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The Thing-ness of Things

On Twitter, I follow a gentleman named , who blogs in several places but most lately blew my mind today.

Over this past weekend, my youngest daughter (who is known as Scamp on Twitter) had to go to a birthday party. She’s nearly 12 now, and she wanted to get a Really Awesome Present for this kid. We wound up getting him a picture frame with a photo inside that she’d downloaded from Facebook. Digital picture frame prices have still not dropped to the point where they are good gifts for adolescents – but I realized…that time will come! Soon!

And then what? What will people get one another, besides iTunes/Amazon/BN/whatever gift cards? What will be a lovely personalized gift?

June is a crisis month for my family because in addition to the usual “outside the family” birthdays, there are three others – plus Father’s Day. Gifts are tough. And it’s useless to bemoan the physical book/CD/movie as a gift – increasingly, that just isn’t an option.

Hence the new homemade.

When books, movies, music become commoditized – and available on a streaming free-or-near-free basis – how do we acknowledge one another’s tastes, celebrate uniqueness, toast a point of view?

The reason Scamp and I got a picture frame is because our original idea didn’t work. That is because Mom is video-ignorant. Scamp had made a lovely video for her friend. Supportive, smart-ass, funny, motivational – it is a truly great little video. But I could not burn it to DVD because I am Fail Mom.

I will not, however, be Fail Mom forever. We will learn to do these things. Just as my mother learned to create her own greeting cards (and God help us all), I will learn to burn DVDs or upload YouTube videos to private accounts or do whatever. Just as my grandparents gave us generous gifts of homemade jams and pickles, we will inflict emotional generosity on our friends.

Yes, well, how many of us have books that are sort of embarrassing that we won’t get rid of because they are gifts?

This is why self-publishing is important. Because once “things” become streamed, we will find ourselves having to create in new ways to connect with people, acknowledge them and ourselves, have media conversations.

And naturally there will be metadata considerations to render this all multi-dimensional and searchable, but that is another conversation for another day.

Which, of course, I intend to have – eventually.

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Q&A with Ami Greko, GetGlue

LJND: What, exactly, is GetGlue supposed to do? (yes, the corporate speak, but let’s have it in English too?)

AG: Plain and simple, we’re there to help users figure out what to read, watch, listen to, or play next. There’s a bunch of different ways that we do that, from personalized new release recommendations to allowing you to read reviews from your friends around the web.

LJND: How do you attract people to actually do the work to rate/recommend things?

AG: A number of ways, including good old publicity and browser recommendations, but I have to say the most effective is word-of-mouth (so everyone reading this please go tell five people about us right now).

LJND: What other social networking platforms are interoperable with GetGlue?

AG: Twitter and Facebook, of course – we’ve enabled users to share their comments and rewards from GetGlue with these platforms pretty easily. With our browser add-on installed, you’re able to reach a really wide range of social networks, including things like Goodreads and Shelfari. Our add-on technology means that when you’re looking at a book on one of these sites, GetGlue knows what book you’re looking at, and it allows you to rate and comment via a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. These ratings and comments are then automatically fed to your profile on GetGlue.com, which means that you’re building a profile of your tastes automatically, just from your normal web browsing.

LJND: How do you serve other websites, such as McGraw-Hill Professional and Alibris?

AG: Same as above – with our add-on installed, you’re able to interact with books on these sites.

LJND: What’s your role in the organization?

AG: Lots of things! Technically, my title is director of business development, but on a day-to-day basis I work on a range of things, from company PR to liaising with book publishers to writing blog posts.

LJND: What’s exhilarating about your work?

AG: I really geek out on working with books in this way. The fact that GetGlue is cross-vertical – meaning we work with books AND movies AND music, etc. – means that I have a chance to think about where books fit into the larger media landscape. Books are drivers of culture. They actually power lots of other media, and sometimes when you’re in the publishing trenches, it can be easy to forget about that. One of my favorite things so far has been working on our book giveaways program. I’m able to give books to our influential users in all verticals, which means a comment we hear a lot is, ‘I’d never heard of this book before, but I loved it.’ That’s a good feeling.

LJND: Can you explain the Facebook API in English? Why is it a good thing?

