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The New Order

I just read a somewhat interesting article in the most recent issue of The Nation magazine by Eric Alterman regarding the sale of the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos (of Amazon.com fame). In it, he discusses the merits of a takeover by someone like Bezos and offers a glimmer of hope for its survival [however he does cite the need for a miracle]. The Post, like so many other giant papers, has failed to reinvent itself in this internet age of readily available [and often free] information. He refers to today's Washington Post as "an ocean liner without an ocean."

Without going too deeply into this, he makes a lot of points [some with merit] about Bezos and his business tactics that may be factual--but not necessarily fair. For instance, the fact that Amazon does not collect sales tax in many states and has therefore taken business from the local bookseller is true--but hardly the fault of Bezos, Amazon or anyone else who takes advantage of lack of regulation. Can you seriously expect Amazon to pay staff and accountants to voluntarily collect tax when not required and donate to the states, thereby driving up the cost to their customers and causing a loss of revenue? Hardly. Is it fair? No. Should it be changed? Yes. But don't expect Bezos to do so any time soon. There's nothing in it for him. Then there's the simple fact that he has become a giant as an entrepreneur because he had the right idea at the right time and patiently worked at it. Because of Amazon's size and the nature of the digital media it purveys, it is logical to assume prices will be less than brick-and-mortar stores can offer.

I miss the local 'mom and pop' bookstore, just like I miss the local video store. I also liked the local T.V. repairman, but I don't miss his all-too-frequent visits to the house as a child. All these things have fallen by the wayside as the march of progress continues. Those who fail to reinvent themselves to be relevant have only themselves to blame.

Can bookstores survive and possibly thrive in this highly technological climate (combined with an ailing economy)? Yes. Many do. Take for example a fine used bookstore I frequent in a nearby town that has done so well these past few years that it actually has three locations in the same time to cover the vast selection of books it maintains. Any time I visit (and I frequent at least two of the three locales) it is fairly busy. At [what I call] the main location there are outside activities for children, animals to see and places to sit with a book that you are contemplating the purchase of so you can peruse it. Even in colder weather, the place draws patrons--providing heat sources outside to warm yourself while shopping. What about smaller locations that emphasize service and offer things like a nice cafe with free Internet access or entertainment? There are ways to draw people in. It is important to think of unique, new things that would appeal to people. Sure, sometimes it's trial and error--but in the end, it's all about survival in a rapidly changing landscape.

When it comes to books, nothing replaces a visit to a nice bookseller to engage in the art of browsing. I have purchase more books that I never intended to [and have really enjoyed them] because they caught my eye on a shelf somewhere. A nice thing about the printed page is the fact that it is obsolescence-proof. There are no sort of DRM restrictions to worry about and I am free to pass on my copy to anyone I like. Sadly, the same cannot be said for most eBooks.

English: Photographic composition of Granmata ...
By the way, this is not an anti-eBook rant. Heaven knows I possess several of them on my Kindle. The ability to quickly find and purchase something of interest on the fly is wonderful and often less expensive, simply due to the lack of material needed to create a physical copy. Moreover, it often provides the opportunity to utilize something more interactive with links to additional features or information. In fact, the motivating article for this post from The Nation magazine was something I read on my iPad in digital format. E-readers and tablets are solely responsible for saving a hurting magazine industry. I can say that with a fair amount of certainty. No matter how you spin it, there's no way that they have not hurt it. I read several different magazines that I would not have ever purchased in printed form for  a few reasons: price, availability and a time/place to read them. What about you? Have you come to terms with the 'new order' when it comes to how you consume books and magazines?
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