Is Technology Ted Bundy to the Printed Word?

If you don’t know who Ted Bundy is, he was an infamous serial killer that killed 30 women in the 1970s.  Could technology; more accurately,ebooks, kill off printed books like Ted Bundy?  Frankly, it’s beginning to concern me.  Not so much that it’s going to completely kill off printed books but that overall sales of books (both new and used) have already started to spiral down.  I know that niches like rare and collectible books will be only slightly affected due to their nature but commodity books like I sell will soon go to the way of the dinosaur.  Even I, a used bookseller, has an iPad sitting right beside me with the Amazon Kindle app on it.  Why?  Because it’s so damn convenient!  I know, I know, you’re going to call me a sell out but I’m sorry!  I just love technology too much!

This is a topic I’ve been stewing on for a long time.  Being a big technology guy way before I was a book guy, I was well aware of eBooks but didn’t think about the impact they had on my book business.  To be honest, I’m doing just fine while Amazon can claim they sell more eBook than hardcover books all they want.  Perhaps I’m just too small of a seller to notice the global trends right away.  Perhaps.  Perhaps the books I’m selling attract the kind of people that still like good ol’ paper.  Who knows?  In any case, I still believe selling used books still is a good way to make a business.

Even though Amazon is and always has been the biggest source of sales for me, they seem to be attempting to leave me.  Amazon has recently announced it’s plans to start a digital library.  Publishers, as well as sellers like me hate the idea for obvious reasons.  It is surely going to affect sales in a very negative way.  Amazon got it’s roots with books and it has always been known as a very technologically advanced company automating many processes and streamlining workflows.  Instead of fulfilling book orders from people like you and me, I’m pretty sure they’d rather just be throwing up a server and opening the gates for people to download at will.  No labor costs, much less equipment and less time equal much more profit at the end of the year.  The must be doing something right and planning for something big if they’re able to report sales of a whopping $9.86 billion for the quarter but profited way less.  Costs in developing the Kindle or this so-called digital library, perhaps?  Amazon…I understand why you’re doing it but I don’t like it one bit.

Also, don’t even get me started on Google’s eBook adventures.  They recently opened up an entire eBook store while at the same time attempted to scan hundreds of thousands of books called the Google Books Library Project.  OK, it’s Google.  I get get that.  They’re a technology company to begin with.  I understand why they’d want to get people reading eBooks instead of print books.  Do you think they might have their ear to the ground and hear what’s coming before we do and try to get in a position to take advantage of that?

I’m also pretty sure you heard about Borders going bankrupt.  However, did you know that you can still browse to Borders.com?  Borders couldn’t hack it in the print world but decided to go all in with eBooks and online-only distribution.  Why pay a few thousand employees when you can have a datacenter somewhere with a few hundred servers and a dozen IT geeks to run it?

I’m at a loss here.  Personally, I’m torn between being a huge fan of anything tech to seeing my book business sales potentially dwindling.  You can’t resell eBooks, right?  For all you other booksellers out there, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section.  Concerned?  Have a strategic plan to counteract eBooks or do you just not think this is going to be something that can hold up?

This post has been a quick writeup and may have some errors and/or not flow as gracefully as some of my past posts.  I’ve been drastically slowing down my post-writing mostly because they take way too damn long to write and edit for clarity.  I’ve decided rather than give you guys nothing I’ll at least write about what’s on my mind and get flamed for the errors so please, be gentle.

Adam

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  • Zachary Neefe

    Adam,
    Frankly, I’m concerned about the exact same thing…don’t know what to think about it. As we attempt to go headlong into the used book business, I am concerned we are heading into a declining industry (on the print side of things). What’s a new book seller to do?

  • Anonymous

    It is pretty ironic indeed. What side of the IT house are you on? I really don’t think technology is going to kill books but it’s gonna hurt. I don’t mind reading text on a screen but I typically don’t have the attention span to sit for more than a few minutes reading something anyway. :)

    I think cloud computing is going to be a win-win for companies and consumers. For companies, it’s much cheaper than manufacturing and shipping physical goods and for the customer it’s easier to click download and get their content immediately.

