Monthly Archives: September 2017

E-Book Revenue Increased for the First Time in Two Years

29 September 2017

From The Association of American Publishers:

eBook revenues for trade book publishers were up 2.4% in May 2017. The growth was attributed to increased eBook sales for Adult Books, up 3.4% over May 2016. This is the first monthly increase over prior year sales since March 2015, according to the StatShot Monthly report from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

The increase in eBook sales was one element of a growth month for book publishers. Revenues for book publishers were up by $50.7 million (4.6%) in May 2017 over May 2016. Revenues from Jan. – May 2017 were $4.25 billion, gaining $175.7 million (4.3%) compared to the same timeframe in 2016.

With the exception of Professional Books, all reported categories saw sales increases for the month. The categories with the greatest growth in May were Childrens & Young Adult Books (11.8%) and University Presses (7.3%). With these and other gains, no categories are reporting revenue loss year-to-date.

Link to the rest at The Association of American Publishers

Live Blogging a Book Makes You Smarter

29 September 2017

From The Foundation for Economic Education:

There are so many products and services that claim to make you smarter. It’s a huge industry. Get-smart video games and puzzles are everywhere. Websites and apps that promise fast results are booming.

I’m a skeptic of the tools being promoted these days, but not of the overall idea. It makes complete sense. Not everyone is a born genius in every area, but everyone can surely improve the efficiency and functioning of the mind you have.

Heaven knows we think enough about getting our bodies in shape. Maniacal energy goes into pumping up our bodies, losing weight, flattening our bellies and bulking up our chests and arms. Health clubs have remained a boom-time industry, and there’s no end to the diet books, strategies, theories and ambitions.

It’s all terribly superficial compared with a much more important matter of finding ways to strengthen our capacity to think. But as with health clubs and exercise machines for our bodies, we will quickly discover that there are no shortcuts for… hard work.

. . . .

Why so little attention to the mind? We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are intellectually fit. It’s hard to admit it to ourselves that we aren’t thinking very well, that we are relying too much on our biases, that we aren’t challenging ourselves, that we have a reduced capacity for creativity and absorbing new information.

Step one: Admit there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

To shape up the body, and overcome our natural tendency to cut ourselves too much slack, people have various strategies. They hire personal trainers to push them further than they think they can go. They go to class so that they can exercise alongside others. They go to month-long camps that monitor eating and compel all-day exercise.

None of this works with intellectual life. It is just you and your brain, and if you lack the discipline to undertake the challenge, improvement is not going to happen. You need some framework to help, like the virtual path on a treadmill or stationary bike, something that keeps you on track and discourages you from cutting corners.

. . . .

The best method I know is something taken from the world of journalism. When people attend live events like concerts or conferences, they tweet or blog the event as it happens. You see this during political debates, too. The journalist listens, reports and responds in real time.

. . . .

What if we treat a book like an event? It is an event, really. A great book can be just as interesting and invigorating–and even more evocative–than a live event in reality. This is obviously true of fiction, but it is also true of nonfiction, provided the book is well written and deals provocatively with a topic you find intriguing.

. . . .

Live blogging a book is different from reviewing a book or writing a book report. The point is to process information and react to it as it comes to you in real time. The live blog doesn’t merely relate the contents. It reacts to the contents of the book and how it interacts with your own prior existing ideas and how it may or may not have changed your understanding.

If while you are reading you finding yourself reflecting on an example or remembering some debate you had with someone on the topic, this is perfect live blog fodder. Put it in there. The point is to make a literary chronicle of how some book has affected your thinking chapter by chapter, and to do so in the most intellectually honest way you can.

Reading this way is a completely different experience. You engage much more closely and attentively. The ideas in the book become the capital goods over which you take ownership in order to produce a new product of your own.

Link to the rest at The Foundation for Economic Education

What the (New) Book People Won’t Tell You: There Will Always be Publishers

28 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

A couple weeks back I got on a tear about things Book People won’t say, including that B&N has been doomed by its senior and digital is killing print.

Today I would like to turn it around and share something that isn’t said enough in self-publishing circles.

There will always be book publishers.

It is axiomatic in certain circles that in 2017 that authors have all the power.  Authors can hire they help they need and take their work direct to market, thus removing any need for a publisher.

While all of that is true, it does not automatically follow that book publishers are going the way of the dodo.

One detail that is often overlooked is that not all authors are equally imbued with the business skills – or the interest – required to publish their work and maximize revenues. There will always be some author who would rather focus on writing and hire someone else to do the packaging and selling.

