Monthly Archives: March 2017

Amazon Wants Cheerios, Oreos and Other Brands to Bypass Wal-Mart

30 March 2017

From Bloomberg: Inc. has invited some of the world’s biggest brands to its Seattle headquarters in an audacious bid to persuade them that it’s time to start shipping products directly to online shoppers and bypass chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

Executives from General Mills, Mondelez and other packaged goods makers will attend the three-day gathering in May, Bloomberg has learned. Attendees will tour an Amazon fulfillment center and hear a presentation from Worldwide Consumer chief Jeff Wilke, who reports directly to Jeff Bezos.

Amazon is looking to upend relationships between brands and brick-and-mortar stores that for decades have determined how popular products are designed, packaged and shipped. If Amazon succeeds, big brands will think less about creating products that stand out in a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. aisle. Instead, they’ll focus on designing products that can be shipped quickly to customers’ doorsteps. Brands have been experimenting with such changes, so the Seattle event may well resonate.

. . . .

Amazon has been struggling to crack the food and packaged goods market—an $800 billion category still dominated by Wal-Mart and other traditional chains. Persuading brands to design their packaging and operations for the online world would make it easier for Amazon to ship common household goods to urban dwellers in less than an hour, potentially making last-minute dashes to the store obsolete. Amazon must convince brands that even though online purchases represent a small part of their sales, e-commerce is the future.

“Most of these people haven’t been interested in e-commerce because e-commerce has been such a small piece of their overall sales,” says Melissa Burdick, vice president of e-commerce at The Mars Agency marketing firm. “But we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re at a time when companies are ready to start figuring this stuff out.”

Amazon is looking to influence product makers the same way Costco and other club stores convinced brands more than 20 years ago to create bulk sizes sold at a discount.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Ebooks Present the Greatest Opportunity

30 March 2017

Hong Kong English books publisher on the secrets to a best-seller, shops closing, and dangers and rewards of the trade

30 March 2017

From The South China Morning Post:

The closure of Singaporean bookstore Page One’s Hong Kong stores and branches of Australian franchise Dymocks over the past two years does not bode well for Hong Kong’s English book market. The corners in Chinese bookstores reserved for English titles are also getting smaller.

This hasn’t deterred Pete Spurrier, though, who continues to publish books in English with Hong Kong themes. From a penniless backpacker who arrived in the city in 1993, to the publisher of Blacksmith Books with a dozen local best-sellers to its name, the Londoner has come a long way. Spurrier has also written a series of popular hiking guides. He talks to about his love of books and Hong Kong.

. . . .

How do you choose which books to publish?

I am very flattered that I get manuscripts sent in from all over the world. I get three or four manuscripts every day. Often I can read the first three pages and know whether it will work or not.

English books written by local authors sell well. People see the Chinese names and think the books are bound to be interesting, as it’s quite rare for local [Chinese] authors to write in English. I have 80 writers now, with some having written several books already. If the first print run of 1,500 books sells out, the cost is covered. You make a profit from the second and third print runs.

Does the closure of English bookstores mean Hongkongers are losing interest in English books?

Not really. My book sales are quite steady. I don’t think English readership in Hong Kong is shrinking, but running a retail operation in Hong Kong is quite daunting now due to the high overheads.

Physical books still appeal, because you can make notes in them and give them to people as gifts. It’s not so easy to read an e-book in the bath. For the books I publish, the e-book version comes out six months after the paperback version. But they just make up 10 per cent of sales, with the bulk of the sales being paper books.

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

New Books Explore Subject of Memory

30 March 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

When first-time novelist Felicia Yap was 6 years old, she was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street. Ms. Yap doesn’t recall the trauma but says her parents’ accounts of it diverged, with her mother describing the motorcyclist as middle-aged and her father remembering him as youthful.

“It really struck me even at that young age that memories are quite slippery,” says Ms. Yap, whose mystery, “Yesterday,” will be published in August.

