Barnes & Noble investor Sandell presses for bookseller’s sale

25 July 2017

From Fox Business:

An activist investor wants Barnes & Noble Inc. to try again to sell itself, arguing the bookseller needs an owner who can invest in its beleaguered operations.

Sandell Asset Management  has recently started buying a stake in the New York bookstore chain and is already among its 10 biggest investors, according to people familiar with the matter.

. . . .

Even though physical bookstores have declined in popularity in the U.S. in the internet age, Sandell reckons they aren’t going away and that Barnes & Noble’s status as the only national chain could attract a well-heeled private-equity firm or another retailer.

. . . .

The company has explored several possible deals to sell or break itself up over the years, including a buyout attempt by its chairman, Leonard Riggio. But none of the plans came to fruition and the stock has slumped 60% in the past two years, with the company’s market value plunging to just above $500 million.

Like many retailers, Barnes & Noble has struggled to compete with, which dominates the online sale of physical and digital books. For the fiscal year ended in April, Barnes & Noble’s revenue declined 6.5% to $3.9 billion, while earnings rose to $22 million. The bookseller, which currently has more than 600 stores, said it expects sales at stores open at least a year to show a percentage drop in the low single digits in fiscal 2018.

Link to the rest at Fox Business and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.


Random Fact

25 July 2017

Seven percent of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Innovation Center for US Dairy.

This has nothing to do with books, but PG found it interesting/disturbing. He doubts that many Canadians would be so ill-informed.



How to Format Your Book for Amazon Kindle Using Microsoft Word in Only 30 Minutes

25 July 2017

From TCK Publishing:

One of the factors that decides whether your book will be successful or a flop on Amazon Kindle is the formatting.

While reading a book, have you ever seen the text all run together, paragraphs with weird characters, or chunks of text that just seems to go on forever?

How did you feel about it?

You probably just ended up putting that book down.

You can have an astounding title, a spectacular cover design, and awe-inspiring content, but if you don’t format your book correctly, it will affect your readers’ overall experience.

Poor formatting makes it difficult to read your book. It also affects how your readers perceive the quality of your book. Readers have been unconsciously trained to read books designed in a particular format—and to expect that format every time. They pick up on the layout and arrangement more than they think. If the formatting of your book is not what they are used to, they may feel that it’s been cheaply made or done by an amateur.

Does this mean you have to hire a professional to format your book?


I’ve seen a lot of authors spend hundreds of dollars just to have someone format their book. They think they don’t have the knowledge or skill to do it themselves.

I’ve formatted my ebooks myself and I’ve mastered the techniques to do it quickly and efficiently. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars just to get your book looking professional and well-formatted. I can teach you how it’s done. All you need is to study the steps and implement them with the next book you publish.

. . . .

One point that I want to make is that the series of steps that I’m going to show you offers a guide to formatting your manuscript. You can still choose to make changes to the basic template! You can change how big your title is going to be, customize the subtitle, alter chapter headings, and all that. You can also change the alignment to centered or justified.

However, there are some things that I think you don’t have to bother with.

An example is the font. If you have a special font that you want to use, that’s fine.

But truth is, the font doesn’t really matter because 99% of readers choose their own fonts on their device. They can make the font bigger, smaller, or fancier as they wish. To make this process quick, I just utilize the style set on MS Word and set it to “Simple.”

“Style set” basically tells MS Word what kind of fonts to use for your title, headings ,and paragraphs. I use “Simple” because it’s the easiest and most straightforward style.

To change the style set in your document, just click on Change Styles, scroll over to Style Set, and select the option Simple.

. . . .

End this section by inserting a page break. What this will do is ensure that your readers won’t see the next section or chapter of your book until they click on the Next button and scroll to the next page on their Kindle device. So, at the end of title page, every section, and every chapter, you’re going to insert a page break to make it nice and neat.

Click on the Insert tab and click on Page Break.

Link to the rest at TCK Publishing and thanks to Carl for the tip.

The OP doesn’t lend itself to further excerpts because it includes detailed instructions with screen grabs from Word illustrating each step.

