2011 September


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Some believe photographer Roger Fenton placed the cannonballs on the Ukrainian road during the Crimean War himself.
Roger Fenton /Smithsonian/AP

Some believe photographer Roger Fenton placed the cannonballs on the Ukrainian road during the Crimean War himself.

September 17, 2011

Errol Morris is regarded as one of the world’s most important filmmakers and is best known for his documentaries The Thin Blue Line and the Oscar-award winning Fog of War.

But before he was a filmmaker, he was a detective and he’s always been interested in uncovering the mysteries of photographs. In his new book, Believing Is Seeing, Morris focuses on the things you can’t see in photographs and the importance of what lies outside the frame.

Morris tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that his obsession with photos began when he was a small boy and his father died.


This is the best use of an IKEA kitchen timer ever!!!

Getty Images

Getty Images

Citing a changing climate in the reading world, the furniture authorities are putting a new spin on the old bookshelf – redesigning it to store anything but books.

The storage mavens at IKEA have noticed a shift in what consumers are storing in their bookshelves. After all, a Kindle can hold thousands more books than a wooden tower in the living room. According to The Economist, IKEA will release a new version of its classic BILLY bookshelf next month, one that’s focused less on storing books than storing, well, anything and everything else. The company is finding that customers use their shelves increasingly for “ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome,” and less so for reading material.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

READ: How IKEA Survived a Bad Economy

The offline experience

TO SEE how profoundly the book business is changing, watch the shelves. Next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous “BILLY” bookcase. The flat-pack furniture giant is already promoting glass doors for its bookshelves. The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books. The drift to digits will speed up as bookshops close. Borders, once a retail behemoth, is liquidating all of its American stores.

That has meant higher prices for many new e-books. As some prices rise, though, a tide of free and cheap product is flooding the market. Self-published novelists, keen for attention and without agents or publishers to share the proceeds with, often sell their works extremely cheaply. Meanwhile publishers have moved to offer introductory discounts on some books. As a result, Amazon’s list of 100 best-selling books has become a pricing free-for-all. This week 21 books were selling for just 99 cents. Others were priced at $4.98, $7.59 and $8.82. The most expensive single book, at $16.99, was Dick Cheney’s memoir. There is none of the clarity of iTunes in its early years, when the price of music tracks was fixed at 99 cents.

Publishers point out that books have always sold for a wide variety of different prices. Hardback books cost more than high-quality paperbacks, which cost more than small, mass-market paperbacks—and everything is more expensive than a dog-eared library book. But those books are physically different from each other. E-books all look the same. And the popularity of those 99-cent thrillers suggests readers are more price-sensitive, and less quality-sensitive, than publishers care to admit.

Another problem is Amazon’s market dominance. The firm accounts for less than a quarter of physical book sales (see box). But Amazon sells 60-70% of e-books in America and perhaps 90% in Britain, according to estimates by Enders Analysis, a British outfit. In America, Barnes & Noble’s Nook is the main competitor. Surprisingly, given the success of the iPad, Apple’s iBookstore has lagged. James McQuivey of Forrester Research found in a survey that only half of iPad owners read e-books—and two-thirds of them own or plan to buy an e-reader especially for the purpose. Amazon appears set to launch a tablet computer to take on the iPad. And Amazon is becoming a publisher in its own right. It has a romance imprint, and has signed big writers like Timothy Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek”. This tightens its grip over the e-book market.

A book in the window

Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is the gradual disappearance of the shop window. Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins, points out that a film may be released with more than $100m of marketing behind it. Music singles often receive radio promotion. Publishers, on the other hand, rely heavily on bookstores to bring new releases to customers’ attention and to steer them to books that they might not have considered buying. As stores close, the industry loses much more than a retail outlet. Publishers are increasingly trying to push books through online social networks. But Mr Murray says he hasn’t seen anything that replicates the experience of browsing a bookstore.

Efforts are under way. This week a British outfit called aNobii released a trial version of a website that it hopes will become a Wikipedia-style community of book lovers, with an option to buy. The idea has potential. Amazon’s recommendation engine, although helpful, is rather impersonal—perhaps the retailer’s second-biggest weakness, after the resentment publishers feel for it.

The book business has long been suffused with gloom; Mr Osnos says that booksellers have faced five or six supposedly fatal challenges during his career. But this time the challenges are really daunting. Publishers have to confront many of the problems that have afflicted other media industries that have gone digital, as well as a few entirely new ones. The next few years will be a thriller.

IKEA is changing the Billy to deal with people’s lack of books