Here's what you do if you're in the business. You sit at your desk and think. Thinking isn't always the best thing to do but you can't help it. Sales are down -- way down -- and don't appear to be coming back. What is wrong with people?! Why don't they start spending again? Returns are still way too high, but -- screw it! -- you've been through the returns discussion a million times. Let's face it, waste is here to stay. Stores are still going out of business and your biggest customers are flat or down. You've continued to over-pay for mediocre properties. So much to think about! Worst of all, it's now August and you're supposed to be out in the Hamptons or up the Hudson Valley, doing all kinds of summery things, like dining al fresco, reading the competition's books, and hobnobbing with the local gentry, but the Money Men back in the city are still calling emergency meetings and expecting you to attend. What is wrong with those guys?
Thinking can be a real downer. So you open a couple of spreadsheets and stare at 'em for a couple of minutes. The numbers are so effin mute you can hear your watch tick. Nothing there to stop you from thinking. Then you make a phone call to your biggest customer, just to find out what she's thinking. But she's not available, you only get her voice mail. So you leave a message which distracts you for about twenty seconds. Damn. What to do? You can't read because reading on the job is frowned upon. You can't get up, walk around, and have a casual conversation with anyone because casual conversations are against regulations. Besides, there aren't that many people left to talk to. You can't go on a personal errand because you never know when the boss is gonna call you.
So you sit at your desk and play solitaire for a while. It's a pretty good substitute for thinking, but it only lasts so long before thoughts start creeping back into your head. Okay, now you run through all the open windows in your web browser and light on Amazon. That's always a good site to check out if you want to impede thinking. You click on "Movers & Shakers" and notice that some titles are moving up. That is so cool, just like reading a thermometer shoved up the market's arse. It can really take your mind off thinking, especially if you pay close attention to the way it changes all the time, just like the title sales rankings. After a while, though, even Amazon's hypnotic spell is broken.
So you click on CNN and the Times and CBS Marketwatch and MSNBC and Huffington and stare at story after story, the same story told over and over like a bloody parody of Rashomon or Groundhog Day, until your eyes are watery and your brain is crushed. Wait a sec. You get an idea. What if? What if the book industry -- with the government's backing -- instituted a program analogous to the auto industry's "cash for clunkers" program? Consumers could trade in all their abandoned and dusty hardcover books and get a $3,500 to $4,500 discount against a purchase of a whole new library, at a retailer of their choice. The books they trade in have to be Big Fat Tomes that No One Wants to Read Anymore. The books they purchase have to be new. No other conditions apply. Boy, that'd perk up the industry. Like the good old days when the chains were opening thirty, forty new stores a year and publishers were shipping them all that wallpaper. You think, why not? We're almost in as bad a shape as the car companies. This could really work. Well, what do you think?