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Culture may close the book on shops
Contra Costa Times ^ | 6/22/6 | John Simerman

Posted on 06/22/2006 7:40:40 AM PDT by SmithL

Andy Ross couldn't quite swallow it.

The computer system at Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue, a few blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, told him to ship back Emmanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason."

The thing had sat too long on the shelf.

"When one of the greatest works of Western philosophy, if not the greatest, wasn't selling at Cody's, there's something wrong," said Ross, who announced last month that the store, a legendary locus for Berkeley's free-speech spirit, would close July 10 after a half-century.

"I haven't figured out all the implications. If I do, I'll probably get more depressed than I already am."

Ross and many other independent booksellers in the Bay Area share a common lament over a grim or nonexistent future for some of the most cherished havens for book lovers and strongest venues for visiting authors.

Many cite Amazon.com and the proliferation of big chain bookstores. But there are other factors, they say, that have piled straw on the backs of businesses that face thin profit margins and stiff competition from discounters. They range from the dot-com blowup to bad city planning, to a societal turn toward laptop literacy.

"It's no one thing," said Neal Sofman, who announced last week that he and the other owners of A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books would pull the plug on their acclaimed store at Opera Plaza in San Francisco as soon as it liquidates its inventory.

"It's too easy to be simplistic. We're talking about a cultural shift."

In Menlo Park, 50-year-old Kepler's Books shut down last year, then was saved by a group of investors who could not bear the loss of a cultural and literary hub with a long history of progressive thought. Several other bleeding indies are shrinking, closing stores or looking to sell.

"One thing that a lot of people overlook is the competition from places like Wal-Mart, Costco and Safeway," said Carl Hammarskjold, a manager at Black Oak Books, which this month closed its store in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood.

"I was in the Safeway in Sonoma, and they had Noam Chomsky for sale. When you start seeing that, you know some of the edge the independent bookstore had is fast fading."

The impact extends around the region, say booksellers.

For decades, both Cody's and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books drew a wealth of talent, famous and newly discovered, along with celebrity authors. Fewer major independents could mean publishers send authors to the Bay Area less often, or for less time.

"They are major event venues, and major destinations for visiting authors," said Michael Barnard, owner of Rakestraw Books in Danville, which has hosted the likes of Calvin Trillin, Sebastian Junger and Salman Rushdie.

"Their presence ... helped keep visiting authors in the Bay Area for several days and contributed to the viability of local book selling, local book culture."

Independent booksellers tout their personalized service, support for local authors and a willingness to stock their shelves to the tastes of the communities they serve.

The losses could have further implications on literary discovery, booksellers say. Indies have helped launch the writing careers of mystery suspense writer Scott Turow, John Grisham and Charles Frazier, author of "Cold Mountain," to name just a few.

Local stores often become community hubs, places to meet, talk and linger. Some, such as Book Passage in Corte Madera, have helped propel writing careers through conferences and salons.

Linda Watanabe McFerrin, an Oakland fiction and travel writer, credits conferences there with helping her meet talented writers and push her career. She credits Barnes & Noble and Borders with bringing books to places without them, but she also said the independents offer something else.

"A bookseller like Cody's or Book Passage doesn't just participate in the scene. They help create it," she said. "They are actually generating the literary culture. They're not just serving it, and that's very, very different."

Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage, said the loss of Cody's and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books "breaks my heart."

"It's an ominous situation, because it says to me the public has not been shopping at those stores in the way (the stores) need to continue to be viable," she said. "When Kepler's closed, the people on the Peninsula said, 'We can't let this happen.' But they had let it happen."

Book Passage faces a planned 28,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble within a block. Those plans have prompted a community outcry in Corte Madera. The store has turned to a member-friend program, similar to those run by museums and other nonprofit groups, for financial support.

Geography was partly to blame for the demise of Cody's on Telegraph and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, the owners said.

