A Kindle Store at Your Local Mall?

Amazon office building in Seattle

Your local mall might be getting a new tenant — a Kindle Store, filled with Kindles, accessories and the most popular books in print (including books published exclusively by Amazon). At least, that’s the new rumor which found its way to Publisher’s Weekly.

On their Twitter feed, the industry magazine shared the juicy headline (from a story by the Financial Post). “Is Amazon bringing a bookstore to a mall near you?” it asks, citing a report from the blog “Good E-Reader.” Within the next few months, according to the story, Amazon will try opening a real-world store to sell books and Kindles in Seattle, as “a test to gauge the market and see if a chain of stores would be profitable”! They cite multiple sources at Amazon “close to the situation,” and predict the store will open before next Christmas, and maybe even towards the fall, when Amazon officially launches their own line of books, or when Amazon releases the next version of their Kindle Fire tablet.

My first thought was: Maybe it’s because of the Kindle. Maybe ebooks have become so popular that Amazon now needs a new way to get rid of all their printed books! But then I remembered a bitter fight that Amazon’s been having with Barnes and Noble. Amazon announced they’d start publishing their own line of printed books, and then Barnes and Noble announced that they wouldn’t sell them! And they’re not the only bookstore planning to freeze out Amazon’s books, according to a columnist at Publisher’s Weekly. “I asked a number of independent booksellers in my beat (the South) whether they’d be stocking Amazon-published books. Answers ranged from ‘No’ to ‘Hell, no.’ ”

It’s an interesting column, because it points out that Barnes and Noble acquired a publishing house of their own in 2003 — after which other big book-sellers (including Borders and Costco) announced they’d
they stop carrying books from that publisher. “It’s easy to forget, in the age of monolithic publishing houses and ubiquitous big-box retailers, that the bookstore-as-publisher tradition goes way back – as pointed out in a recent Salon article, Shakespeare & Company published Ulysses, and City Lights published Howl.” But it still feels like an aggressive move, with Amazon launching both a publishing house for print books and a line of stores for selling them.

Of course, their real target may be Apple. Maybe Amazon’s decided they need their own stores at the mall where people can buy a Kindle Fire tablet, to keep competing with Apple’s iPad. Maybe Amazon wants to be able to offer same-day customer support, where you can bring in a defective Kindle, and receive a replacement Kindle the same day! And in the long-run, Amazon can keep benefiting from any new customers that their stores would bring in. After all, once a customer buys a Kindle, they’ll start buying all of their ebooks from Amazon!

It’s stories like this convince me that our world is changing — and fast! Last year, we were debating whether Amazon would destroy local bookstores. Now instead, we’re wondering whether Amazon will become our local bookstore!

Larry McMurtry Challenges Amazon’s CEO

Image courtesy of The Dallas Observer

Larry McMurtry has a question: “Will Amazon kill the book?” At least, that’s the headline for a new article that he’s written for this month’s issue of Harper’s magazine. The 75-year-old author provides a very thoughtful answer, looking for historical precedents to the rise of Amazon. But I also learned that besides being famous — Larry McMurtry also owns a bookstore!

“My own bookshop, Booked Up Inc., consists of four buildings and about 400,000 books,” he explains in the article — establishing his credentials for weighing in on the future of publishing. The store sells mostly used books, and he reports that since the dawn of the ebook, he’s actually seen an increase in orders from overseas. “Of course it’s not all roses for traditional booksellers now, and in part the downturn is due to the digital revolution. We have bought the stocks of some 26 booksellers, but it wasn’t just the e-book that caused these shops to die, it was a withering of generations.

“The owners of these shops had no one to pass them on to…”

McMurtry himself is the son of a Texas rancher, so he’s seen first-hand how the world can change. In 1986, McMurtry even won a Pulitzer Prize for his historical novel about cattle drivers — Lonesome Dove — and he’s also been involved in several Oscar-winning movies. (He wrote the novel Terms of Endearment in 1975, and co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.) But for his article in Harper’s, he casts a skeptical eye on the claim that the death of the book is inevitable. “The culture has surged in the direction of e-books, but the surge might not go on forever,” he writes. “It might be a bubble; history grinds slowly, and despite impressive sales of the Kindle, it seems to me a bit too early for Bezos to gloat.”

