The Biblio Files  

  our bookish life  

The Biblio Files

The Biblio Files
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
January 01
We (Steve and Helen) irresponsibly gave up our promising careers in aviation and bookselling over ten years ago. Now books seem to have taken over our lives. We frequent libraries, bookstores, and thrift shops in search of interesting books. We buy/swap/sell, but mainly, we read. We both wear glasses and have been mistaken for librarians.


Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 16, 2008 1:12AM

Face Out, Spine In

Rate: 13 Flag

Borders, the big box book superstore, is trying something new. They're displaying nearly all of their books face out rather than spine out. While this makes the books easier to see without tilting your head to the right, it takes up quite a bit more space than the old spine-out method. And it means room for fewer books.

borders interior 
photo copyright jblyberg

Borders is rather proud of this innovation. They're stocking about 20% fewer (or 10% or 30% -- I've read various estimates) books by displaying books face out, but claim that their book sales are up. They say Borders needs to compete with Wal*Mart and Costco. Brilliant. How many titles do Wal*Mart and Costco carry? A hundred? How many titles does Borders carry? About 150,000.



In related news, The Motley Fool, the personal investing website, is recommending you sell your Barnes & Noble stock. They're assuming you've already sold your Borders stock. In an article called Throw This Stock Away, the author writes that superstore chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders (NYSE: BGP) have become irrelevant. He suggests that investors replace their big box bookstore stocks with Amazon and Google.



What about the Motley Fool's recommendation to buy Amazon? Here's what Amazon is up to today. They are selling new biographies of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain for their ebook reader, the Kindle. The Michelle Obama bio won't be ready for print publication until late November and the Cindy McCain bio will only be published in print if John McCain wins in November. But you can buy, download, and read the Kindle versions today.



If we were going to invest in any book-related company at the moment (which we aren't), guess which one it would be?




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With any luck, Borders' decision will send more people to independent bookstores. The likelihood of that happening is obviously slim, but I'd rather spend my money at a place that cares about books -- as well as readers and writers -- than at a business that thinks I'm too lazy to tilt my head to read a damn spine.
I simply can't imagine downloading a book and reading it on a computer screen. Really, it is beyond my comprehension.

I'll admit, my aging eyes tend to glaze over when I try to read a lot of books on a shelf with only the spine showing. If they must reduce the number of books they can display by showing their faces, it will certainly make it more difficult to find more obscure titles. It's a tough call, both from the consumer's viewpoint, and the seller's viewpoint.
Jake, that would be great. We have but one general interest independent bookstore left in town, and they've been threatening to close all year. Time to buy another book there. Our favorite online independent bookstore is

Steve, I don't like the thought of reading entire books at the PC either, but people seem to love the ebook readers. I want to try one and see for myself.
Don't forget your little used/independent...if you don't know where there is one, find out! If the one you knew about closed it's doors, look for another one. We are diamonds in the rough. Dinosaurs. Lost souls. Crazy cats. But there are still a few of us out there. ..

And check out Larry McMurtry's new book, called, "Books".
If you are a true biblioholic you will LOVE IT!
Personally, I like the library. Although I have to reserve new books online for quite some time before I finally get 'em. But its completely worth the wait. Also, when I take a little too long returning the books, the librarian asks me apologetically "You have a balance of .82 cents, would you like to pay for that today?" Its so adorable! I love the library.
Biblio, in South Florida, we have Books and Books (, which appears to be thriving; it recently opened a location in Grand Cayman, of all places. Just about every night, the Coral Gables store features author readings (Irvine Welsh appeared this past Friday, Oscar Hijuelos will be there tonight) and writers' workshops. I shop there as often as I can.
gold thread, thanks for the recommendation. I'm a big fan, and I really want to get out to Archer City TX to browse the bookstore McMurtry started, Booked Up.
There's a priceless "Opus" cartoon out there where our beloved large-snouted penguin receives a hand-held ebook reader as a gift. After struggling with the device for several panels, Opus is finally shown sitting in a big comfy chair, using the light from his ebook to help him read a paper copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

And McMurtry is great. I have a line from Lonesome Dove tattooed on my arm. I'm not even kidding.
My wife is from Ann Arbor and remembers the days when Borders was one store downtown, populated by grad students who really knew what they were selling. More than one friend of the in-laws who moved elsewhere and got excited by the expansion of Borders reacted in shock when they asked local staff about a book and got the answer "I don't know."

The closest independent store to us is Politics and Prose. I find the difference to be in the form of people who know their stuff and don't really care about customer service, and people who know next to nothing but are mostly polite.
goldthread and Sharon, good tips. We have only the one independent general interest new bookstore in Las Vegas, but there are several specialty stores, a handful of used bookstores, and a terrific library system. We visit nearly all of these regularly.