. . . .

So yes, ten years from now we’re going to be able to point to something and call it a publisher. We’re probably going to even have many of the same names then as now – after all, there is value in a publishing brand – but that’s no guarantee that the future publishers will be the corporate descendants of the present publishers.

In the same way that the major publishers have killed themselves by ignoring ebooks, other publishers are rendering themselves irrelevant by refusing to adapt to the times.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says Nate makes some good points.

A great many authors hire editors to help polish their manuscripts. A great many authors also hire cover designers and book/ebook formatting services.

Professional editors, designers, etc., tend to be service-oriented. If they don’t understand at the outset of their careers, they soon learn that, in addition to their skills at editing and design, they need to pay attention to their clients if they want to keep editing and designing.

Given the attitude of so many contemporary publishers toward authors, the question is whether employees or former employees will be capable of making the complete turnabout required to become service professionals. Some will, but PG suspects most won’t.

Additionally, a lot of the things publishers are good at won’t be necessary any more.

PG is not among those who believe that readers will always want printed books.

Due to his antiquity, PG remembers when serious music lovers were completely committed to their record collections, carefully preserving them and proudly showing pristine album covers to any who entered their listening abode. When CD’s were first introduced, serious listeners were aghast at the harsh quality of sound produced by early CD’s.

Of course, streaming music has even poorer sound quality than CD’s, but listeners seem to have adapted. Do major musicians release their music only on vinyl records? PG doesn’t follow that sort of thing, but he doubts they do.

PG is happy to have people listening to the sounds via the media they like best, but from a commercial standpoint, are any large music publishers staking their revenues on vinyl?

Some readers will continue to like printed books, but their numbers are already declining and will continue to do so.

One of the keys to low print prices are large print runs. 100,000 printed books cost much less on a per-book basis than 1,000 books. Mass production delivers the best prices when you can set up the machines and let them run for awhile.

Publishers are striving mightily to keep the prices of their ebooks close to the prices of their printed books, but that’s bound to be a failed strategy. For one thing, the accountants at the holding companies that own all major US publishers will complain about the wide divergence in profitability between ebooks and printed books.

Why would any sane business person spend a lot of money to print thousands of books that may never be sold, then pay storage and transportation costs for those books and finally pay someone to dispose of the unsold print books when, for almost nothing, the publisher can send a single electronic copy of an ebook to various vendors and watch deposits come into its bank accounts?

What reality-based business would not prioritize selling products with no production costs over selling products with high production costs?

What’s going to happen to Barnes & Noble?

Let’s answer a question with a question: What happened to Blockbuster Music, Camelot Music, Mediaplay, Music+, Musicland, Music Play, SamGoody, Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, Wherehouse Music, and a zillion other music chains?

Why I Prefer Baseball

28 September 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

We’ve arrived at a moment when some choices have to be made. After a lifetime watching America’s three main professional sports—baseball, football and basketball—I’ve decided I prefer baseball.

Starting Tuesday, I’ll exclusively devote what’s left of my sports-viewing budget to the Major League Baseball playoffs. And not just in the hope that my hometown Cleveland Indians will overcome last year’s heartbreaking loss for the ages to the Chicago Cubs.

Set to one side that the reason most Americans can sing the words to their national anthem is that for generations, every American attending a professional baseball game has stood to look at the flag while someone sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many Americans think the last words of the national anthem are “Play ball!”

Baseball is about baseball. The NFL and NBA seem to be about more things than I can process—some of them political, some of them personal.

Baseball has an informal code of on-field conduct, which has held for a hundred years. The NFL doesn’t seem to have an enforceable code of anything.

. . . .

From Babe Ruth 90 years ago to Aaron Judge now, when you hit a home run, you run around the bases and into the dugout. That’s it. No end-zone antics that suggest the sport itself takes a back seat to a personality.

After the Yankees’ Mr. Judge hit his 50th home run this week, a record for a rookie, his teammates had to force him out of the dugout to wave to the cheering crowd.

. . . .

Sportswriters sometimes use the phrase “lunch bucket” about a player who is mainly interested in doing his job well without drawing attention to himself. Other than someone like Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, you don’t see too many stars in the NFL or NBA described as lunch-bucket guys anymore.

Most future stars of basketball and football are identified while they’re in high school. They often play in special leagues and receive constant visits from coaches at Division I universities.