McMurtry is reviewing a new book about Amazon’s CEO, called One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com. He writes sardonically that “There were rivalries, failures, and leadership crises, and Amazon is now one of the largest book suppliers in the world.” But it takes a certain amount of ego to run a $40-billion-a-year corporation, and McMurtry wonders if bookstore owners recognize something that’s being overlooked by Amazon’s CEO. “He is so accustomed to the very vastness of his own empire — 850,000-square-foot distribution centers — that he may not see the tenacity of our appetite for variety: for good books of all formats, including old-fashioned ones.”

I thought McMurtry’s assessment of Bezos was ultimately pretty fair — and it was grounded in a real sense of history. He reports that like Henry Ford, Bezos “had a single culture-changing idea that they executed doggedly until the culture came round.” And he applauds Amazon for the way that they’ve already revolutionized the purchasing of printed books. “Bezos is a farsighted merchant whose company provides an excellent service,” McMurtry writes. “Want a book? Use Amazon and you can have it the next day. Such literary expeditiousness has never existed before and all readers should be grateful that it’s here.”

But McMurtry also notes that despite the popularity of the Kindle, printed books are still competitive, and he considers the position of Amazon’s CEO to be “less attractive”. “He has pointed out that the traditional book has had a 500-year run; he clearly thinks its time for these relics to sort of shuffle offstage. Then he will no longer be bothered with old-timey objects that have the temerity to flop open and cause one to lose one’s place.”

I know that I don’t know, for sure, what’s going to happen in the future. But I do know that something big is going on, and it’s fun to watch writers — and corporations — as they try to make sense of these changes. So I enjoyed reading what Larry McMurtry had to say — especially knowing that it comes from a man who’s owned a bookstore for more than 40 years.

“Jeff Bezos and his colleagues are free to make and sell as many Kindles as they can, but Bezos shouldn’t be persuaded that our Gutenberg days are over, at least not from where I sit. One thing we offer that he can’t is serendipity — a book browser’s serendipity, the thrill of the accidental find.

“Stirring the curiosity of readers is a vital part of bookselling; skimming a few strange pages is surely as important as making one click.”

Jon Stewart Mocks Bookstores

Jon Stewart shouts over The Daily Show logo

A very funny skit just aired on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Returning from a commercial break, Stewart switched to a cultural news story — the demise of Borders bookstores — in a knowing, affectionate segment with a contrary look at writers and book-sellers.

(You can watch video of the six-minute segment at tinyurl.com/StewartBorders)

                        *                        *                        *

JON STEWART: Books! You know them as the thing Amazon tells you “You might be interested in…” when you’re buying DVDs. But did you know books used to be available in what were called… “bookstores”? Well they were…

FOX NEWS: The bookstore chain Borders is going out of business.

CBS NEWS: Borders just could not keep up with 21st century technology and trends.

CBS NEWS: The latest brick-and-mortar victim of a digital age…

JON STEWART: Borders! Now where am I going to return all my guests’ books for store credit?!

For more we turn to resident expert John Hodgman! Now let me ask you, how can — how can the beloved bookstore, an institution, compete with downloading and mail order books?

JOHN HODGMAN: Well, Jon, it’s not going to be easy. People have gotten used to the convenience of having books delivered right to them. If bookstores want to compete, they have to give the customer a better home experience than they can get in their own homes.

JON: So you’re saying re-create…

HODGMAN: Exactly, Jon.

JON: I didn’t finish what I was saying. The — the…

HODGMAN: I wasn’t listening.

Jon Stewart and John Hodgman on the Daily Show

HODGMAN: What I’m talking about is getting rid of all those old-fashioned bookshelves, and replace them — with beautiful, well-appointed downloading pods. Book-lovers simply seal themselves inside, strip down to their underwear, pick up a cold slice of pizza, and start downloading the great works of literature… It’s all the fun and isolation of home, with the inconvenience of a 20-minute car ride.

JON: There’s stuff bookstores can do…

HODGMAN: Uh-huh.

JON: …that the internet can’t!

HODGMAN: Oh, you mean like shelter the homeless?

JON: I’m talking about having authors visit stores!

HODGMAN: Oh, well now we’re just splitting hairs. The reality is, there’s nothing more depressing than seeing some pasty shut-in author bare his soul in front of a half-filled row of folding chairs. Believe me, I know! (Picture of John Hodgman appearing at a Borders bookstore)

Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman at Borders bookstore

JON: So what — what is the alternative to this?

