In case you haven’t heard, Border’s has filed for bankruptcy.
It’s hardly a surprise, really. I used to work at a Waldenbooks store, which later got folded into Borders, and it was replaced with an underwear shop 2 years ago. It’s not like we shouldn’t have seen this coming. The top selling/wishlisted item on Amazon is the Kindle. The iPhone/iPod/iPad are ubiquitous. The problem doesn’t lie with e-readers though, as much as the media would like you to think. The problem lies with the retailers and publishing houses themselves. They have lost touch with the consumer. They have failed to keep up with how readers actually want to buy and read books, and what type of books they’re buying. The market is so flooded with drivel that it’s no wonder something like this hasn’t happened sooner.
Now, one of the giant super-chain booksellers is nearing extinction, and the public response is of sadness and loss. That same public is snatching up products at Border’s liquidation sales, lamenting the death of another brick-and-mortar while, in the same breath, comparing prices to Amazon on their iPhones. But budget-conscious consumers aren’t totally to blame.
The publishing houses have failed to evolve. No one wants to pay $30 for a hardcover anymore. Harry Potter was a fantastic phenomenon, but likely impossible to reproduce. The recession has educated people in the power of patience; if you just wait a little while, what you want to buy now won’t cost as much later. DVDs soon end up in $5 bargain bins, and paperback versions of the latest and greatest are available within a year. Even Wal-Mart has a sizable book selection available, good luck competing with that monster.
Part of Borders’ problem was the failure to recognize the growing eBook trend. They were slow to start an online storefront (even linking their own online store to Amazon for a time!), and slow to market on eBooks and e-readers. Now Amazon is available on every device and people can read their Kindle collection with whatever gadget is in their pocket. Sadly, even the fledging eBook industries are d00med. They may be the future of publishing, but not as they are now. These companies are relying on old business strategies. Without the production of physical copies, artists and authors should be making a much bigger return on their work. Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks give the author such a small cut, that it’s unlikely they will continue to flourish. Not with companies like eBookling on the up-and-coming. Creators of content have woken up and realized they don’t need gatekeepers anymore. With today’s technology, anyone can be published-without the middleman.
Book publishers need to understand what the consumer wants.
- We want books fast, whether that’s an instant-delivery eBook or mach 3 shipping speeds of a physical product. In the age of instant information on the Internet, this is the reality.
- Play to the strengths of the book as a medium. Again, you’re dealing with minds that are hard-wired by the Internet for instant gratification. Information can be found faster than ever, and booksellers need to deal with this fact. The Internet offers answers to common questions and needs. Long-form writing needs to be niche-focused. If people want to delve deeper, that’s where they’ll turn.
- You have to compete with video games and movies. These mediums are social in nature. Find a way to make reading a social experience again. Encourage lending and sharing of eBooks.
- Physical media is dying. People have realized that having less stuff gives them more freedom. People are also opposed to the death of more trees to print another Twilight wannabe copycat. The music industry has embraced digitized media, and the movie and video game industries are working toward that direction.
- Lastly, and most importantly, consumers want quality. With so many books on the market currently, and millions (billions?) of already published work existing in the world, we don’t need more crap.
Like it or not, digital distribution is the future. As resources continue to dwindle, and technology continues to grow, physical copies and physical stores will die. Every reader finds comfort in the printed word; I love the feeling of cracking open a new book. But is it worth risking the future of our water supply?
These are all hard things to deal with. One of the oldest industries needs to die or reinvent itself, and the consumer will have to adapt. I don’t think we’re in danger of a Bradbury-esque future a la Fahrenheit 451, books aren’t going to cease to be as a medium. The form of that medium will just shape-shift, along with the culture which surrounds it. Everyone involved; authors, publishers, retailers, and readers will be responsible for the form the medium inevitably assumes.
Thoughts on the future of the book? Tell me on Twitter or in the comments. Like what you’ve just read? Why not share with your friends by clicking the Retweet or Facebook ‘Like’ buttons? I’d really appreciate it!