PG has used Jutoh to format Mrs. PG’s books for a few years and been generally satisfied with the results. As with many things computer, once PG finds a solution that works for him, he doesn’t tend to continue his research into alternative solutions in that particular area. (In a better world, Alan Ashton and his students would still be running WordPerfect and PG would still be using it.)

However, PG thinks he would have noticed if a much better ebook formatting solution was discussed by indie authors during his wanderings around the net.

PG was intrigued by the approach in the OP because he always goes through Mrs. PG’s manuscripts using Word to clean up and standardize formatting, etc., prior to dumping the the results into Jutoh.

Since Mrs. PG is a writing genius, PG doesn’t want to interfere with her creative process by asking her to worry about formatting when she is communing with her muse.

On the other hand, PG’s muse was kicked out of the Muse Guild for bad behavior a long time ago, so PG is less concerned about his muse refusing to commune on command because PG’s muse can’t stomp off to inspire anyone else without the consent of the Guild. PG’s muse throws hissy fits and sulks a lot, but, in the end he always returns.

But enough of Muse gossip.

So the question for PG is whether expanding his tweaks to the Word file would be faster/easier/better than using Jutoh to prepare the file for uploading to Amazon. He likes Jutoh and knows how to use it to finish the formatting job, but is always interested in improvements to his current methods of operation.

Feel free to express opinions on Jutoh vs. Max Word in the comments.



Confessions of a One-Time Reluctant Reader

25 July 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

I was an absolute book fanatic from the start. Or, to be more precise, I was an absolute PICTURE book fanatic. When adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: picture book illustrator.

Every week as a child, my mother took my brother and sister and me to our public library. Every week I brought home an enormous stack of books. In the evening, I would sit on the living room couch next to my mother as she read the words to books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Where the Wild Things Are to me. And I would interpret the pictures for her.

. . . .

Years passed, me checking out as many books as I could carry and drawing nonstop. And then one day, around the start of a new school year, everything changed. Suddenly I was too old for picture books. It was time for me to move on to middle grade books.

I could not process this idea. How could I be too old for picture books? I wanted to BE a picture book illustrator!

Besides, middle grade books were serious. Middle grade books were realistic. And worst of all, they had no pictures!

But at least I had Robert Newton Peck’s “Soup” books. These middle grade books were about a boy and his buddy named Soup, who ran around together having adventures and getting into all kinds of trouble. In short, these books were about me. I almost wondered if Robert Newton Peck wasn’t somewhere nearby, watching my life unfold and scribbling down brilliant, new material in his notebook.

. . . .

But eventually my teacher pressed me to broaden my horizons. I had no such interest, so when asked to choose from a cart of books that had been wheeled into our classroom, I picked a book called A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. Judging by the cover illustration, it was practically the long awaited third installment in the Soup series– two buddies, running around (this time among blackberry bushes), having adventures and getting into trouble.

One should never judge a book by its cover. (Spoiler alert) Unlike the Soup books, the Soup-like buddy in A Taste of Blackberries dies. I was shocked. I was confused. It had never occurred to me that such a thing could happen in a book. Was that even allowed?  I had so much to think about. Despite my best efforts, my horizons had indeed been broadened. It was an intriguing feeling.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club


Next Leap for Robots: Picking Out and Boxing Your Online Order

25 July 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Robot developers say they are close to a breakthrough—getting a machine to pick up a toy and put it in a box.

It is a simple task for a child, but for retailers it has been a big hurdle to automating one of the most labor-intensive aspects of e-commerce: grabbing items off shelves and packing them for shipping.

Several companies, including Saks Fifth Avenue owner Hudson’s BayCo. and Chinese online-retail giant Inc. have recently begun testing robotic “pickers” in their distribution centers. Some robotics companies say their machines can move gadgets, toys and consumer products 50% faster than human workers.

Retailers and logistics companies are counting on the new advances to help them keep pace with explosive growth in online sales and pressure to ship faster. U.S. e-commerce revenues hit $390 billion last year, nearly twice as much as in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales are rising even faster in China, India and other developing countries.