HODGMAN: Well, instead of hosting readings, why not host exciting live writings? Bring the author in, tie him to a desk, and make him write a novel to order. Customers can shout out their own ideas while pelting the writer with $4.00 scones. It’ll be fun! George R. R. Martin not finishing that new “Game of Thrones” book fast enough for you? Well maybe some hot chai latte down his neck will speed him up. (Picture of angry reader dumping latte on the bearded author)

Coffee dumped on George R R Martin at a bookstore (Daily Show)

JON: You know, I’m not sure a lot of authors would agree to that sort of thing.

HODGMAN: Well, Jon, I think you’re underestimating authors’ desire for free chai. And, the occasional human touch.

JON: But see, that brings up an interesting point. What about the human element? Bookstores build a personal relationship with their customers you simply cannot get from a computer. There are, uh, employee interactions, employee recommendations…

HODGMAN: Oh yes, yes. Thank you. Employee picks. Thank you, pudgy neck-beard counter guy, for clueing me in to Philip K. Dick — again. What’s the matter, are you sold out of Confederacy of Dunces this week…? But you do raise a good point, Jon. Bookstores employ a very special class of condescending nerd. These are the types of people who used to work at video stores (before they went under).

JON: Where were they before that?

HODGMAN: Record stores, obviously. It’s been a tough couple of years for condescending nerds. And if bookstores fall, Jon, America will be inundated with a wandering, snarky underclass of unemployable purveyors of useless and arcane esoterica.

JON: I’m not sure I understand.

HODGMAN: No, well you wouldn’t.

JON: You seem to hate bookstore employees.

HODGMAN: Oh, I loathe them, Jon. They shelved my books under “Humor”, Jon! Not “Witticism”, as I asked! I ask you, do I look like Marmaduke to you?

JON: (Laughing stupidly) Marm– Marmaduke is a very big dog. Hee hee hee hee hee! Hee hee! Ahh! Ahh…

HODGMAN: Pathetic. We have to face facts, Jon. The big-box bookstore has passed into history. And that’s something we should embrace and be proud of. By preserving Borders as a popular historical attraction.

JON: Like, uh, colonial Williamsburg?

HODGMAN: Well yeah, exactly! Bring the kids down to Ye Olde Borders Towne! Let them see what it felt like to paw through a clearance bin of Word-a-Day calendars. Or sneak a peek at pornography printed on actual paper! Right there on the giant rack of weird magazines you’ve never heard of. Including my personal favorite, Bookstore Magazine Rack Aficionado magazine.

JON: You know, I think a bookstore preserve might appeal to a — a very small market.

HODGMAN: Well, it can’t be smaller than the market of people who buy books anyway! This is what it’ll be like. (Puts on a colonial hat) “Hey! Gather round, young ‘uns, and come see how we used to sell this here itty bitty book light. Because in the One-nine-eighties, pages didn’t glow, and eyestrain was a sign of wealth!

JON: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be right back.

Funny Reactions to Amazon’s Newest Kindle Commercial

Girl and Boy from new Kindle bookstore commercial

It’s one of the fun things about being a Kindle owner: recognizing yourself in Amazon’s Kindle commercials! Last week Amazon released a funny sequel to their commercial about the young woman who doesn’t have a Kindle (while her male friend does). In this commercial, she’s seen rushing off to a bookstore…

“Hey, where you going?”

“I want to get a book that came out today.”

“Me too!”

“Come to the bookstore with me.”

“I’m good. Got it! It takes less than 60 seconds to download a new book on my Kindle…”

“60 sconds? Wow. That’s the book I was going to get!”
           [She stares with delight]

“Weren’t you going to the bookstore?”


And this commercial struck a familiar cord with a couple in Scotland – at least according to the comment that the husband left on Facebook. “We used to have a Kindle,” he posted in the comments below the video. “Then my wife started using it. Now SHE has a Kindle!” I had to smile, because I experienced the same thing with my own girlfriend. I finally had to buy her a Kindle of her own.

The couple in the video also drew a positive reaction on YouTube, at YouTube.com/Kindle, where one user posted that “These two have great chemistry.” Their verdict on Amazon’s new Kindle commercial? “Even cuter than the last one.”