  • Anonymous

    Like I mentioned in the article, I am not seeing this trend on the micro scale. It may be a macro problem to where the market as a whole is slowly swaying towards digital content but at least on my level I don’t notice anything. At this point, I believe it’s something that we need to keep an eye on but I don’t consider it a threat to my business.

  • James Cecil

    Hey Adam your not alone in this thought process. I’ve been wondering how to get in on the ebook sales myself here for quite some time and I have yet to figure out a way of doing that espically since Candlelight Books LLC is very small fish in the ocean of retail/online book stores. I wonder if we as book sellers could actually go to the publishers web sites and find those books that are in electronical format and be able to aquire them and sell them from our own websites. Yeah something to investigate isn’t it?

  • John R

    The first thing you need to do is keep an eye out for a copy of Blue Ocean Strategy, or support the enemy and buy one off of Amazon. Then realize that there are 5 years left if what we are doing tops. The barriers to entry are so low now that anyone with a smartphone(ie everyone) is a potential competitor. At this point if you want to make it in the internet book game you need to be a shark, either through relentlessly scooping up every possible used book to reduce competition or by running a marketplace trolling script that takes advantage of the ignorance/laziness of sellers by buying up all of the books that are priced way too low and reselling them at the far higher price the market is willing to pay.  But if I were you I would be saving cent you can and use it to diversify your business into other areas(antiques/collectibles?) or look into acquiring new marketable skills.

  • Funny_funster

    First I love books; I have been working in bookstores and selling books since the early 70’s in stores and on my own back in the AB Bookman days and I have to agree with you. I think there are more years than 5 on poster said but the change is coming. I think that there will always be a collectable market for books, but the day to day purchases are going to be eBooks.  I think one needs to focus on collectable books and realize that it’s only going to make up a small percentage of the sales we see today. My goal over the next several years is to acquire those collectable books as well as pre isbn books that I do not see ever becoming an eBook. As well as branching out. I use to go a sale and check out the books and be out the door. Now I look at cd’s DVD’s and anything that has a bar code. I use an I pad to scout and I check out the label clothing anything that might have some value to replace the loss in book sale I see coming. Now is the chance for all of use to branch out and get a head start on the change that’s coming down the road.
    Oliver_optic

  • Rbbender

    I think for the ‘little guy’, sourcing is going to get harder as your average person in your community starts reading ebooks and not recycling there used books back through the community. 

    However, books are just another commodity.  The concepts learned in one’s used book business are easily transferrable over to another commodity with a market out there.  Because I have worried about the same thing in this article, I have diversified into video game consoles and video games.  I am using the same concepts I learned in the book biz to start making cash here. 

    Whether you sell used books, consoles, or stuff from the clearance aisles when you go grocery shopping, you’re essentially running a pawn shop with a digital storefront instead of a physical one.  Understand the the market you will be selling at, source items you know will sell on that market, sell at the market.

    By the way, I see video games running this same route in the near future.  Easily accessible high speed internet + new online game marketplaces = No need for game discs.  Argh.  Any other ideas on used items with a marketplace as keenly developed as physical books???

  • Starsearching

    I am a technically savvy grandmother.  From that viewpoint, I think the big headline of our 21st century is:  ”The Technical Seduction of The 21st Century”.  Someday, my grandchildren’s generation may only be able to read something on a puff of wind.  The real crime is that, unless exposed to a real book, they won’t even know what they are missing.  All they will know is that they have become a quarter inch deep in what they know, or think they know…and the real crime is that this will be okay.    Unless they have held a book on their lap, have turned the pages, have earmarked it, have read forward…and then referred backward to a point worth reconsidering, they will not understand the value of THE PROCESSES of reading and further reflecting on, a book that has now become a friend, never to be tossed away but to be revisited at some future time.  

    I’ve now declared war on the Kindle concept and have been creating a wonderful library in my home of over 800 books (antiquarian, out-of-print, first editions, etc.)   Antiquarian books have a story to tell, beginning with the Longfellow or Kipling who struggled to write the story, continuing with the printing and distribution process.  The struggle of the author who first wrote on the page, to the final production and distribution of those who helped bring it along, helps create the fabric for those of us to better understand ourselves.  I want my grandchildren to understand the beautiful heritage left to us by so many authors who struggled, cried over and handed us their vulnerable selves on the written page. As I said, the real crime is that the younger generation won’t have a clue what I am talking about.