[Web4lib] eBooks

Jesse Ephraim jephraim at roanoketexas.com
Tue Mar 8 17:29:09 EST 2011

Speaking of Whole Foods...


Back in the 90s (when I was still a programmer/developer), I worked for
Viant, a website development company that focused on expensive corporate
websites.  I spent 4 months in San Francisco working on the first Whole
Foods website/online store.  Whole Foods put a couple of million into
the development of it, then threw an extremely expensive "launch party"
to celebrate it.  Soon after, one of the executives at the company left,
and his replacement decided he didn't like the website (we were never
told why).  He scrapped it later that year, and hired another company to
build a new one.  Millions and millions of dollars went down the drain.


You are right about the parking lot issue with B&N.  I see a lot of
people in the local ones, but if they aren't buying as much as they used
to, it doesn't really matter (in terms of profitability).


I'm not really sure what else B&N can do at this point, to be honest.
They have been fighting hard to stay alive, and seem to be willing to
change as necessary, but they still appear to be in trouble.  My bet is
that they are going to have to start shutting down more underperforming
stores.  I suspect that they have overbuilt over the last decade.


Jesse Ephraim


Director, Roanoke Public Library

308 S. Walnut

Roanoke, Texas 76262

(817) 491-2691

jephraim at roanoketexas.com



From: Steven E. Patamia, Ph.D. [mailto:patamia at gmail.com] 
Sent: Monday, March 07, 2011 8:43 PM
To: Jesse Ephraim
Cc: web4lib at webjunction.org
Subject: Re: [Web4lib] eBooks




    Thank you for filling me in on the prior history.  Going public is
certainly a survivability crisis of many enterprises.  Emulating a
competitor instead of competing by being distinct is  well correlated
with eventual failure.  My favorite recent example -- and one I have a
lot of contact with -- is  Whole foods.  Going public and acquiring Wild
Oats nearly killed them -- as their stock chart clearly shows.  Even now
CEO John Mackey has not been paying himself more than a dollar a year
just so they could make ends meet (caveat, this might have changed
recently -- there is a lag time in some of my knowledge.)  Even more
intriguing and apropos to you comments about Borders, John has had this
paranoia for some time that WallMart was his existential threat and he
has been playing games with the inventory to compete with them as a low
cost purveyor of organic foods.  Imagine it -- Whole Foods trying to
compete with WallMart by emulating them!  Its unbelievably stupid -- to
me anyway -- and it really hasn't worked all that well in the store I
know the most about (which is one of their top stores).  Anyway, I did
see the variety within topics I was personally interested in decline at
Borders.  Until recently I had no larger perspective to understand the
origins of what was happening.  Thanks for filling in some more of that


But! About B&N...  There is no B&N where I now live so I have not been
able to observe what you report.  I would caution, however, that the
parking lot at the large Borders which is closing near here was usually
also full -- its just that profitability was declining.  I could also
sense some loss of enthusiasm in the customer base, but again, had no
other big box bookseller nearby to compare them too.  Funny aside,
though... I was a severe critic of Borders' coupon campaign.  I hated it
and told them so -- and it sure didn't save them.  That's anecdotal, but
I have to wonder how many less outspoken consumers also hate the
elaborate distracting and convoluted coupon systems that pop up.  The
one at Borders was distinctly inane and I almost never benefited from it


If you find out that B&N really was doing significantly better and can
imagine why, I'd love to hear what you think the reason is.

On Mon, Mar 7, 2011 at 5:14 PM, Jesse Ephraim
<jephraim at roanoketexas.com> wrote:

>It suggested that the real reason Borders was in

>Chapter 11 had mostly to do with the ever plummeting

>level of quality and ever rising sticker price for

>published fiction works.

Borders has been on a severe downward slope since they bought
Waldenbooks and became a publicly traded company in the early 1990s.
They used to have stores that were far superior to their B&N
equivalents.  When the Borders brothers sold the chain, though,
everything devolved rapidly, to the point where they purposely cut the
number of titles in each store down to the level of B&N's.  I was there
to see it happen, and the writing has been on the wall ever since.  I'm
amazed that they have avoided bankruptcy for so long.

To me, the more interesting questions revolve around Barnes & Noble,
especially since I almost always see full parking lots when I drive by

Jesse Ephraim

Director, Roanoke Public Library

308 S. Walnut

Roanoke, Texas 76262

(817) 491-2691

jephraim at roanoketexas.com

From: Steven E. Patamia, Ph.D. [mailto:patamia at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, March 07, 2011 5:16 PM
To: Laura
Cc: Jesse Ephraim; web4lib at webjunction.org

Subject: Re: [Web4lib] eBooks

Yes, Laura has a valid analogy. There is, however, one unsolved problem
in that situation... how do you at least reward the composers and
performers enough for them to justify their creative effort and any
publication expenses?

This is a really interesting problem in desperate search of some
imaginative and fair solution.  It is a problem shared by publishers of
fiction.  I think rich fiction is important and don't mind if others can
make a living at it at levels high enough to be sustaining.  I don't
have the answer... but I think eliminating the publishers as we know
them is, in the end, a very good thing both for society as a whole and
for the many authors who never get exposed because the publishers decide
who will get published. Those decisions, though sometimes not
inconsistent with societal interests, end up making some authors very
wealthy at the expense of everyone else except the publishers.

There was, by the way, an article in the NYT a week or two ago that is
insightful with respect to the final sentences of the foregoing
paragraph.  It suggested that the real reason Borders was in Chapter 11
had mostly to do with the ever plummeting level of quality and ever
rising sticker price for published fiction works.  The argument was that
the big box stores were in thrall to their main publishing suppliers and
that sales in all large book stores were negatively impacted by waning
customer interested in over-sold topics and sequels especially at
inflated prices compelled by publishers.  I think the bookstore problem
is even bigger, but that the point made has validity.   The article
opined that all large bookstores were victims of this phenomenon and
that Borders simply was the first to take the hit.  The key point is
that I am not alone in identifying the publishers and their control as a
bad thing -- apparently not just for readers, but for bookstores as

Hmm... there are no doubt some libertarian leaning readers who want to
trash me right now... if so please have at it.  I expect I can handle

On Mon, Mar 7, 2011 at 3:55 PM, Laura <labedzla at gmail.com> wrote:

It's essentially the same thing that happened to the recording industry
with the advent of the mp3, napster, and ipod.
I'd imagine we'll see a similar outcome. And it won't benefit the
entrenched publishers.
As Justin Timberlake's character said in the Social Network: "We lost in
court, but we still won. Do you want to buy a Tower Records?"


Steven E. Patamia, Ph.D., J.D.
Personal Cell: (352) 219-6592

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