I first found out about the video from the Kindle’s page on Facebook (at Facebook.com/Kindle). And the page also offered a handy tip if you want the notes in your Kindle e-books to include notes from your friends on Facebook! “When you link your Facebook account to kindle.amazon.com you can see the Public Notes of your Facebook friends in your Kindle books,” Amazon explains, adding that you can also “automatically share your reading activity on your [Facebook] Wall.”

Of course, you’ll never see those notes until you get your Kindle back from that woman who borrows it on her way to the bookstore!

How Ebooks Conquered the World

Little Shop of Horrors lost ending

Last May, a competitor emerged for the Kindle. It was called the Kobo, and it was available in Walmart stores, and also Borders. But today the news finally came down that Borders has now, officially, filed for bankruptcy. All their recent moves “failed to make up for sagging book sales in the face of competition from Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc,” Bloomberg News reported today.

It’s interesting that one of Borders’ last desperate moves was trying to sell a digital reader for ebooks. New York Magazine once interviewed the 69-year-old founder of Barnes and Noble, who conceded, they wrote, that “the superstores can serve as platforms for marketing their own replacement technology.” Today as soon as you walk into a Barnes and Noble store, you’re now greeted with a prominent counter dedicated to trying to sell you the Nook. Barnes and Nobles’ new CEO calls that counter “the shrine.”

But today I stumbled across an interesting statistic. An Australian newspaper interviewed the managing e-commerce director at RedGroup Retail, which owns all the Borders stores in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. He bragged that they’d sold out of Kobos when they first introduced them, but that over the next nine months, they’d only sold 50,000. That comes out to just 185 a day — for the entire continent of Australia, combined with sales in both Singapore and New Zealand. To put that in perspective, Amazon is estimated to have sold at least 6,000,000 Kindles in the last year. That is, for every Kobo that was sold in those three regions, Amazon sold 120 Kindles. It’s hard to make a dent in your competition when they’re outselling you 120 to 1…

Of course, Australia is only one part of the global market for digital readers — but they offer a unique perspective. “The best predictions are that Australia is probably likely to take up e-books faster than the US and the UK,” according to chief executive of the Australian Publishers’ Association, “but that’s simply because of the population size.” She predicts that within five years, 40% of the books that are sold in
Australia will be ebooks. And that can’t be good for booksellers like Borders…

If we’re seeing a major change, then it’ll eventually reach every part of the globe — and the experience of Australians might be a harbinger of things to come. It was interesting to read the comments that were
left on the newspaper’s web site. “Nothing can replace the tangible feeling of having a physical book in your hands,” wrote one reader who called themselves Bookworm. “However my eyes sadly are not what they used to be so like the surging numbers turning to e-readers I have embraced this new technology. With the size of the text adjustable, it is the perfect device for me to continue my love affair with books which started when I was but a wee lad.” And while Kindle owners are complaining that ebook prices have started rising, in Australia they’ve been complaining about the high cost of printed books! “Australia’s take up of eBooks has less to do with being ‘nimble’,” wrote a woman named Mary, “and more to do with Australians being sick to death of the price gouging by local retailers that sees us pay three times what the rest of the English speaking world pays for the same book. Finally we can fight back.”

But even with that perspective, ebooks still seemed too expensive, according to another comment from JG. “Two-thirds the cost of a physical book is of course still far to expensive for what is essentially a few megabytes of data at most. I am all for authors getting farily paid for their hard work, but since the only costs involved in digital distribution are editing/formatting and hosting services, should the artificially high prices for books we pay in Australia really be the benchmark for e-book prices?”

I was reading the news headlines late last night, so I ended up getting stories from around the globe. But it seems like no matter which country the news came from, there was somebody who was raving about ebooks and the Kindle. One British columnist even headlined his story: Three 3 New Reaons Why My Amazon Kindle Grows in My Esteem. Just like he’d the easy bookmarking, the ease of switching books, and the ability to change font sizes. “When I first got my Amazon Kindle USA,” he wrote, “I was half expecting that it would be a fad that would only last for a short while before I returned to my life-long habit of reading books…

“…but this is not proving to be the case!”

A Spy at the Bookstore?

Spy vs Spy comic - top secret

I felt guilty. At the back of my local bookstore, the owner’s wife holds a monthly book group. But tonight, as she introduced our next book, I was already planning to purchase it as an ebook. And then the woman next to me revealed the same guilty secret. “Can we read this as an ebook?” she asked the bookstore owner’s wife.

