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Bedfellows

A few days ago I visited my local Books_A-Million bookstore. On the way in I walked by the Joe Muggs Cafè that shared the brick and mortar storefront. Upon entering the first display I encountered featured the Nook and various Nook accessories. This display had been there since the 2010 holiday season. Now, as everyone knows, the Nook is branded by Barnes and Noble. Turning it on will bring the user to a Barnes and Noble web site where books can be purchased from that bookseller. Books-A-Million does have its own website. What Books-A-Million does not have is a branded device, so it is not difficult to imagine how this partnership came to be!

Continuing down the center aisle of the store, I next passed attractive displays of toys, games and puzzles. I thought about the town I lived in a year ago. It had two bookstores, a Barnes and Noble on the north side and a Books-A-Million of the south side. Like its competitor, the Barnes and Noble also featured a coffee shop and sold many items other than books and magazines. In early 2010, Barnes and Noble closed that store. While there are many reasons for closing a retail store, it is most likely that the store was not profitable. The digital revolution is quickly overtaking the publishing industry. The costs of paper, ink. printing presses, distribution, the physical store and all the associated labor are driving the price of printed material beyond what the consumers are willing to pay. The booksellers are not providing coffee and toys as a matter of convenience. They are necessary to keep the stores in business.

My final stop in the store was at the magazine section in the rear. There I found a few new magazines describing apps for portable devices. I was tempted to buy one until I noticed the $18 cover price (before tax). Instead, I took a few notes on apps I might like to follow up on. Later that day I visited the App Store on my iPad and actually did purchase one of the apps that I had noted. Not a good experience for Books-A-Million or the magazine publisher, but I suspect it’s typical of many shoppers. The next time I visit I’ll buy a coffee.

As I mentioned, Books-A-Million does have a website to sell books digitally. There are two apps in the Apple store that will bring you to it. One is the BAM Reader, the other is the Bluefire Reader. The BAM Reader is “powered by” Bluefire. I installed both of them and found that they appear identical. In addition to accessing BAM, the Bluefire app is designed to access public libraries that have installed appropriate servers. Both apps support a form of DRM copy protection developed by Adobe Systems. My local library does not (yet) offer this service. Libraries in other nearby Florida counties do, and it will not surprise me if my local library does offer it in the near future. The Bluefire app also features a built-in server. It is fairly simple to download PDFs and ePub books (not DRM’d) from your Mac, PC or Linux desktop computer. The wireless transfer operation is not described in the built in docs but instructions are available at the website www.bluefirereader.com. If you don’t mind being limited to a single pane display, the apps function quite well as ePub readers and include a few extra reading features. The 50MB PDF that I tried to import crashed Bluefire and necessitated a re-install. As a PDF reader, I cannot recommend it. There are numerous other PDF apps in the App store. In a future post I may review a few of these.

All of this may change this summer in light of Apple’s recent announcement of pricing policies for apps with subscription content and apps that link to other vending sites. Publishers will have to pay Apple 30% of their revenue, and all “in-app” sales must be routed through Apple. The decision for a publisher to stay or leave is not at all dissimilar to B&N’s decision to close brick and mortar stores. The app either will or will not be profitable. Other blogs cite Hulu+, Netflix and Kindle as possible app casualties and I suppose that the Bluefire apps can be casualties as well. On the other hand, the Bluefire apps are unique (at this time) in supporting DRM protection with access to public libraries. I suspect that the Bluefire app will remain but the BAM link may disappear.

If publishers do pull their apps from Apple. Apple may have “shot itself in the foot”. As pointed out in my last post many competitors will soon appear in the tablet market and your choice of a tablet will, in part, depend upon the available apps.

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