Do you have a prized possession? Something that’s incredibly special to you, possibly irreplaceable? Something that you would be devastated if anything happened to it?
I’m beginning to wonder if prized possessions still exist in our age. At a time when everything is so easily replaceable, do we really value our things as we once might have? Even that so-called one of a kind cuckoo clock from your great-great-grandmother could probably be replaced if you spent enough time searching on eBay. Things that come from a special place aren’t important anymore. Those wine glasses you bought in Paris; you could have ordered them without ever leaving your home, and they were probably made in China anyway. Our world lacks authenticity.
If you had to flee your home, what is the one thing you would save?
- A handwritten note or journal? -This should be scanned and backed up in the cloud.
- Your laptop? -Why aren’t you backing up your data offsite?
- Wallet/ID/Passport?-An annoyance to lose, but replaced easily enough.
- Autographed ‘X’- It’s just a dude’s name, it probably isn’t even legible.
- Photos- I’m not even going to bother. If you haven’t created a digitized version of photos by now, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Clearly I’m excluding “friends/family/pets” from this list. Possessing a person is only cool if you’re a ghost, and then it’s just creepy.
I’m beginning to think that our most prized possessions may not be physical objects at all. Instead, the intangible has become more important to us. These things are harder to replace if something happens to them. We may not be able to hold them, but we probably wouldn’t want to live without them.
- The data on your laptop/phone
- Your identity
Maybe Ev Bogue is right; humans are evolving and our mental tools are more important to us now than our physical tools. Maybe I’m acting a bit too hippie-lovey-dovey-sentimental. Maybe I’ve lost touch with society’s reality because “things” and “stuff” don’t have the hold on me they once did. Becoming minimalist does that to you. If you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you that.
I’d love to hear what you think, o’ dear reader. Do you have prized possessions? Tell me your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments. If you like what you’ve just read, I’d appreciate it if you told your friends about it by clicking the Facebook ‘like’ or Retweet buttons.
Airlines are insane. For anyone who has traveled recently, you know that they’ll charge you for anything-it’s getting ridiculous. One easy fee to avoid is for checked baggage. The fees for checking luggage are only going to continue going up as the price of fuel rises. You can avoid these hassles, and stick it to the man by not bringing as much luggage as the average traveler. For the past 2 years now, I’ve gone on extended trips to Europe without checking luggage. My trips have lasted over a month and I traveled through a variety of climates, but I only brought one small carry-on of clothing. I did take a small messenger bag for use during the day, but it only held my camera and sketchbook. This year, I plan on doing the whole trip from one single backpack. If you want to travel light, follow these simple tips, then walk smartly and smugly through the airport and chuckle to yourself at the masses lugging around their ginormous bags.
- Gather everything you want to bring and lay it out on the floor or your bed. Now cut the pile in half-you don’t need that stuff. I like to follow this simple rule: “You pack the same amount for a long weekend as you do for a month long trip.
- Go through what’s left and pick out the “what if” items. I’m going to just tell you outright-you’re not going to need them.
- Cut out extraneous hygiene products. Don’t bring soap and shampoo-the stuff at the hotel is probably better than the kind you use at home anyway. Plus, you don’t want to sacrifice precious carry on liquid space; all liquids have to fit in a small quart sized bag.
- Review the pile again, you should be pretty light by now. Now cut the pile in half again. Seriously, you’re going to be so much happier if you don’t have to lug that stuff around and consequently, worry about something happening to it.
- Expect to do laundry. Especially if you’re traveling for more than 2 weeks. You can’t expect to bring a month’s worth of outfits and not get a hernia or something. Bring dry laundry soap or buy it when you get there and wash your clothes in the bathtub or sink. Wring them out, then roll them up in a towel and walk on the towel. This squeezes a good deal of the moisture out and your clothes will be dry by morning. A mesh bag (I use a camping dish washing dunk bag) for stuff that is still damp is handy. Remember: you pack the same amount for a long weekend as you do for a month long trip.
