Thursday, February 14, 2008

What a concept (store)!

So Borders has finally unveiled its concept store concept. (And yes, that's a USA Today link - I know, I know.) This article, by Jayne O'Donnell and Sharon Silke Carty, reads like a press release, even though it is in a supposedly objective publication. This allows me to link to it and avoid a link to Borders - which is just fine by me.

So what's the concept? According to the article, the store will now be "a digital center where you can download music or books, burn CDs, research family histories, print pictures and order leather-bound books crammed with family photos — with help from clerks who know how to do those sorts of things and won't embarrass you if you don't." The new Apple store in Boston comes to mind reading this - I imagine it will have a similar feel, sans les livres.
At the Borders concept store, new themed book islands are built around lifestyle genres, including travel, cooking and health. The digital centers, meantime, are geared to welcome people of all levels of tech know-how. Staffers will guide customers through the process of burning music to CDs, downloading songs to most
digital music players (except iPods, which, for now, work only with Apple software) or books to a Sony digital reader. They'll even print the cover art and fold it into a CD cover for you.

This seems like a fine idea to me, actually, though I wonder if such rights management would even be possible for an independent store of any kind. Leave it to a big corporate box store to line up all their eggs to make this possible. But having digital content available with human assistance, as compared to wandering this landscape at home on your computer with some FAQ's at best, seems like a good idea, and could help popularize digitized media even more.

I don't, however, like this whole idea of "stickiness," in which they hope customers linger in the store so they can be exposed to more product. I hate walking through a bookstore and tripping over yoga mats, and silly games, figurines based on cartoon characters, and other non-book garbage they're trying to sell. So now they'll have monitors flashing ads and images - another irritating trend. (Recently, my local grocery store put up giant flat screens by the deli and what look like flatscreen computer monitors in all the cashier lanes so they can flash ads constantly.) So the bookstore experience will not, in fact, be "homey," bigwigs, if you keep filling it with unnecessary junk you're hoping we'll accidentally buy, as a gift the recipient does not want or need.

Guess I'm conflicted. Is anyone excited about these concept stores? The article has a list of 14 locations to come.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If I only had the time...

I would write about this interesting development at Harvard, reported by Patricia Cohen at the NY Times, wherein profs would start making their scholarly articles available electronically, free of charge. What will journals DO!?!?!

And THIS, about the Atiz Booksnap, a "book ripper" as it claims, that digitize your entire book... with a bit of manual help and a whole bunch of money.

But I don't have that time, so click away if you do.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A comrade!

I felt that tingly feeling of familiarity and comradery in reading this blog entry, written by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo and posted on PBS's Mediashift, a place I'll have to watch from now on. Ultimately, Maderazo lists the 5 main reasons she won't give up books. I don't agree all around, but I think I'm on board with her larger point and it's worth spreading the word a bit about the post.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Better then me, certainly

I have to share this blog linked through today's Shelf Awareness email: Kash's Book Corner. It seems quite promising to me. It's written by Arsen Kashkashian, an inventory manager and head buyer at Boulder Bookstore in Colorado. What I like is that he seems to be giving the inside dirt on bookselling.

The current post is of interest, but let me first jump back to the previous post when he is discussing his attempt to order a mere 6 copies of the forthcoming James Patterson novel from a Hatchette sales rep:
My rep informed me that if I ordered six copies of the Patterson book, I wouldn't get them in time for the national laydown date. The only books that Hachette will send out on time are those that are ordered in carton quantities. I looked at him as if he were speaking Aramaic and was an escaped lunatic from a bad Mel Gibson film. I smiled, in response: surely I had misunderstood him. Obviously, Hachette wouldn't renege on the most basic job of a publisher -- to deliver new books on time. I asked him what he meant. Unfortunately, what he meant was that Hachette, for all its smooth talk and gestures of good will to the independent stores over the last few years, had, in fact, adopted a policy that would put independent stores around the country at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Worse yet, the customers would think it was the bookstore's fault when a beloved author's title was not in.
So dirty! So shocking. So useful to know this kind of information.

But I also like the current post, admittedly a bit dated as it was posted Janury 25th but hey, we all get busy. The post is all about Jonathan Karp's imprint over at Hatchette, actually, called Twelve, wherein they will publish a single title each month and focus on that title, in every step of the process. I appreciate Karp's willingness to devise this kind of publishing and Kashkashian's loving report about it. It's a real identity, and seems to - if we're not to be pessimistic and see it all as marketing - really focus on the author and the writing.

The market is completely overstocked, we know that. Too much is being published. And I know in my experience in publishing, there is certainly a drive to publish more, to create more product at the chance that something will hit. That's an exciting opportunity for writers in one sense, but it's ultimately bad for morale, because so many of those books don't get the attention they deserve. Twelve is trying to change that, and I think that notion is something to applaud - just like Kashkashian.

Definitely linking this blog on the roll on the side, and will try to check in there once in awhile. This guy seems like a good one to follow.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Now on publishing...

So you can still read the post I contributed about 10 minutes ago, but this one is new and fresh and on publishing more specifically, for those keeping score.

I followed a link from my friend Jason's blog - he had linked this without writing on it. It's a New York Times piece by Rachel Donadio on that mysterious time between turning in your manuscripts, authors, and seeing a final book. No, no, not the production - no one gives a fig about that. About the publicity and marketing, rather. Production... that is sooooo 20th century. To read this article, in fact, one might think production involves someone hitting a bit button that says PRINT whenever the publicity and marketing is ready. Production directors everywhere must be groaning.