That is propelling a global hiring spree to find people to process those orders. U.S. warehouses added 262,000 jobs over the past five years, with nearly 950,000 people working in the sector, according to the Labor Department. Labor shortages are becoming more common, particularly during the holiday rush, and wages are climbing.

. . . .

Picking is the biggest labor cost in most e-commerce distribution centers, and among the least automated. Swapping in robots could cut the labor cost of fulfilling online orders by a fifth, said Marc Wulfraat, president of consulting firm MWPVL International Inc.

“When you’re talking about hundreds of millions of units, those numbers can be very significant,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant edge for whoever gets there first.”

. . . .

In RightHand Robotics’ Somerville, Mass., test facility, mechanical arms hunt around the clock through bins containing packages of baby wipes, jars of peanut butter and other products. Each attempt—successful or not—feeds into a database. The bigger that data set, the faster and more reliably the machines can pick, said Yaro Tenzer, the startup’s co-founder.

Hudson’s Bay is testing RightHand’s robots in a distribution center in Scarborough, Ontario.

“This thing could run 24 hours a day,” said Erik Caldwell, the retailer’s senior vice president of supply chain and digital operations, at a conference in May. “They don’t get sick; they don’t smoke.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)


How to Judge a Book by its Cover

24 July 2017

From Design Observer:

AIGA and Design Observer’s 50 Books | 50 Covers competition, which reviews and awards the best of book and cover designs published within the past year, has just concluded its 94th cycle. We’re pleased to announce this year’s winning cover and winning book selections, along with a few trends the judges couldn’t help but notice while digging deep into the stacks to pare nearly 700 submissions down to 100 final selections.

. . . .

As popular as the ebook (supposedly) is these days, to our judges—Gail Anderson, designer and professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City; Michael Carabetta, Creative Director of Chronicle Books; and Jessica Helfand, Co-Founder of this publication—the strongest trends from the hundreds of selections they reviewed were of the tactile variety.

. . . .

Carabetta, who has previously juried the competition, noted after a full day of reviewing entries that the final books selected were excellent “not only in design—[but] in production; in paper, mixing coated and uncoated… People are getting into the real, physical qualities of the book.” He went on, “Maybe it’s because of the screen age we live in that they are appreciating the tactile quality.”

The book, in the mind of the bibliophile, has been threatened for some time now: due to the adoption of radio, or tv, or the direction that the current political wind is blowing. And book designers responded to these influences in the way designers know best—visually. In one particularly symbolic example, author Ray Bradbury ensured his 1953 book, Fahrenheit 451, would avoid the untimely demise experienced by those books of his plotline by binding the second edition in fireproof asbestos to prevent its burning.

With the adoption of ebooks, it seemed book lovers everywhere were not able to shake the fear that the humble object of their affection–a book created by the art of ink on paper (no battery required)–was similarly under fire. But the book has persisted in new forms, designed in even more inventive and delightful ways with each passing year. After reviewing one cover design, Anderson said, “This is one of those covers that I wish I’d done, but can now never attempt because the designer executed it perfectly.” If that’s not a high accolade, I’m not sure what is.

Link to the rest at Design Observer

PG is not an expert on cover design (plus a great many more subjects), but he had a difficult time picking a couple of award winners that he actually thought were well-designed for inclusion at the bottom of this post.

From the photos and descriptions in the OP, PG surmised that the judges of the design competition may have performed their duties entirely with physical books without examining how those covers translated to a computer or smartphone screen.

He has no doubt that the tactile qualities of the paper, etc., were lovely in person. However, a book cover is, first and foremost, a marketing and promotion tool. Tactile qualities only contribute to book sales in physical bookstores.

If the covers are only attractive and attention-getting in their physical forms and fail electronically, PG suggests they have also failed in their principal business purpose. Cover designers can probably have a lot more fun with a physical instantiation of their creations, especially with interesting papers, textures, etc., but if the objective is to enhance sales of the book, the cover will fail if it flops on Amazon.


