Today, I had a need to write some crypto using OpenSSL and noticed that there was an O'Reilly book Network Security with OpenSSL. I should have that I said. Amazon had it for $27.97. Barnes & Noble had it for $31.96. I wanted to read it tonight. So I called around and found one at Redwood City Barnes & Noble. Weather was hot so I took my wife and son along. When I got there and looked over the book, I noticed for the first time the list price: $39.95.
For the longest time, I used to visit bookstores like clockwork. At least once a week. Stacy's and Stanford Bookstore on University Ave used to be my favorite. I must have dropped at least four figures at those bookstores over the years. Then I stopped going and started buying over the Web. My buying habit changed right away. Instead of walking in with no particularly book in mind and walking out with a stack of newly interested books to read, I started ordering books on-demand, meaning AFTER I got interested.
I also stopped looking at the list prices. Net result is that I am no longer willing to pay the list price for a book, not even one I want to read tonight. Instead of paying $12 more than I need to, I am subscribing to O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf. Starter account with five book slot (concurrent access) is $10 per month or $110 per year.
I think it's a reasonable deal for average books, but not for keepers like the OpenSSL book. Oh, well. I am getting two weeks free so maybe I'll change again during that time and turn into a Safari maniac. It's funny how seemingly drastic changes sneaks up on us and life moves on.
Looking ahead, I don't think bookstores will disappear but they will become showrooms for newly published books like the way car showrooms display the latest cars. New books won't have a lot of peer reviews so best places to check them out will be at the bookstores.
Each book will have an RFID tag so ordering the book you like is as simple as taking the book upto a terminal to display the price and pressing a flashing red button. At this point, your identity device (cellphone or Visa card) will beep asking you to confirm. Acknowledge with a click and the order is sent.
Since bookstores needs to carry only a single copy of newly released books, wider variety of books will become available for browsing. Clerks' will be freed from point of sales only to be kept busy returning books to the shelves. RFID privacy concern is irrelevant in these bookstores because they will not leave the store.
As I mentioned above, book buying will become more on-demand and less impulse-based, so the business of creating demand will thrive. Some of that demand will be created by professional book reviewers who sell their service/content to specialty book-peddlers like Amazon affiliates.
Since most of the profit will be in pre-order period in this scenario, book publishers will be able to predict demand much more accurately than before, affecting number of copies printed as well as raising the number of cancelled publications. This in turn will bring authors, reviewers, and specialty book-peddlers together in a tigher working relationship to ensure greater demand.
Nice pile of bullsh*t, no?