Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Two interesting things of note today.

First from galleycat:
What are we to make of the fact that the Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund revealed in a recent SEC filing that it owns shares in both Borders and Barnes & Noble? David Polonitza of SeekingAlpha focuses on Pershing's track record for shareholder activism to speculate (very wildly) on the possibilities of a merger between "the number #1 and #2 big box book stores in the country." He explains the logic behind the hypothetical move: "There would be considerable cost savings in merging the two companies with respect to distribution, management, along with the increased purchasing power. Each company's online presence is still not competitive and they might fare better combined...a much stronger competitor to the likes of Amazon than they are apart."

YIKES! This is terrifying.

And second from today's New York Times, an article on Middlebury College in Vermont not allowing students to use Wikipedia. Well at least people are realizing the limits to user-generated content. But this is disturbing:
Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.


But it is interesting to see professors using it to give their students - even grad students - experience in writing publicly. I guess it's not the generating of content that worries me as much as the reliance on it from students writing papers.

So that's it, two interesting points to update this thing. More soon, I hope.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oh Oprah....

Shelf Awareness has this nice article, worth cutting and pasting, in today's daily email newsletter thing:

Reminding Oprah and Authors

We learned yesterday that Margaret Osondu isn't the only bookseller who's been trying to educate Oprah about independent bookstores. The owner of two bookstores, a gift shop and wholesaler (Shelf Awareness, April 25, 2006), Deb Hunter writes:I've been on an e-mail writing campaign to Oprah and the authors she interviews to mention to purchase their books at a local independent bookstore.One Sunday I was listening to Oprah and Friends, an XM radio show. In the span of an hour, I heard one author mention that her book could be pre-ordered through and another host suggest buying school textbooks online instead of in local bookstores. Infuriated, I began my campaign. I wrote to Oprah's magazine, TV show and radio show. With the help of the ABA, I was able to direct the offending author to its author program. The author apologized and said although she has her signings at independents, she was not aware that we could pre-order!I continue to write to authors on a weekly basis, applauding the ones who mention small independent bookstores and informing the others that we could all use their help in the future.In the future, I will zero in on other TV and radio shows and authors as my quest for equality continues. But I am only one person and can do only so much on my own.

If you know of any other way to pass the word along to have others do the same as me and toot our own horns loud and clear please let me know.

So I'm spreading the word. Write to your friend Oprah - this is unacceptable.

I'm envious of the bookseller community, and yet see opening a bookstore as such a bad "new business" move. Various ideas are still cooking...

Was in Houston this weekend, where I went by the incredibly nice Brazos Bookstore. The manager was explaining their interesting and increasingly common business model. Check out both.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Two articles of note

I'm still sad about Molly Ivins and have read now fewer than half a dozen obits, including Krugman's kind one today sent by a friend who has the elitist Times Select.

But grudgingly moving on...

This story on yahoo is about "A Million Penguins," the wiki book being generated, I guess one would say, by what the article calls "enthusiasts." I like this phrasing, as it kind of undercuts a notion of specialized knowledge, in contract to the implied "expert" when one says "author."

In typical British skepticism, we have this:

"This is an experiment. It may end up like reading a bowl of alphabet spaghetti," Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing at Penguin UK said, adding there were no plans as yet to publish the completed work.

"We are not making any predictions. It would be utterly fantastic if we could at the end create a print remix."

So let's not celebrate this collaborative, digital future just yet, okay? This is why I liked living in England - the pause before getting excited, which just often doesn't exist in America.

The other article of note was from the Globe earlier this week, by Kate Whouley. The now-author mourns the loss of a Waldenbooks in Needham, Mass., where she was once a manager. I read this and had memories of a B. Dalton store in Deerbrook Mall, in Humble, Texas. I wouldn't think of this sudden memory as sad or mournful, as I'm sure it's no longer sitting there across from the food court (which now has a massive movie theatre stuck on the end of it like some kind of spaceship), on the second floor, by the escalators, stocking largely business, self-help books, and mass market fiction. The Bookstop across FM 1960, owned by B&N, hurt that B. Dalton and I'm sure resulted in its death.

Since that time - we're talking 15 years here - a Half-Price Books has opened a bit farther down 1960. Those of you outside of Texas might now know this used books / remainders stocking chain which has done incredibly well for itself. I haven't seen the one in Humble, but I'll be in Houston next weekend so maybe I'll try to take a look at the book situation in my old stomping grounds.

I distinctly remember as well looking up a used bookstore while in high school, and finding a listing for one in old town center in Humble. I was just starting to take an interest in book culture and had my own car - ah that '86 Corolla served me well. So off I went to this place, hoping to find dog-eared corners of classics, Kerouac and Tolstoy and Plath (I confess) and what have you. Imagine my disappointment in finding dusty shelves full of 10 cent romance novels, with an older overweight woman looking strangely at me from behind a decrepit wooden counter.

So Whouley's point is that this Waldenbooks will be missed: "The Waldenbooks in Needham, despite its corporate affiliation, was a neighborhood bookstore." Fair point. So can corporate bookstores still trigger nostalgia? And should we repress or deny that nostalgia? We shouldn't, but we also shouldn't be uncritical of it. Having worked at corporate bookstores myself - both B&N and Borders in fact - I can say that there were great people there, customers and fellow staff alike, but I'd still take it all back to have been able to put in time at an independent. I guess at some point, though, I'll just have to open my own. I wonder how that used place in Humble's doing, and if that woman, an avid reader I'm sure, is still manning the counter with her bifocals and knit shirt....