Monthly Archives: June 2018

21 June 2018

Following are excerpts from Barnes & Noble 4th quarter earnings call from a bit earlier today.

Demos Paneros is the President

From Seeking Alpha:

Demos Parneros

Thanks, Andy, and good morning, everyone. I’ll begin with a brief review of our results and then turn to our fiscal 2019 plans and outlook. Fiscal 2018 proved to be a challenging year for Barnes & Noble as retail dynamics continue to present headwinds for our business.

That said, the actions we’ve undertaken regarding our strategic turnaround plan have laid the groundwork for the future and we are beginning to see modest improvement in some areas.

Our comp sales declined 5.4% in fiscal ’18, and we generated EBITDA of $145 million excluding nonrecurring charges. To put these results in context, you’ll recall that in fiscal ’18, we created an aggressive long-term strategic turnaround plan, which we have already begun to execute.

Turnaround plans take time; and while our performance has been somewhat disappointing, we began to make steady progress in fiscal ’18.

. . . .

Now turning to fiscal ’19, we expect our comp sales trends to improve over the prior year. To improve our sales trends, we’re focused on enhancing the customer experience, better curation, increasing the value for our members and also investing in marketing to drive traffic. We’re also innovating for the future through newly designed stores, focusing on existing high-potential businesses and developing a pipeline of new businesses.

. . . .

To enhance the customer experience and to reassert our leadership as a bookseller, we’re creating new programs such as the Barnes & Noble Book Club, which debuted in May. I’m really excited about this program, which builds on Barnes & Nobles’ unique heritage to bring together and engage readers in a national conversation about books.

This is core to what we do at Barnes & Noble, connecting readers and communities through engaging content and programs. We’re featuring a new title every quarter and partnering with authors and publishers to create exclusive content. Our inaugural selection was Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion and we have thousands of customers participate in our book club discussion.

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Tim Mantel, joined the company earlier this year and has been focused on opportunities to improve the customer experience and to drive the business. Our goal is to be relevant during key holidays and to be a destination for unique and thoughtful gifts.

A great example of this is our Exclusive and Signed Editions program. This program resonates very well with our customers during the Black Friday holiday period, and we plan to grow sales by extending this program to other holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, when customers are looking for great one-of-a-kind gift. Additionally, we see opportunities to expand our toys and games business and are revamping our gift business.

Over the course of the past year, we established a business development team that is responsible for creating a pipeline of fresh new concepts to engage our customers. This team is responsible for the introduction of some new back-to-school products that we’ll be selling in our stores in July. This product including pens, notebooks, backpacks and water bottles is very complementary to our summer reading program.

. . . .

Allen Lindstrom

In fiscal ’18, we transitioned to our new, more efficient store labor model that resulted in a $40 million cost reduction and we’re continuing to review costs throughout the organization including indirect procurement, supply chain efficiencies and we also plan to reduce cost further in fiscal ’19.

. . . .

Consolidated sales were $786 million for the quarter and $3.7 billion for the year. Retail sales decreased 3.9% to $765 million for the fourth quarter and 5.5% to $3.6 billion for the full year. Comps decreased 4.1% during the fourth quarter on lower store traffic.

. . . .

Book comps decreased 3.4% for the quarter, continuing to outpace the balance of the store. Non-book comps decreased 4.5% for the quarter. Our Gift, Music and DVD businesses all experienced double-digit declines, partially offset by favorable trends in our café and toys and games categories. Overall, members continue to outperform non-members.

Comparable store sales decreased 5.4% for the full fiscal year on lower traffic. Online sales declined 9.6% for the full year on lower conversion rates. Fourth quarter consolidated gross margins decreased $13.5 million, primarily due to the lower sales volume. Rates declined 40 basis points for the quarter and 80 basis points for the full year, both due primarily to occupancy de-leverage and higher markdowns to clear-up non-returnable merchandise.

. . . .

Fourth quarter operating losses were $25.5 million including $7.7 million of non-recurring or unusual items, primarily severance. Excluding these items, adjusted fourth quarter EBITDA was $6.7 million. The full-year operating loss was $128 million inclusive of $167 million of nonrecurring or unusual items.

