Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Battle in the E-Book Wars

By Meghan B.

I spent most of my Thanksgiving being completely lazy. I watched re-reuns of Bitchin' Kitchen on the Cooking Channel. I love that show. Nadia G is awesome. What was less awesome was the incredibly awful ad for Barnes & Noble's Nook that ran every ten minutes or so.

We all know how I feel about E-Books. As you can imagine, I nearly hurled something straight into my television every single time this aired. It has everything I hate in a commercial and managed to make me even more angry at e-readers, if that's possible.

Watch it, then join me after the jump for some flailing, screaming and rendering of garments. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for a rant.

Barnes & Noble has been putting out just incredibly annoying ads for their Nook lately. The first I saw featured noted hack author James Patterson. The man doesn't even really write his own books anymore, and he's trying to sell an e-reader? Bad idea, B&N. Bad idea. God, do I hate James Patterson...

Then, we have ads featuring Jane Lynch, including the obnoxious singing number above. I've never been a fan of Glee (because it's basically an entire series devoted to talent show day at Degrassi) and I always particularly disliked Lynch. She's not funny, she's always annoying when she does commercials. She bugs me.

All these things combined have become commercial hell for me. I just can't even. The first time I saw that singing Nook ad, I was aghast. I mean, "NOOKsellers"?! Excuse me, I have to go vomit now. Nooksellers! Look at that stupid name! I'm sorry, I truly am, but that is the most insane and stupid thing I've heard all week (and I work in customer service, I hear a lot of stupid things all day)! The commercial continues on, featuring happy jumping "Nooksellers" who want to make you love the new technology. When they sing about what the device can do, books take a backseat to apps and movies.

I still can't decide is Barnes & Noble is crazy like a fox or just plain crazy. Sometimes I wonder if the Nook is cutting off their nose to spite their face. Amazon doesn't need books to survive. It sells everything from shoes to pepper spray. Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, is a bookstore. It sells books. It needs books to survive. No amount of adding board games and puzzles is going to help. No one goes to Barnes & Noble expecting it to be Toys R Us. They go there to buy books and magazines. I wish I knew their game plan.

I'm still fighting the good fight against e-readers but because of this annoying and stupid ad, if Hell ever does freeze over, I'm getting a Kindle. Barnes & Noble, you and your "Nooksellers" have fun doing parkour all over your apparently worthless and useless shelves that used to hold books before your Nook came around. I, meanwhile, am going to stick to my beloved paper books and change the channel whenever your ad comes on.

Okay. Rant over. I feel better now.

(Seriously, NOOKSELLERS?!)
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  1. I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago, so I don't really have long familiarity with your hatred of e-readers. If it's a deep-seated passion to which you are utterly committed from now and until eternity, then feel free to ignore the rest of this comment. If not, then...

    I worked in publishing for more or less the past twenty years, book publishing for the last eleven. As a reader, I'm cool with you hating B&N: the rise of B&N meant the slow but steady demise of the independent bookstores and the proliferation of copycat books.

    The book buyers for B&N had incredible, terrifying, horrifying power to determine what books people read. If the B&N buyer, God forbid, didn't take a book of ours, then there was no point in publishing. We couldn't sell enough copies of a book to make it worthwhile to print the book if it wasn't going to get on the shelves of B&N. When I started in publishing, we had a sales force for the indies, people who spent their days wandering from one independent bookstore to the next. Over the course of the last decade, those people all lost their jobs as the indies died. The only places that mattered were B&N and Borders and Amazon, and really, that meant B&N and Borders, because Amazon was happy to include any title.

    At the same time, as a person earning a living from publishing, I had to be grateful to B&N. Printing books is such a ridiculous business from a financial sense. A few hugely successful titles support dozens of unprofitable titles. The idea that publishers would lose money on many of their titles was almost a given when I started in publishing. That was just how it worked. Over my decade, though, more books became at least break-even because B&N and Borders could place such large orders. So yay, B&N.

    Except, back to being a reader again, it was killing publishing. Publishers had to print books that were being churned through a mass market system. You look at YA publishing right now -- it's the most innovative and interesting area of publishing and it's because Harry Potter and Twilight made it possible for YA publishers to take risks. And that creates a supply and demand cycle. B&N gives the books more shelf space, more readers see the books, more people buy the books, B&N gives the books more shelf space, and suddenly YA has rows and other areas lose theirs. Other areas of publishing -- well, it's always possible to find some good books. But innovation and creativity and diversity and quirkiness were being largely stifled by the need for a book to get into the shelves of B&N for two months. Basically, what I'm saying is that B&N was saving *printing* but killing publishing.

