a Kindle or iPad. How revolting. I don’t want to read a book on what’s basically a computer screen. Sure, it’s portable, but it’s a gimmicky piece of junk. I could maybe see using one if all you’re reading is the latest Clive Cussler or Jackie Collins. (The only problem there is that then you’re shelled out for a file that’s now useless to you. I could take the Cussler novels and donate them somewhere. Even if it’s possible to share an ebook it would be too much of a pain in the ass to do so.) It might also be useful for technical journals, textbooks, and maybe magazines and newspapers. (I don’t really like the idea of reading my morning paper over breakfast off an iPad, though.) There is something about holding an actual book in your hands, turning the pages for real instead of seeing a cheesy animation of a page turning on a computer screen. No, I really can’t see ebooks taking over. It’s hard to say what will actually happen, but I have a feeling that they will remain popular only with a small group of pretentious douches. The rest of us, especially those with a sense of aesthetics, will always prefer an actual, physical, paper book.

  30. Jody Severson

    I agree with Bryan, who would like to buy a book online, in audio, and in hardcopy.

    I keep thinking that perhaps one day a brick and mortar store will invite me in to browse, and when I find a book I want, they’ll offer to shoot it to my iPad and charge a few bucks extra for the service.

    While I love to browse bookstores, I find myself largely having thought what Andy’s been thinking, with the added notion that for $9.99, and given the huge convenience of reading on my iPad, I’ve been buying a lot more books than before, and that means I’m supporting a lot more writers than before, and they are the people in the book business that I care about the most.

  31. Pingback: A world without books | Space Time Stories

  32. Russell Guzewicz

    I love books. Nothing could ever replace the experience of reading from a paper page. I’m afraid to admit that it is just far too easy, not to mention less expensive for me to buy online. It’s hard to find time to read, much less the time to browse a brick and mortar establishment. I guess I’m evolving, following your theory of Darwinist Consumerism.

  33. Pingback: MacNotables #1030: Adam Engst and Andy Ihnatko on the Casualties of eBooks and Why It Is Different This Time | MacNotables

  34. Mike

    I love stones. Nothing flimsy like paper or ereaders can ever replace the thrill of a finely chiseled stelae. They connect me to the gods.

    I’ll never switch, to change is to die!

  35. Karin Wikoff

    We know how to preserve a physical book across many hundreds of years. We don’t know how to perserve digital data with any certainty across 5 years, and what strategies we do have, mostly migrating the content from one format to another, is costly and time-consuming.

    Like any other “collection development” decision, the format in which to buy a book should be driven by a set of criteria, one of which is what format is appropriate for the content? Some books you just want to read and be done — read them electronically. Others you want to keep and re-read, or refer to for reference, or pass on to your kids — buy those in print. I still prefer reading a printed book in bed when I am trying to fall asleep and as an electronic resources librarian, I find it a welcome relief to read on a printed page rather than on a monitor when I am staring at one all day long 5 days a week. I can see advantages to both print and electronic and return to my original point — consider the content and how it will be used before deciding if the purchase of a book would be better in print or electronic.

  36. Cams

    A waste of bandwidth? Absolutely not! This was a great read. I find myself with the release of the new kindle in a similar sort of quandary in terms of how I consume books. I’ve been an audible listener for a while and a long-time audio book consumer since I was a paperboy with tapes on my Walkman.

    I’ve got the Kindle app on my iPhone and am reading my first eBook on it. I have to say the convenience is terribly appealing, but I feel like a bit of a traitor. And as I lay on the bed trying to get an unwieldy paperback into a good position to read both pages, I thought to myself, there has to be a better way than this. And of course there is! Now we can get the Kindle in the UK, and for a good price too. Every time I visit Amazon, it’s there on the homepage, enticing me.

    And now to books. I love the things. I’ve loved libraries since forever; book shops too, whether they be big or small, new books or used. The smell of them; the feel of them. I just love the things. But do I have enough room in my house to keep them all? Do I heck.

    I never had this dilemma with music. I chucked my tapes and embraced CDs as soon as they came out. Now they’re all ripped and archived in binders with the jewel cases binned. I don’t buy CDs much now at all. Perhaps if I’d been into vinyl I’d have experienced a similar feeling of being a traitor as I do with books and eBooks.

    For the record, I’m a retailer with an actual shop. I live on a small island and do try to use the shops on the island, as many of the islanders do. There is a book shop on the island and I buy stationery there from time to time. Have I ever bought a book there? Nope. Not in the 3 years I’ve lived here.

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