The $176 million is comprised of four items; $136 million of non-cash asset impairment charges, mostly goodwill; $16 million of nonrecurring severance costs primarily resulting from the implementation of the new store labor model; $5 million of strategic consulting as we transform our business; and $10 million of markdowns declared non-returnable merchandise.

. . . .

The consolidated fourth quarter net loss was $21.1 million or $0.29 a share compared to a loss of $13.4 million or $0.19 a share in the prior year. The consolidated full-year net loss was $125.5 million or $1.73 a share compared to net earnings of $22 million or $0.30 a share in the prior year. In fiscal ’18, we opened three new stores while closing six, ending the year with 630 stores.

. . . .

During fiscal ’18, the company returned $44 million in cash to its shareholders through Board-approved dividend policy. On June 13, the Board declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.15 a share, payable on July 27 to stockholders of record at the close of business on July 6.

. . . .

David Schick

Hi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my question. I just have a couple. First on NOOK, you mentioned in the year and congrats on moving that to the positive. 2019, anything you could share about thoughts on EBITDA for NOOK?

Allen Lindstrom

Hey David, it’s Al. We aren’t specifically providing guidance on the NOOK segment, but I’ll tell you that we expect to continue topline pressures in our NOOK business and continued cost rationalization in that area.

It’s going to be tough to repeat some of the improvements you’ve seen, just given the top line pressures, but we’re going to work — continue to work hard on rationalizing costs between our digital segments, which include both NOOK and e-commerce.

. . . .

David Schick

You guys are being so efficient with the call and the answers, I’m going to try to sneak in one other. We’ve been in your new pilot stores, and they are different and feel different. Anything you can share, I think you mentioned it briefly, but anything you can share on metrics, whether it’s time spent per customer? I think you’ve talked in the past about mix of cafe, but any metrics that folks on the call could think about around those? I know it’s a limited number, but the new concept stores.

Demos Parneros

Tough to talk about those because the food part of the business is so disproportionately high due to the full restaurant concept in those stores. I mean, they really don’t look like our other stores. But with that said, we’ve learned a lot from those stores. They’ve been great for us in terms of teaching us how to present product differently.

Our displays are different. Some of the adjacencies in the stores are different. We use different signage and colorways. So we’ve taken a lot of weight.

I don’t have a specific kind of dwell time figure. It’s kind of funny. In other businesses, we measure checkout time, which everybody wants to be efficient with checkout time, but in our case, we really want customers to stay as long as they want and browse and discover and buy books and other things.

So, unfortunately, we don’t have that. But I think good takeaways on the book side of the business, and there’s less of the non-books in those stores. So there’s not as much to really take or conclude from that.

. . . .

Ryan Vaughan

Hi. Thanks for taking my questions. Just a follow-up on the challenging categories of Music and DVD. I mean, at what point in time do you start to make some adjustments to the square footage allocation? We’ve seen it with other retailers that have also gone through kind of turnaround operational changes like at Best Buy, for example.

Just trying to think you expect continued pressure this year, 2019. I mean, how are you thinking about that if you’ve made really good strides? You’re down three in Books, and you’re positive in Café, but you have this drag. I mean, at what point in time do you just continue to make adjustments here, maybe bigger adjustments?

Demos Parneros

I think that’s a question that we’ve spent quite a bit of time on. Our entire management team has been focused on that and actually we have begun to make changes in those areas. The clear takeaway is to reduce its space as quickly as we can.

At the same time, we want to replace that product with something that is productive and relevant and makes sense and is on brand for us. So a couple of ways that we’re doing that. The first thing is that we’ve designed smaller stores and as we come to end-of-life on — end-of-lease rather, on stores which we’ve talked about in the past is over 100 stores a year, come up for lease renewal.

We can’t downsize all of those stores, but where we can, we will downsize those stores and when we do, we will give much less space, if any, to those categories. So that’s one approach.

Secondly, we talked about some new businesses that we have been testing and experimenting with to go along with our already strong Gift and Toys & Games businesses. Those can have a little bit more space. So it’s little bit re-allocation game that we’re going to be looking at. And that, along with new businesses, are some of the ways that we intend to use the space currently occupied by Music, DVDs.