Mercurial memories are at the heart of new nonfiction, as well as novels spanning genres from thrillers to young adult by Ms. Yap, Michael D. Lemonick, Emily Barr, Val Emmich and others. The novelists are mining their experiences and injecting technology and science into new takes on the subject. It’s a universal fascination, Ms. Yap says, because “we are all afraid that we’ll forget and be forgotten.” She sees a tension between our reliance on technology to preserve a torrent of selfies, videos and messages and our fear that those memories could be wiped out with a keystroke—or might not match reality.

Writers are “excited about what technology can afford us and the things it will allow us to do,” says Benjamin Storm, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, who focuses on human memory and forgetting. But they also are “worried that it will change us…So, it makes for great fiction.” Much of technology’s effect on the brain and memory remains a mystery. “We have this illusion that we’ve figured it all out but it’s not true,” he says.

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

Lords urged to make ‘positive intervention’ in decline of libraries

30 March 2017

From The Bookseller:

Libraries body CILIP has urged peers to intervene in the declining library service ahead of a debate in the House of Lords today (30th March) on libraries and other arts services.

The library and information association has highlighted the “profoundly damaging” effect the “severe neglect” of the public library service has had on society ahead of the debate, which takes place in the House of Lords at 1pm today.

The debate will see Nicholas Le Poer Trench, the Earl of Clancarty, ask the government what steps it intends to take to protect and improve local arts and cultural services, including museums, libraries and archaeological services.

In a briefing provided ahead of the debate, CILIP said that despite the positive impact of libraries and librarians, the UK’s national library network has suffered from “severe neglect” as a result of successive programs of government policy. Recent CIPFA figures have revealed that 478 libraries have closed across England, Scotland and Wales since 2010 and budgets have been slashed by £25m.

. . . .

Ian Anstice, librarian and editor of Public Libraries News, told the Bookseller that he believes the debate is necessary as the government has “shown it needs to be told, apparently repeatedly, that it is not doing enough for libraries”.

“I’m delighted that the Lords will be debating this important national public service”, Anstice said. “If libraries are not talked about then there’s a danger that people think the issue is settled, which would be disastrous seeing the potential cuts that they are facing, and have already endured. While I am pleased with the setting up of a Taskforce and know the people within it genuinely want the best for the sector, it is tied to the government line of austerity and localism. The first means there is less and less money and the second means that local councils can happily atomise their services with no central direction. Each separately makes little enough sense for a national service but both together spells a disaster for the sector.”

Children’s author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons said that while he “always welcome politicians paying attention to libraries”, the “deliberations of the Libraries Taskforce have been long and labyrinthine”, and meanwhile “hundreds of libraries have closed, a quarter of librarians have lost their jobs, opening hours have been slashed, book stocks have shrunk and inevitably some of the public have drifted away, discouraged by this failure”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon and the socially conscious Seattle customer

30 March 2017

From the Seattle Times:

Amazon’s nascent grocery store venture puts Seattle residents between a rock and a hard spot. Rock: Many of us treasure our local retailers. Hard spot: Amazon is a locally headquartered company of enormous value to the city.

. . . .

I never did like the term “consumer.” It conjures the image of an insatiable creature consuming the resources of an overcrowded planet (the cheaper the better), a number to aggregate by giant corporations and their environment-stressing 10,000-mile supply chain.

Customers, on the other hand, realize that every purchase they make have consequences. Each potentially is a vote: for sustainability, responsibility and, not least of all, the health of their local economies. The more votes given to big corporations, the less viable are the local, or local branches of, retailers that are essential to the strength and fabric of their communities.

. . . .

Most Americans are consumers, so the battle will be between Amazon and other giants, especially Wal-Mart. But Seattle has plenty of socially conscious customers — and Amazon puts them in a bind.

On the one hand, e-commerce generally and Amazon specifically have put innumerable local shops out of business here, their empty storefronts filled by restaurants (how many restaurants can a city sustain?). What’s lost is community leadership on the part of owners, as well as providing employment and mentoring of new local retailers from their former employees. Like other giants, Amazon is “cheap,” but also expensive. The costs are tallied up quietly over many years in a city more drab, more conformist, more part of the international corporate Borg.

