Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2011 Issue

A Bookseller Success Story... Amazon


The Kindle Fire.

Indeed, this is a formula we have seen applied in the past. Microsoft used its dominance in software to get you to use all types of Microsoft products, such as its internet browser, word processing, spreadsheets and music players, until the government put some restraints on what it considered unfair competition. In the days of traditional internet portals, AOL employed its position as the largest provider of internet connections to be the internet's major landing site. When the world moved past dial-up, it left AOL behind. AOL never made the move into high-speed access. Nokia was once a dominant player in the cell phone business, but when smart phones replaced many “dumb” ones, Nokia got replaced too. However, unlike the aforementioned vendors, who became static when they achieved leadership in their field, Amazon has not become cocky because they have achieved leadership in internet retailing and e-book readers, just as they did not allow bookselling leadership to lead them into complacency a decade ago. They recognize you need to keep swimming or the next wave will overtake you. Amazon is not just competing with Barnes and Noble and Nokia for physical devices now; they are competing with Apple, Facebook, and Google for drawing you into their world, where you will spend lots of time.... and money.

And what of the previous biggest thing in bookselling – Barnes and Noble? Along with the defunct Borders, B&N pioneered the way in bookselling in the 1980s, with their large, well-stocked stores, offering coffee and pastries to accompany soft chairs for comfortable reading. It was the place to be in the 1990s. By the turn of the century, with Amazon leading the way, B&N was left behind. They did everything wrong – expanding to music just as mp3s began replacing CDs, movies as at-home downloading replaced physical tapes and DVDs. They left electronic books to Amazon, relying upon the declining part of the market. However, very late to the game, B&N responded to Amazon and its Kindle with their own Nook e-book reader. But then, B&N surprisingly did one thing right – they made a better and cheaper e-reader than Amazon. They introduced what was something of a cross between an e-book reader and a tablet – a reader that could perform some functions of a tablet, like internet access, for a very low price. While no one has been able to generate more than a percentage or two of marketshare in the tablet business against Apple, B&N was able to gather a distant but still respectable second-place showing in e-readers, about 25% of the market.

Whither B&N now? They have neither the clout nor the deep pockets of an Amazon. They struggle to stay alive with the albatross of yesterday's new thing – large stores – hung around their neck. One wonders whether Amazon's Kindle Fire will do to Barnes and Noble's Nook what Apple's iPhone did to Research in Motion's Blackberry. The Blackberry pioneered the smart phone business, but Apple used its clout and its research and marketing genius to move past RIM's Blackberry with something better. Today, market analysts wonder whether RIM will ever be relevant to the market again. B&N faces long odds, but perhaps they can find a way to use that albatross, their retail stores, like Apple did with their retail stores, and somehow claw their way into the market. We suspect it is a long shot, and will probably require they be bought out or enter a cooperative agreement with someone with far greater resources, perhaps someone like a Microsoft making one last-ditch effort for relevance in the consumer market.

How does this tie in with Amazon's other big story – that after years of vigorous, in-your-face resistance to attempts to be made to collect local sales taxes, they backed down and agreed to do so in California in return for only a one-year reprieve? Just a few weeks earlier, Amazon terminated all of its affiliates in the state (breaking all ties with a state is the way an internet marketer can free itself from having to collect local sales tax). It then threatened to fund a ballot initiative to overturn a state law that declared local affiliates to in effect be company agents, grounds for requiring Amazon to collect sales tax on sales made to California residents. Then, suddenly, Amazon did a complete about face, dropping its battle-to-the-death opposition for a temporary reprieve. Most commentators concluded Amazon backed down, but Amazon does not back down. Why did they throw in the towel in this extreme fight to the finish?