So, it’s a little bit of a slower process that we’d like. We’d love to do it overnight, but trying to be prudent with usage of our capital and our expense dollars where we’re moving and where we’ve reallocated space, we’ve seen the results.

. . . .

Demos Parneros

Yeah. So, our target size for the new stores is 14,000 square feet. Obviously, it doesn’t work out perfectly every time. If it’s 13,000 or 15,000, we can work with that. Our designs are flexible enough to handle that. We are excited to be launching early fall with the first one of these stores and we intend to get great learning and takeaways from these.

I think the punch line is simple for us. It’s just about store productivity and the first part of the question about music DVD, we know that’s unproductive, but there’s some demand for the product. We certainly don’t need as much space as it has and we can reallocate space and also introduce some new businesses.

So we’re very focused on the customer experience. Customers love our store experience. So we want to keep that, but at the same time, we want to reduce where appropriate. So we want to keep the great experience, but make the stores more productive and make the P&L better at the same time.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

PG notes hot new initiatives like a book club plus gifts, toys and games (which PG thinks he remembers being downsized substantially last year).

And smaller stores – about 14,000 square feet, down from 25,000 to 45,000 square feed during Barnes & Noble’s glory days. 14,000 square feet is about the size of a typical Walgreens, Rite Aid or CVS store.

You need to learn

21 June 2018

You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

BookExpo and BookCon Announce Preliminary 2018 Attendance Figures

21 June 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its release today (June 20) of the preliminary attendance figures for BookExpo 2018 and BookCon, the organizers at Reed Exhibitions cite 7,732 attendees, including members of the press but not including the consumer-oriented BookCon, as the total headcount for BookExpo, compared to last year’s 7,425.

The trade show has provided its numbers in the form of an upbeat infographic that indicates that 54 percent of the overall attendance was at BookExpo for the first time. At first blush, that might sound great. But a moment of thought makes you remember that BookExpo is an annual trade event, a true fixture of the American book publishing industry that’s been in place for decades. If more than half your crowd is new—and if your year-to-year numbers go from 7,425 to 7,732, it means that a lot of people aren’t coming back: are longtime regulars disappearing?

On the other hand, that notion is unsurprising to anyone who has been going to BookExpo (formerly BookExpo America) for many years and watched as the exhibitor-space footprint has been shrinking relentlessly.

. . . .

And terming this its “reimagined” approach, the BookExpo team says it saw an increase in bookstore representatives’ attendance of 8 percent—a turnout of 1,073 booksellers and retailers. But Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch is reporting that last year’s bookseller-and-retail headcount was actually higher, at 1,289.

. . . .

There were, the company says, 1,300 librarians in attendance at BookExpo—notice that this may have surpassed the bookseller number—and of that group, Reed says that 34 percent were first-timers.

Alas, here, too, Cader reports that this year’s figure is lower, not higher, than the previous year’s. To this year’s 1,300 librarians, Cader cites 1,597 from BookExpo’s figures in 2016.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Licensing Opportunities

21 June 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I think the moment writers dream of being published, they have the same wish. They want to write the books of their heart. They want those books to reach a vast audience, and they want someone else to worry about doing all the things that turn a book from a rectangular object on a shelf into a vast global empire a la Harry Potter.

Most writers expect their agents to help with that. Some think the publishers will do it all. Even more writers believe that once they make a movie or TV deal, the magic will happen. Their heroine will become an action figure. Their hero’s face will decorate a throw rug. Even the feline sidekick will find images of herself for sale in the plush toys section of every toy store and bookstore on the planet.

Not to mention the new stuff—the apps, the games playable on every device, the YouTube channel, the Instagram feed, the Spotify playlist. The old-fashioned stuff too. Socks and t-shirts and posters. Tchotchkes that come directly from the book, like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter. The first time I saw a packet of those, I laughed out loud with pleasure.

But it’s not that easy to have products made from your book. Most books don’t easily lend themselves to toy or product licensing. Most books aren’t popular enough, truth be told. And many don’t have the imagery or built-in products like Harry Potter did. (Rowling was simply showing how kids could get into a craze, so she invented a bunch of crazes, which then became actual crazes. Nifty cool, in my opinion.)

