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You’ve Got Mail is Ripe for a Sequel (seeinginteractive.com)
48 points by lloydarmbrust on Jan 7, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

The news media keeps saying that Borders is going out of business in large part due to e-books. But I have a hard time buying that.

I got a kindle six weeks ago and I love it. I think I've made one purchase and it as $2.50 for scrabble from EA games. I have yet to buy a book, but I've been reading a lot of the free books on it. I have a hard time spending a lot of money on ebooks though. The local library is too good. I realize that due to my cheap-skatedness I'm probably an anomaly...

Interestingly, a close family member works for a local used and new bookseller with a nearly 100 year history. They have struggled mightily in the last 5 years or so, and now are unable to get a loan from any major bank because the bankers say e-books are going to put all bookstores out of business.

Has anybody _exclusively_ begun using ebooks? I think amazon's real-world bookselling are a much bigger threat to the likes of borders and the local bookstore than it's e-books are, but maybe I'm just smoking crack.

I use ebooks for >80% of the books I read. During a very long, weather-delayed layover in an airport last week, I remembered an interesting book I had heard of, downloaded it for my Kindle on the spot, and read it through on the rest of my layover and the plane flight afterwards. It was around $5 instead of the $16 list price, I started reading it around thirty seconds after thinking that I wanted to read it, it didn't take up any space on my carry-on, and while I hate DRM about things I am worried I will want to refer back to years from now (my music collection, my favorite novels, references), it doesn't bother me for a book I read once and then maybe pop open once or twice in the future. The Kindle is phenomenal for this use case.

When I have the time I read a bunch of books - around 1-3 a week, depending on length. I like reading books I've heard about on talk shows or from friends, which are usually new releases that won't be in my local public library for years. I realize I'm an anomaly here as well, but when you look at just the space of people who actually buy books and weight them by number of books bought, I bet people like me make up a large part of the market, if not the majority.

The Kindle is a godsend for us, principally for the portability but also to save space. Several times in my life I had literally no physical space left in my house/apartment for more books and had to sell off a large number of them. Starting back in high school and through college I used to walk to a bookstore almost every week, though I couldn't always afford to buy more things. I still buy physical books off of Amazon from time to time, but I have not walked inside a bookstore in six months.

I'm a bit of an anomaly as I greatly prefer reading ebooks to regular books. Even more anomalous, I prefer reading them on my phone to reading them on a Kindle.

I read around 40 ebooks last year. To me the big wins with ebooks are: the immediacy of purchasing, the backlit screen and the fact I'm no longer burdened by having to house and store a bunch of dead trees.

I know that a few studies have found reading an ebook is slower than reading paper, but anecdotally I'd swear that I read 10-25% faster.

The only media that I still buy consistently on paper are graphic novels, but if I could get a decent digital comic reader for the Mac I'd drop those as well.

> Has anybody _exclusively_ begun using ebooks?

I have. I got a Kindle, and I love it. It's a no-brainer for me. I move relatively often, like to travel, and commute to work by train. I mostly read non-fiction books that are all (or mostly) text.

Re: e-readers vs tablets

The e-reader will give you less physical strain due to the lighter weight and e-ink screen. And less strain = more pleasure, while reading. It's the strongest benefit of e-readers over tablets.

If you read books with mostly text and read in a linear fashion, then get an e-reader. Examples are: most paperback books. If you read books that require a large viewing area, color images, or strong navigation features (for non-linear reading), then get a tablet. Some examples are: textbooks, magazines, technical books.

Ideally, you'd get an e-reader for paperback-type books and a tablet for the media-rich or reference books.

Also, this fellow HNer wrote an article on switching to e-books: http://ryanwaggoner.com/2010/11/how-i-read-more-by-getting-r...

I think it's ridiculous to assume that all physical books are worthless. There are reasons to prefer physical books, after all; they're easy to carry around, they don't run out of battery or need any maintenance like charging, and they're generally much cheaper than an e-Reader. If you're not a heavy reader, and not many are these days, why would you spend $150 on a book-reading device? You still have buy the books you would buy anyway, and you have much more freedom buying individual books. e-Books may take a cut out of printed books, but I sincerely doubt they'll obliterate them entirely.

