Published on: October 18, 2011
Got two interesting emails about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which I think has some potential long-term implications for retailers.
MNB user Gary Lochrie wrote:Kevin, I’m a long time reader and (for the most part) admirer but you have totally misread these protesters. They want attention, not jobs. They don’t know what they are protesting other than ‘Wall Street’ (which most can’t even define). They don’t protest the very institutions or leaders (read that Universities and Professors) that have failed to provide them with marketable skills. I haven’t seen them protest Apple, which is a Wall Street darling, or Google, or Amazon. Perhaps we can test my opinion by having Mr. Bezos set up a Job Fair and ask for applicants to work at Amazon under the same conditions that made this company so successful and admired by (almost) everyone at the protest.
I’m betting Amazon won’t have to worry much about a flood of new applicants IMHO.
I agree that this protest movement is in its early stages, without clearly defined goals or targets. They’re just finding their narrative...and when they do, it’ll be interesting to see how much traction the movement gets. I’m betting it could be profound, and I’m less dismissive of the protestors than you are.
But let’s hear from one of them, who also wrote to me yesterday:After reading so many opinions about discontent, entitled youth, I thought it might be interesting to hear from one of them.
When I graduated from a public university three years ago, I had over $60,000 in student loan debt (NOT credit cards). I was one of the few people who found a job in my field: marketing. If I continue to work 60 hours per week, and live very conservatively (and by living conservatively, I mean no house, kids, TV, cable, dvd player or computer) I may be able to pay off my debt in under 30 years.
Many of the young 99% find themselves with similar debt, but fewer employment options. Surely, some are less-motivated than others, but I don’t think that they are entitled. They are only asking for the conditions that boomers graduated with. Remember: In the 1960s, a student could pay for college tuition working 6.5 hours per week at minimum wage. Once they graduated, they were far more likely to have found work than those searching for a job today.
I don’t think many of those critical of this movement understand what it’s like to begin their adult lives owing more than they could hope to make. Watching the richer get richer adds insult to injury.
I would argue that the very fact that some people are so dismissive of this new protest movement is perceived by the protestors as proof of their rationale - that there is an unequal distribution of wealth and power in this country.
And I’m not saying that they are right about everything they say. Just that they need to be taken seriously.
Lots of reaction to yesterday’s piece about books, which played off a quote from author Maurice Sendak:I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.
I wrote that Sendak is absolutely within his rights when he says that he hates e-books, and that for him, a book is a book is a book - which is to say that for him, a book must
be paper, and within two covers.
However, I would argue that the most important two words of the previous sentence are to him
But he is absolutely wrong if he believes that this is the way it should be for everyone.
For me, a book is about ideas expressed through words and sentences, put together in a way that provokes thought and feeling, sometimes at the same time. I’m agnostic about format - it usually is a matter of convenience, cost and who the author happens to be.
And as a writer, I am completely neutral about form - it matters not a whit to me whether someone reads our book in physical form or as an e-book. They're still reading our book.
And, I suggested, traditional retailers need to be careful about making value judgments about one form of retailing over another. Do that, and they run the risk of seeming irrelevant to an entire swath of population, and one that may be broadening and deepening over time.
They need to keep their Eyes Open. Personally, they can shop any way they like ... but they have to be careful about assigning their own values to others.
One MNB user responded:Interesting note and timing about E books....I was going to write you a note anyway because I noticed in the USA Today last week that three of the top 20 selling books in the US aren't even available in printed form, and don't have traditional publishers....if I have the verbiage right they read "self published via Amazon digital services".....how amazing is that? A technology that didn't exist until a few years ago now owns 15% of the top 20 listings! As to Mr. Sendak, closing your eyes and mind to a genre is a bit like hearing about your friend gettin' busy with a group of women he is unwilling to meet!!
MNB user Marv Imus wrote:Hmmmm, I love to read and I love books most of all but since I got my Kindle the format has been reduced in my decision process. I love the feel of a hardcover book, the smell, the weight, but I found out when I got my Kindle that I love the story more, the convenience more, the easy of use more. When I travel now my whole library goes with me in a size that never changes no matter if I have 1 or 3 or a couple of hundred (actually I have around 600 ). When I want to my sense of smell satisfied I go to the library.
Same goes for wine. I have over a hundred bottles in my cellar but why should I care if they are corked, screw capped, boxed, or bottled? It's all about the wine inside that matters and I have no problem with boxed wine as long as when I pour myself a glass, have a sip, and say "Ahhhh"!
Marv makes an excellent point here - and it is a well-deserved shot at my constant derision of the whole idea of boxed wine. He correctly points out that while I may be agnostic about form when it comes to books, I’m a lot less so when it comes to vino.
That’s true. My only defense is that we all make value judgments about the things that are important to us, and wine seems to be one where I am unwilling to put content over form.
Other than that, I have no defense for my double standard.
