Thursday, July 31, 2014

The demise of the toot-toot?

When I was a child, my siblings and I always looked forward to the
end of the roll of toilet paper.  At the end of the roll .. or more accurately inside the roll, was the wonderful thing we called a toot-toot. This cardboard tube was the perfect size for small hands.  You could hold it up to your mouth and say 'toot-toot'... not only did it sound all cool and echo-y, but you could feel the vibration of the tube in your hand.

Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of books, and toys and things to play with... this isn't one of those 'we were so poor that ...' stories, it was just that we saw tremendous potential in that little cardboard tube. You might think that the tubes inside rolls of paper towels would be even better -- but they came in a distant second in our minds.  There was just something magical about the short little tube from the rolls of toilet paper.

And apparently we weren't unique in our fascination with this item.  A quick search online comes up with "101 Things to do With Toilet Paper Rolls", "Cool Kids Crafts you can make from Toilet Paper Tubes", "17 Ideas for Recycling Toilet Paper Rolls"... you get the idea.  And while my memories of the toot-toot go back 50 years or so, these websites and blog posts I've listed are recent, and the projects range from arts and crafts projects for kids, to more complex arts and crafts projects for adults, to utilitarian organizational projects.

So when I saw a commercial a couple days ago advertising toilet paper rolls without the cardboard tube...

well, I wasn't devastated, but I was indeed a little sad.

But I didn't really catch the whole commercial, I wasn't even sure what brand was being advertised --- perhaps I'd misheard.  So of course I went online to find out what was going on.

And to my surprise, I discovered that this news was first announced  in 2010.. nearly 4 years ago!   So why would someone want to take away this wonderful little item?  When the company first made their announcement, they were asked that very question, and the response was that "The tube doesn't really serve any consumer purpose."  Really?  Were you not aware of those websites and blog posts talking about all the things that a toilet paper tube could be use for?  But as I explored a bit further, I discovered the justification that tubeless toilet paper rolls are environmentally friendly.

Oh.  Well, that's a good reason.

But wait.  In the almost-four years since the first tubeless toilet paper rolls came out... No Other Company has shifted to tubeless toilet paper rolls.  Not the name brand companies, not the generic toilet paper companies.  And think about it...  those tubes are cardboard.  Have you ever taken one of them apart?  They're pretty biodegradable.

I'm not sure why this is the first I've heard of this, but I do find it telling that no one else has jumped on the bandwagon.  For the moment, it would appear that the toot-toot is safe.

Whew.. one more tragedy averted.  That certainly warrants a cup of tea!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Bookstores

A little over a year ago, I blogged about bookstores in On Libraries and Bookstores.  I expressed sadness at the fact that Barnes and Noble had announced a long range plan of a significant number of store closings... but I also said I could understand.  I go into the my local library, and I see that the computer section is getting larger and larger, as is the video game section, the movie section, and the music section.  I've never used a computer at the library, nor have I rented a video or a movie..  but I'm delighted to see these sections. The computer section was enlarged because there was a growing demand for access, and the video and movie sections always have a lot of people using them.  The library still has a lot of books, and continues to add to the collection on a regular basis, but it's important to add these other sections, to keep the library alive.

Yes, yes, I know.  The title of this post is Thoughts on Bookstores, not Thoughts on Libraries... I'm getting to it.

Over the years, Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores, have taken action similar to what my library is doing...  you can buy games, toys, music, videos, and even coffee and pastries at many bookstores.  But clearly, that's not enough.  After all, if I want to buy games and toys, there are specialty stores I could go to.
Similarly, there are store devoted to music and videos, and coffee.  In a sense, for big bookstores to try to sell these non-book items only increases the number of stores they're competing with.    

But I've already posted about the big bookstores.. so why am I writing about this now?

Last week, a friend told me she had bought a small independent bookstore.  She's still keeping her regular job; she sees this as a hobby for the moment, and ultimately something to do in her retirement.  I enthusiastically congratulated her, and wished her well --- I sincerely wish her well, but I'm a bit dubious.  I don't know any of her specific plans, other than the location and the new name.  I will acknowledge that she's in a good area for a bookstore.  And perhaps her plans include some unique and different things that will attract people away from the library, and from online stores, and into her bookstore.  But again, I'm dubious.

You see, not long before this friend told me about her acquisition, Michael Holley put up the following blog post Patterson Beats His Bookshop Drum.  It's not long, and it's worth reading.  Michael - like me - likes bookstores,  has many fond memories of bookstores, and regrets their demise.  But he points out that - if bookstores want to survive, they need to change.  And they need to get creative about it.  And I think he's right.  I also think that the small, local, independent bookstores have a better chance at surviving, than the large one-size-fits-all bookstores.

So while I'm dubious about my friend's new venture, she does have an advantage over a place like Barnes and Noble.  As the owner of an independent bookstore, she can make decisions and implement new measures far easier and far faster than a big corporation.  And perhaps that's the secret, and perhaps it will lead to her success.  She's got a tough road ahead of her.  Not only can she not match the prices of online book sources, but she can't even match the prices of big corporate-owned bookstores.  However there are things she can do...  perhaps she'll have a special section for local authors, or for books set in this region... or something else that the big chain bookstores can't do.  There's something to be said for having specific customers in mind, and catering to them.

Hmmm..  I wonder if she serves tea in her bookstore?  Probably not.  But that's ok, because I have plenty of tea at home.  Yes, it's hot outside, that's all the more reason to drink a cup of hot tea.  Confused?  That's ok... I'll explain it a little later.