On the other hand, Amazon is the biggest driver behind Seattle’s remarkable prosperity, bringing capital and talent at prodigious rates. Without Amazon, the city wouldn’t be sweet Seattle circa 1990. It would more likely be like other struggling American metropolises, with a dash of Microsoft. Also, the fees and taxes brought in by Amazon’s construction pay a big part of Seattle’s most cherished progressive programs.

I face this dilemma as an author: Amazon carries and sells my books to a wide audience. But Amazon is also the enemy of the local independent bookstores that were essential to launching and maintaining my book-writing career. Plus, Amazon is largely making my neighborhood, Belltown, better. In our family, we try to spread the love: spending as much as possible at downtown and local retailers, including Pike Place Market. But we also inevitably buy from Amazon when a product can’t be had nearby.

Link to the rest at the Seattle Times and thanks to J.A. for the tip.


The Unglamorous Ordeal of Recording Your Own Audiobook

29 March 2017

From Literary Hub:

It was around noon of my third grueling day recording the audiobook of my first novel, The Gargoyle Hunters, when my innermost self cried out to be heard. I mean this literally. The disembodied voice of my director burst into my headset to inform me that my disgruntled, empty stomach was grumbling loudly enough to be picked up by the hypersensitive microphone; my solo performance had inadvertently become a duet. To muffle these protests from within, I finished the chapter with a pillow pressed against my belly.

Truth be told, my cantankerous abdomen spoke for the rest of me, too. For the marathon task of recording my own audiobook over four long days proved far more demanding than I had expected.

Getting the gig was deceptively simple. Following the audiobook producer’s instructions, I sat at my desk at home and read the five-page prologue into my iPhone’s voice recorder. Written in the first person from the perspective of a middle-aged man recalling his childhood, the scene is a dreamlike account of a four-year-old boy being carried at daybreak by his father across the majestic ruins of New York’s old Penn Station, the felled granite columns strewn like giant pick-up sticks across the marshy junkyard of New Jersey’s Meadowlands.

Those 13 minutes were all the producer had asked for. But to be sure she was in a position to evaluate my ability to read dialogue, I also recorded a comic sequence in which a 13-year-old smart-aleck meets a self-importantly pious boy at a party, lures him into a Socratic verbal trap, and then obliterates him with a torrent of absurdist, Pythonesque ridicule.

It was my concern about having a stranger narrate these humor-infused episodes—the high-spirited buffoonery of precocious teenage innocents pinballing into each and the world—that led me to audition in the first place. I have a good deal of respect for professional audiobook narrators, and I had little doubt that any number of them would have done a fine job reading my descriptive prose. But I had, in my mind’s ear, a very specific way I wanted the boys’ dialogue to sound, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable handing that task over to an unknown voice actor who might not share my sense of humor.

A few days after I sent in my audition clips, the producer emailed to say the gig was mine if I wanted it: “You have a great recording voice,” she allowed. “Your performance would add a personal touch to the recording that only you as the author can provide with your voice.”

That was the last moment things were easy.

. . . .

My director, a put-together woman with short, lemony hair and an air of brisk competence, greeted me in a gloomily darkened recording room. Her sound engineer, a nearly silent young woman with a Sphinx-like affect, gave me a nod. Then, after a brief orientation from the director, the engineer shut me in a little sound booth for the long haul.

The cell-like booth, the small square window in its door the only visual connection with the outside world, was about the size of a European train commode. It contained a utilitarian chair and a Formica table with a slanted reading surface. A little frayed-edged carpet remnant rested on this surface, and an iPad loaded with the final text of The Gargoyle Hunters sat atop the carpet remnant.

I sailed into the task of recording my tale. I enjoyed it. Friends had predicted it would be strange hearing my written words spoken aloud, but it was anything but; I always read my prose aloud as I write.

. . . .

I started out strong, charging through the prologue and the rollicking first couple of chapters at a good clip. But before the promise of lunch was even a glimmer on the horizon, a certain weariness set in, and it dawned on me: You’ve barely made it out of the starting blocks here. This is going to be an exhausting, long-distance slog during which, paradoxically, it is essential that you sound alert and energetic the entire time. The book was 334 pages, and if we were to complete the reading in four days—the time normally allotted for an actual professional audiobook narrator—a fairly cracking pace would be required. Author or no, there was no glamour here. I was to read and keep reading, and then read some more.