Anyhow, the article is making the point that book publishers still rely on good ol' fashioned word-of-mouth to sell books, despite technology making our world, certainly our culture, move at quicker and quicker speeds. But of course, that speed catches up with us book folk as soon as the book hits the shelf:
“For all the weeks and months that go into the gestation of the book, we’re up against the so-called lettuce test once we get into the stores,” Kirshbaum said. “If we don’t get sales fast, the book wilts.”
(that's Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent and former chairman of the Time Warner Book Group)

Sorry writers, 'tis true. So trust your publisher, while you're twiddling your thumbs and waking up in cold sweats and not getting voicemails returned, they're (hopefully) busy at work creating buzz, with sales reps and booksellers and media, and it's tedious, labor-intensive work.

In fact, everyone benefits if you, writer person, offer to lend a hand.

If you can't trust your publisher, I'm not sure what to tell you. If they never call back, if they get your book out too quickly, or if they delay it without due consideration, you may be in some trouble. This makes me wonder about a new profession: author counselor. I guess as an Editor that's already part of my job description, though.

I really wish they had said a word about production, though. I heard from someone that worked at a big NY house that they had books they'd leave in the warehouse, printed up, just waiting to fill a hole in their publishing schedule by putting it out. That's crazy. For most publishers, they keep things moving, and if they stand behind a book, they really are working feverishly to get a readership ready, to get people psyched for the book so they grab it when it's out. You have to prepare culture for a new addition. This is something new indie publishers should consider when they get ready to launch - are there readers waiting? And how can I both let booksellers know of them and let them know of our launch? And it is ridiculously old-fashioned.

As is much of my language in this post. My apologies for the Dickensian moments.

It's all elections anyhow

So if it's all about SUPER TUESDAY, then don't mind if I throw something political on here, because these opening paragraphs of an article really disturbed me:

While running for Congress in West Texas in 1978, a young George W Bush attended a training school for Republican candidates. In a class on fundraising he was struck by inspiration. "I've got the greatest idea of how to raise money for the campaign," he told David Dreier, now a California congressman. "Have your mother send a letter to your family's Christmas card list! I just did, and I got $350,000."

The web of wealth and family connections that has levered Bush to power and has since characterised his administration is an indictment of America's political culture. "George W Bush was named [after] a father who excelled at everything," argued Bush Jr's former speechwriter David Frum. "He tried everything his father tried - and well into his 40s, succeeded at almost nothing."

I know, right?

These paragraphs open an article from Gary Younge of the Guardian, a British paper doing some fine reporting on the ol' US of A. This line sums up his point: "If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, nobody under the age of 50 will have had the opportunity to vote for a viable presidential ticket that did not have a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket; 40% of Americans have never lived without a Bush or a Clinton in the White House." So he sees progressives as having more than just a symbolic fight on their hands.

But these elections are so tied in with culture, so I wonder what an Obama presidency would mean for American culture. I'm thrilled at the idea of having all those bad Bush impersonations out - think of all the cultural space we'll get back! (I'm feeling the way I did about the Beavis & Butthead impersonations in the 1990s - enough, can't we move on?) I know we'll still have plenty to criticize about the goings-on at the White House, but the enemy won't be as evil, surely - even with a new Clinton in office.

And what will happen with progressive publishing?! Forget the extra time from Bush impersonations, think of the extra pages when we don't have Bush to kick around! The Bush books have been endless. I didn't really work in publishing under Clinton. What do progressive presses, enjoying some real success under the Bush regime, publish under a more liberal executive branch? What should us editors look for out there, and what will progressives want to read?

I don't really know, but I'd love to find out. Please, please let me find out...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Going non-profit for fun

Okay, I don't imagine it's a fun process, but Shaman Drum, it's being reported, is considering going non-profit. For those not in the know, Shaman Drum is the oft-referenced indie in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which serves smart readers there including the University of Michigan student population. (Thanks, as ever, to Shelf Awareness for the link.)

I'd be curious to learn more about this process. Have other indie bookstores taken this route, and how'd it work out? The article does not shed much light on the process, only saying:
In order to become a non-profit organization, a detailed description of the organization and its activities must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The organization must also submit financial records with the IRS for the current tax year and the past three tax years.
This paragraph makes it seem like one needs to allow the government to monitor your finances closely and you're in, but given the tax breaks, there must be more involved.

Like the subscription service, could this be another model for keeping indies in business? As a taxpayer, I have no problem with the idea on some level, but I can appreciate that it would need to be monitored. The fact is, very few if any people are making much money off books, whether in publishing or in selling. I don't feel too concerned that someone is going to file for non-profit status and then turn around and rake in money for themselves. And most of us go on and on about bookstores being important elements in a community, as was discussed at the Winter Institute meeting last month. As someone with NO INDIE in my neighborhood - feel the anger, people - I can get behind supporting these places through tax breaks.

I feel I have become more involved in bookselling on this blog instead of book publishing, but things come around.

I'd also like to point out the handsome site of an exciting new literary agency in the Boston area: The Brattle Agency. If nothing else, just take a look at that design! (Run by a very qualified guy and good friend, admittedly.) Link going to the sidebar here, too.