Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thatcher Wine in the New York Times - Books Revisited

A Boulder friend, Thatcher Wine, is prominently featured in today's New York Times Home & Garden Section, and the article, "Selling a Book by Its Cover" is a very interesting read. After an earlier career as an Internet entrepreneur, Thatcher found something a bit more tangible to scratch his entrepreneurial itch and occupy his time and attention: books. 

You remember books. They're generally (though not always) printed on paper, they're sold at Barnes & Noble and Borders (as well as a handful of local bookstores), and they occupy a prominent space on the bookshelves of the rich and famous. I've recently gone on record as saying that in ten years or less the book - as we know it - will be gone. The rich, of course, will acquire books because they can: for them the escalating cost of paper-based books won't be a critical issue. The poor, on the other hand, will still use books because they won't be able to afford the devices - the Kindles, iPads, Nooks, tablets and other ereaders - that most people use to access their reading materials. Their books, of course, won't have fancy bindings, and they aren't likely to be current editions. They're more likely to be the sorts of books I used to buy as a kid at the local Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul stores at 10-15 cents a pop. 

Just to be clear about this, I love books. Dearly. As Nanette will happily tell you, I own far more of them than is reasonable. Some fill the half dozen bookshelves in our home. Many more are stored in dozens of boxes because there just isn't enough room to keep them on display. I expect that I've even sold and donated at least a library or two over the past ten years. So I'm not happy to see books go. Still . . . 

I've previously written about the demise of the bookstore, something that seemed, even back in 2008, inevitable. Back then, as I came to experience the power of the first generation Kindle, I focused on the vulnerability of local bookstores. Since that time, I've come to see the Borders and Barnes & Nobles as even more fragile, more exposed to the digital threat best represented by the iPad and the Kindle. 

How, then, do I explain the success of Thatcher's business, Juniper Books, which has been focused on delivering made-to-order solutions for those who want to create unique libraries of books? I suppose the answer to this question is that most people don't really want books to go away, and the more unique they become, the more valuable they will become in the eyes of certain people. Juniper Books seems to recognize this. Sometimes Thatcher's work is tailored for high net worth individuals - e.g., the private equity manager referenced in the New York Times article. And sometimes he develops concepts that are more tailored for retail outlets - e.g., Pottery Barn. 


Even a modernist builder like Steve Hermann in Los Angeles, who makes sleek multimillion-dollar houses for buyers like Christina Aguilera, includes acres of shelves in his high-end spec houses. Mr. Hermann designed a glassy Neutra-like house with a 60-by-14-foot shelving system, which has room for 4,000 books, he said.

“But who has 4,000 books?” he said. “I always stage my houses, so it was up to me to fill the shelves.” He ordered 2,000 white-wrapped books from Mr. Wine and deployed them in tidy, horizontal stacks (watch for the white-wrapped book to become this year’s version of the deer head).

Why build such huge shelves?

“I could have hung art,” Mr. Hermann said. “But I like the textural feeling of shelves, and of books on display.”

So did the buyer: the place, books included, sold for $6.4 million to a British man in the fashion business.

Since I know Thatcher has a unique and valuable perspective, I'll see if he's willing to share a few thoughts here. 



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