Some Rain Must Fall and other stories
AUTHOR: Michel Faber
PUBLISHER: Canongate Books
OTHER CREDITS: Illustrator: Yehrin Tong

The Children‘s Home
AUTHOR: Charles Lambert
DESIGNER: Jaya Miceli



ABA Board Member Christine Onorati on Her Life Among Books

24 July 2017

From the American Booksellers Association:

Bookselling This Week: Please talk about your early experiences with reading and books.

Christine Onorati: I was a bookworm from as early as I can remember, getting in trouble for reading at the dinner table and never leaving home without a book. I viscerally remember the summer reading club at the local library; more than 40 years later, I can still see the cardboard box our individual records were kept in and the cardstock forms we filled out with the titles of the books we read. We got to pick out and affix our own sticker after we told the librarian what the book was about, and I remember it all like it was yesterday.

. . . .

BTW: How did you begin as a bookseller, and how long after starting in bookselling did you begin to feel that you had found a special vocation?

CO: My first store was predominantly used books and was in the Long Island suburbs, where competition from Costco and a nearby Barnes & Noble was pretty fierce. It wasn’t until I moved the business to Greenpoint, Brooklyn (where my husband and I had just relocated), that I felt the welcome arms of the community in a major way. I loved the years I spent in my first store and I had a handful of really wonderful customers, but I look at those years as training for the real thing. Connecting with the community in North Brooklyn in those early days was a really special time. People constantly thanked us for opening our store in their neighborhood, we started a literary dating board and a basketball league, and we had a regular comedy show in our basement and a standing-room-only midnight party for the last Harry Potter book. Those all gave me the taste for really connecting with my community through books.

. . . .

BTW: As an ABA Board member, what are your key goals for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

CO: My main goal is to brainstorm new and creative ways for bookselling to exist in this somewhat crazy retail environment. Our relationships with publishers and the ways in which they can help direct book buyers to indies and not automatically to online sellers is a big focus, as is fostering the next generation of young booksellers and making sure bookselling is a viable career path for those who want to take over existing stores or start their own. I also believe, as booksellers today, we need to be ahead of the trends and try to stay competitive with the ever-changing technology of the retail and book worlds.

Link to the rest at American Booksellers Association

PG is highly skeptical that, in 2017, “bookselling is a viable career path for those who want to take over existing stores or start their own.”

He doubts the future of bookselling will look any brighter in 2018 or 2019 either, despite the best efforts of the American Booksellers Association.

The megatrend toward ecommerce and away from physical retail is far from complete. The PG’s have recently started ordering groceries online then driving to a local store to have them loaded in the trunk for the trip home. So far, the store employees seem to be at least as skilled as PG is in selecting produce.

Spending time with his posterity during the past several days has reminded PG that virtually every young person is a digital native these days. A three-year-old is as comfortable with a screen as with a physical book. (However, a three-year-old is still a three-year-old, so PG is very grateful for Amazon’s Fire Kids Edition Tablet which appears to be as indestructible as a sledge hammer.)

Will there be physical bookstores in 20 years?


Will there be more or fewer physical bookstores in 20 years than at present?

Fewer. A lot fewer.

Will there be more antique stores than bookstores in 20 years?

Hard to say since most physical books will be sold in antique stores.


Nothing is original

24 July 2017

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.

Jim Jarmusch



The Rare-Book Thief Who Looted College Libraries in the ’80s

24 July 2017

From the Atlas Obscura:

On the evening of December 7, 1981, Dianne Melnychuk, serials librarian at the Haas Library at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, noticed an unfamiliar gray-haired man of early middle age lingering around the card catalog near her desk. He had attempted to appear inconspicuous by way of nondescript, almost slovenly dress, but at almost six-and-a-half feet tall, with a 225-pound frame, he stood out.

Something about him rang a bell. Melnychuk discreetly followed him up to the sixth level of the stacks, and carefully observed him from the end of a row of shelving. In spite of the glasses he wore that evening, his face clicked in her memory.