In Berkeley, Ross counted a deteriorating Telegraph Avenue among the key reasons why Cody's suffered there, losing $1 million in the past five years. Ross also suspects that college students, his bread-and-butter market, are reading fewer scholarly books. Two other Cody's stores, on Fourth Street in Berkeley and a new one in San Francisco, remain in business, and he hopes to shift author readings and other events there.

Sofman hearkened to a dot-com boom that drove out a chunk of San Francisco's art community, then the bust that sapped the city's commercial occupancy; an increase in city parking ticket fees that scared off customers around the Civic Center; and a nettlesome homeless problem there.

He also cited "the 18- to 35-year-olds who live and dwell on the Web."

Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, painted a less grim picture of the climate for indies, saying those two stores had unique problems.

Nearly a decade ago, the rise in online book sales and chains took out many struggling local stores, but the indies have adapted and their numbers have remained fairly steady over the past few years, he said. The American Booksellers Association counts about 1,700 members, down from about 3,500 in 1990, he said. His group has stayed at 235 to 250 members for a few years.

The indies that succeed now tend to be smaller, neighborhood shops with smaller staffs and lower overhead, he said.

"I don't want to say we're not losing anything, but I do not see this as the beginning of the end," said Landon. "The phrase we use is 'Flat is the new high.' If you can maintain, then you're fine."

But Hammarskjold of Black Oak Books sees more trouble coming.

"Like Google's plan to digitize the world's copyright-free books," he said. "It may be in the not-too-distant future that there is no such thing as an out-of-print book. If nothing's out of print and nothing's hard to find, all books will be $6."

That may bode well for Internet-savvy readers, he said, but could spell doom for the local bookstore.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bricksandmortar; cultureshock; leftists; liberals; momandpopstores
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First, it was Bush's fault, then it was Wal-Mart's fault. Now it's cultures fault?

Maybe they should sue the guy who invented the Internet.

1 posted on 06/22/2006 7:40:42 AM PDT by SmithL
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To: SmithL

Well, they probably don't want to blame B&N. Its CEO, Leonard Riggio, is a big Dem donor.


2 posted on 06/22/2006 7:43:07 AM PDT by mewzilla (Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist. John Adams)
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To: SmithL

"It was Bush's fault"? Help me out here. You post a thoughtful analysis on the demise of independent bookstores, and then you follow up with something banal like "it was Bush's fault"?

Why even bother?

Is there something inherently amusing about bookstores? Other than eating the books, I mean?


3 posted on 06/22/2006 7:43:41 AM PDT by CobaltBlue (Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.)
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To: SmithL

Well, if the store would sell books that a larger number of people actually BUY, it wouldn't have to close!


4 posted on 06/22/2006 7:44:21 AM PDT by SuziQ
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: SuziQ
The problem is, though, that the big boxes do dictate to a great extent what gets published. Like grocery stores and discount stores do with their shelf space.

Folks can always publish themselves on-line. E-books are an option.

6 posted on 06/22/2006 7:47:02 AM PDT by mewzilla (Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist. John Adams)
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To: SmithL
When the printing press was invented and came into common use, a lot of scriveners in England were thrown out of work. But that took a few decades, if not centuries.

In today's world, changes take place almost overnight.
7 posted on 06/22/2006 7:47:24 AM PDT by RonHolzwarth ("History repeats itself - first as tragedy, then as farce" - Karl Marx)
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To: Individual Rights in NJ

You think Kant is "commie stuff"?


8 posted on 06/22/2006 7:49:19 AM PDT by ahayes ("If intelligent design evolved from creationism, then why are there still creationists?"--Quark2005)
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To: SuziQ

"It was Bush's fault"? Help me out here. You post a thoughtful analysis on the demise of independent bookstores, and then you follow up with something banal like "it was Bush's fault"?

Well they have to know how to attract customers that's all. There's a thriving independent bookstore here that offers customers an environment and books the chains don't offer. Not that I like it that much. It's a lefty place.


