On bookstores, newspapers and other “Chain” issues…July 20, 2011
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I am one who believes that the “chain” ownership is on its way out and that it is the worst thing that have ever happened to the individual ownership of almost anything. Whether it is a newspaper or a bookstore or even a grocery store, individual ownership has always been driven by the passion, zeal and interest of the owner, the founder, the caretaker. The bottom line was always the owner’s and not the share holders.
I know times have changed, but it seems they have changed for the worst. You visit newsrooms these days and the passion is not there. You visit a chain bookstore and the store is trying to sell you, right from minute you enter the store, the latest tablet or gadget that will take you away from the store and back to the confines of your living room with the rest of the electronic gadgets that you’ve acquired.
Chains are in the business of making profits to their share holders. They are their customers who count, rather than the buyers, users, readers, and viewers who utilize their services. Chains, in their search of the mighty dollar, found out that cutting is a good strategy to increase the profit line for a product rather than investing in that product.
It does not take a genius to look at the chart on the front page of today’s The Wall Street Journal showing the numbers of books (ink on paper books) being sold compared to e-books, to figure out that we are still selling more, much more, ink on paper books than e-books: almost 1.3 billion units compared with less than 200 million units in e-books. And, yes I do see that ink on paper books sales have declined percentage wise, and e-books have increased percentage wise, but keep in mind we are talking percentages, and we all know what folks say about percentages and statistics.
So what gives you may ask? Well, for one when we lose sight of what business we are in, for bookstores, selling books and for newspapers serving the public with the best “what is in it for me” content, the future is of course going to be nothing but gloom and doom. Borders (the chain that is closing its stores) like all the other chains has been promoting online sales with bigger discounts than what you can get in store. Newspaper chains has been cutting staffers all over the chain, regardless of the market and how well that newspaper is doing in one market or the other. All units have to chip in. I guess, chains believe in the motto of going to hell in one basket!
I truly believe we are seeing the beginning of the end of chain ownership and not bookstores or newspapers. Individual entrepreneurs are going to step up and fill the void. Independent bookstores, family owned newspapers, locally invested individuals are going to fill the void left by the dearly departed chains. The time has come. The future is good, no matter how thick the clouds are today. Maybe as the chains vanish one after the other, that passionate, zealous individual will step in and start a new newspaper, a new bookstore, a new magazine for those of us who still consider ourselves customers who count rather than share holders who we are to be accountant to.
As much as I hate to see the demise of a bookstore or a newspaper, I welcome the end of a chain and the future birth of a new independent bookstore or newspaper. The light at the end of the tunnel is not the train coming!