I’d learn many interesting thing in the minutes that followed, as a fierce conversation broke out instantly around the table. In fact, everyone in the room had more to say about ebooks than we’d had about that month’s book selection! There was excitement about Kindles and Nooks – even from the people who didn’t own one. So the first thing I learned is that it’s a very hot topic. But the second thing I learned is you’re much less enthusiastic if you own a bookstore..

I tried to be sympathetic, pointing out that bookstores were cut out when people bought their books as ebooks. But unfortunately, I made the mistake of mentioning that bookstores obviously get a piece of the book’s sales price — prompting another comment about how ebooks are much cheaper than printed books. This made the bookstore owner’s wife look very, very uncomfortable. She pointed out that ebook prices get heavily subsidized — that she believed Amazon was even taking a loss on some ebooks.

“Maybe it’s all a conspiracy, to drive the local bookstores out of business,” someone said. “Amazon has invented a device which only lets you read books you buy from Amazon, and never from your local bookstore, so they can drive all of their competition out of business. Then in the future, if you want a book, you’ll have to buy them all from a single store in Seattle!”

“Or two stores,” the Nook owner said proudly. “You could also buy books from the Barnes and Noble chain.”

But then we got some surprising news from the bookstore owner’s wife. She’s already planning to sell ebooks from the new Google Bookstore. Apparently there’s a way to integrate Google’s ebooks into the web sites of local bookstores. There’s some configuration issues, she’d said, which still have to be worked out, but it gives her customers a way to give some money to their local bookseller.
Unless you own a Kindle, someone pointed out quickly. Because the Google bookstore hasn’t been able to work out a deal with Amazon. Yet…

I felt like I was watching an enormous change as it was happening around the world. Those were the main points of the discussion, but it was fascinating to hear each person’s individual perspective. One 80-year-old woman said most of her reading now was just cheap, used paperback books — and that she could buy hundreds of them for the cost of an Amazon Kindle. And another woman said she liked the tactile feel of a book — and the chance to start a conversation if someone recognizes the cover of your book.

But then someone argued that could also be a disadvantage. After all, one of most popular ebook categories is romance novels — because finally, nobody has to know that you’re reading them! I added that maybe some people buy a book because they secretly want people to see them reading it. In fact, Stephen King buys print copies of books that he’s already read as an ebook — just so he can have it as a conversation piece on his shelf!

Of course, he can afford to do that, because he has more income than most folks, I was thinking. But I was already getting a dirty look from the bookstore owner’s wife. The book group was probably started solely as a way to get people to purchase the store’s books. And to be fair, that’s one of the most unappreciated functions of a local bookstore. It becomes a kind of local support group for actually purchasing and then reading new releases.

The fact that we were having this discussion shows what a bookstore can do for a community. So I’m glad to know that some bookstores may be evolving into re-sellers of digital ebooks. Maybe someday our book group will meet, and no one will have a printed copy of the book.

Because every single one of us will be reading the book on a Kindle.

Will eBooks Change a Bookstore Tradition?

Stephen King autograph on a Kindle

“Writers will begin signing e-books,” a headline promises at the web site TechEye. Er, wait a minute — then where are the writers going to put the pen?

But it turns out there’s a new technology — and also some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of. For example, one PR professional suggested that instead of a signature, authors at a book-signing could pose for a digital photograph with all their fans who waited in line. (And yes, you could e-mail that photograph to your Kindle, where you could then access it from your home page.) And the photos could also be uploaded to Facebook or posted on weblogs — or even uploaded to your cell phone, so it’s next to the apps where you’re reading the author’s ebook!

Of course, it’s also possible to use a pen-shaped mouse to draw a digital signature onto the photograph, so the fans could still get their autograph after all. But according to TechEye, there’s an even more interesting possibility. A developer named Tom Waters teamed up with an IT contractor for NASA to create an application called “autography,” which captures a writer’s autograph on a digital blank page so that it can be inserted directly into ebooks! This could spread a new tradition throughout the world of ebooks, according to an insider for the publishing industry who was interviewed by the web site. “Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, although Waters says the final service will be device and format agnostic…”

This might be a better way to handle ebooks when authors are promoting their new releases at a bookstore. (I’ve already collected several stories about fans who asked the authors to simply sign the outside of their Kindles.) Last year at a Manhattan bookstore, this happened when humorist David Sedaris was promoting a new collection of essays called “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — and he came up with the perfect inscription. “Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, ‘This bespells doom’,” the New York Times reported, adding that the event “may have offered a glimpse of the future.” When the Times contacted Sedaris later, the author revealed that actually, he’d already signed “at least five” different Kindles — as well as “a fair number of iPods…for audio book listeners!”

