This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 25, 1998

November 25, 1998 - Barnes & Noble buys Ingram

This is the week many of us will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner. But what shall we talk about?

There's the food, of course. The library has a marvelous audiotape that recounts the dinner time sounds at Roy Blount's momma's, a veritable choir of "mm-HMMM's" and "LOOK at them yams!" Such talk flatters the host and arguably spices the meals. (I include the side discussion, usually among the children, about at least one peculiar victual that goes back a generation or two. "What's IN that jello?" "Why do they call it a 'Watergate Salad?'" "Do I have to eat this?")

It is generally held that you should never discuss politics, religion or sex at the dinner table. That's a tragedy, since these are, of course, three of the most interesting topics we have. And in America, they're generally connected, whether the subject is, for instance, "freedom of choice" versus "anti-abortion" or, alas, anything to do with President Clinton.

Librarians will probably be talking about something the rest of the world may not have even noticed. Barnes and Noble, America's biggest bookstore, is in the process of buying Ingram, one of the nation's two biggest book distributors.

The world of books is like any other business these days. That is, there are fewer and fewer players all the time. Several years ago, Ingram was doing the buying. It acquired a company called Gordon's, which had a huge book warehouse in Denver.

This year, Ingram supplies more than half of all the books the Douglas Public Library District buys -- some 30,000 items a year. (Incidentally, some 90,000 items a year -- 60,000 new, and perhaps 30,000 older items that need mending, reclassification, or deletion -- flow through our tiny 1,300 square foot processing area in the corner of the Philip S. Miller Library. It's this space crunch that drives our need for a new "technical services" area.)

When you fill out a "blue slip" (our request form) for a book at the library, we place an electronic order with Ingram. If they've got it in the local warehouse (which they usually do), we get the book the very next day. Their service is prompt, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. Given the extraordinary growth of our county, Ingram has been an important part of our strategy to keep up with our patrons' unending demand for new materials.

But how will their acquisition by Barnes and Noble change things, if at all?

Not only librarians are asking this question. The independent bookstores, from Denver's Tattered Cover to Castle Rock's Hooked on Books, are also troubled. Barnes and Noble is their main competition. There have already been several lawsuits about book discount rates that favor the large chains. With Barnes and Noble also owning the book warehouse, the company has achieved a huge competitive advantage.

Some independent bookstore owners project two outcomes of the Ingram buy-out: more independents going out of business, and a narrowing of the diversity of Ingram offerings. If so, libraries may also find it harder to come up with anything but the blockbusters and movie-tie-ins that provide the main fare for chain bookstores.

Since this is Thanksgiving, I have to say that I've always been grateful for the independent bookstores, their quirky stock, their wide-ranging areas of special interest, their piquancy and character. It saddens me that the local bookstore may soon go the way of the mom and pop grocery store.

But then there's the other side of Thanksgiving. Call it the business end of the holiday: when you've got an insatiable appetite, you're just liable to gobble everything in sight.

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