Mourning for books

I read the sad news that Borders declared bankruptcy this morning and it plans on closing the store in my small town. Now, I am depressed. First Barnes & Nobles closed, and now Borders. A co-worker asked me in concern if everything was okay because I looked so shocked and unhappy.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-16/borders-book-chain-files-for-bankruptcy-protection-with-1-29-billion-debt.html

That leaves no bookstores in my town. My family outings revolve around going to the bookstore and reading up with coffee and buying some book(s) almost every visit. The smell of the books excite me and that brings me to e-books.

I own a kindle, but I must confess, the few books I have on my device do not hold the kind of dearness to my heart that books made of paper hold. For one, when I read a good book, I like the essence of the book to linger for a while. I like to randomly open up pages and just immerse myself into the world again. I don’t like to have to search for a page and then go there. That feels too calculated – not the kind of lovely-aunt-dropping-by for a surprise visit anymore.

As I glance upon my bookcase, each object has a personality. A unique one. I know when the heart will start to feel a-flutter in each object. I know when I am just meandering through for laughs. Each books personality is there for me to savour, to go back to anytime I want to.

But I find all of those feelings missing in the E-books. I know a number of my friends who have adapted easily to the e-books and swear by them. For me, the charm simply isn’t there, and that means that I am losing out on a big part of what I term enjoyable with the e-crusade.

As my daughter and I meander through the shelves picking out books to read, I wonder, how I will recreate this feeling of being together in the E-world. Browsing for them doesn’t feel the same.

I feel lost.

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52 thoughts on “Mourning for books”

  1. Well B&N and Borders weren’t competing with the Kindle, they were competing with the Library. You’ve to go to the library more I guess.

    For books, Amazon is the best place to buy books. I buy a few books that aren’t in the kindle or doesn’t work well on kindle (photography books) from Amazon used market place for often under $5.

    Borders and B&N just saved you a lot of money. These were highly inefficient stores wasting space :).

    1. Anand – it isn’t about buying from Amazon. It is about being among books. Seeing the freshly pressed presented to you. Browsing through the books at your leisure.

      Regular library goers already know how inconvenient the timings are. With more budget cuts, it has just become harder.

      1. As I was telling Mano, I don’t know if this is a Man vs Woman thing :).

        Books lead to allergies to me and severe cold :). I used to have cold 9 months an year. When I think of books and the nostalgia, I think of cold, allergies and running nose :(.

        I think I know what you mean by being amongst the books and all, but I certainly don’t miss the sneezing.

        There is another big reason for e-books. They reset a highly inefficient 500+ year old industry. I have a friend who writes technical books for Wrox, O Reilly et al. He makes about $1 per book (these are books that are sold over $20). The middlemen, floor space in premier cities etc account for his loss. These are books he spends 9 months to 1 year of his every free minute creating and he doesn’t see much. At this point, he is doing it because it interests him. The long tail in writing is a REALLY LONG TAIL.

        eBooks are resetting this industry in a big way. It lets writers become self publishers and it is creating all kinds of new small and nimble publishers. Almost all my technical books are bought from pragmaticprogrammers now.

        In any case, a highly inefficient industry is being disrupted by technology. I guess you have to get used to it :).

      2. It is not man vs woman thing.. by your and Mano’s statements.. it is allergic vs others thing 🙂

        [More in other threads :)]

    2. Anand@ It is cheaper to buy from Amazon – Yes. But I don’t agree it is “best” place. If both Amazon and Borders gives the book at same price, I will definitely buy it in Borders. (actually I bought it even when they are 10%).
      [More in other threads]

      1. Sri

        I have bought books from Borders only if I had no other way to get it immediately (pre kindle).

        Almost never the book was only 10% more expensive than Amazon. Typically the books are 30-40% more expensive.

        The deal breaker for me is the used market place. 90% of the printed books I buy (photo books primarily which are useless in the Kindle), are very very cheap from resellers. Often I can pick a like new book for 1/5th the price of the new price in Borders from Amazon market place. Almost always the book is ALMOST new, people have barely read it once.

        That, to me, makes Amazon the best place to buy books.

  2. As a book lover, I loved each of the sentence in this post.
    I have never read a single ebook till date, do use library all the time and agree with you about the inconvenient timing and the feel of a paper book.

    It is a lovely tribute to books saumya even though the intention wasnt that:)
    Ps: i thot u stayed in bay area for some reason.

  3. I think when we talk about the smell of papers and things like that, its really the associations with reading that we have had in our past (esp childhood). Every time I see a good book, I still remember the smell of seedai that I would eat in bowlfuls while reading a book during my summer vacations at my grand parents village. Even today, when I flip the pages of a good thriller, my brain brings back the smell of fresh off the oil seedai… and my mouth just starts watering.

