Wisconsin heard the news this morning that American TV & Appliance is going out of business after 60 years, resulting in 989 lost jobs. American TV & Appliance has 11 retail stores, including seven in Wisconsin, two in Illinois and two in Iowa. Think Best Buy with a little more emphasis on furniture, and you can picture American. The company spokesperson claimed “an unforgiving economy over the last five years” as the primary cause of the downfall. As usual, the sea of commentators on our local newspaper’s website turned into an ugly political debate as most topics these days do. Plenty of people blaming Obamacare, Governor Walker, Democrats, Republicans, blah, blah, blah….
The truth is, in this case, politics had very little to do with American going out of business. Even the bad economy can’t be blamed. American failed because the world is different than it was in 1988 (or any year prior to 2000 or so).
When I was a wee lad growing up in Grafton, Wisconsin, and folks in my town were looking to buy a TV (or any high end piece of electronics), we didn’t have many local options. This was the case for most of the 1980s and 1990s. Sure, there was a mom and pop store or two. Back then Kohl’s sold TVs and we had a Kmart. But for most people, the default choice for such large purchases was to hop in the car and drive to Brown Deer, about 15 miles away. That’s where the closest mall lived and hosted the likes of Best Buy, Circuit City, and American TV & Appliance.
Smash cut to 2014. Folks who live in Grafton have their own Best Buy, Target, and Costco. Not to mention the Internet. I haven’t even stepped foot into American for at least 15 years, much less buy something from there. When most big box stores offer the same prices and service, why would I drive twenty minutes?
This is the reality of why American is going out of business. I would venture a guess that a huge majority of their customers over the last 5 years were local. No longer are the almost 87,000 residents of Ozaukee county making the pilgrimage to Brown Deer when Amazon can drop off a TV on their doorstep.
This is neither good or bad, it’s just reality. We live in an ever changing world and a brutally efficient system of capitalism. Either adapt with the times or go under. Unfortunately, there is very little businesses like American can do as the times and technologies surrounding them change. I’m sure somewhere, there is a Blockbuster Video exec sighing over fuzzy memories of rewinding fees. When he’s not using his Netflix dartboard.
This is happening big time in the world of books and publishing. Like it or not, most mom and pop book stores will be a thing of the past very soon. After that, the giants like Barnes and Noble will follow. Remember when a B Dalton was in every mall in America? How about Walden Books and Borders?
I think we can all agree this is a sad state of affairs. I mean, who doesn’t love a good book store? I know I do, but I haven’t bought a paper book in several years. I consume and purchase books on my trusty Kindle with a voracious appetite and that’s the case for most people these days.
According to www.authorearnings.com a whopping 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books. At the top of the charts, the dominance of e-books is even more extreme. 92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books.
There are plenty of folks out there who will claim all day long they prefer the feel and experience of a “real” book, but the numbers don’t lie. Huge book store chains like B&N can’t survive on that 8% market share.
I fell head-over-heels in love with reading e-books ever since my wife Tammy gave me a Kindle for my birthday a few years ago. I believe the advantages of e-books overcome the disadvantages. To name a few:
E-books are ideal for the disabled and/or the elderly. Remember when you tried to read that hard cover edition of Under the Dome one-handed in the bath while trying to eat a meatball sub? Now imagine trying to read a book that big with severe arthritis in your hands and wrists. My Kindle weighs less than a copy of Readers Digest and only requires the click of a single button to turn pages.
What about those silly looking large print editions? Some folks even need to use a magnifying glass with those because the text is too small. My Kindle can bump up the text size to as large as I want on the fly. And some books offer professional narration to go along with the text for an additional fee.
E-books are good for the environment. I’m no tree hugger, but think of all the trees and energy it takes to make a traditional book. Not only do you need to print out all those pages and bind them into a book, you need more paper to box them up, and then you’re burning gas shipping these books all over tarnation. And guess what? A vast majority of these paper books never sell and get yanked off the shelf in a little as a few weeks. More gas to ship the unsold copies back to the distributor/publisher where I assume most of them get recycled. Talk about a waste.
Other than some electricity and man hours, e-books use very little of anything. Just a few kilobytes of disk space on the Amazon servers and bandwidth to deliver it to customers. No trees and no diesel required.
E-books encourage reading. This is largely based on my own experience and opinion, but I feel e-books encourage reading over paper books. Back in the old days, I rarely bought books because I was cheap and lazy. Most of my reading came courtesy of trips to the library (more gas guzzling). As a result, I didn’t go that often and only grabbed a few books at a time.
Now that I consume all my books via Kindle, I read every day and actually buy books all the time. In general, e-books are much cheaper, so I can afford to buy more. Plus there are tons of free and borrowable books out there. I’ve read more books since receiving my Kindle than I probably did my whole adult life up to that point.
And what about kids? Hand a traditional book to a teenager and it may as well be a plate of cat shit. But an e-reader? Ooo, technology. If you can keep them away from the built-in Facebook app, you just might catch them reading a book.
E-books encourage self-publishing. This is the biggie, of course. Without Amazon Kindle and other self-publishing venues, little nobody indies like me would have an impressive collection of rejection letters and little else to show for our efforts. Much like American TV & Appliance, the traditional gate keepers of publishing are hurting bad. While they’re holding meetings trying to figure out how to stay in business, indie authors like me are making a living and gaining fans without them.
I don’t hate traditional books. Give me a large full-colored non-fiction book over a Kindle any day of the week. Have you read a magazine on a Kindle Fire? Let’s just say I cancelled my subscription to Motor Trend on my Kindle almost immediately. It’s not a good experience. I don’t think traditional paper books will get to the point of extinction, but businesses based solely on them will be rare or non-existent. Future paper books will be print on demand only. They will fall to the niche markets. Art History, photography, atlases, visual art based books, etc. Used book stores will be around for much longer. But forever? I don’t think so.
Like it or not, the world of books, publishing, reading, and writing, is in a massive transitional phase with no signs of slowing down. It makes me sad to think of a world without book stores or libraries but let’s face it. We may be heading that way. I’m sad there are no longer any drive-in movie theatres where I live either, but that doesn’t mean I want to give up Netflix.
With any progress, there are always winners and losers. It’s sad for the losers, especially those 989 people at American who are out of work, but the winners bring with them a whole world of exciting innovation, new products, and new experiences. I for one, say full steam ahead.