Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Pleasure of Reading Recipes

30 July 2013

From The New Yorker Page-Turner blog:

Recipe readers are always talking about how cookbooks are like novels, and there’s a clue here to how we actually read them. Like a short story, a good recipe can put us in a delightful trance. The Oxford English Dictionary defines fiction as literature “concerned with the narration of imaginary events.” This is what recipes are: stories of pretend meals. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they are written in the imperative tense (pick the basil leaves, peel the onion). Yes, you might do that tomorrow, but right now, you are doing something else. As you read, your head drowsily on the pillow, there is no onion, but you watch yourself peel it in your mind’s eye, tugging off the papery skin and noting with satisfaction that you have not damaged the layers underneath.

I was contemplating the nature of cookbooks while reading William Sitwell’s new book, “A History of Food in 100 Recipes.”

. . . .

My favorite recipe was No. 65, “Creamed Mushrooms,” taken from “The International Jewish Cookbook,” by Florence Kreisler Greenbaum (1919). The recipe itself is for mushrooms simmered in a béchamel sauce with “a gill of cream” added. “Cooked like this,” Greenbaum tells us, “mushrooms have more nutritive value than beef.” Sitwell uses the recipe as a springboard into a discussion of the pop-up toaster (invented by Charles Strite in the same year as Greenbaum’s cookbook), and the “frantic and fiercely fought battles” driving rival patents for toast-making. Finally, he ponders “the Cat and the Buttered Toast Theory.” Buttered toast is notorious for landing buttered-side down. Likewise, it is said that a cat “if dropped, always lands on its feet.” So, Sitwell asks, “what happens if you tie a slice of buttered toast to the cat’s back? When the cat is dropped, will the two opposing forces of butter and feet cause the cat to hover?”

From this, you get a sense of Sitwell’s schoolboyish sense of the absurd. But he has done something in this book that is highly original and not absurd at all. At the start he gives us a “note on the recipes,” which explains that he does not actually expect us to cook from them. They are not “triple tested,” he confesses. He has chosen not to update the ancient recipes so that they could be knocked out “after a quick trip to your local supermarket.” Sitwell says that he wants us “to simply read and enjoy the recipes as they were written down.”

Sitwell has removed one of the sources of pleasure we get from cookbooks, which is the illusion that we are actually going to make every recipe we fancy the look of. But being asked to read recipes for their own sake, rather than with a view to cooking, gives a clearer sense of how they stimulate our imaginations. The vast majority of the recipes we read are hypothetical. I’ve spent more hours than I care to count this year staring at an April Bloomfield recipe for veal shank. I’ll probably never make it. I’m not sure if my butcher even sells the right cut of veal. But, I’m telling you, the imaginary version tastes incredible.

Link to the rest at Page-Turner

Jeff Bezos Ate My Hamster

30 July 2013

From FutureBook:

Sometimes you’re damned if you do, sometimes you’re damned if you don’t but if you’re Amazon it turns out you’re just damn well damned.

Look at these two headlines from the widely referenced Melville House blog.

 7th July 2013 – ‘Monopoly achieved: An invincible Amazon begins raising prices’

27th July 2013 – ‘BREAKING NEWS: Amazon “declares war” on book industry’

Two headlines, twenty days apart – the first slamming Amazon for raising prices, the second slamming Amazon for lowering prices – each article trumpeting these facts as immutable proof that Amazon is an evil behemoth determined to bring the publishing industry to its’ knees (again).

The truth is that there isn’t a successful company in the history of retail that hasn’t used price as a competitive lever. Businesses routinely lower prices on competitive items and price less competitive lines as highly as they believe the market will bear. That process is at the very heart of all retail – it’s not evidence of an evil master plan it’s evidence of a rudimentary grasp of retail economics.

Over and above the certain knee-jerk paranoia which infects some corners of the publishing industry whenever the word Amazon is mentioned, there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of publishers’ relationships with the retail giant. There’s a growing misconception that Amazon is able to dictate publishers’ pricing strategies or that publishers are somehow forced at gunpoint to supply Amazon with their products at a price of Amazon’s choosing.