We believe the introduction of the Kindle Fire tablet, and all it implies, is a sign that Amazon has much bigger things to focus on than fighting sales taxes in California. The vigorous, even contentious defense threatened to hurt their reputation, something Amazon can ill afford as it seeks to move to a higher playing field. And, perhaps most importantly of all, they may see a need to become more, not less involved with California. California is the high-tech capital of America, filled with people designing and building the next, new best thing. Amazon will want to be free to have agents, employees, whatever available to them in California, not be forced to flee the state because of yesterday's tax battles, leaving it and all of its brainpower to Apple. Amazon needs equal access to the state to compete equally with Apple. A few weeks ago, no one saw Amazon as a particular competitor to Apple. Now we know they are about to begin an epic struggle. Amazon is not about to be lax; not about to enter this struggle with one arm tied behind its back. Its sales tax agreement, capitulation if you will, to California is more likely an inevitable next step by a company determined to stay ahead of the market. Isn't it amazing what a bookseller can do?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Nobu Shirase and the Japanese Antarctic Expedition: the Collection of Chet Ross<br>October 12, 2023</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 12:</b> [BYRD]. VEER, Willard Van der and Joseph T. RUCKER, cinematographers. The 35mm motion picture Akeley camera that filmed the Academy Award-winning documentary “With Byrd at the South Pole”. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 12:</b> [SHIRASE, Nobu, his copy]. RYUKEI, Yano. <i>Young Politicians of Thebes: Illustrious Tales of Statesmanship.</i> Tokyo(?), 1881-84. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 12:</b> SHACKLETON, Ernest H. <i>The Antarctic Book.</i> Winter Quarters 1907-1909 [dummy copy of the supplement to: <i>The Heart of the Antarctic</i>]. London, 1909. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 12:</b> [USS BEAR]. The original auxiliary deck wheel from the famed USS Bear, 1874-1933. “PROBABLY THE MOST FAMOUS SHIP IN THE HISTORY OF THE COAST GUARD” (USCG). $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 12:</b> HENSON, Matthew. <i>A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.</i> With a forward by Robert Peary. Introduction by Booker T. Washington. New York, [1912]. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Charles Monroe Schulz, <i>The Peanuts gang,</i> complete set of 13 drawings, ink, 1971. Sold June 15 — $50,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Family Archive of Photographs & Letters. Sold June 1 — $60,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green Book,</i> New York, 1949. Sold March 30 — $50,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>King Lear; Othello;</i> [and] <i>Anthony & Cleopatra;</i> Extracted from the First Folio, London, 1623. Sold May 4— $185,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> William Samuel Schwartz, <i>A Bridge in Baraboo, Wisconsin,</i> oil on canvas, circa 1938. Sold February 16 — $32,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Lena Scott Harris, <i>Group of approximately 65 hand-colored botanical studies, all apparently California native plants,</i> hand-colored silver prints, circa 1930s. Sold February 23 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Suzanne Jackson, <i>Always Something To Look For,</i> acrylic & pencil on linen canvas, circa 1974. Sold April 6 — $87,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk von Gustav Klimt,</i> complete with 50 printed collotype plates, Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold June 15 — $68,750.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Bibliotheca Brookeriana: A Renaissance Library<br>Magnificent Books and Bindings<br>11 October 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Francesco Colonna, Hypnerotomachie, Paris, 1546, Parisian calf by Wotton Binder C for Marcus Fugger. $300,000 to $400,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della pittura, manuscript on paper, [Rome, ca. 1638–1641], a very fine pre-publication manuscript. $250,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Paradis, Ung petit traicte de Alkimie, [Paris, before 1540], contemporary morocco by the Pecking Crow binder for Anne de Montmorency. $300,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Capocaccia, Giovanni Battista, A wax relief portrait of Pius V, in a red morocco book-form box by the Vatican bindery, Rome, 1566–1568. $250,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Serlio, Il terzo libro; Regole generali, Venice, 1540, both printed on blue paper and bound together by the Cupid's Bow Binder. $400,000 to $500,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 11:</b> Tiraboschi, Carmina, manuscript on vellum, [Padua, c. 1471], the earliest surviving plaquette binding. $280,000 to $350,000.
    <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Bibliotheca Brookeriana: A Renaissance Library<br>The Aldine Collection A–C<br>12 October 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Anthologia graeca, Venice, Aldus, 1503, printed on vellum, Masterman Sykes-Syston Park copy. $150,000 to $200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano, Venice, Aldus, 1528, contemporary Italian morocco gilt, Accolti-Landau copy. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano, Venice, Aldus, 1545, contemporary morocco for Thomas Mahieu, Chatsworth copy. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Cicero, Epistolae familiares, Venice, Aldus, 1502, printed on vellum, illuminated, Renouard-Vernon-Uzielli copy. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Colonna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice, Aldus, 1499, Gomar Estienne binding for Jean Grolier, Spencer copy. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Oct. 12:</b> Crinito, Libri de poetis Latinis, Florence, Giunta, 1505, Cupid's Bow Binder for Grolier, Paris d'Illins-Wodhull copy. $250,000 to $300,000.

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