The Old Lady Who Lived In Borders.

On what’s becoming an increasingly rare occasion, I ran into my local Borders.  I was looking for a book by Steven Levy, “The Perfect Thing – How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness”.  His highness and the kids were in the car, and I was going to run into Borders for a quickie – in and out.  The entire trip took 27 minutes, (Admittedly, I have issues. I actually timed it).  The following is a breakdown:

  • 8 minutes, spent on the Borders kiosk searching for the book.  As it turns out, they didn’t stock it.   I was given the option to order it.  It would take 2-3 weeks?!
  • 4 minutes looking through the Paperchase section looking for a pencil sharpener.
  • 12 minutes at the counter waiting for a sweet elderly Lady named Ross to ring up my purchases.

The offender?  A box of tropical Mike & Ike’s.  They cost $1.99 and nothing this poor old lady did seemed to get the register to ring it up properly.  I was in no particular rush to get back to the car of screaming children, but as the line behind me started to swell, I became increasingly uncomfortable.  Ross was the only person at the any of the six registers.  She was also full of conversation.  By the end of our twelve minutes together, I knew a lot about her.

Ross doesn’t usually work on Sunday’s but they offered it to her and she needed the extra money.  She didn’t remember that the Grammy’s were on this particular night, and if she knew she may have stayed home.  Ross was hopeful that this Borders wasn’t going to go the way of the dozens of Walmart stores that recently closed.  Ross was, by her own admission, an optimist.   I started to shift and quickly glance at the line behind me.  At some point, they’d begin to realize the problem was my box of candy, and already self conscious about my ginourmous belly – I loudly proclaimed, “I don’t really have to have the candy.”

“Nonsense, it’s not your fault this computer is retarded.  Besides, if not you – somebody else”, Ross retorted as she logged into a second computer to look up the price.

I decided I wasn’t really in a rush, and we (me and all my line friends) could simply wait it out.

Later that night, thinking of that sweet lady and the future of my once beloved Borders, I did a bit of research.

Borders (BGP) is indeed in financial trouble, in spite of major shareholder, Bill Ackman’s confidence that bankruptcy is a ”low-probability event”.  His enthusiasm is reminiscent of the recently departed CEO, Ron Marshall, who similarly acknowledged in 2008 that his company had “lots of challenges”, while simultaneously proclaiming that it had the bones to become a world-class retailer.  The company hasn’t declared a profitable year since 2006, and since then has closed 112 of its Walden bookstores.  It is reportedly surviving on loans from Ackman’s hedge fund company, Pershing Square Capital Management, to the tune of 42.5 million dollars, due for repayment on April 1.  It’s surprising the company hasn’t closed down more stores or declared bankruptcy already.

Tomorrow I plan to spend some time researching the book-selling retail industry in general.  I don’t own a Kindle, but read many books on my Kindle iPhone application.  I am an Apple groupie and will be in line overnight if necessary to own a new iPad (3G, of course).  I will always long for and love the smells and comfort of a well maintained bookstore, but I equally admit an increasingly growing adoration for e-books.  The convenience is unparalleled.  At a time in my life, when being a pregnant, full time working mom, with two children under age 5 and an outrageously busy household means I no longer have a desire to keep up with the whereabouts of my book collection or its accompaniment of bookcases, book thongs and book-lights – convenience is an absolute must.

My thoughts wander back to that nice old lady in Borders, and while pondering the controversy, I began to wonder how many people I share this experience with.


Whose Book Is It Anyway?

I recently read a relevant commentary by, Michael Seringhaus, a third year Yale law student, that raises a lot of seemingly perpetual questions surrounding copyright, licensing, and law.  (And, more importantly, it raises personal questions like: Why didn’t I choose to become an attorney?)

According to Seringhaus, in July of this year, Amazon withdrew titles of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” from thousands of Kindle readers.  Amazon apparently lacked proper copyright authorization to sell the book in electronic format.  The striking bit of news was that according to their terms and conditions; you never actually own a Kindle book.  Instead you own a licensed copy to read it in digital form.  I was able to find the actual License Agreement & Terms of Use on the Kindle site, under “Kindle Support” (the link is

Here were my thoughts:

1.  If you never own a Kindle book, then Amazon has the rights to take it from you.

2.  If you never own a Kindle book, then you can never resell it.

3.  If you never own a Kindle book, and Amazon has the right to take it from you without notice, and you can never resell it; how much money is a fair price for it?

After all, a traditional print copy could never legally be taken from your personal library; not even if there were some problem with the stores rights to sell it.  Seringhaus argues several reasons for why this particular agreement and e-book licensing in general will be successfully challenged in court or deemed unenforceable.  I look forward to closely following the debate.

“Kindle, How to Buy a Book, But Not Own It”

Apple, the Full Moon, and A Bet.

I am not a believer in Astronomy. It would be more accurate to say Astronomy; with it’s far fetched reaches, is grossly annoying. So it was on a particular full moon, January 30th to be exact, I loathe to admit, I was more annoyed than usual. Most of the day was spent, grumbling about one minute offense or another. The socks on the floor, countertops with gooey spots, odd smells not easily identifiable. (Did I mention I’m six months pregnant?)

Needless to say, it was a perfect storm setting for a huge argument, and I was in rare form. The subject; an article in the New York Times, by Brad Stone and Motoko Rich, “Amazon Removes Macmillan Books.” I am an avid bookworm, reading several books a week, often more than three at any given time, and the only thing I love nearly as much as reading, is Apple. Yes, I mean Apple, as in iPod, iPhone, iMac, and the ultimate iPad. Eagerly anticipating the inevitable purchase of my new iPad, and ecstatic about the news that my Kindle purchases would be readable on the new device, I’d given little thought to e-book prices.

Enter the husband.

He was carrying two pieces of glad news. The first was an explanation of the full moon and the effects on mood, and the second – Did I hear that Macmillan publishing was being pulled from Amazon Kindle sales? Something about the pricing structure, and how this would turn out to be just like the entertainment industry griping with Apple over it’s pricing of movies on iTunes. I admit I was a tad defensive. Steve Jobs, like Albert Einstein, is a genius. Sure, there are fights with Netflix and Sony over pricing and release dates of new movies, but this is literature. What publisher in their right mind doesn’t understand the portion of book sales now attributable to e-book sales? I argued for a few minutes more, and then read the article.

Amazon wants to keep the average book price at $9.99
Macmillan wants to change the average book price to $15.00

Good for Amazon! Pooh on Macmillan.

I read on.

Apple e-book prices will likely be higher than $9.99.
Uh oh.

Then the debate turned heated. Macmillan and other publishing houses price their books based on overhead factors that are not applicable to electronic content. Publishers will see their books drop off bestseller lists if e-book sales are eliminated. Didn’t I just read a Yale law paper explaining that e-book buyers don’t really own the book, but the license to read it. Don’t they understand that in today’s technological age, I pay .99 for a song?! Do they really think consumers will quietly pay more?

I’m sure I was yelling by this time. My husband was stoic and characteristically calm. Did I mention I was annoyed? Looking for some way to validate my well thought out legitimate points, I blurt out, “Ok, I am willing to bet you $400 that one year from today, the average price for an e-book will be no more than $9.99.” He quietly accepted the wager.

A single day later, New York Times writers, Brad Stone and Motoko Rich print another article: “Publisher Wins Fight With Amazon Over E-books”.

Now, I’m beyond annoyed, I’m on a mission.