Book Biz: New Indie Bookstore! CIA and Amazon, No New Nooks, Better Grades With Books

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I miss real, honest to god telephone books.

 I know. You think it’s because I’m an unrepentant Neo-Luddite. That I simply like anything and everything resembling a bound book. That I just like the idea of RR Donnelly pounding out hundreds of millions of telephone directories, thereby preserving the livelihood of hundreds if not thousands of printing crafts people. And that I miss massive tomes like the Manhattan directory which boosted many a toddler to table level on Thanksgiving.

 Well it’s all of the above, plus one more. Telephone directories are still relevant and always have been.Yellow_Pages


I ran into an old friend at Kroger’s the other day. We had a nice chat, but as I was driving home I realized there was something I meant to ask him that had just slipped my mind.

 I hadn’t seen him for a few years and if I’d ever had his phone number, the scrap it had been written on had been shuffled into non-existence a while back. No problem though; I’d just look up his number.

 Well, that was the plan.

 We have a nice collection of telephone directories. Every few months one company or another leaves a stack of them down by our community mail boxes and we always grab one. It just makes sense to have the newest most up to date directory available, right?

 Well, that’s the theory.

 When I got home and was ready to call him I reached for the newest telephone directory. Oops. Business and yellow pages only. Hmmm, I didn’t remember getting a directory like that before.

 Well, duh. It was the YP directory: THE Yellow Pages. I picked up another directory, checked the head trim and saw white pages in the back. This one must have the information about actual people.

 Not. It was the Livingston County Yellow Book, complete with white page listings of every business in the county (except mine). And a 2007 Washtenaw County directory. And a 1995 Hamburg Elementary directory. And a neighborhood directory from the house we moved out of in 1999, and a 2005 Dexter phone book.

 I ran downstairs to the recycle bins to find a real directory with phone numbers of the diminishing populace who cling to their land line phones in a twenty mile radius. Too late, it had already been delivered to that great pulper in the sky.


So now all I had to do was turn my computer on, wait for it to boot up, then wait for Firefox to load. I entered his name in the Google search box. Since I couldn’t remember how to spell his last name, the white pages gave me an address in Escanaba. Not him. I tried a variation.

 One thing I liked about directories was that all you had to do was get somewhat close in guessing how to spell a last name. If your guess is in the ballpark, chances are you can scan up or down the column of names to find the person you’re looking for. Sometimes analog really trumps digital.

 I tried another spelling, then another. There he was, and with another click or two I got his phone number. And for a mere $.99 I could get even more personal information about him.

 I saved my money.

 So getting his phone number only took five or six minutes thanks to the belief that real phone directories were just 21st century buggy whips.


Weeks later, while traveling to Denver for grandson Myles’ birthday party, we found a motel along I-80 rather late one night. We were both too tired to jump back in the car to find a place to eat after a ten hour drive. I thought we could just order pizza or something from a nearby restaurant that offered delivery. Like independent bookstores, I’ll put in a little extra effort to find a locally owned, family operated eatery. (Ever had a Runza in Nebraska? Based on the billboard count I’m pretty sure it’s the Nebraska State Food.)RunzaSandwichesHPHeader


There was no telephone directory (white or yellow pages) in our room. Our key cards had the telephone numbers of four local Domino’s Pizza stores, but if it was to be pizza, perhaps a smaller restaurant could also deliver. The laptop was already on so a quick search found…Domino’s. And Pizza Hut. And Little Caesars. And a truck stop we’d just passed that sold pizza by the slice. Then a nice local restaurant that seemed to be about 20 miles away.

Flabbergasted, I went to the front desk to ask the young night clerk where I might order delivery pizza. He pulled a telephone directory from under the counter, and as he was copying down names and telephone numbers, he was describing each restaurant, it’s specialty and in one case, its ownership since he happened to know the family.

 After thanking him I asked why the rooms didn’t have telephone books. He looked at me with thinly masked amazement.

