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Farewell, Borders June 5, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary, Technology.
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I had been wanting to write about this ever since news broke a few days ago but for whatever reason held off — maybe hoping that it wasn’t true or that it was a mistaken report.

Oh well.  There’s no use denying it anymore.  The last remaining nine Borders bookstores across Australia will close down over the next six to eight weeks.  The fate of the Angus & Robertson chain, also owned by the in-administration REDgroup, remains uncertain at this point.  The only good news is that its online bookstores will remain open.

I still remember the first time Borders opened up in Australia years and years ago.  I loved them.  They had the broadest range of books and I could spent literally hours and hours browsing from one end of the store the other.  It was perfect for people with short attention spans like me, who just want to read the back cover, maybe read a few pages, and move on if it doesn’t interest me.

When I was living in Cambridge (which had all the big booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmith, Heffers, etc), I pretty much camped out at Borders.  Nothing to do?  Let’s go to Borders and read all afternoon!  Books, comics, manga, magazines, whatever.  It was better than any library.

But that was the problem.  People loved to browse Borders but not buy from them because their books were so bloody expensive, particularly in Australia (I’ll get to that in a sec).  If they were on super duper special, then maybe, you’d consider buying a book or two, but everybody knew that Borders was a place where you went to do your research, not the place you’d ultimately purchase the books from.

These days, especially, it’s all online.  Not just e-books but also paper books from places such as The Book Depository and Amazon.  Yes, if all things were equal, Australian consumers would no doubt want to purchase locally — but when prices were, excluding GST, 35% higher, or in many cases, 50% higher, financial considerations always trumped loyalty.

No wonder Borders struggled so much.  The stores tended to be in areas where the rent was ridiculous.  They required loads of staff and the wide range meant stacks of inventory.  Without competitive prices, they really had no chance.

Interestingly, the online chatter that has come out of the closures have been similar to my sentiments.  Most bemoan the loss of a terrific place to ‘browse’ books, but not much more than that.  Some were even glad that these evil big book chains which bully the independent booksellers have gotten their comeuppance.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the publishing industry?  If supposedly mighty bookchains such as Borders are collapsing, it makes me wonder what the future holds for other chains such as Angus & Robertson and Dymocks, and to a lesser extent, Kinokuniya.

Is it finally time for the parallel importing restrictions to be lifted?  For those who don’t know, Australia has in place restrictions intended to protect local publishers and writers.  If an Australian holder of publishing rights to a particular title decides to publish it within 30 days of the book becoming available elsewhere in the world, then Australian booksellers are prohibited from importing the title from overseas.

A Productivity Commission report in 2009 recommended that these restrictions be lifted, partly because the bulk of the benefits stemming from the restrictions flowed to offshore publishers and authors, rather than local ones.  The recommendation was never acted upon because of campaigns from domestic publishers and authors, who also have very valid arguments.  Opening the already fragile Australian book industry to the rest of the world has potentially frightening consequences for everyone.

No easy answers, unfortunately.  I just hope the remaining bookchains in Australia have enough support to keep battling on.

Farewell, Borders.

E-books make me read more March 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Study.
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7 comments

About 12 months ago, I was a staunch opponent of e-books and e-readers.  Nothing against the people that read or purchased e-books — I just didn’t think I could do it because I didn’t like looking at a computer screen and I preferred the sensory pleasures of a real book made of paper.

Towards the end of last year, I got an iPad for a present.  An Apple product for a guy who never bought Apple products.  It wasn’t the first time.  I had received iPods and an Apple TV as gifts on previous occasions.

Over the months, I slowly became an Apple convert.  Well, I should say iPad convert.  I loved using it wherever I went.  Mostly playing the plethora of games available for free and at bargain prices, but also to send and receive emails, to surf the net, the watch and listen to live NBA games and to write blog posts.

Naturally, I also downloaded stacks free classic books (from Project Gutenberg) for the iBooks app and also downloaded the Kobo (which is owned by Borders) and Amazon (for the Kindle) apps — just in case.

Recently, I started using the iPad to read books.  The first was Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner (review here), which I needed to read for class.  The hard copies were all out on loan at the university library, and I was about to fly out to China.  I decided to purchase the e-book version for around $11 (with Kobo, which was cheaper than iBooks, but my Amazon account stuffed up so dunno if it’s the cheapest).

And you know what?  It was surprisingly easy to read and use.  I toned down the light, which helped, and maybe it’s because my eyes have become accustomed to the iPad, but it didn’t strain my retina at all.  I breezed through the book in record time, and I have since moved onto my second book, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.  It’s a bloody long book, but I’m smashing it.

Come to think of it, the iPad is making me read more than I ever have.  Books in particular, but I’m also reading a lot more articles (online and in PDF), news, short stories (on my Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe app and Ghost Stories app) and manga (on my manga reader app).

Perhaps it’s because it’s the iPad, so I feel like I’m not really reading, I’m having fun.  Another reason is because the format is very reader friendly — you can enlarge the font, and the formatting is not the same as traditional books as new paragraphs are double spaced, so pages are extremely short and it makes you feel like you are making tremendous progress.  For me, the biggest momentum killer is feeling like I’ve been reading forever and I’ve only progressed a page or two.  With the e-reading apps, I get the illusion that I’m flying through it.

Maybe it’s also because I carry it around with me, so whenever I get a spare minute, I pull it out and do a bit of reading.  I could be stuck in traffic, or on the treadmill, or brushing my teeth, or eating lunch.  When you combine all those tiny blocks of time when you’re not doing anything, it actually adds up to quite a bit.