. . . .

Here’s a simple truth at the heart of all arguments about Amazon’s ultra-efficient pricing tactics – once a publisher sets a book price and agrees a discount with Amazon – the publisher will receive that price regardless of the profit or loss that Amazon makes on that product.

. . . .

To believe that books are the main drivers of Amazon’s business strategy is to vastly underestimate Amazon’s ambitions and to vastly overestimate the importance of publishing in the wider scheme of things. Amazon doesn’t even break ‘Books’ out as a separate category in its’ accounts, they are lumped in along with DVDs, CDs and Movie & Music downloads under the catch all title of “Media”

Link to the rest at FutureBook and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Sloppy books at Barnes and Noble

30 July 2013

From Crain’s New York Business:

Barnes & Noble Inc., the struggling bookseller, reported “material weakness” in its accounting and restated three years of financial results. Investors seemed alarmed by more bad news from the unprofitable retailer whose chief executive stepped aside earlier this month and they bid down its stock by 5%.

Barnes & Noble said Monday that errors in reporting sales and occupancy costs, plus an inaccurate tally of income-tax refunds received when it was unprofitable in 2011 and 2012, caused the company to over-report losses over those two years by $9 million. Actual losses over those two years were $134 million, not the $143 million, the company reported.

In 2010, the company’s last profitable year, Barnes & Noble said it really earned $43 million instead of the $37 million initially reported.

. . . .

The accounting problems seem to stem from the company’s decision to buy more books directly from publishers instead of wholesalers.

Link to the rest at Crain’s

For conspiracy theorists, Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s chairman and largest shareholder, has said he wants to buy the bookstore parts of Barnes & Noble and take them private. This news presumably depressed the cost of that acquisition should he pursue it.

PG finds it refreshing to have a book business conspiracy that doesn’t involve Jeff Bezos. (Although someone in New York is sure to claim that Bezos hacked his way into BN’s accounting system and played with the numbers.)

B&N Still Plans to Launch eBookstores in 10 Countries

30 July 2013

From The Digital Reader:

Barnes & Noble had previously announced plans to launch the Nook Store in 10 countries by June 2013. There was evidence to suggest that B&N was looking at Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands as possible next steps, but unfortunately June came and went without any showy launches.

B&N may have missed their goal by a whopping 90%, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up. The filing today mentions that B&N is still planning to expand their ebookstore into 10 countries by the end of the year.

. . . .

BTW, did you notice how it’s taken B&N 4 years to take the Nook Store international when Amazon managed the same with the Kindle Store in just 2 years (and Kobo managed to do it the day they launched)? Of course, if B&N had kept Fictionwise open instead of closing it earlier this year B&N would still be selling ebooks in a couple hundred countries, not just the US and UK.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Amazon Climbs to No. 3 on Ebook Best-Sellers List

30 July 2013

From a Digital Book World discussion of its weekly ebook bestseller list, which takes sales information from several different online sources:

When I Found You [published by Amazon Publishing] by Catherine Ryan Hyde was published in April but only hit the ebook best-sellers list last week, debuting at No. 5. The book had been priced at $2.99 in April but a price decrease in early July to $0.99 and then several days of being given away for free seems to have catapulted the title up the ranks.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

For PG, this was an indication that Amazon Publishing, which presumably has good visibility into what works and doesn’t work for selling ebooks on Amazon, finds both free and 99-cent prices to be good promo tools. The book is currently at 99 cents.

Publishers Weekly senior writer Andrew Richard Albanese discusses the Apple trial

30 July 2013

From TeleRead:

After I wrote my review of Publishers Weekly senior writer Andrew Richard Albanese’s (recently updated) e-book The Battle of $9.99 about the DoJ vs. Apple e-book trial, Publishers Weekly offered me a chance to interview Mr. Albanese.

. . . .

What is the most common misconception you see about events surrounding the trial?

That this scheme with Apple was something publishers had to do to save the book industry. The conventional wisdom that publishers were acting to save publishing from a marauding Amazon made for a compelling narrative, but if you scratch the surface it wasn’t so much Amazon these firms needed saving from as from their own decisions. I mean, these are not tweedy little publishers. These are billion-dollar conglomerates seeking to maintain control over an industry that was and is still being disrupted.