Well, nobody really uses them anymore, do they?”

New Yorker AmazonIrony is so wasted on the young.

Amazon – For Better and For Worse

 This New Yorker article is perhaps the most wide-ranging analysis of Amazon I’ve read: it’s history, business model and performance. Yahoo Finance offers a different take on Amazon and the industry.


sleepatworkBetter Grades With Books

 A recent study analyzed not only college students’ preferences in textbooks, but also learning differences between print and pixels. By including the findings of other related studies, it theorizes that print readers enjoy better test results because paper and ink is less mentally taxing than backlit pixels.


He Must Know What He’s Doing

 After being promoted from running Barnes & Noble’s Nook Media division in January, new CEO Michael Huseby has laid-off most or all of the engineers working on the Nook. Just a year ago Microsoft invested over $600 million in the Nook division giving it a 17.6% ownership stake.


B&N: Lifeline or Noose?

 Last week B&N had another offer to sell a 51% interest in the company. The suitor, G Asset Management, also offered $5 per share for the recently down-sized Nook division as an alternative. The plan is to split the company (and maybe load it with debt, then run). Meanwhile, B&N posted an $.86 per share profit on sales that dropped 10% over last year. Reduced overhead is credited for the increased profit.


But What Will It Look Like?

 Now that we know that Google has filed for patent protection for an ereader with two screens, speculation turns to exactly what such a thing would look like, let alone trying to figure what benefits may accrue.


Amazon Hosts the CIAthe-time-insiders-said-the-nsa-has-been-collecting-data-on-almost-all-us-calls-since-2001

 There is concern that Amazon’s $600 million cloud computing contract with the CIA may include sharing vast amounts of Amazon’s consumer data collection. While a petition to safeguard that information has been started, Amazon’s privacy policy states that they can release consumers’ personal data “when we believe [the] release is appropriate to comply with the law.” Wasn’t this sort of blatant governmental invasion of privacy supposed to stop with Ed Snowden’s NSA disclosures?


My County Gets an Indie!Blue Frog


After years of newsletter readers (i.e. you) putting up with my annoying whine that Livingston County no longer has an independent bookstore, an adventurous couple has followed their muse and opened the Blue Frog Bookstore less than twenty minutes away from us!


Unbelievable Writing Opportunitytrain-500w

 Some people abhor train travel, but I’m not one of them. Amtrak is experimenting with a writers’ residency program that would allow writers a chance to escape the static of everyday life and concentrate on literary creation as they roll across the country. And so far, they’ve been able to offer the residency gratis!


Creativity Needs Constraint

 As more writers bypass professional editing, does artistic creativity suffer? Perhaps Twitter’s character constraint is the model for avoiding intellectual sprawl. Should the new mantra be, “Less is more”?


What Is It About This Industry?Socorro Ramos

 Mitch Albom met a 90 year old woman who opened her bookstore in 1942 in Manilla, Philippines. Between Japanese censorship, a devastating typhoon and a fire that destroyed her store, no one would have blamed her if she’d walked away from the book business. Instead, she runs nearly 150 bookstores today.


Do You Miss Newsweek?

 If you do, you’re in luck as the re-imagined, redesigned magazine begins publishing again on March 7 under the ownership of IBT Media.


Printing Books in 868

 Because of the differences in alphabets and word representation, the first Chinese books were printed using blocks with characters carved into them. The Western alphabet supported movable type as we know it, but eight centuries before Gutenberg printed his first book the Chinese had published the Diamond Sutra.


Final Thought

 The suddenness of the leap from hardware to software cannot but produce a period of anarchy and collapse, especially in the developed countries.
The Medium is The Massage (1967)                                                      Marshall McLuhan



About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.


  1. Enjoyed the phone book scenario… have had similar thoughts on that. And thanks for sharing about the National Book Store. Best wishes for your business, too.

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