I’m loving it.

Any iPad or Kindle or Kobo or other e-reader owners out there having the same experience?

Maybe I was wrong about e-books August 15, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Technology.
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1 comment so far

Admittedly, I have not been the biggest e-book supporter out there.  I like the look, feel and smell of a real book, made out of paper, in my hands.  I’m not crazy about the idea of purchasing “intangible books” from the Internet because I feel like I should get getting stuff like that for free!

Having said that, I am starting to see a lot more people out there with Kindles and in particular i-Pads on the streets, reading e-books.  I tried it out a couple of times myself at some electronic stores.  And no, it’s not the same — but maybe someday I could get used to it.

A friend of mine recently alerted me to a couple of articles which indicate that e-books are on the rise.  First, this depressing article from Crikey about how two of Australia’s biggest book retailers, Borders and Angus & Robertson, are struggling to stay afloat.  Book orderings are now made very cautiously, and in very small quantities.  If you thought it was hard to get on shelves before, it’s now harder than ever.

Secondly, this article by Michael Wolf entitled “How e-Books Won the War”.  I wouldn’t exactly go that far myself (there’s still some life in the old hardcopy I reckon), but things are starting to look up for e-books and down for traditional books.  Stieg Larsson has become the first million e-book author, and Kindle prices are set to drop below $100, possibly as early as Christmas.  Barnes & Noble, the massive US book retailer, is in strife as well.

Have I been wrong about e-books?  Are they really going to take over the world, and at a quicker pace than any of us could have anticipated?

Apple’s iPad bullies Amazon’s Kindle, rips off consumers February 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Technology.
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3 comments

Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPad

[Thanks to my blogger friend at inspired worlds who brought this to my attention.]

Looks like Apple is being a market bully again at the expense of consumers.  Check it out.  You don’t have to be an anti-trust lawyer to smell something fishy here.

On 29 January 2010, books from publisher Macmillan started vanishing from Amazon.  Apparently, Macmillan was unhappy with the US$9.99 price tag for the majority of the NY Times Bestseller e-books for Amazon’s Kindle (e-book reader), and wanted to raise the price to US$12.99-US$14.99.  That’s the price at which e-books will be sold for on Apple’s iPad, which is also an e-book reader and Kindle’s main competitor in the market.

Even though both the iPad and Kindle have their own proprietary formats, Kindle will bring out a ‘Kindle for iPad’ application which will effectively allow people to buy e-books from Amazon (rather than Apple) and read them on the iPad.  If you own or intend to own an iPad, you must be thinking – why would I pay $14.99 per e-book from Apple when I can get them for 33% cheaper at Amazon?

Well, it looks like you can’t.  Not anymore.

(Click on ‘more…’ to read the rest of this post)

(more…)

Electronic Books on the Rise? May 11, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Technology.
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There was a time when I thought I'd never be able to use one of these

There was a time when I thought I'd never be able to use one of these

Like many other people, I haven’t been a big fan of the electronic book (e-book).  You know, those little hand-held devices where you read the book on the screen.

One of the major players on the market is of course Amazon, and they’ve developed the ‘Kindle’, which is a hardware and software platform for reading e-books.  I must confess, until a couple of days ago I had never even heard of Kindle (perhaps I was just out of touch), and for the most part I believed e-books wouldn’t be too successful, or at least would take many years before being accepted as a genuine alternative for the old-fashioned paper book.

And so I was shocked when a friend sent me this article which says that when Kindle versions of books are available on Amazon, Kindle sales make up 35% of sales.  In other words, roughly 1 in 3 would buy the Kindle (ie e-book) version of a book rather than the hard copy version where Kindle is available.  Apparently, this is a huge jump because back in February (when ‘Kindle 2’ first went on sale) it was only around 13% of sales.

That’s a big surprise to me.  Maybe people are getting used to reading things on the screen.  Personally, I had been pretty prejudicial towards e-books, even though they look kinda cool (as they are made to look like books).

My main problem with e-books is the strain on the eyes.  Regardless of whether I’m working or studying, I have to sit in front of a computer for long hours almost every day.  Back when I was working I used to always prefer to print things out and read them on paper.  Environmental considerations aside, it was just easier.  Thank goodness I got laser-eye correction because when I used to wear contacts it would dry my eyes out severely.  I’d look like a red-eyed demon after a couple of late nights.  The last thing I would have wanted before or after a long day in front of the monitor is to read a book on an even smaller screen.

The second issue relates a view which I’m sure many others share – that is, I prefer to feel the paper in my hands.  The crisp sensation and smell of a brand new book has always been a part of the appeal.  But perhaps we just need to get used to e-books.  If e-books became widespread, think of all the paper we would save, the space we would save – not to mention how light it would be to carry around literally hundreds of books at the same time (I’ll no longer be restricted to 1 or 2 books on a long holiday!).  It also opens up other possibilities, like mixing moving artworks with literature, hyperlinks that can quickly guide us to other relevant information or sources.  Needless to say though, there will undoubtedly be a plethora of other less exciting issues, such as compatibility with other devices, copyright problems, piracy, pricing, just to name a few.

There was a time when I thought I’d never get used to reading lengthy documents on a screen, but after finding out how expensive printing is at the university over here, I’ve had to force myself to read on the laptop all year.  And gradually, I got used to it.  Maybe it’s not that bad after all.  That being said, I just bought a printer (for exam purposes!) – but I have to now go out and buy the USB cord to connect it to my computer.  Stupid HP!  What type of company sells a printer without including the critical USB cable?  What a scam.

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