A few months earlier, a photo of this man, who went by the name James Richard Shinn, had appeared in an article published in Library Journal. Patricia Sacks, director of the Muhlenberg and Cedar Crest College Libraries, had shared the article with her staff with an accompanying memo: “Take a good look at the face,” she wrote, “and, more importantly, keep your eye on strangers whose behavior may be a tipoff.”

James Richard Shinn was a master book thief. Using expert techniques and fraudulent documents, he would ultimately pillage world-class libraries to the tune of half a million dollars or more. A Philadelphia detective once called him “the most fascinating, best, smartest crook I ever encountered.” And yet, despite the audacity of his approach and the widespread effects of his crimes, Shinn has been relegated to a footnote in book history.

. . . .

Shinn’s motel room contained 26 stolen books and a file full of inventory cards for another 154 volumes. He was well-educated in book history, restoration and binding, and the tools of his trade filled the room: color-stained cloths and Q-tips with jars of shoe polish, used to color-match and conceal library markings on book spines. A folder of facsimile title pages, used as replacements when a book’s true title page was stamped or contained other identifying marks. All were designed to remove libraries’ marks and render the stolen works unidentifiable and thus saleable to unsuspecting book dealers and collectors.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura


A Spy Novel Whose Clues Are Found on New York Landmarks

24 July 2017

From The New York Times:

A smoky voice on the phone, like roughened velvet, has a confidential matter to discuss. She says her name is Patricia Neal — yes, the actress. She needs a private detective, an expert in old New York mysteries and cracking codes. The man for the case, she heard, is David Wise.

“Are you free now?” she asks, proposing to steal over to his Manhattan address.

The year was 2009. Neal, an Oscar and Tony winner, would have been 83 then. Her career highs were rocked by a tempest of domestic tragedies, including the death of a 7-year-old daughter from the measles, grievous head injuries to her 4-month-old son when his baby carriage was hit by a taxi on Madison Avenue and her own near-fatal series of strokes when she was 39. Then there was her husband of 30 years, Roald Dahl, the author of twisted, fantastical children’s bookslike “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” who left her for one of her friends.

The fact that Dahl was also a British spy during World War II sets in motion “The Atlas Pursuit,” an interactive digital novel by David Wise released this week. The puzzle-story involves Nazi cryptography and a blackmail plot that could have changed the course of the war. J. Edgar Hoover drops in, as does the spymaster William Stephenson, code-named “Intrepid” and said to be one of Ian Fleming’s models for James Bond.

Uncovering a high-stakes conspiracy, even many decades later, naturally imperils the lives of the detective and the plucky octogenarian actress, who can barely climb the stairs to his walk-up apartment. Still, her fierce grip never loosens on a valuable suitcase as they scour the city on an odyssey of brainteasers.

. . . .

 “The Atlas Pursuit” is available free on phones, laptops, tablets and so on. “I wanted people to get into it, not have that barrier of paying first,” he said.

Readers are challenged to figure out rhyming riddles to unlock the password-protected chapters. While the internet is indispensable for research, clues are gathered by getting out of the house. Think Pokémon Go, but more historically challenging, with a soupçon of celluloid glamour.

“The story dictated the form,” Mr. Wise said, unaware of any other precedents.

City landmarks, which include sites that figured in the real lives of Neal and Dahl, must be inspected in a way that Google Images can’t reveal. They are public spaces, so there is no lawbreaking required to visit them.

“My guess is that some people will hate it and never be able to figure it out, and some will zip right through it,” Mr. Wise said. “I hope for the majority of people it will be a fun challenge.” He predicted that competitive types can finish the narrative and puzzles in one marathon day.

Link to the rest at The New York Times 

Here’s a link to The Atlas Pursuit. You can start reading in your browser at no cost.

Since Nazi cryptography is involved in the story, the author has created an electronic simulator of an Enigma machine, which created supposedly indecipherable secret messages the Reichswehr and Reichsmarine commanders used to communicate with their forces in the field during World War II.

The Enigma code was famously broken the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. The work at Bletchley was greatly assisted by Polish cryptanalists who escaped to France when the Germans invaded Poland and later to England. The Poles had broken earlier versions of the Enigma code in the 1930’s.


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