There was a significant article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. Julie Bosman, in The Bookstore's Last Stand, says that Barnes & Noble, (which absorbed the earlier Bookstop chain that I worked for in the '80's), blamed for killing independent bookstores, is now retail bookselling's last hope against the Goliath that is Amazon.
A story in the NYT's Bits blog on February 8, Amazon, Up in Flames, by David Streitfeld, continues the conversation, particularly in the comments. One commenter recommended an article from the June 8, 2009 issue of The Nation magazine, The Long Goodbye? The Book Business and its Woes, by Elisabeth Sifton. "Sifton's essay details the current state of the publishing world from an insider's perspective; Sifton is the senior vice president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux."
I found it on the shelf, and it is well worth reading. A sample paragraph:
The article is not available free online, but I can send it to you.
It's a colossal irony to have the guys and gals of Amazon, Google and their ilk lusting for free book "content" as premium material on which to stake their enlarged claims to commercial riches. For these clever mathematicians and engineers who are shaping the electronic business of our time and the archives of the future, these baby-faced young entrepreneurs, have risen to their mercantile eminence without encountering books, and don't think they need to. I enjoyed the fatuous surprise of Google's Sergey Brin discovering that "There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site." Translating this backhanded recognition of value into his own debased lingo, he understands that books make for "viable information-retrieval systems," information being the only cultural signifier he recognizes, evidently. His company's amazing presumption that book people should simply hand over the keys to their priceless kingdom shows how completely he and his colleagues misunderstand what is at stake.
We had an e-reader show-and-tell today, with a digital downloads presentation by Kristina H., our digital device guru. The room was crowded with staff from other departments and library branches. I was only able to attend for a few minutes, since I had to man the Adult Services desk at opening. I saw lots of different Kindles and Nooks, but I think I had the only Sony Reader. It was a great success. Good to share our knowledge with the other librarians.
I have opened my wallet for a couple of e-books: Ignatius Press's Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible, 2nd Catholic Edition, and from the Sony Reader Store The Works of Anthony Trollope, 50+ books for five dollars and change. But it's hard to change horses. I am still reading a hardback copy of Trollope's Doctor Thorne.