William Gibson, the famous science fiction author, also experienced the same phenomenon — during a special book-signing at the Microsoft campus. (Gibson acknowledged to the fan that this was a first, and then autographed their Kindle with big, black letters using a permanent marker.) Later, the fan discovered that William Gibson was also talking about the incident on Twitter. “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft,” Gibson announced to his fans. “Actually, *touched* very first Kindle.

“Appealing unit, IMO,” added the science fiction writer.

Gibson’s new book ultimately became Amazon’s best-selling science fiction book in September, and it’s possible that the extra publicity helped. It’s fun to think about this as two worlds colliding — that it’s the virtual world of ebooks confronting the real-world physicality of printed books (and their authors). But while this ritual may be undergoing simple changes, it could offer hints about something larger.

One fan even confessed to the New York Times that she actually felt embarrassed as she’d approached the author, because “if you’re asking for your Kindle to be signed, you’re taking the bookstore out of the process!”

The Day I Met an Author and a Book Publisher

Linda Watanabe McFerrin wrote Dead Love

I’m still excited about the fact that I got meet a real book author, just before her big book-signing at my neighborhood bookstore! And along the way, I got a really fascinating perspective on how the publishing world could be changed by the Kindle…

Linda Wantanabe McFerrin had just published an Anne Rice-style novel called Dead Love, about a half-zombie woman and the lovestruck ghoul who’s pursuing her. In fact, after the book-signing, she was driving down to California’s Central Valley, where the next afternoon she was planning to participate in a “zombie walk”. (Where a bunch of zombie enthusiasts, wearing costumes, collectively celebrate their enthusiasm…) But she had a strange arrangement with the bookstore, because they hadn’t yet actually stocked her book. So they let her come in and sell her own copies – just for the prestige of having an author in town!

Before the book-signing, Linda and her husband were waiting for me and my girlfriend at a local modern “Italian fusion” restaurant. We all talked for over an hour, and then walked the two blocks over to the bookstore. The crowd was moderate but enthusiastic, and they really revved up when she read from her book. Linda started her presentation with a very unusual teaser for the crowd — “Would you like me to read to you about zombie sex?” But afterwards, I got to talk to her publisher — who was also in the crowd — who also had a fascinating idea about the future of ebooks.

He suggested bookstores should install “ebook kiosks,” where their customers could browse and purchase the latest ebooks for the Kindles and other reading devices. Then the bookstores could still claim a commission for every ebook that they’d sold! I’ve given the idea a lot of thought, and I’m not sure exactly what the business model would be. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea.

The truth is, I know people who are already using the bookstore as a way to browse for ebooks — which they’ll eventually go off and buy somewhere else. Sometimes they’re even making their ebook purchases from Amazon while they’re still in the bookstore! Using an iPhone app, they run a price-check in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore — and if the price is lower, the bookstore loses. The ebook kiosks could resemble those Redbox vending machines that let you rent DVDs, except with the ebooks, there’d be nothing to return!

Anyways, it’s the kind of “insider perspective” that you get when you talk to an actual book publisher during a reading by one of his authors. He’d dedicated his life to the distribution of printed stories — and he’d given a lot of thought to the health and future of bookstores. And best of all — he actually has a Kindle too! I enjoyed talking to him — and he didn’t seem curmudgeonly at all about the popularity of digital readers. Plus, I finally got to have the conversation I always wanted to have.

“I saw figures in the New York Times,” I said, “which suggested that publishers actually make more money off ebooks than they do off of printed books, because they don’t have to pay for the shipping and printing costs.”

“I saw that article too,” the publisher replied. “They seemed to be using figures for New York publishers rather than independent publishers.” But he seemed to confirm my general suspicion — that if you’re worried about the future, it’s the bookstores who are more likely to be hurt by the popularity of ebooks.

Looking back on the night, it was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. (I’d thought I would’ve asked the author for writing tricks or professional advice — but instead, we just all had a wonderfully spontaneous conversation.) Okay, I’d also had a huge mango sangria at the Italian restaurant, so I was probably a little more talkative than usual. But I figured it was a special occasion — because it’s not every day you have drinks with a passing-through author and her publisher!