Stacey’s Bookstore Closing, Hand Wringing to Commence

When Kepler’s in Menlo Park announced they were closing there was an uproar and eventually a white knight saved them, and when DeLauer’s in Oakland announced they were closing there was media coverage and eventually a white knight. Today it is Stacey’s in San Francisco and right on schedule, uproar and “how could this happen!”. No white knight yet but I would not be surprised.

Like other independent book sellers, Stacey’s had been hurt over the past decade by the rise of national chains, like Barnes & Noble, and Web-based booksellers, such as The store’s general manager, Tom Allen, said sales had dropped 50 percent since March 2001.

[From Stacey’s Bookstore closing down in S.F.]

The usual arguments are “fabric of a community” and how we are all dumber as a consequence of Amazon and WalMart, along with teary eyed nostalgia for the Victorian quaintness of the corner bookstore. All of it is more than I can bear.

The only reason I go to a bookstore today is for children’s books. The notion of browsing for books is really over-rated, given that I’ve found more interesting books on Amazon using their tools than I ever did walking the aisles. Amazon hasn’t been growing because of cheap prices, it’s their customer experience and shear breadth of product that wins the day.

Lastly, speaking of books, I’ve been meaning to write about Chegg for a while now but just haven’t had the time to dig into it. In a sentence, Chegg is Netflix for textbooks.

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Cobra’s New Radar Detector Makes Adding Speed Trap Updates Easy

This is a good idea but it doesn’t go far enough, it needs a wireless communication capability. Having to carry the unit with you and manually update the database is cumbersome. Incidentally, digital cameras also suffer from not having integrated communication capabilities, it would make sharing digital images so much easier.

Cobra’s jump forward with the XRS 9960G is to isolate the GPS unit on a USB dongle that can be plugged directly into your computer for daily updates to the AURA database. Previous Cobra GPS units were big, dangly things that sat awkwardly on a dash, but the new USB unit is the size of a USB key, turning what was once a cumbersome accessory into a small, easy-to-use convenience.

[From Cobra’s New Radar Detector Makes Adding Speed Trap Updates Easy – Popular Mechanics]

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Newspapers and the Web

You may be wondering why I post so many items about newspapers and the web. Simply put, this is one of the most fascinating business stories of this decade, about how an industry that even today generates a significant percentage of original online content continues to frustrate itself through a reflexive tendency to want to control the medium through which content is delivered to audience.

Shafer’s piece does an admirable job of covering the history up to the web and how newspapers tried and failed over and over to achieve a digital business that represented their existing business model and industry values. I suppose you could make the case that Hollywood has been fighting a similar losing battle and that should be informative to the newspaper industry.

But that’s not the case, and I think I know why: From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

[From How the newspaper industry tried to invent the Web but failed. – By Jack Shafer – Slate Magazine]

In the final equation this is also about how a fragile an industry’s business model can be. What works for newspapers in print doesn’t work to the same contribution level online.

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