But not all communities are as fortunate. Libraries are among the first to have their budgets cut during tough times. Used bookstores and many independents are operating on a thin margin. And the economy isn't looking very good. Let's appreciate what we have for now, because it may not last.
haggismold, interesting story. Ann Arbor is still where Borders has headquarters. We are unapologetic about liking the big box stores. They're roomy, they encourage browsing, they have more books than anyone else. I like the independents, too, but often they are dark and claustrophobia-inducing, and I can't count the number of cranky shop owners I've dealt with. It's as if they love books and hate people. Not the best combination for someone who deals with the public. (Which is why we never opened a bookstore.)
Biblio, I'm not anti-Borders by any means, but my reading rate has dropped so precipitously in recent years that I find myself more likely to be there buying the occasional imported magazine from the UK than a book. Also, given the demise of both independent music store and Tower Records, the local Borders are the closest things to a record store (showing my age there, but so be it) that I have.
haggis, you bring up a good point. I think we may be able to look at how the music industry has fared lately to see how books may well be headed. The only people who shop for CDs anymore are people who DO remember Tower and the local record stores. Everyone else in uploading to mp3 players.

Edgar, what's your tat say? We did a post about literary tattoos a while back.

Stellaa, the way we shop for books at the big library sales might qualify as a workout, but not yoga. Climbing ladders, deep knee bends to get the books in boxes under the tables, bobbing and weaving to get around the crowds of other shoppers, and all at break neck speed to beat the others to the good stuff. No time to browse at a leisurely pace. Then haul the sacks and boxes to the car and up three flights to our apartment. Keeps us in shape.
I WANT to love the Kindle. I WANT it to make people read more and I love the idea of having basically, an iBook.

However, as much as I want to love it, something in me distains it.
I love the book as an *object* too much.
The Kindle will be just like the VCR at some point. You'll have to throw it away or in some way, reliquish the books you've bought for it when the next new thingimabob comes along.

If (God forbid) I'm ever a bag lady, I'll be the one with a shopping cart full of books.

Personally, I'm a B&N girl. (It's like S&M, only more acceptable to my mother.) I love tilting my head to the side and perusing.
As for selling off B&N stock, pshaw! As if I have STOCK.

While in the Reno area recently, we saw the massive Barnes & Noble distribution center. Apparently, B&N is planning on going the online way. Seems like it won't be long before the only place you can hold a book in your hand and scan it will be the library -- or perhaps the used book store.
Interestingly, book marketing gurus encourage authors to walk into bookstores, locate their books and turn them out. In fact, I know one in particular who says that she has a posse of fellow authors, and they roam bookstores and turn out each others books. For a seller to make this storewide is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it levels the playing field so that all the books in the store have a relatively equal chance of being noticed. On the other hand, as you pointed out, it means less shelf space and that means a host of books are not even going to be carried.

Although there are certain books that I will always buy, I own and love, love, LOVE my Kindle. It is not at all like reading a book on a computer (which I could never do either.) I have found that it not only makes me read more because I can carry as much as 200 books with me (including audiobooks) in a device that weighs less than a pound, it also diversifies what I read. Because I am able first to download a free sample, there are dozens of books I have considered buying -- never mind just reading but actually purchasing -- that I ordinarily might not have gravitated towards.

I truly believe that the Kindle will do for books what iPod did for music. And people are still buying CDs so I think we'll always be able to indulge in the comforting feel and smell of pages in hand. I would never want books to go the way of 8-track tapes, but some material, while harmless to read, is not worth a tree's sacrifice. The Kindle is perfect for such fare.
biblio, the tatt is the garbled Latin phrase explained best here
I'm conflicted, too.

Face out generates a lot more interest. I don't think it's a laziness issue: when you walk up to a shelf and stand five feet back, you can scan the shelves quickly and get a graphic image and other cues that might help you find a book that might interest you. Spines only have author and title, and you're unlikely to be attracted to something you're not only looking for.

It's a great browsing experience, and leads to people finding about many more books. In that respect, it's great for reading and great for writers.

As an author with my first book a few months away, I cringe at the idea of it buried with just the spine out, and no one finding it except people who entered the store looking for it. I'd love to have passersby noticing it, taking a look, and if they're interested, flipping it open to see more.

But yes, the downside is fewer books stocked. That's a big price to pay.
oh, the kindle, and the ebook.

two very different things.

the ebook i could see going either way. if i had to wager, i'd say most books will be electronic in 20 years. but i don't see paper going away entirely, and wouldn't be completely shocked if ebooks continue to fail.

i think they will hit as soon as the ebook is more comfortable on both the hands and the eyes.

once the ebook is a little better, and the price drops for the gizmo (drops a lot), then the price difference between $25 vs $10 for a hardcover will kick in.

but a friend bought a kindle and i tried it and was shocked at the poor design. it needs to follow the iphone and use its entire surface area for the book page. like the iphone, it needs a way to switch the screen to be an input device, so no space is wasted.

right now it's the size of a book, so it feels like a book, but lighter. in your hand, it's as good as a book, better in some ways. but then the screen takes up maybe half the space. no one wants to look at a mini book, with print on only half the page.

this is a flaw so basic . . .

before they bother with another redesign, they need new groundrules: better on the eyes than a book, or don't bother.

it's never going to hit big until they overcome that barrier.
I'm very fortunate in living within driving distance of Powell's in downtown Portland. But Borders isn't (or wasn't) bad as a second choice, though I wish they stocked a better selection of CDs.