9 posted on 06/22/2006 7:49:32 AM PDT by bkepley
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Comment #10 Removed by Moderator

To: bkepley

Independent bookstores need to be masters of niche marketing. The lefty bookstores will always thrive in college towns, etc. Used book stores seem to do well because folks want to turn over their own stock of books from time to time. I'd think a combination of new and used would be a good one, selling some 'hot new authors' as well as new editions of the classics, along with used books.


11 posted on 06/22/2006 7:52:45 AM PDT by SuziQ
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To: SmithL

"I was in the Safeway in Sonoma, and they had Noam Chomsky for sale."
Quickly find another market if your's is selling anything by Chomsky.


12 posted on 06/22/2006 7:52:50 AM PDT by em2vn
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To: SuziQ

"The lefty bookstores will always thrive in college towns, etc"

I've often thought someone should open one catering to "righty's". Might work...might not but it's worth a try.


13 posted on 06/22/2006 7:54:24 AM PDT by bkepley
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To: ahayes
You think Kant is "commie stuff"?

The problem with Kant was that nobody was buying it.

14 posted on 06/22/2006 7:54:49 AM PDT by SmithL (The fact that they can't find Hoffa is proof that he never existed.)
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To: SmithL
The thing had sat too long on the shelf.

Put some pictures of J-Lo's butt on it...then it will sell.
15 posted on 06/22/2006 7:55:16 AM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: SmithL

Sad.


16 posted on 06/22/2006 7:56:05 AM PDT by ahayes ("If intelligent design evolved from creationism, then why are there still creationists?"--Quark2005)
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To: Individual Rights in NJ

"I was in the Safeway in Sonoma, and they had Noam Chomsky for sale."

Customer: Where can I find Chomsky?
Clerk: Aisle 6, Laxatives...


17 posted on 06/22/2006 7:56:38 AM PDT by Clioman
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To: ahayes

Probably he never read it...

Somebody here told me that Adam Smith was a liberal for the nanny state...


18 posted on 06/22/2006 7:56:51 AM PDT by Alama
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To: SmithL
>The computer system at Cody's Books ... told him to ship back Emmanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason." ... "When one of the greatest works of Western philosophy, if not the greatest, wasn't selling at Cody's, there's something wrong," said Ross



Hmmm. We can only
wonder how other great books
perform at the store . . .

Perhaps the First Church
of Pamelatology

should buy the book store . . .

19 posted on 06/22/2006 7:58:08 AM PDT by theFIRMbss
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To: SmithL

One thing the author or the bookstore owner don't fault is how the culture war which replaced the study of Kant, Plato and other "dead white man" in colleges by the trash of such as Rigoberta Menchu may be at fault...


20 posted on 06/22/2006 7:58:26 AM PDT by Alama
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Comment #21 Removed by Moderator

To: mewzilla
E-books are going to be more prevalent as time goes on. Pretty soon people will be publishing books electronically and even the large distributors will see sales fall.
Even for me who reads probably 50-100 books a year, I do not frequent smaller bookstores very much at all anymore, and tend to go through B&N two or three times a month. I still favor the bookstore to Amazon, because you can actually see interesting things you might not have before.
There is also the fact that the younger generation is simply not reading as much. Music, internet, and TV are a big draw for people's time. When you hear that American 'Idle' got more votes than the President, you know people aren't reading.
22 posted on 06/22/2006 8:02:14 AM PDT by ritewingwarrior
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To: SmithL
"It may be in the not-too-distant future that there is no such thing as an out-of-print book. If nothing is out of print and nothing is hard to find, all books will be $6."

Currently, on Amazon, you can have a used copy for $3.85 http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0521657296/sr=8-2/qid=1150987627/ref=pd_bbs_2/102-3257081-6960148?%5Fencoding=UTF8

His point is well taken, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. If knowledge is readily accessible, more people will be able to learn. Look at the explosion of knowledge after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. In his time, he also had his critics.