- This is a brain-dead tip, but bring items that have more than one use. Shoes are a typical offender here. Leave your sneakers at home and wear nicer leather shoes that will be comfortable during the day, and can be worn with dress clothes if needed. Sperry Topsiders are perfect for this, or leather oxfords in general. (Also a great opportunity to develop that awesome well-traveled patina on your shoes during your adventures!)
- Dress nicer than usual. Don’t look like a fucking slob. If you’re abroad, you’re representing your home country whether you like it or not. And it goes without saying, but dress in light layers so that you can adapt to temperature changes.
- No matter where you’re going, the shops sell soap, toothpaste, batteries, shaving cream, umbrellas, and sunscreen.
- Take a small backpack or messenger bag that you can pack inside your carry on. This will be your day pack, so while your carry on is locked at the hotel/hostel, you are free to enjoy your day. I recommend the sling-type bags that hug close to the body. It is less likely that someone will be able to pick-pocket you if your bag is touching your body. Just remember that your bag can be slit by a knife, so keep important stuff in the deepest location. And always choose a bag with a zipper. When you’re on the train or in a crowded place, put your bag in front of your body. Also, museums will usually allow you to carry your bag inside if you can carry it in front (they don’t want bulging backpacks knocking over priceless statues!) so you can save time by not visiting the coat check.
- Use cash whenever possible, but don’t pack a bunch to start. Don’t expect to rely on your credit cards. Italy and Spain were mostly cash only, except for the big cities, but this is improving all the time. I usually pack a handful of the local currency to take care of stuff like train fare, bathrooms (yes, you will probably have to pay for the bathrooms), and other small incidentals. Once you’re actually there, use an ATM to withdraw a good sum of cash. You’ll get the best exchange rate from an ATM, but they charge a fee for withdrawals so get enough to get you through the week at least. If you make a bunch of tiny withdrawals you’ll drain your account with fees. (Side note: try to use exact change when possible.)
- Be smart, avoid people on the street offering free stuff. It most likely isn’t free. For example, you’ll run into little girls that try to tie bracelets on your wrists and expect money for them. Be wary of fortune tellers outside touristy places, just kinda say no thank you. Another tactic is the little child asking “Speak English?” They then hand you a card with a sad story about how their family is sick or dead and they need money. While you’re distracted, their accomplice is robbing you blind.
- Use public transportation. Most larger cities in Europe especially have excellent public transportation. Take advantage of it.
- In more touristy cities, you’ll be fine with just English for the most part. This is kinda sad actually, I want to practice my foreign languages, but often people you meet will want to practice their English! Either way, knowing a few basic phrases will at least get a smile and make your life easier. (See: “Yes,” “No,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” “Sorry,” “Where is the toilet?”)
- Courtesy and kindness go a long way. You’d be surprised.
- Don’t bother with guidebooks. These are antiquated and heavy relics. Scan a couple pages if you want and leave the book at home. You can print or save PDFs on your phone. There are now Lonely Planet travel guides for iOS devices that are really nice. Don’t bother buying maps either as you can get them for free at the desk where you’re staying.
- Try to learn something. Everyone does the boring beach vacations. You’re packing light so you can have adventures and new experiences. Try learning something new while you’re there. Better yet, do research on a building, city, or museum before you travel so that you’ll appreciate it more once you’re there.
- Keep a journal. Often times, we want to see so much at a new place that it quickly becomes a blur. You take photos thinking you’ll remember important events, but when you get home you’ll have no idea why you took certain photos. Keeping a journal is a relaxing way to help you reflect and remember your adventures better. 30 years from now that journal of your travels will be priceless to you.
- Take photos, but don’t live in your camera. You’re on this trip to experience new things and have adventures, use your own eyes to do it.