Once inside the university, these players live and practice in gold-plated facilities. They play on national TV and are talked about nonstop by analysts and the political commentators at ESPN. They get famous young. (Though let it be said, 90% of the non-sports NFL and NBA news was made by maybe 10% of the players, until now.)

The road up in baseball is different. Promising teenagers go from high school into baseball’s minor leagues. They play for teams in places like Delmarva, Clinton and Greenville. They travel by bus and play before crowds not much bigger than what they had in Little League. They rise from A ball to AA (say, the Trenton Thunder) then AAA teams, which are in places most people have heard of, like Toledo, Fresno or El Paso.

Years spent competing and surviving against other skilled players teaches them they have to learn to be a member of a team before anyone calls them a star.

Some might say baseball isn’t political because so many players are from Latin America. But maybe the Latin players are mostly bemused at what the U.S. considers social problems, compared with escaping from Cuba across shark-infested waters or getting out of a dirt-road slum in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.

There is an expression in sports: Don’t leave it in the locker room. It means you are supposed to save your best performance for the game. With baseball, that’s still what you get.

We live in a highly polarized country. If people want their sport and its performers to be an affirmation of their politics, feel free. I don’t.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

To stay in Mrs. PG’s good graces, PG should note that The Chicago Cubs clinched a spot in baseball’s post-season competition yesterday.

Even regular visitors to TPV who are not baseball fans will likely still remember the Cubs won the World Series last year, after a 108 year drought. See here, here and here.

Since Mrs. PG is a Cubs fan, she knows that two World Series wins in a row are probably more than she should expect. Besides, staying faithful through long droughts of post-season success are what develop the unflinching and stoic character for which Cubs fans are known.

Too much success in a short period of time might undermine Chicago’s character and transform its citizens into Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees fans. A worse fate cannot be imagined. Chicago would be ruined.

Amazon Introduces a New Echo

28 September 2017

Amazon has introduced Echo (2nd Generation) and will be releasing it on October 31.

It’s cheaper ($99 for some models) than the initial Echo and physically shorter. Amazon says it includes improved sound powered by Dolby. It also comes in different colors/finishes.

You can pre-order now. Cursor down at the link for lots of additional information, video, photos, etc.

Amazon is also introducing a new Echo Plus that includes a built-in smart-home hub and smart lightbulb. It looks like the original Echo.

For PG, the most interesting of the new Echo devices is the Echo Spot for $129. It has a small built-in video screen and, from the photos, looks like it’s about the size of a grapefruit. It does all the standard Echo stuff plus you can use it for video calls to other people with Echo screen devices and watch a selection of videos that Amazon will make available.


28 September 2017

Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.

Yogi Berra

When I’m Writing Fiction, I Cannot Read It

28 September 2017

From The Literary Hub:

As a child, books were your refuge. The entirety of book-world was your tribe. The March family taught you morals; Anne of Green Gables, especially if you were like me, an unruly kid with reddish braids, gave you hope. Maybe Brian Robeson in Hatchet made you believe you could survive anything. The Lord of the Flies let you know that you wouldn’t.

As you grew older, you discovered new books and new ways to learn from them, but that profound connection you feel with them never left you.

What, though, if the joy did?

For life-long bookworms, as many novelists are, becoming a published author is a dream come true. Or perhaps more accurately, a long-awaited arrival. You enter the heart of the tribe.

. . . .

But what if becoming a published novelist was to rob the pleasure that inspired it? What if it was to hamper the act or, worse still, joy of reading?

My second novel, Shining Sea, came out in paperback last month. In the year between the hardcover release and the paperback, I was involved in promoting the novel, wrote a number of short and long-form nonfiction articles and op-eds, wrote some politically oriented speeches, and began researching and making notes for a new novel.

I also read like a coyote loose among sheep. I devoured new releases, explored and fell in love with a whole new (for me) genre, and consumed huge chunks out of my to-be-read pile. I re-read every book I own by Willa Cather, which is pretty much every book by Willa Cather. I consumed any book of fiction or creative nonfiction related to Uganda that I could get my hands on. I strode into bookstores and strolled back out with books recommended by the bookseller. I always am startled when, at the end of the year, I tally my book-buying costs. This year I may need to down a glass of wine first.

In October, after a final loop through California, all of my scheduled book touring for Shining Sea will be done. As much as I enjoy visiting bookstores and meeting readers, I look forward to settling down to the nitty-gritty of my new novel, closing my office door to the world, and turning the notes and random pages and research I’ve amassed over the past year into a carefully crafted whole.