I think it is important to remember that no one held a gun to anyone’s head and made them sell their e-books through Amazon. The publishers had each negotiated and signed their terms of sale, and they all cashed the checks. And they had options if they believed Amazon’s pricing practices were destroying their market position. The thing is, following through and exercising those options individually was going to involve a little more pain than the publishers cared to endure.

As for Apple, it is one of the world’s richest companies and it came to the table with a game-changing device. It hardly needed such a sweeping assist from publishers to get into the e-book game. No one disputes that the iPad was going to be used as an e-reader whether or not there was an iBookstore.

Nevertheless, the perception persists that the publishers and Apple were saving the book business—even the New York Times concluded in an editorial that the Apple deals served to create a “healthier” market for publishers and for consumers. I think that opinion is based on some pretty breathtaking assumptions to say the least. For all its warts, it was Amazon that took a flyer and invested in the creation of a consumer e-book business, which I hold as a pretty major achievement. And all the while Amazon was investing in the Kindle, the major publishers were focused on suing Google. You have to wonder where the e-book market would be today if had been left solely to the major publishers to hash things out.

Unlike the Times, I can’t so easily accept that it is “healthy” for a handful of billion dollar conglomerates to band together, even if they are banding together against a big disruptive company like Amazon. As U.S. attorney Mark Ryan argued at trial: who knows how the market would have eventually solved the $9.99 problem? I think that’s an important point to keep in mind.

. . . .

What does that mean for all those who continue to insist Amazon practices “predatory pricing” in its $9.99 sales?

Bluntly, it means they are wrong. My own opinion, based on all the evidence I’ve seen, is that Amazon was not engaged in predatory pricing. Now, you can certainly disagree with the way Amazon chose to compete, and I think that’s a valid complaint. But under the law, based on the evidence I’ve seen, I have a hard time believing Amazon’s conduct rose to the level of predatory pricing.

Still, I really don’t know, because I don’t know what Amazon’s economics look like. All I can say is that proving predatory pricing would have involved a conversation about digital economics that no one in this case really wanted to have. And, as I said before, the publishers all negotiated and signed their terms of sale contracts, and they did have options to push back. If the major publishers were indeed being preyed upon, the fact is they’d all signed off on their predator.

Link to the rest at TeleRead and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Does President Obama Hate Indie Bookstores?

29 July 2013

From Publishers Weekly:

President Obama is traveling the country over the next several weeks on a tour called “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class,” during which he will make a series of speeches outlining his vision for the economy and the creation of new jobs. One stop on the tour, at Amazon’s Chattanooga, Tenn., fulfillment warehouse, is causing an uproar among independent booksellers who say the stop proves that the current administration is pro-big corporations, and anti-small business.

Obama is scheduled to speak about boosting U.S. manufacturing and high-wage jobs at the Amazon plant, which employs roughly 1,700 workers, but indies feel the visit is a slap in the face to an industry still reeling from a federal court’s ruling less than three weeks ago on e-book pricing. That Obama’s Amazon warehouse visit dovetails with news of the discount war between Overstock and Amazon, is not helping the administration’s image with the independent bookselling community.

“The Amazon facility in Chattanooga is a perfect example of the company that is investing in American workers and creating good, high-wage jobs,” Amy Brundage, deputy press secretary at the White House told Tenn. media outlets on Friday. “What the president wants to do is to highlight Amazon and the Chattanooga facility as an example of a company that is spurring job growth and keeping our country competitive.”

Andrea Vuleta, the executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, tweeted: “Pretty sure that Amazon warehouse appearance confirms why Justice went after publishers. Also not supportive of SBA.” Author Garth Stein tweeted: “When Obama’s favorite indie on the Vineyard goes under, where will they get the First Family’s summer books? An Amazon locker at 7-Eleven?”

. . . .

Miller, who was instrumental last year in forcing the University of Missouri leaders to reverse their decision to close the university’s press, told PW he was “shocked that our president, an accomplished writer and fan of independent bookstores, would pick an Amazon warehouse as a place to speak about the need to create jobs.”