AG: In short: using our API, you can take a URL of any page that GetGlue understands and get meta data using Facebook Open Graph Protocol without doing any coding. (emphasis on the last four words)

LJND: What about those widgets? Why does everybody have a widget? Why is yours awesome?

AG: First of all, it’s free, which can be the only word some folks need to hear to equal ‘awesome.’ We’ve also just made them easy to generate on your own instantly, just by entering ISBNs, at MyBookWidget.com. I know it sounds like crazy marketing speak, but for Blogger and Typepad platforms, they really do install with one click. My favorite thing about them, though, is that they make the necessity of linking to multiple retailers much easier and a lot prettier looking – instead of a list of hyperlinks, everything is elegantly embedded within the widget.

LJND: Why do you start off with movies? When I log in for the first time, I have to “like” a bunch of movies. I want to “like” books first thing.

AG: As an affirmed book lover, I hear you! You can always choose to exit out of the movies screen if rating those things is not working for you.

LJND: What’s next? What are you working on (that you can talk about)?

AG: Right now, we’re all hands on deck creating our iPhone app. It’s going to be a way to share with your friends what you’re reading, watching, and listening to, while you’re out and about. I’m really, really, really excited about it.

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It’s going to happen slowly, and then it’s going to happen very quickly. It has already started – the rate at which independent bookstores have shuttered over the years is not publicized, but we know they’ve been an endangered species since the 1990s, when Borders and Barnes & Noble began their rapid superstore expansion.

Borders is suffering a lingering death, but there’s little doubt among industry pundits that its lifespan is seriously limited. (Please prove them wrong, please prove them wrong!!!) This will be a much bigger deal than anybody’s anticipating.


Because Barnes & Noble is not going to pick up all those locations. And if a huge chain like Borders can’t survive, what indie bookstore in its right mind is going to open in those locations?

There will be fewer brick and mortar bookstores. By a factor of a lot. Possibly a third of bookstores in the US will close when Borders is finished with its death spiral and Barnes & Noble and successful independents have picked up what business makes sense in those locations. But for that newly-deprived third of bookstore customers? Where will they get their books?

Two places: the library and the internet.

Libraries are themselves rather limited in this way: waiting lists for popular books. (This includes ebooks.) If you really must own a book right now, the best way to get it is online.

So in approximately a third of areas previously served by large chains, customers will become quickly accustomed to ordering books online.

How long do you think it will be before they realize that if they order ebooks, they don’t have to wait even 24 hours before they get what they want? How long do you think it will be before instant gratification means that suddenly these underserved areas are hotbeds of ebook consumption?

We’ve seen this sort of leapfrogging happen in underdeveloped areas before – that is why residents of certain African and Asian countries are so wedded to their cell phones; they skipped the land-line process altogether.

We’ve seen it happen in the music industry as well – when was the last time you went into a store where the primary stock was CDs? A Virgin or an HMV or a Tower? Or, heaven help you, your local indie music store?

We are seeing it happen in video. I live in New York City – there used to be video stores every few blocks, staffed by amazing kids from NYU or Columbia; those Quentin Tarantino-breeding environments are gone. We get our movies from Netflix. We get our movies on demand from Time-Warner. We get our movies streamed through our laptops directly to our TVs.

That leapfrogging in the book business is going to happen primarily in rural and suburban areas where intellectual life was always underserved. That is where it will start. And once that convenience of immediate delivery of digital books is realized, it is only a matter of time before we see that the bookstores we treasure have to offer more than just books if they want to attract customers. Books are commodities – and they will become increasingly more commoditized as Google Editions launches, as Kobo develops device-independent platforms, as Overdrive adds more titles to its Content Reserve service.

The bookstores that will be successful in that environment will be shops that sell deep inventory in specific areas (such as the spiritual/inspirational Breathe Books, staffed by the amazing Jenn Northington, aka @JennIRL on Twitter) and can provide a rich experience (offering CDs, videos, other media within those areas), or shops that have deep ties to their communities – that offer afterschool programs, sports events, matchmaking services (if you doubt me, look at WORD Bookstore’s Lonely Hearts board, or follow @bookavore on Twitter), or other beyond-the-book activities. Because when a book becomes commoditized, what becomes important – and NOT a commodity – is the conversation AROUND the book. The community of readers. And if brick and mortar bookstores can tap that community, engender those conversations in ways the community finds valuable…then their community will support them.

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