On top of all that, used book stores provide much more value than big commercial vendors like B&N because their selection is so broad and so cheap. Used books are in general perfectly fine to be re-read, so people seeking bargains on new books go there frequently; e-Books will generally not be discounted very quickly, there is no such thing as a "used e-Book".

The _real_ reason used bookstores are going to be around for a long time, though, is that there are A LOT of books out there. Even if someone was able to digitize millions of books, there'd be millions and millions more that would only be able to be found in used bookstores, especially with older books. Just go into your local used book store and ask yourself how much of that catalog is available on the Kindle, or will be made available any time in the foreseeable future. It's a pretty small percentage.

I think the issue basically comes down to preference: there are advantages and disadvantages, some of which I talked about from my point of view here: http://jseliger.com/2010/09/29/the-last-word-on-this-version... .

I still mostly read physical books -- in part because I'm in grad school for English Lit, and the edition problems with eBooks makes them hard to cite and harder still to cite authoritatively.

But a doctor I know observed that he and his wife switched to Kindles because now they don't have to take 10 lbs of books with them, per person, when they travel. I definitely identify with that.

Maybe not worthless, but worth a lot less.

The biggest problem as anyone who owns (buys) a lot of books knows is what to do with them once you've read them. E-readers will continue to get better, more convenient and cheaper. My desire to try to sell used books on Amazon, bookstores or donating them to Goodwill or the library (even though libraries don't actually want your donations) will continue to remain low.

I think there's probably a group that likes having physical copies for the enhanced accessibility and the ability to do whatever you want with the book afterward. I know I would prefer to purchase a physical copy, because I know that the physical copy is completely under my control, and I can resell it, give it away, borrow it to a friend, etc. without a vendor's permission. I expect many publishers are trying to promote eBooks because they can charge the same without any shipping or manufacturing costs and because they can track and control users much more tightly, preventing used sales and compiling profiles about users' tastes, etc.

I used to randomly pick up books at bookstores or the airport when I didn't have a book. I just realized now that I haven't bought a physical book in person since I started using my Kindle a year ago. I've got 150-some books on there, most of them free from Gutenberg.org.

It's not obvious that the Kindle stopped me from buying books - I didn't realize it until now. But I certainly would've picked some up wandering past a bookstore or at the airport if I didn't have the Kindle.

I tend to read quite a bit, and ebooks really did piqued my interest. However, every time I look at the price of an ebook compared to the real thing, I get a little disheartened, and end up buying the dead-wood book instead.

It might be due to the type of reading I do (mostly non-fiction: finance, management, science, technology, etc) and Amazon's ebook store in the UK, but I really find it hard to believe that I have to go through almost 100 eBooks to make it up for the price of the device.

So, no eBooks for me, not until they actually come up with a much better pricing scheme.

The news media is dumb. Borders is going out of business because people prefer other physical books or buy physical books online. e-books are still a tiny part of the market yet.

I much prefer getting the ebook version if it's available. I seem to actually read my ebooks since they're always with me. I also find myself re-reading my ebooks more. My ebook transition was initially assisted by my wife's insistence that we had no more physical place for more physical books. I still get technical books on paper, but even then I first look to see if there is even an ebook available.

Yeah, part of the reason I don't buy so many books anymore is because my wife said we don't have physical space for them. That, and having the ebooks all on the kindle is nice. I read the wizard of oz to my son over the last few weeks, and it was nice to pop out of his room at bedtime and switch over to reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles. For novels particularly, the kindle is super nice, and I think it'd be nice to do most of my for-fun reading there.

For reference stuff I'm still not sure if it will work because the "note" making stuff is not great, and definitely is not as easy as flipping through the book to find the page you want.

We have a bigwig in digital content at Simon & Schuster writing a guest post for us next week. We'll pass these questions along.

Yeah, I'm really interested in how those guys are strategizing around e-books these days. I'd imagine it's somewhat like the music industry, trying to hold on to an old-fashioned market, but it's also different than the music industry, since it's there are a lot of un-parallels with MP3s.

Many libraries have EBook lending as well.

Yeah, that's true, though most of the e-books available for lending at libraries that I've seen so far are like d-list novels that aren't so great. I think the publishers are trying to put a kibosh on the library e-book lending.