Does this mean my greedy fiction-reading streak will have to end?

. . . .

Kelly Simmons, author of One More Day and the forthcoming Fourth of July, says, “[W]hen I’m writing I can’t tolerate what others might call a guilty pleasure. I’m worried it might seep in!”

I also shy away from reading other people’s fiction when I’m in the thick of writing a new novel. I have to read daily, especially before I go to sleep at night. The idea of not doing so is impossible; I might as well go on a fast—something you would never catch me doing. But while I’m developing the voice of a book, I don’t want to hear someone else’s fiction cadences.

. . . .

The irony! Doing the job I love, although intimately connected to the pastime I love, clearly also interferes with it.

Some novelists do read other people’s fiction while they write. “I always read, even when I am in the thick of my own work,” Marcy Dermansky, author most recently of The Red Car says, “because I need to be reading. It would be too bleak not to be reading; it takes a long time to write a novel.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The History of Sears Predicts Nearly Everything Amazon Is Doing

28 September 2017

From The Atlantic:

Amazon comes to conquer brick-and-mortar retail, not to bury it. In the last two years, the company has opened 11 physical bookstores. This summer, it bought Whole Foods and its 400 grocery locations. And last week, the company announced a partnership with Kohl’s to allow returns at the physical retailer’s stores.

Why is Amazon looking more and more like an old-fashioned retailer? The company’s do-it-all corporate strategy adheres to a familiar playbook — that of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Sears might seem like a zombie today, but it’s easy to forget how transformative the company was exactly 100 years ago, when it, too, was capitalizing on a mail-to-consumer business to establish a physical retail presence.

. . . .

Mail was an internet before the internet. After the Civil War, several new communications and transportations systems — the telegraph, rail, and parcel delivery — made it possible to shop at home and have items delivered to your door. Americans browsed catalogues on their couches for jewelry, food, and books. Merchants sent the parcels by rail.

From its founding in the late 19th century to its world-famous catalog, the history of Sears, Roebuck & Company is well known. Less storied is its magnificently successful transition from a mailing company to a brick-and-mortar giant. Like Amazon among its online-shopping rivals, Sears was not the country’s first mail-order retailer, but it became the largest of its kind. Like Amazon, it started with a single product category — watches, rather than books. But, like Amazon, the company grew to include a range of products, including guns, gramophones, cars, and even groceries.

From the start, Sears’s genius was to market itself to consumers as an everything store, with an unrivaled range of products, often sold for minuscule profits. The company’s feel for consumer demand was so uncanny, and its operations so efficient, that it became, for many of its diehard customers, not just the best retail option, but the only one worth considering.

By building a large base of fiercely loyal consumers, Sears was able to buy more cheaply from manufacturers and wholesalers. It managed its deluge of orders with massive warehouses, like its central facility in Chicago, in which messages to various departments and assembly workers were sent through pneumatic tubes. In the decade between 1895 and 1905, Sears’s revenue grew by a factor of 50, from about $750,000 to about $38 million, according to Alfred D. Chandler Jr.’s 1977 book The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. (By comparison, in the last decade, Amazon’s revenue has grown by a factor of 10.)

Then, after one of the most successful half-centuries in U.S. corporate history, Sears did something really crazy. It opened a store.

In the early 1920s, Sears found itself in an economy that was coming off a harsh post-World War recession, according to Daniel M. G. Graff and Peter Temin’s essay “Sears, Roebuck in the Twentieth Century.” The company was also dealing with a more lasting challenge: the rise of chain stores. To guide their corporate makeover, the company tapped a retired World War I general named Robert Wood, who turned to the U.S. Census and Statistical Abstract of the United States as a fount of marketing wisdom. In federally tabulated figures, he saw the country moving from farm to city, and then from city to suburb. His plan: Follow them with stores.

. . . .

Sears was not content to be a one-stop-shop for durable goods. Like Amazon today, the company used its position to enter adjacent businesses. To supplement its huge auto-parts business, Sears started selling car insurance under the Allstate brand. One might say the shift from selling products to services is analogous to the creation of Amazon Web Services—or even Amazon’s television shows. Analysts have wondered, why would Amazon want to sell books, diapers, and TV? But even the company’s seemingly eccentric decisions are centered on Sears’s old expertise: becoming an inextricable part of consumers’ lives.

It’s remarkable how Sears’s rise anticipates Amazon’s. The growth of both companies was the result of a focus on operations efficiency, low prices, and a keen eye on the future of American demographics.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

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