Published January 04 2013
Local book store weathering the e-volution
Stacks and boxes of used literature in a wide assortment of genres, colors and sizes fill the store at 1200 1st Ave. N. wall to wall.
Visiting B.D.S. is about as real as a book experience can get. It even smells like books inside.
Brad Stephenson, who owns the store with his wife, Christine, sells the real, paper McCoy – not digital files downloaded from cyberspace.
“In the business, we don’t like to call them e-books,” he said. “They’re not books. They’re not books. Books are bound pieces of paper.”
Even as tablet computers and e-readers proliferate, the traditional, locally owned bookstore still has a place in Fargo-Moorhead. And Stephenson said he believes his store is viable for the long term.
“It better be. This is the only way I make money,” he said with a laugh. “There’s lots of stuff here that isn’t on (an) e-book. I mean this whole half of the store is nonfiction, which you’re not going to find on an e-publication.
“It hasn’t been digitalized. And besides that, (there are) pictures and graphs and formula and maps and all that stuff that people want to see.”
There’s no denying the momentum of the e-reader, though. Sales of the Barnes & Noble Nook e-readers/
tablets over Thanksgiving weekend doubled from a similar period in 2011, according to a Dec. 17, 2012, New York Times article. And the Monday after Thanksgiving was online retailer Amazon.com’s biggest day ever for sales of its Kindle devices, according to a release from the company. There’s also the Kobo, an e-reader that was designed for independent bookstores.
Stephenson has seen the effect of digital devices on sales of romance and mystery sales, which are popular with women.
“You could see it right after Christmas last year,” he said. His store used to sell work by romance writer Nora Roberts almost every day.
“After Christmas, she dropped off – I could go a couple of months without selling a Nora Roberts book,” Stephenson said.
He said women “come in here literally with their trunk full of romances, and say, ‘Buy these. I don’t need them anymore. I’ve got a Nook or a Kindle’ – words that I don’t even like to say. They burn my tongue.”
Despite being hurt by
e-readers, the good news for Stephenson is that his business is still doing fine.
“I haven’t really seen a significant drop in overall sales,” he said, though he added that if the mysteries and romances were still what they were, he’d be doing better.
Stephenson believes the
e-reader has its place. For people with eye problems or for travelers who want to do a lot of periodical reading, he thinks they make good sense. But for the most part, he thinks he can make a pretty strong case for a good, old paper-and-ink book.
He sees issues of transferability with e-books.
“People have said you can share the e-publications somehow. I don’t know,” Stephenson said. “With books, you just give mom a bag of books (and) say, ‘Here mom, when you’re done with them, pass them on to my sister.’ ”
And if you drop a book in the lake while you’re fishing, it’s no big deal, unlike with an e-reader.
There are also aesthetic issues.
“If you get a nice, old one, you put a piece of ribbon around it, a little baby’s breath, and you can make a display out of it,” he said. “You can’t do that with an
e-reader. They’re not that pretty.”
And that’s not all.
“How do you sign one and give it as a gift?” he said. “Signing it from grandma to the granddaughter. How do you do that with an e-reader? There’s all of those kinds of things.”
Greg Danz co-owns book and variety store Zandbroz Variety on Broadway with his wife, Renee, and brother Jeff. Like Stephenson, Danz has an affinity for the physical book.
“I think something is lost with actually holding the book, the weight of the book, the words on the page,” he said, “and, again, a lot of this is romance, but I just think it slows you down to a degree. You’re thinking more about what you’re reading, those types of things.”
Despite the growth of
e-publishing, the paper book is serving Danz well.
“The last two years we’ve sold more books than ever,” he said. “That’s a good sign.”
Zandbroz doesn’t sell electronic books, and Danz doesn’t see the business heading there. He said the profit margin isn’t there for his small bookstore. Plus, he’s a cheerleader for ink-and-paper.
“I want to be a preacher for the book itself,” he said. “I think there’s a place for
e-books, I’m not saying there isn’t, but I think that by-and-large … the physical book is still the better format.”
Booksellers affected by digitized literature. Publishers also have a large stake in where the market goes.
Alan Davis, editor and co-director of Moorhead-based New Rivers Press, doesn’t see e-publishing as a positive or a negative.
“We see it as a reality,” he said.
New Rivers is a not-for-profit publisher that operates on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead. All of its non-poetry paper books are also put out as e-publications, and the business is working on an e-book-only series.
E-publication offers certain advantages for New Rivers. Author manuscripts can be submitted as e-documents, cutting down on the need for storage and handling. It also means less recycling.
Davis said e-publishing is less expensive, and New Rivers doesn’t need to worry about storing e-books or trying to figure out how many copies of a book to order in advance.
“It’s giving us some new avenues to explore,” he said.
But New Rivers Press’s electronic publication efforts are still in the early stages.
“It hasn’t shifted into the profit part yet,” said Suzzanne Kelley, New Rivers managing editor and co-director. “We’re seeing action, and we’re getting sells that way, but getting books converted, that hasn’t paid off quite yet. We’re hopeful.”
Both Kelley and Davis own Kindles and enjoy the
e-reader and the traditional reading experience. Davis finds the e-reader especially good for traveling, and it allows him to read at night without turning on a light.
“I do have questions,” he said. “But there’s no point in pretending it’s not a technology that’s helping more people read more.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734