“I believe the ABA has failed to take on Amazon in an effective manner,” he added in an email toPW. “The ABA, over the last 10 to 15 years, ought to have approached Amazon as if they were environmental activists fighting a clear threat to our air or water. I am hoping the letter leads to more discussion and stronger action against the monopsony we call”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here’s a bulletin to Publishers Weekly and the American Booksellers Association from the reality-based world:

– Amazon is one of the biggest successes in American business to arise during the last 20 years.

– Amazon is one of the most admired consumer brands among both businesspeople and consumers in the United States. By and large, Amazon customers love Amazon.

– Authors are moving toward self-publishing and away from traditional publishers in droves in large part because Amazon treats them well. Traditional publishers treat them poorly. Most bookstores treat indie authors poorly.

– Some indie bookstores are run by fine people, but a job working as an employee of a small independent bookstore is almost certainly a dead-end, low-wage career. A job working with Amazon, in a fulfillment center or otherwise, almost certainly pays better and offers much more opportunity for advancement than a job working in any bookstore, Barnes & Noble or indie.

– The book world is changing. Authors are being empowered as never before. You can probably benefit from the change if you want to, but the change will happen with or without you.

– Despite what you tell yourselves about printed books, readers like ebooks. Readers like lower ebook prices. Readers like wide ebook selection. Readers like being able to order a new ebook wherever they are and whenever they want a new book.

– Printed books will always exist, but as print runs grow smaller, prices will inevitably move higher.

– Hating on Amazon makes you look like a bunch of out-of-touch losers. It is absolutely the wrong way to respond to changes sweeping through the world of books.

UPDATE: PG just checked starting salaries for open fulfillment jobs at Amazon – the people who work in the warehouses, pulling orders and stuffing boxes. Depending on location, they ranged from $11-13.50 and include health insurance, stock plan, etc. He’s not an expert on bookstore jobs, but he thinks a whole lot of those begin at minimum wage with no benefits.

The adjusters

29 July 2013

From The Bookseller:

Two years ago at The Bookseller’s FutureBook conference, Osprey Group chief executive Rebecca Smart outlined that change was a necessary part of the publishing business and that no one should underestimate how tough this process would be. “Change is hard,” she said.

The news emanating out of Waterstones confirms this. A rump of bookshop managers have left, either because they do not agree with the change that m.d. James Daunt has embarked on, or do not want to put themselves through it.

. . . .

Though bookshops have been at the brunt end of the shift in the market, they are rarely talked about in terms of how they can adjust to it. The media view of bookshops is already that they are covered in dust—we don’t need to overlay them with aspic.

Booksellers must find ways to emphasise their uniqueness: the smart ones offer an experience at the heart of which is the content and the theatre. But they must do this in an environment that is unsparingly tough, with customers who have a myriad of choices not just about who they buy from, but what format they use.

Almost everything about the book business is up for adjustment.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Almost half of US broadband households now own a tablet

29 July 2013

From intomobile:

According to Parks Associates, 48% of U.S. broadband households now own at least one tablet, up from nearly 33% a year ago. 22% of households reported a tablet purchase, while only 7% purchased an e-reader in 2012, down from 9% in 2011.

. . . .

As you would expect, the rise of tablets threaten other consumer electronics categories such as e-readers and PCs. In fact, tablet purchases surpassed desktop purchases for the first time in 2012 and will match or exceed laptop purchases in 2013.

Link to the rest at intomobile

Amazon Creates More Than 5,000 New Full-Time Jobs Across Growing U.S. Fulfillment Network

29 July 2013

From Amazon’s Media Room:

Amazon today announced it is creating more than 5,000 new full-time jobs in its U.S. fulfillment network to meet growing customer demand. Median pay inside Amazon fulfillment centers is 30 percent higher than that of people who work in traditional retail stores—and that doesn’t even include the stock grants that full-time employees receive, which over the past five years have added an average of 9% to base pay annually. Amazon employs over 20,000 full-time employees in its U.S. fulfillment centers.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room


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