23 posted on 06/22/2006 8:05:33 AM PDT by jmcenanly
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To: theFIRMbss

***Hmmm. We can only
wonder how other great books
perform at the store . . .***

Guess which one of the three will be clicked on most.


24 posted on 06/22/2006 8:07:37 AM PDT by Ruy Dias de Bivar
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To: jmcenanly
Or you can use Google and find a free copy on the web in less than 30 seconds.

http://www.hkbu.edu.hk/~ppp/cpr/toc.html

Not as nice for curling up with in front of a fireplace, but a lot cheaper and searchable too.

25 posted on 06/22/2006 8:08:17 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Never ask a Kennedy if he'll have another drink. It's nobody's business how much he's had already.)
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To: RonHolzwarth

When the printing press was invented and came into common use, a lot of scriveners in England were thrown out of work. But that took a few decades, if not centuries.

In today's world, changes take place almost overnight.

***
Excellent analysis.


26 posted on 06/22/2006 8:09:22 AM PDT by Bigg Red (Never trust Democrats with national security.)
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar
Guess which one of the three will be clicked on most.

[ Hangs head in shame ]

However, I was already familiar with the first two. I had to see what the third one was.

27 posted on 06/22/2006 8:10:18 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Never ask a Kennedy if he'll have another drink. It's nobody's business how much he's had already.)
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To: bkepley
I've often thought someone should open one catering to "righty's".

Oh, I agree! They might have to endure stupid lefties picketing the place, though. I mean the lefties believe in free speech and all, as long as you agree with THEM. ;o)

28 posted on 06/22/2006 8:10:33 AM PDT by SuziQ
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To: Alama

One thing the author or the bookstore owner don't fault is how the culture war which replaced the study of Kant, Plato and other "dead white man" in colleges by the trash of such as Rigoberta Menchu may be at fault...

***
Amen to that!


29 posted on 06/22/2006 8:12:10 AM PDT by Bigg Red (Never trust Democrats with national security.)
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To: All
Hmmm...pay for overpriced books with taxes or pay for a cheap used book with no taxes? Hmmm...
30 posted on 06/22/2006 8:17:36 AM PDT by xachthegreat (Get the dogs and wolves out of Washington (democrats=wolves, republicans=dogs))
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To: SmithL
Maybe they should try following the trends rather than their political biases. Last week, I tried to buy a copy of Ann Coulter's "Godless." The first indie bookstore I went into didn't have it--although they had plenty of old books by Al Franken, Michael Moore, and that ilk. I then strolled over to another independent and found a copy. Of course, it was spine-out, buried on the shelf. At the register, the young lady cattily quipped to her colleague (not to me, mind you), "Is this the only copy we have?"

Her colleague replied with an equally superior tone, "Yeah, I guess he [meaning the owner] didn't even expect to sell that one."

When an independent bookstore owner isn't smart enough to put a top 5 bestseller on the NYTimes list and the Amazon.com rankings in a pile on his front table, he deserves to go out of business.
31 posted on 06/22/2006 8:20:24 AM PDT by Antoninus (I don't vote for liberals -- regardless of party.)
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To: Alama

Bingo! Plus changing in education philosophy from teaching how to think to what to think. Instead of opening the key to eternal learning by exposing students to intelligent philosophical debates, education today just teaches students to hook onto the best (in terms of the simplest and most entertaining) lecturers to be told what to think about any situation.