- Use your room for sleep. You didn’t come all this way to hang out in the hotel/hostel all day. Get out there and start walking around. Don’t buy beer and bring it back to the hotel to chill at night, go out and experience the night life. Absorb yourself in the culture. Stop being afraid. In the same vein, don’t eat at chain restaurants.
- Lock your passport in the hotel/hostel. There is some disagreement with this one, but I figure that I’m far less likely to have my passport stolen/lost/forgotten if it’s locked up with my main bag. If that does happen, don’t freak out (okay, maybe a little). Before you leave, scan a copy of your passport and leave it with your family back home or email it to yourself (or use Dropbox). You can use this to get a new passport with the embassy.
- Take a break from the internet. It’s cool to check in with your family and friends back home with a quick “I made it, I’m alive” email, but other than that you should unplug and be out and about. This is a perfect opportunity to take the ever-popular digital sabbatical. Your tweets and RSS feeds will wait for you. That hot stranger or rockin’ party won’t.
Hopefully these tips will be useful to you. I realize I went a bit beyond the scope of just packing light, but I think some people will find my advice helpful. I just want others to have the experience of traveling lightly so they can enjoy themselves and have awesome adventures. Remember to keep an open mind and accept that things will be different than what you’re used to. Breaking out of your comfort zone is the whole point.
At some point later in the week, I was coming home late at night, exhausted from another massive work session, and I was surprised to see a man passed out in the hallway of my apartment, using a bag of Doritos as a pillow. It’s an exterior hallway, and even though it has doors, it just basically blocks the wind and is usually pretty cold. I felt really bad for this guy, especially since it was the coldest day of that week. I didn’t know if he was another tenant, or if he was homeless, or just someone who had stumbled inside drunk from the bars downtown. I didn’t care though, I felt I had to do something. So I took a few blankets out and covered him up. I figured it was the least I could do. I left a little note beside him saying which apartment the blankets were from, in the hopes that he’d fold them and leave them by the door in the morning. Well, the next morning, he was gone, the Doritos were gone, and the blankets were gone. I guess he needed them more than me. That’s okay.
It really made me think, and although it was kind of sad, it has reminded me to be grateful for everything I have. As you crawl into your warm bed tonight, think about everything you’re grateful for. If you’re able to read this post right now, and you’re generally healthy, you’re better off than a lot of people on this planet.
Rather than thinking about how much your job/school sucks, how you wish you had more money/sex/vacation time, instead, focus on gratitude and appreciation. I’ve been doing that, and it has totally turned my outlook around. I remember that I have things to look forward to, and to take pleasure in the simple things like friends and family, a simply cooked meal, or a nice cold beer. I know it sounds cheesy, but work can be much more enjoyable if you go at it with a positive attitude.
Sometimes you just need to put things in perspective.
Okay, I’ll stop leading you on now. I was able to give myself 3 extra hours a week simply by taking the bus everyday. It’s so nice to just sit back and let someone else drive you around! Think of it as sharing a chauffeur with a city block. :)
My daily commute is only about 3 miles so I normally ride my bike. Lately it’s been way too cold and icy though, so rather than driving, I started taking advantage of the bus system. It takes a bit of planning to make it work. For example, by car it would take me 6 or 7 minutes depending on traffic. By bus it takes 20 minutes. So I have to get up just a little earlier and plan ahead a little bit. But man, oh man, is it worth it. I didn’t realize just how much driving was contributing to my stress levels in the past. And by not buying a parking pass, I’ve deliberately saved myself hundreds of dollars on gas, maintenance, and the parking pass itself. And I never have to deal with
Most people despise public transportation, I get it. Sometimes it might be stinky or you run into a weirdo or seven. (Sometimes that makes it interesting!) But consider giving yourself the gift of time and take the bus or train. You’ll also be giving a gift to the planet of one less car’s-worth of carbon emissions. </eco soap box>
As much as I’m looking forward to spring-time weather and hopping back on the bike, I think I’ll miss greeting the bus driver every morning.