April 23, 2010

Yes, It Looks Cool, But... (and B&N and Nook News)

Yesterday my daughter made the largest purchase of her 18-year-old life and bought a Mac Pro. With her college discount she saved a bit of money on it, got a free printer, and iWork, which provides a word processor, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint-like program (more on that later). I kicked in and bought her three years of Apple Care. She also paid to have the contents of her pc laptop moved onto her new laptop, and not long after we came home, they called to say it was ready to pick up. She now has Garage Band, giving her (I believe) the ability to record her own music - hey, she's a guitar player - the microphone and camera, and whatever other cool things Apple adds on that don't generally come pre-loaded onto a pc laptop.

While she worked with the sales staff, I had plenty of time to wander over to the iPads, which are clearly the focal points of the store. Huge posters adorn every bare bit of vertical real estate and probably half a dozen were there to play with. So play I did. And by the time I left, I was bewildered and more than a little angry.

First things first. The iPad is gorgeous to look at and looking at it makes you want to pick it up. The virtual keypad, though, is for shit - yes, that's my professional opinion - and though everyone says it's easy to simply plug in a keyboard, my question at that point is...what's the point? If you do, you've basically created a desktop computer. Okay, so it's gorgeous but not functional on its own for typing. What about the apps? Well, here's my second issue: The three programs that make up iWork sell for $79 when used on a Mac but just $9.99 each when purchased from the App Store for the iPad. In other words, buy an iPad and you pay $50 less than you pay for those same "apps" on a computer with a real keyboard. The only way my brain can wrap around it is this: They charge you less because, when combined with the for-shit virtual keypad, you get less functionality out of the word processor and spreadsheet programs.

Steve Jobs is a genius when it comes to making you want things you never even knew you wanted...let alone needed. In the end, though, other than my beloved iPod, I find his products over-priced and unnecessary. Given that there were no more Genius Bar appointments available for the day by noon, and I'm guessing the products aren't as idiot-proof as advertised. And aren't all of us idiots at times when it comes to technology? On the other hand, I have a very happy child right now and know that Mac owners are practically cult-like in their devotion to Apple. Still, until the money tree out back blooms big time, I'll be holding on to this unreasonable Apple negativity.

I've talked about this before, but I'll do it again. The basic iPad model, at $499 for 16GB, is Wifi only, which means it's not going to connect everywhere. Add a 3G connection (and those iPads haven't yet been released) and you'll be spending another $130 plus a monthly contract (presumably with AT&T). At the end of a year, you will have spent $750...add another $70 for the keyboard dock, and you're at more than $800. And this, folks, is what Apple is calling the new "low end" computer.

And, not to beat a dead horse, but last night at work I double-checked some e-books at B&N.com and discovered that other than books sold by Random House and under the Harlequin umbrella, the cost of digital paperbacks has, as I feared, indeed increased as a result of Mr. Jobs and what I view as his collusion with publishers. Readers can continue to buy the digital version of a new paperback for roughly 20% less than the print copy if published by Random House or Harlequin, but all other publishers went with the so-called agency model and now, their digital copies sell for the same price as print copies (more, actually, if you buy from B&N.com or use your membership in stores). Those prices went up at Amazon and B&N for Kindle and Nook as a direct result of the iPad, and while there have been a plethora of stories about the change in hardcover pricing, nobody is writing about the increase in paperback pricing.

As for Barnes & Noble and Nook, walk into any store now and there is a large Nook counter right inside the front door. That fact, and that Best Buy will also be selling Nook, and I am not alone among B&N booksellers in feeling as though a huge clock just started ticking down on our jobs. The new head of B&N is an internet/tech guy, and a Nook Lite (no 3G) and Nook 2 are on their way. The Nook is the new mission for booksellers, and while I know brick and mortar bookstores will never completely disappear, things will change.

I became a bookseller because I love books and love talking to customers about them. I sell the membership cards with zeal because they can save customers real money (~$5 for each adult hardcover that isn't a bestseller) and because I like to do my job well. Until the pricing issue I discussed at length above, I've been a strong proponent of electronic reading for several years now and enjoy extolling the virtues of having a mobile, hand-held personal library, but I'd rather talk to customers about books than feel pressured into selling something that may eliminate my job at some point down the road.

Gee...I got through this entire blog entry without mentioning the AAR plagiarism mess. Well, almost.


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