32 posted on 06/22/2006 8:23:04 AM PDT by caseinpoint (Don't get thickly involved in thin things.)
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To: SmithL
Reap What You Sow Department:

a deteriorating Telegraph Avenue

...undoubtedly the result of intellectually honest businessmen packing up and leaving a socialist hellhole...

college students, his bread-and-butter market, are reading fewer scholarly books

...because they are majoring in "[Protected Group name here] Studies" which have so much more "emotional truth" than oppressive, Euro-centric, patriarchical fields of study like "Mathematics", "American Literature", and "Western Philisophy"...

an increase in city parking ticket fees that scared off customers around the Civic Center

...because government is looked to as the source of all things, thus it increases its funding requirements as well...

and a nettlesome homeless problem there

...because they have the "right" to live wherever they want in a place where they know suckers with no concept of individual responsibility will throw them the cash they "deserve"...

etc...

33 posted on 06/22/2006 8:26:20 AM PDT by jiggyboy (Ten per cent of poll respondents are either lying or insane)
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To: SmithL
"I was in the Safeway in Sonoma, and they had Noam Chomsky for sale."

Filed in the sleeping aids part of the pharmacy?
34 posted on 06/22/2006 8:30:58 AM PDT by weegee (happy holidays and seasons greetings...)
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To: ahayes
But what is the point in paying for a bunch of dead tree data when I can just download it?

I mean for a living author, yeah, royalties are important but it's pretty stupid to pay money for information that has been in the public domain for generations- just so I can lug around a bunch of paper that takes up space in my house . I always liked Cody's, great selection of military history, excellent selection of cookbooks and darn good on technical lit; it will be a loss IMHO, but to pay good coin for something I can find online for free (when I'm not depriving a living author of their livelihood)? that makes as much sense as sending a donation to the Gates Foundation...
35 posted on 06/22/2006 8:33:00 AM PDT by RedStateRocker
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To: KarlInOhio

***However, I was already familiar with the first two. I had to see what the third one was.***

Did you notice that Amazon listed in the suggested reading column Jenna Jamison's book HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR?
D@MN! Gave myself away!


36 posted on 06/22/2006 8:35:11 AM PDT by Ruy Dias de Bivar
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To: SmithL
Maybe they should sue the guy who invented the Internet.

He was killed by global warming. Had a heat stroke.

37 posted on 06/22/2006 8:37:39 AM PDT by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all that needs to be done, needs to be done by the government.)
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To: SmithL
I love used book stores, and spend to much time in them. The "indie" shops around here are either hard leftist or hard socialist.
38 posted on 06/22/2006 8:38:08 AM PDT by redgolum ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche. "Nietzsche is dead" -- God.)
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To: Antoninus

I support a bookstore or record store to stand on personal taste. But that is a 2 way street.

Niche marketing means you are limiting your audience.

I wouldn't expect a quality bookstore of any sort to stock "Rush Limbaugh Is A Fat Idiot" by Al Franken (I can find dozens of close-out copies at a number of bookstores that sell remained books) but obviously someone bought it at one point in time.

I am perplexed by stores that order 1 or 2 copies of something. Sell them immediately and never restock. This happens with smaller press magazines too (things with a 3 month shelf life can be expected to run out at the newsstand in 1 week). If something is a consistent seller, and you are not opposed to carrying it to begin with, find that right number of copies (or reorder) and meet the demand.

If I have to ask a bookstore to order me a book, often (but not always) I'll price search it myself online (at www.bookfinder.com). I'm already going to have to wait.

Some independent stores will sell promo CDs and sample copies of books they are sent. This may explain some of the "one of these things is not like the other" stocking policies. Or maybe the owner wanted to thumb through a copy but didn't want to buy his own.


39 posted on 06/22/2006 8:43:47 AM PDT by weegee (happy holidays and seasons greetings...)
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To: SmithL

Lots of foreigners (immigrants) have zero interest in our cultural legacy. The student population at Berkeley is mostly Asian. Draw your own conclusions

I lived in Berserkly many moons ago and know the terrain. Cody's had beautiful wood floors.


40 posted on 06/22/2006 8:46:36 AM PDT by dennisw (You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you - Bob Dylan)
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To: redgolum

The good thing about a good bookstore or library isn't finding the book you came in for, it's discovering the book you had to have that you didn't even know existed/you were looking for.