  2. I had to break my comment in two! I bet my rant is longer than yours, :).


    E-readers change all that. E-readers mean that little presses can spring up out of nowhere to publish quirky little books that a mainstream publisher could never afford to print. Yes, a ton of dreck is going to get published and for a time, the market is going to look like one giant slush pile, but a decade from now, acquisition editors aren't going to have to say, "I love it, but I don't know how I'd sell it, so I can't take the risk" because the risk is going to be so minimal in a primarily e-book world. (And yes, I said that exact line more than once in my career. If we couldn't figure out what shelf B&N would put the book on, there was no point in publishing it. It would never make the money to support the paper costs.)

    I love paper books, I do. I'm quite sure that there will never come a day when there aren't some print books in my house. But e-readers are going to save publishing -- not necessarily the big publishers -- but the part of publishing that is about telling interesting stories and finding interesting voices and sharing interesting information. That part of publishing was dying in the paper world, because paper, printing, shipping, etc. were so expensive.

    Watching the independent bookstores die was heartbreaking. Watching the independent e-publishers rise is like seeing the phoenix. E-readers are the fuel.

    And I have no idea why I needed to go on that rant, I guess your ranting was contagious, and that was just something that I've been thinking about for a while!

  3. Wyndes, I absolutely appreciate your comments. My hatred of e-readers is pretty deeply seated, but you made some really interesting points that I am definitely going to think over for a long time.

    I used to manage a Borders, so I know how important shelf-space is to a publisher. If you couldn't get your book into the store, it basically didn't exist. It's truly unfair and I hate that B&N has that terrifying hold over publishers. As a publisher, you had to focus on what would sell at B&N, not what was the most interesting or innovative work.

    I think the rise of e-readers show how desperately we need publishers and editors, though. And bookstores with finite shelf space. One of the major things I hate lately is searching Amazon for any subject and finding the results flooded with self-published e-books being sold for a dollar. No editing, no polish, horrific Photoshop covers. It makes finding ANYTHING insanely difficult and frustrating now. It really IS one giant slush pile, like you said. It's driving me crazy. I think people see e-books as this magical avenue to get their work out there, but the entire market is saturated and it gets harder for people to find your work. You can go into a bookstore and wander through the finite shelves and find interesting books. You simply can't have the same experience trying to scroll through Amazon for e-books. Man, I don't even know what I'm trying to say. It's all so very "damned if you do, damned if you don't".

    Ultimately, I don't think paper books are going to go away. I think e-readers are going to change the landscape for certain genres and certain formats (perhaps stuff like Harlequin romances being sold only online via a subscription method, or mass market paperbacks being done away with in favor of the more expensive trade editions). The technology for e-books isn't there yet and it's still so restrictive. So I just sit back, wring my hands about it all and keep carrying around paper books with me.

    I don't know if any of this made sense, but I truly loved your comments and your perspective and you've given me a LOT to think about! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I hope you stick around!

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful rant, Wyndes! I completely agree. eBooks give the public to stumble across authors that may never have seen the light of day like Amanda Hocking. The young woman is now a millionaire in spite of being rejected time and time again by publishers. It's a truly inspiring story.

  5. I was an editor so I definitely have strong opinions about the value editors can add to books! The thing is, though, editing staffs have been slashed to death at most publishers over the course of the past twenty years. In my opinion (biased, I admit), the editor is the most valuable service a publishing house offers an author, but that service has been falling to the wayside in favor of buying the paper, running the printing press, storing the books, shipping the books, and most of all, marketing the books. I believe major publishers spend way more money on selling hundred of thousands of copies of a few books then they do on editing hundreds of them.

    In the e-reader future, that can change. But the giant slush pile is why I said a decade from now from now. At the moment, it's turmoil.
    Ten years from now, I bet we'll browse the bookstore by going to a site like Goodreads, and finding readers, not books. Not e-readers, but actual real people who read books, write about them, and share their insight with others. (Those people used to be the indie booksellers who sold books by word of mouth.) Instead of the gatekeepers being the people who had control of the money at publishers and bookstores, the gatekeepers are going to be the readers. Instead of browsing a bookstore and letting your choices be limited by what the sales reps deemed important and what the marketing people wanted to put money behind and what you can quickly read while standing in the aisle, you'll limit your own choices by finding readers who have liked other books you like and seeing what else is own their list.

    I wish I could say that we'd get to a place where covers are less important because really, basing your book choices on the covers is just like falling for pretty packaging in the grocery store. But that's not going to happen in the next decade, I don't think.

    Sorry, I have really no idea why your rant about the Nook so inspired me! I'm a Kindle person all the way, so I'm definitely not trying to encourage you to go Nook shopping.