Another MNB user wrote:I agree with Sendak; I think it’s about the aesthetic experience and to that end I say yes retailers had better be mindful of the experience they deliver (in any/every format)! For “me”, an e-book can never match the aesthetic experience of a good leather bound book. Just sayin’!
MNB reader Jeff Foster chimed in:Showing my age, much of my earlier music listening was on vinyl records. As years went by and cassettes became popular I replaced some of my favorite LP's with cassettes. Then when CD's came into play I purchased some, but fewer of the same music on them. But as each change came along I found that I upgraded fewer and fewer albums. I guess the gist of this is that to me it is the music, or message, that is important and not the means of conveyance it comes in. By the way, it is amazing how much better the sound is on the CD's than it ever was on vinyl records or even on the old car radios.
MNB user Ann Hernandez wrote:I am a die-hard bookie. The paper kind. I love the smell (ink is nostalgic) and the ability to take it with me into the hot tub with a glass of wine and know that if it takes a dip, I’m only out $8.95. My Mom gave me a Kindle last year this time. After my first download, I was hooked. I have not bought a paper book in a year. I bought my Mom and sister Kindles and we all read books together. A one-gallon ziplock bag protects my Kindle in the hot tub. I LOVE books and this is the most amazing way to experience them.
From another MNB user:I really enjoy my Kindle though I would say that it seems that I find more errors in the Kindle editions than I do in hard copies. It is very aggravating to get involved in a novel and have your attention diverted by an error. It's apparent the conversion process needs work.
MNB user Debra Botteril wrote:I've had my Kindle for 18 months. Have given them as gifts and "sold" them to friends and co-workers alike. I've read more books (was always an avid reader) and have instant access to so many more since buying my Kindle. And yet, I still run into these "paper snobs" who continue to believe that they have to cling to old technology. I wonder if mankind ran into the same objections when the printed word replaced the town crier.
And, this email came from another MNB user with a profound connection to the changes taking place:As a small, used book seller in Wisconsin I have a different view of E-readers because BOOKS in their original format are the basis of my business and livelihood. I have seen a marked drop in customers and an increase in those stopping in for fewer weekly reads than they used to buy because they now have a "Kindle", a "Nook" etc.
I can understand that a writer would be encouraging the sale of their work in any form as they are making money whether it is in paper format or as an E-book. If I were a writer, Kevin, I would agree with you. Get my work out there in any way possible for sales and exposure. Though a writer may write because it's what they love, royalty checks are nice too.
At a time when the economy is so bad what E-readers are doing is putting small brick & mortar booksellers out of business. And no, business is not necessarily better at this time in the economy for a used bookstore. Libraries provide reading materials for FREE.
Maurice Sendak is mainly a children's book author. Anyone ever hear of "Where The Wild Things Are"? Maybe you don't agree with Sendak but would you prefer to sit your kids down at bedtime with a cold little box in your hands and "read" them "Where The Wild Things Are"? It's mainly illustrations. Fantastically wonderful illustrations that lose all sense of wonder I'm sure if seen on an E-reader. Sendak is the one quoted but I venture to say there are many, many writers/authors/illustrators who may agree with him whether their comparison is sex or not.
Sendak has every right to slam E-readers and E-books to the ground. I agree with him.
I am doing what I love in going to my bookstore every day and trying to stay in business as a bookseller in a small town. I do not have the room, nor the money, to add a coffee kiosk, a gift shop, another type of merchandise to help with sales. I sell BOOKS. Every corner, every wall, every possible inch of space has a book in it. And lately...those books are piling up because people are not understanding "buy local", "support your local small business", or that E-readers/books really DO affect the little guys.
When my doors close for the last time it will not be because I didn't try to sell books in the best way I possibly could. It will be because technology is taking us into the realm of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Technology, is a wonderful thing. I do not say that new idea's are not needed. I do say that not EVERYTHING needs to be improved upon to the extent that it becomes cold and impersonal.
Soon the book will go the way of the stamped and mailed personal letter. It's feeling more and more inevitable every time I add up my daily sales.
First of all, I feel your pain. And I feel awful that your livelihood is falling victim to the march of technology.
To be clear, I am not saying that e-book technology improves on the physical book. Just that for some people, some of the time, no single form is an improvement over the other. And that what makes a book are words and ideas, not paper and ink.
Sendak has every right to hate e-books. And he has every right not to have his books available as e-books. (Best I can tell, they are not.) While I get your point about reading “Where The Wild things Are” to my kids, I also can imagine a scenario in which an e-book could make his words and pictures an even more robust experience. But it is up to him.
One other point, which I’ve sort of debated with myself about making.
There is an irony in the fact that Maurice Sendak decided to use sex as his point of comparison, saying that as far as he is concerned, there is only one kind of book, just like there is only one kind of sex.
If my cursory research is correct, Maurice Sendak is gay
. No value judgment here, but that very fact suggests that his idea of sex and mine probably are a little different.