I've been wanting to try Amazon's Kindle for some time, but I am putting off the purchase until the new, and improved - we hope, version comes out this winter. But while I expect it to be convenient, I doubt it will be as comfortable or as pleasurable to use as a good book already is.
I don't know what the face out thing is going to do, though I am a visual person, so I might pick up a book if the jacket were flashy enough. I'm not much of an investment genius, but it's probably too late to get in on the ground floor with Amazon stock. I do tend to buy my books from them, though. Borders has never been a favorite of mine--high-priced CDs and coffee shop, was all that was, and a poor selection of books. Barnes and Nobles I like somewhat better.

I almost stopped reading after I stopped riding the bus and the Interwebs came along. But I've been in something of a reading renaissance lately, reading James Carse's (fairly) new book , The Religious Case against belief (Carse is always excellent, and Against Belief is no exception!) and T.R. Fehrenbach's magnificent history book, simply titled Comanches.
People's concerns with the Kindle's design and price are quite legitimate. There are definite improvements to be made. I particularly find the keypad too small to navigate.

IMHO, however, certain features compensate for this and almost (not quite) justify the higher price tag. I enjoy the built-in dictionary and instant, no-cast access to Wikipedia. It's wonderful to be able to look up something directly from the device whereas with a print book, you'd have to put it down and resort to another reference source in a book/on the internet. That enhances my enjoyment of certain works (e.g. THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz which makes references to many comic books, sci fi and similar things with which I'm not familiar.)

While I myself don't use this feature, I'm sure that many people would appreciate the ability to subscribe to certain blogs, newspapers and magazines via the device. Salon is available.

It also uses this e-ink technology which is makes the text on the screen approximate text on a printed page. That makes it much easier on the eyes. You can also highlight, bookmark, jot notes and send passages as clippings to others (now this is a feature that I'd love to make more use of, but, honestly, haven't figured out just yet so that might be another design flaw despite the good intentions...)

It's features like these that separate the Kindle from other e-book readers, and, hence "justify" the higher price tag. It's still too expensive though. But you also have to consider that $25 just-released hardcover will only cost you $10. That's what ultimately convinced me to get it. I also like having a library of nonfiction -- particularly self-help and how-to books -- at my fingertips. As a writer, filmmaker and public speaker, when I travel, go on a retreat or am on the film set, I like having my reference and inspirational collection on hand in one small device when I used to have to pack up a bunch of books and haul them around with me. :)
About the Kindle -- I would love to have one, but there are still a few sticking points. First, it's too expensive at $359. I'd worry I'd lose it (I've lost books before), or break it. The reading space isn't big enough, as Dave pointed out. The new version that's due out next year should resolve that problem, as well as the clunky keyboard. And as mad_typist pointed out in another post, you can't give your ebooks away when you're done with them. They can't be transferred your friend's Kindle or given to the local library.

As far as them making real books obsolete, I think paper books will still be around for the rest of our lives. Ebooks will complement real books, not replace them, at least not for a long time.
That doesn't even sound possible it would take up so much space. Especially with series, like sci fi or children's books. But psychologically and from a marketing POV, I could see why it works.
I thank God that you can't pass on an ebook to a friend. Some hackers will find a way, which is fine, as long as 95% of the population just buys their own.

Hopefully the $10 price is enough of a tradeoff where people will feel they're getting a bargain, not being ripped off on that account.

While I think it's great for readers to pass on paper books, that limits it to one person at a time, and it's only going to go so far, or happen so often. It's just way too easy to make a zillion ecopies of anything and pass it on.

As a writer--and a reader--it's important to me that writers can make a living. It's nearly impossible already. But if you make everything free, or close to it, you're strangling the goose laying the golden eggs. Someone has to actually write these books. And publish them. Going through the publishing process right now, it's amazing to me the army of people involved at my publisher, and the amount of money they are pouring in to edit it, fact-check, proof every detail, and promote it. They need an income stream, too.

The best thing to me about the Kindle, from a book-business point of view, is cutting out the middleman and the distribution, which gobbles up about 2/3 of the cover price of a book. (The bookseller gets half, though they then give much of that back to the consumer by discounting the price. Printing, distribution and warehousing take another big bite, as do wholesalers like Ingram in some cases.)

The ebook eliminates so much of that so that for $10, the writer can still get something ($2.50, I believe--I can look up my contract, which is the standard rate), and the publisher, and the reader still gets it for $10.

The $10 is key. I think books have been way over-priced for years. CDs cost about $14, but now $10 to download, and movies are just creeping up to about $10. Books can get away with more, but not 2.5 times more. Or 50% more for the trade paperback, after waiting a full year.

The book industry needed to get in line with pricing that the consumer expects to pay. I don't think $10 books will make readers out of people who can't be bothered, but $25 books inhibit a lot of people, and at $10 many would-be readers will return to the fold.

It's kind of an everyone wins solution, finally, that had to happen.

It's not here yet, because the ebook devices are not mass market yet, but once it gets here, it will really revolutionize and revitalize the book industry just by getting us into the right price range.