I've got a Kindle and use it exclusively for public domain, but I think the general public is just not very well-educated about DRM. I want to think Amazon's ebook business (not the same as ebooks in general of course; I <3 feedbooks) is doomed, I think it's wishful thinking.

Yeah, I agree. I got an amazon gift card for christmas and probably will buy a couple of books with it. Probably Neal Stephenson ones that are huge and will take me a long time to go through, so they're less effective as library checkouts. The DRM thing is certainly distasteful to me, but the convenience I think will win out, unfortunately. Which is lame, I know, but also pragmatic...

> The news media keeps saying that Borders is going out of business in large part due to e-books. But I have a hard time buying that.

Useless anecdotal evidence follows...

"Borders is trading at 86 cents a share and has a market cap of 62 million dollars. It has around 700 locations valuing them at less than $100,000 per store"

That's a pretty shocking figure if you ask me. It's hard to believe when you hear about some startups raising a few millions over an idea without any business model... (e.g. come to mind the young though very popular Path and Flipboard: $2.5M for the former, $10M for the latter, and I imagine valued in the same range as Borders for these rounds)

I know that comparing web-startups to a brick-and-mortar business is not as simple as that, but it does put things in perspective.

I assume the real estate under the stores is worth more than $100,000 per store, so Borders must have a lot of debt, or the figure is irrationally low. Or possibly, Borders only rents its land, but I find that a little surprising.

On Google Finance, some links (that I haven't studied in details) seemed to say that indeed Borders had a lot of debt.

"As Borders Group Inc. asks publishers for leniency on paying bills, the bookstore chain has been in discussions with restructuring advisers about ways to rework its debt-heavy balance sheet"


Borders leases all its stores. It has about $1.3 billion in liabilities ($350 million in debt, $620 million in payables and another $350 million in other long-term liabilities). In the most recent quarter for which it reported results, it lost $74 million. Ouch.

Our local Borders was in a leased building (it's closed now). I'd be surprised if they owned any of the stores.

Maybe the problem with Borders isn't books — it's value.

Borders is Walmart with inky paper. It offers little more than what you could get online at a fraction of the cost.

Shopping at locally owned book stores in Boston & Cambridge adds value to my life because they have unique cultures & offer unique experiences. (Has anyone here been to the basement of Brookline Booksmith or the tiny room in Rodney's Books on Mass Ave?)

Bookstores are as important to Boston as jogging along the Esplanade, chilling in the Common, coffee shops and bars.

Yes, only those kind of bookstores are in the same, and even bigger mess than Borders is in.

Maybe I'm in an even further minority - I read math books for fun. The books that I read are almost always either Springer books if they are recent, or Dover books if they are older reprints. With math books, there is significant value in being able to write in the margins - Fermat comes to mind. The amount of infrastructure support required to get that working properly in electronic form (either free-form writing, or LaTeX support) is more than what a mainstream publisher would be willing to invest in. So, for me, it's still paper.

About those big-box bookstores... Barnes and Noble is doing just fine.


Barnes & Noble is doing better than Borders, but I don't think it is doing "just fine." B&N has been losing money in recent quarters and, while its Nook is a more successful e-reader than the Borders Kobo, it is still far behind the Kindle. If Borders dies, B&N will benefit in the short-term, but I am not sure how well it will do over the long-term.

This went a slightly different way than I was expecting. I expected it to be more of an "AOL is dead, it's about Twitter/Facebook hookups now", a direction which the author alluded to briefly at the end.

That said, the way it did go with respect to Amazon and Borders is quite fascinating, especially with the market cap and per-store statistic.

Too bad, and somewhat hard to understand. I used to love the Borders stores in the UK (while I still lived there).

Browsing Amazon isn't actually much fun. And the Borders stores always seemed packed. What gives.

Honestly, I think a lot of borders' problems are mismanagement, not related to Amazon as much as to other things. For a long time their online presence _was_ amazon, just branded with a borders logo, which means that they weren't competing with Amazon online, which means that they didn't have the distribution chains optimized the way that Amazon does, among other things. So there's certainly a lot of pieces to the puzzle of their demise.

Borders is trading at 86 cents a share

I will never understanding stock markets and valuation of publicly traded companies.

Read "Security Analysis" if you are interested in valuations; and can stand a heavy tome.

oh, it be ripe

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