Monday, March 23, 2009

Ideas on the Internets

Even as I get swamped by life's pressures, I have to mention a few ideas floating out in cyberspace on publishing.  Huh. Does anyone still call it cyberspace? 

Anyhow, over at The Late Age of Print, Ted Striphas suggests a book version of Netflix. It's a nice opportunity to mention that stores have rented out books before:

The Waldenbooks chain (now owned by Borders) got its start that way, back in 1933.  Founders Lawrence W. Hoyt and Melvin Kafka believed in books, but in the throes of the Great Depression, they decided against opening a retail bookstore.  The pair saw books as something of a luxury, and reasoned that few people would be willing to part with what little money they had to purchase these non-essentials outright.

Like the founders of Netflix, Hoyt and Kafka bucked industry trends.  They decided to set up shop in a department store in Bridgeport, CT, where they leased floor space in the hope of reducing fixed capital costs.  And instead of selling books, they rented them out for three cents per day.  By 1948, Hoyt and Kafka had opened as many as 250 rental libraries in department stores spanning from New York to Maine.

The rental library business declined after the Second World War.  Rising wages and fuller employment meant that rental culture could once again give way to consumer culture.  Waldenbooks followed the trend by introducing retail book sales in 1945, and abandoning book rentals in 1957.

I had heard about this manner of retail from the owner of the Provincetown Book Store, when I spoke to him last summer. 

Striphas updates this idea for the internet age, as noted, using Netflix as his model, but I've heard this idea is already out in the world. I know Bookswim has been doing this for some time, and there are others for textbooks and other niches. The idea for a niche market in particular has some real potential. I like the idea of doing this cheaply with mass markets, seeing as people into romance, sci-fi or mystery blow through books quickly. It would have to have books available digitally as well. And at some point, I can't help but think of, um... libraries. My only point here is to say Striphas loses a bit of credibility for failing to realize these companies exist.

Over at Galleycat, they sum up a talk given by Jonathan Karp of Twelve at the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association about the current state of publishing. He declares that publishers need to stop publishing so many books and copying successful books, all the stuff people are saying, right? But I've said before that I still find Twelve frustrating because Karp et al are not presenting a unified list of books, but rather one book a month that they think can make money. They're led by a belief in the market, rather than by vision and values and commitment. I guess I see this speech and I think he's halfway there.

Lastly, I wanted to link to an interesting article by Richard Curtis "reprinted" from 1986, over at The Writer's Edge, all about the state of editors during that period of buy-outs and mergers. It's a useful bit of history, showing that what's happening now has happened in a different way before, as non-publishing companies gobbled up publishers, and publishers consumed other publishers, and editors feared for their jobs. What was most fascinating was the list of companies that ate other companies - who could ever keep this straight?!

Appleton-Century-Crofts (a division of Prentice-Hall)
Prentice-Hall (acquired by Simon & Schuster)
Simon & Schuster (acquired by Viacom Corporation)
Atheneum (acquired by Charles Scribner)
Charles Scribner (acquired by Macmillan)
Macmillan (acquired by Simon & Schuster)
Little, Brown (acquired by Time Inc.)
Warner Paperback (merged with Little, Brown)
Avon Books (acquired by the Hearst Corporation)
Arbor House (acquired by the Hearst Corporation)
Fawcett Books (acquired by Ballantine Books)
Ballantine Books (acquired by Random House)
Times Books (acquired by Random House)
Pantheon Press (acquired by Random House)
Alfred A. Knopf (acquired by Random House)
Random House (acquired from RCA by the Newhouse
Bantam Books (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Doubleday (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Dell Books (acquired by the Bertelsmann Group)
Basic Books (acquired by Harper & Row, then deacquisitioned)
Crowell (acquired by Harper & Row)
Abelard-Schuman (acquired by Harper & Row)
Harper & Row (acquired by Rupert Murdoch's NewsAmerica
Playboy Press (acquired by Berkley Books)
Ace Books (acquired by Grosset & Dunlap)
Grosset & Dunlap (acquired by Berkley Books)
Berkley Books (acquired by G. P. Putnam's)
G. P. Putnam's (acquired by MCA, sold to Matsushita, then to
Seagram, then to Pearson Ltd.)
Pyramid Books (acquired by Harcourt Brace, renamed Jove)
Jove (acquired by Berkley)
Coward-McCann-Geoghegan (acquired by Putnam, then dissolved)
Dial Press (acquired by Dell, sold to Dutton)
Dutton (acquired by Elsevier, sold to JSD, sold to NAL)
NAL (sold by Times-Mirror to Odyssey Group, resold to Viking,
merged with Penguin)
Rawson, Wade (acquired by Macmillan)
Silhouette Books (acquired by Harlequin from Simon & Schuster)


(Thanks to Editorial Ass for the link!)

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