    So I think its definitely a very valid point that while reading e-books, a lot of our past associations don’t pop up. But interestingly over the past couple of years that I have had the kindle– I have read about 50 books on it and my brain seems to have built up new associations while looking for and picking up a kindle book.

    Now when I want to find a book, I eagerly go to google to search for what to read. I enjoy reading what other people have to say on the kindle market place. I love the wait and the anticipation that comes out of checking if its available as a kindle book. Then comes the preview download…. I get a real tingle when I see the ‘Items downloaded’. Then at the end of the preview- I press the buy now and see the book on my home page. Color me happy… I still marvel at how easy it is to get a book and the positive association with the whole process.

    I love the sound that the next page/prev page button makes and I really really love the rhythm of the e-ink flashing before the next page is drawn. These associations are so strong that I hate to flip a physical page now (not to mention actually hold a big book while reading).

    Before I start the Book, I just press the ‘right arrow’ to jump across chapters and see how each chapter looks like. When I am done with a book, I go through my home page and see with satisfaction all the books that i have finished (and not finished). When I look at my physical book shelf with the books collecting dust… I cannot help thinking how much better my house would be without that book shelf 🙂

    For me the kindle has become a symbol of new associations and a future that I am so eager to see.

    1. Mano

      Some *very* interesting thoughts there. I haven’t read quite as many kindle books yet (about 10-12 so far, but I read a LOT of 3000-5000 word web pages in kindle now, by using a chrome extension), I am beginning to see some of the ‘memories’ you mention above.

      Nothing beats the convenience and instant gratification of having the book delivered to your device in seconds. Last Saturday night, I was reading up reviews of Sarah Lacy’s new book and had the impulsive urge to buy. Four minutes later, I was reading the book (I am half way done with it now). Just that convenience part trumps over the inefficiencies of the printed book.

      I also have re-purchased a few printed books I have in e-book form :(. The primary reasons being it is much easier to carry one kindle around rather than many books and yes, I can change fonts on my kindle – and I can’t do that on the printed book :~).

  4. Manu….I agree about the associations part of it. Something we have talked about in the past a fair number of times as well.

    I still think the magic of meandering through the dear objects is lost. That’s me – one of those die-hard fans of yore I guess.

    1. It would be interesting to read the blogs of the papyrus readers when paper was invented :). I am so sure they missed the plant smell 🙂

      1. @Sri – I know that Mano concurs here, but Kindle is as close to barefoot running when it comes to books. The kindle completely gets out of your way when you read it, much more than a physical book.

        When immersed in the kindle, I often forget what medium I am reading it in or figure out the right posture to read it in (lying in bed, walking etc). I find it more natural and comfortable to read a book in Kindle.

        With whatever little barefoot “running” I have done, Kindle = vibrams 🙂

  5. I felt bad hearing this news today morning and this post brought it well.

    Going to book store is not just about reading books alone. That is what is missed in this thread. It is a collective experience which is going away with these changes.

    Analogy comes to my mind is, Kid playing in the park vs kid playing with simulated video game (or your backyard even)

      1. I can understand that when it comes to a library, not sure if i have the same feelings about a badly run bookstore.

  6. Oh I didnt know about this!! Was just planning to go to Borders from this weekend to read up for an upcoming exam :–(

    I love going to Borders and reading/browsing books with a cup of joe or pastry. hmm.

  7. Mano/Anand@

    Kindle provides a better reading/buying experience,
    E-books cuts the middle man and helps writers
    are very good points.

    It doesn’t provide a family experience that book store gave/giving.
    It changed the way we interacted with books (personal preferences – of many people who haven’t moved completely to Kindle yet)

    Point of this post is, with books & book stores going, these nice experiences are going away too.

    If that is not the experience you cherish, that is completely understandable, but saying moving to kindle is right thing is missing the point.

    Note: I like Kindle/Amazon and I like book stores.

    1. @Sri

      I posted my Ramayan just about the same time as you posted this, but yes, I *do* see the point of this post, not debating that or belittling that.

      I see that we both are saying the same thing. Often these two (see below) are merged into one thing – “the internet killed Borders”. My argument is, it isn’t that the internet and e-books that killed Borders, it is Borders inefficiency that killed it. (Yes, I feel sorry for those who will miss the experience).

  8. @Sri

    This is what I am hearing.

    There are two distinct things.

    1) Change of medium

    Paper to e-ink to LED screens that blind you or whatever.