I’ve always admired actors and radio broadcasters, but not until the middle of the first afternoon did I begin to appreciate what an almost athletic performance was required to keep one’s mouth and vocal chords in shape for the duration. No wonder real actors spend years doing voice training and all those weird tongue exercises.

Before long, my throat grew ragged, a condition that worsened over time. And at the end of the third day, a Thursday, the director told me to take Friday and the weekend off so my voice could recover. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

A computer

29 March 2017

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention with the possible exceptions of handguns and Tequila.

 Mitch Ratcliffe

Eight reasons that even a good book is rejected by publishers

29 March 2017


Several years ago, as an aspiring novelist with stardust in my eyes, I used to spend most of my waking hours in Yahoo’s Books and Literature chatroom in the company of fellow aspiring writers. I clearly remember how one of the main topics of conversations used to be the number of rejection slips one had received on that particular day (or the previous week), agents/publishers who had requested a synopsis or proposal, and those who had just not bothered to respond. All of us were united by the looming sense of uncertainty, suspense, and the palpable realisation that the odds were firmly stacked against us.

Today, having spent more than seven years on the other side, first as a consultant and then an agent, I think many writers have wrong notions about rejections. While most books are rejected because of poor quality and incompetence (as they should be), there are several other factors that play a role in publishing decisions. And these affect “good” books too.

A book with no market

Good books are often rejected at the acquisitions meetings at publishing companies, where people from sales and marketing factor in the target audience, potential print runs, and profit margins. Rejections are more common in case of fiction ( especially genre fiction), poetry and short story collections. Several publishers have revised their minimum print run from 2,000/3,000 copies to 5,000.

As a result, books with a dedicated readership and market no larger than 3,000 buyers are being turned down. This partly explains the palpable shift towards publishing books written or at least driven by celebrities, or mass market books like the ones by Savi Sharma and Ajay K Pandey.

A book by a writer with no network or marketing abilities

Writers are increasingly being asked to be closely involved in promotional activities for their books. While some of them might be open to the idea, others feel that it is their works that should be doing the talking. One question that writers are sometimes asked: how many books can you sell within your existing networks – both professional and personal?

Sometimes a writer is also asked about their contacts with the media and with celebrities and influencers who can be roped in for blurbs and high-profile launches. In today’s age of literary festivals, it helps to know some influential festival directors as well. Eminently publishable books are at times rejected in the absence of such contacts or commitments.

. . . .

A book evaluated by the wrong editor

Authors often end up sending their submissions to the wrong editor: a commercial novel may end up in a literary editor’s inbox, or a mind- body-spirit title, in that of the current affairs editor’s. Even when the submission may have reached the right editor, they may not be too familiar with the subject. The more conscientious among the editors will not sign up even an eminently publishable book if they feel they won’t be able to add any value to it. Such misdirected submissions are wasted opportunities, since publishing houses rarely reconsider books, even if they feel they have been read by an unsuitable editor.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Dave for the tip.

For nearly every bookstore Barnes & Noble loses this year, Amazon will open a new one

29 March 2017

From Quartz:

Americans are swapping bookstores.

Bookselling chain Barnes & Noble will lose a total of eight stores across the United States by the end of this fiscal year, but digital behemoth Amazon will fill the gap by December.

Last week, Amazon opened a store in Chicago, Illinois, its first physical bookstore not in a coastal city, and the second of the seven it plans to open this calendar year.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble plans to open four new stores and close 12 by April 30, according to David Deason, vice president of development. It already closed the only general-interest bookstore in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Last fiscal year the company closed eight locations.

Eight was good news for the bookstore chain: It was the fewest closings Barnes & Noble had seen since 2000, says Deason, and five fewer than originally planned.

Link to the rest at Quartz and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG predicts Barnes & Noble will have net closures of more than eight stores during its next fiscal year, ending April 30, 2018.

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