Such discoveries are made by hunting for them. You can go online, through publishers catalogs, or read reviews of books. But that doesn't cover everything published. And is still a hit and miss approach. And holding a book in your hands permits you to thumb through it.

I don't find much at the big barn bookstores (bookstop, barnes & noble, or borders) although 20 years ago Bookstop had books that no other store did (in the era of Walden and Barnes & Noble chains and independent stores).

Now most the chains all stock the same 50 titles in any section.


41 posted on 06/22/2006 8:48:25 AM PDT by weegee (happy holidays and seasons greetings...)
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To: jiggyboy

nicely put.


42 posted on 06/22/2006 8:48:52 AM PDT by King Prout (many complain I am overly literal... this would not be a problem if fewer people were under-precise)
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To: jmcenanly

Well bootleggers took to printing copies of Shakespeare's plays for public consumption.


43 posted on 06/22/2006 8:50:03 AM PDT by weegee (happy holidays and seasons greetings...)
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To: jiggyboy

BUMP


44 posted on 06/22/2006 8:51:03 AM PDT by weegee (happy holidays and seasons greetings...)
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To: SmithL

What elitist whiners. Griping because their Commie books are for sale at Safeway. I guess Safeway shoppers aren't "cultured" enough to read their books with no pictures and big words.

Selling Commie books to jobless hippes in tax-city. Brilliant!!


45 posted on 06/22/2006 8:52:52 AM PDT by L98Fiero (I'm worth a million in prizes.)
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To: SmithL
It's the culture, stupid. Bookstores like Cody's will stock Al Franken, Dan Brown and Hairy Potty because they sell in places like Berkeley, but they'll also stock books that B&N and Borders couldn't be bothered with. I remember reading glowing reviews of this book in the local newspaper's Sunday book section

then rushing to an independent bookstore to find they had three or four copies of it in hardback selling at full list price. I went home and order it online for less than half that. I kept checking the bookstore over the next few weeks. While it was always crowded and selling the kind of crap I mentioned above, it never seemed to have sold a copy of this fine novel. It's the culture, stupid!

46 posted on 06/22/2006 8:58:18 AM PDT by Revolting cat! ("In the end, nothing explains anything.")
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To: SmithL
That may bode well for Internet-savvy readers, he said, but could spell doom for the local bookstore.


Change your business model. I prefer reading a book I can hold. Why not offer a service that will print and bind a book on demand?

I think technology is advanced enough now that it is possible to print a complete book in a relatively short time and have it bound. The quaility of binding could depend on how much someone is willing to pay.

47 posted on 06/22/2006 9:08:36 AM PDT by CIB-173RDABN
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To: SmithL
I wonder if they had this one.
48 posted on 06/22/2006 9:09:44 AM PDT by mirkwood (Gun control isn't about guns. It's about control.)
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To: weegee

I agree, there is something about browsing a good book store and stumbling on a great book. Many of my favorite novels were "accidents" like that.

That can still happen at times in the big barn stores. For instance, my local Borders has quite a selection of military history and theological books. More than you would ever expect.


49 posted on 06/22/2006 9:09:46 AM PDT by redgolum ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche. "Nietzsche is dead" -- God.)
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To: ritewingwarrior
"E-books are going to be more prevalent as time goes on. Pretty soon people will be publishing books electronically and even the large distributors will see sales fall."

If you read science fiction, and are even slightly to the right, try www.baen.com

They use the "Old Dope Peddlar" model: "try it, you'll like it!" Specifically, check out the Baen Free Library, where you can download whole books for free (older stuff, but often well worth reading if SF is your bag). They also have the first few chapters of a number of books posted for those who want to check them out, and you can buy ebooks, paper, or hardback, from the site.
50 posted on 06/22/2006 9:12:32 AM PDT by Old Student (WRM, MSgt, USAF(Ret.))
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