    I think that is eternal and common. Film to digital photography, shoes vs barefeet, cars vs biking to work, grinder vs kalloral, gas vs wooden stoves and so on. You pick and choose what makes you feel happy and move on. There is no clear answer here.

    and

    2) A nice cafe like environment with nice music that gave you free access to new books and let you browse around and idle there for hours together. It is the uber-library that is accessible to you (prime real estate), free (no obligation to buy and you didn’t pay for it through taxes), flexible (more hours open for your convenience), gives you comfortable seating and offered you a lot of great content.

    Think about it – it is the single most ridiculous business proposition out there. What it is – is a FREE mini theme park with a different slant, a freemium model that relies on a few people buying overpriced content that is available for cheaper prices elsewhere.

    That model is bound to fail – it is ridiculous that it even existed in the first place. I am sure that if someone came up with the idea today, it would be DOA it was free.

    What they probably needed to do was to charge you for time – a few $ per hour or something? :).

    Is there any surprise these inefficient stores are shutting down? I see the lament that you are losing a nice place to hang out, but wasn’t it destined to fail in the first place?

    1. No more discussions on the #1 (full agreement)

      #2:
      I disagree or see it differently – will post later.

      As you said in FB,
      TARGET/MALLS are next and movie theaters may follow them. People who are used to it will post blogs.

      People who hated shopping (I am grinning already) and transitioned to movie at home on Fridays will think it is obvious transition.

      Enough of back and forth, I am going to hug my kindle now 🙂

    2. I can see the emotional side where Saumya and Sri come from. I too have to agree that I like the experience (irrespective of who makes money or loses money) of such a place, be it a book store or a library… That said, I agree to the points made by Mano and Anand. As a business proposition, it’s just ridiculous… Think bookshops of India and you can see where the contrast lies..

      On an orthogonal view point, I wonder why the digital content (technically something that doesn’t cost anything incrementally) is charged with almost the same value as the paper books… Here, I can see the business perspective. But, that’s a little outrageous too.. I feel the same way about bare foot running where, in theory, you almost pay the same amount of money for something that is minimal… Beats me big time…

      1. Suresh, I see what you are saying. I think it boils down to something far more simple– things are priced around what people will pay for.

        Btw, competitors to vibrams have started coming… there are similar footwear for $30.

      2. @Suresh

        Ironically, bookstores in India (Landmark at least) tries to re-create this environment somewhat and sell over-priced books. That industry has to be disrupted in India. With *only* 80m internet users and what *15m* on decent broadband, it will take a while. Thankfully since a lot of people do use the railways website and are used to paying online through credit card (and live with the two stage authentication nonsense), eventually someone will do a decent amazon (for books at least) clone and clean that up.

        Having said that indie book stores may thrive even in Bay Area. Downtown Palo Alto and Castro have these small book stores (typical desi book store) where they sell a tonne of good stuff. I have picked up a few decent books there.

  9. Never understood why people would treat a bookstore like a library ,and that too reading new books. Those stores were bound to fail.
    My only grouse is that we cannot lend the Ebooks easily. I guess kindle is coming up with something as Mano pointed out the other day.

    1. @Shoba

      http://www.booklendingclub.com
      http://www.lendle.me

      Kindle needs some serious competition. They wouldn’t do this until Nook did it.

      Kindle also needs to allow buyers to resell their books. In the US, the buyer ALWAYS has the first right to sell (including software. No software company has ever sued and won against a legit user reselling his software) – all except e-books. Someone has to disrupt that.

  10. Woh! What happened here?!

    Okay…so here is my point. Let’s assume there were badminton courts that people went and played in. They loved to go there, hang out, play with different people, have a little coffee, freshen up etc. Took their kids along, and they played with their friends – you get the picture…

    Then WII comes along, and the experience shifted to the confines of a person’s home. Let’s assume it also allows you to randomly play the game with other players who may be playing at the same time in their own homes. It brings the “social” component to your homes.

    Now, there are many who would embrace it whole-heartedly for its merits, and some who will take to WII, but still miss the court. If the badminton court closes, there are still a number of people who will miss the experience of going to a badminton court.

    The court’s business model may not have been great, the fact that you had to take your car and go some place was there, the courts were not available if you wanted to play at 2 a.m. is a fact. Everything is there – but still there are some people who will miss it. They are missing their experience in the whole thing.

    That is all I am saying.

  11. @Saumya

    I think we agree that for those who are used to this, it is a loss and I feel sorry for those.

    But in that context, when you bring in reasons as to why you think it happened, it takes us to the next logical discussion as to why it happened.

    In any case economic WW2 did happen and such entitlements will go away. We all should get used to it.

  12. Saumya – agree with you – we spent a lot of time in B&N when we first came here. We didn’t know anyone then and spent many an evening there and my son had a wonderful time playing in the kids section! Even now when we get bored we head off to our local bookstore.

    The best part of going there is despite all those “waste of time”; “why do I bring you here” comments from the husb I get to read all those “rubbishy gossip magazines” for free!!!

    Love my paper books – the other day I got an old edition of some book and the smell of it tool me straight back to the library in Prep School!!!

  13. My my, just reading all those comments puts images in my head of having Anand, Suresh, Mano and Sri in one room and sitting behind a one way mirror observing the intense arguments (and possible fisticuffs) that ensue! 🙂

    I did find the idea of spending time at a book store reading for free and possibly buying when you run out of time quite novel (pun intended!) in the limited amount of time I spent at the store with you guys. Obviously it was more so for me since the UK considers it the ultimate taboo to give anything in the nature of customer convenience or worse, [gasp] for free!

  14. You know what is needed?

    An affordable private lending library which provides the same environment or similar to Borders.

    Would those of you you who miss the store / surrounded by books experience pay $20 per month subscription to it if it allowed you to borrow 3/4 books at a time and return it when you are done? (no time limits ala Netflix).

    Of course this will never work as long as there is a free Government funded alternative (however bad it is – bad timings etc) which will have to go away (much like the ‘free’ public schools – which if absent, would give way to affordable private schools).

    1. Yes….Shree and I were discussing that is probably the next route to take – even online. Because if there are online lending libraries that are free, very few books would be sold even on the devices right?

      Slowly, I think online lending libraries will open up with monthly subscription fees like netflix. You check out a book, and “send it back” from your device once you are done.

      1. Saumya

        If you are not aware yet, Santa Clara library has a very good online collection. (Alameda county sucks).

        http://www.santaclaracountylib.org/electronic_library/

        These don’t work with Kindle since Kindle doesn’t support ePub. If you feel irritated by this, yell at Amazon (I did). [Nook supports it, Sony eReader supports it. I almost bought the Nook just for that].

        Kindle, OTOH was forced to do sharing of e-books. It is primitive and limited, but there are a couple of sites to do that. http://lendle.me and http://booklendingclub.com

        With DRM protected ePubs (and even Kindle sharing), the loan expires in 14 days automatically as well.

        There are many ways to skin this cat, I won’t be surprised if this happens sooner than later.

      2. One last comment. Safari books online lets you read technical books online if you are a library member. I think it is available for most companies as well as a perk.

        I personally can’t stand reading on a monitor. I used to print my e-books and read it off that. That is one of the reasons I like the kindle. I don’t have to carry the 4/5 300+ page books everywhere I go :).

  15. Hey Saumya

    Anand directed me to your blog when I told him how sad I felt that Borders was closing. Have spent many wonderful hours there with the family.
    Lovely post, my sentiments exactly! I too am one of those paper (books) loving characters, nothing like being amongst freshly pressed books and definitely nothing like picking up a book from your bookshelf,flipping the pages, looking to get back into that world for a bit :-).

    Interesting comments/arguments from the other folks too. Am sure some people felt somewhat lost when these big chain stores replaced the small mom&pop book stores.

    @Saumya – Hope you find your way back soon into another bookstore :-). There were a few small book shops in San Jose that I had visited, HickleBee’s is one such. A bit far from your place, but a nice place to hang out with kids – good collection of books and toys. Check it out sometime.

    1. Wow Anand – very impressive. I had read articles about this form of publishing before, but this scale is very impressive. The thing is: being able to pull off massive sales like this without the benefit of a marketing team at your disposal is stupendous!

      Interesting thought since this form of publishing does not really require a pre-ordained book length right? 50-100 page fiction stories – that neither classify as short stories or novels in the traditional form now have a chance, because packaging is no longer a constraint.

  16. Hey Saumya

    I signed up for a local library in Bangalore. Rs.4000 per year – I can borrow 4 books and 2 magazines at a time. This has many branches and seems to have all the books we grew up with and all the Scholastic books and the common ones the kids read.

    Usual stuff like you can borrow from a different branch or you can request them to order a book if it isn’t available. They seem to honor those requests as well.

    It has online access for ordering and being India, if you want, some dude will come and pick up your books and drop your new books as well (at least for the plan I chose) :).

    It isn’t as ideal (read free) as Fremont library, but it is open 10 am to 7 pm 6 days a week and has most books we generally read. Looks like a good deal to me.

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