Most publishers barely have time to put out their monthly schedule of books. And most publishing houses don’t pay attention to subsidiary rights aside from translation rights and film/TV rights. Thinking about other types of marketing, licensing, and sales is simply impossible for them. They don’t have the staff, and they certainly can’t do it for each book they publish.

In fact, most publishers only respond to requests. So if some game company comes to them and asks to license the board game rights to The Handy Dandy Money-Making Novel, the publisher will figure out if they have those rights to license (chances are they do, these days) and if so, then they usually say yes, without any negotiation at all.

There is, as my poker-playing husband is wont to say, a lot of money left on the table each and every day.

. . . .

You can license anything to anyone, if you know what you’re doing. And knowing what you’re doing is the key. Most book agents haven’t even been to a [large licensing] show like this, let alone have any idea what they’re doing when they get there.

The larger agencies, with movie and TV arms, have a licensing division, but even then, those agencies usually sell the rights for their clients to one organization—say a movie studio—and don’t worry about licensing the coffee cups on their own.

Money left on the table.

And I know why it happens. It happens for the very reason that writers want to hire someone else to handle everything for them.

Learning a new world—any new world—is a lot of work. And you need to be a bit forward to handle a licensing fair. Most writers aren’t. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t attend.

. . . .

But you’re going to need to give this part of your business some thought as well.

Most writers don’t, except to say that their agent handles this stuff. I was in the middle of writing this post, having just come off the rights fair, when the Donadio & Olson news broke, and I took time out to write that first blog post about the extreme problems with agents. I recommended that writers avoid agents at all costs, and got tremendous blowback, including comments like “I can’t hold an auction for foreign rights without an agent” and other myths.

(Ironically, I was Googling that particular tweet because I couldn’t remember how it was phrased, and saw that a German publisher contacted that same author on Twitter because the German publisher “emailed your literary agent and never got a response.” You cannot make this stuff up. Seriously.)

So, I wrote about the problems with agents and financial mismanagement, ignoring the actual rights licensing and other things they fail to do.

I did meet a few agents at the rights fair. Agents who specialize in licensing the rights to “properties” that are “bankable.” None of the agents I spoke to, briefly, handled books that weren’t already big gaming or big movie projects. (Yes, I spoke to the agents. Research, y’know.)

Here’s the thing:

Indie publishing has disrupted traditional publishing, yes. But indie publishers (and writers who consider themselves self-published) have pretty much built their businesses on the old traditional publishing model.

That model is based on innovations made in the early 1960s. Traditional publishers have not moved off that model at all. This is why James Patterson has his own division (which he runs) inside of Hachette, his U.S. publisher.  The article I’ve just linked to here, on that division inside Hachette does not mention licensing outside of the traditional publishing norms of TV/Movie and translation. Patterson has added a few things, like a literacy campaign, but I didn’t see much about other types of licensing.

He’s creative and innovative, but his creative innovations are very 1990s, partly because he’s working inside the traditional publishing industry—which he disrupted (and continues to disrupt) all by himself.

You can see the book industry’s disinterest in this licensing fair just by searching for the word “book” on the website. Chronicle Books and Sourcebooks were there, but not as the companies themselves. Rather, they were represented as part of someone else’s marketing campaign.

I found Penguin Random House’s booth in the armpit of the floor, back in the part with some exhibitors for whom English was not their first language, and some smaller exhibitors like quilters.

Penguin Random House has thousands of properties that could be exploited as brands and for licensing. You’ll note in the photo above that they only focused on three for some inexplicable reason.

The big comic book companies were all present. Marvel and DC were there, of course, and they were hard to miss.

. . . .

Why should you care? Because this is the part of the business that built LucasFilm. George Lucas retained his licensing rights when he made the tiny deal for the distribution of the original Star Wars movie. There’s a lot, lot, lot of money in marketing, branding, and licensing, if it’s done right.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

resistentialism, n.

21 June 2018

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 resistentialism, n.

. . . .

The theory that inanimate objects are hostile to humans; hostility manifested by inanimate objects.

. . . .

1948   P. Jennings in Spectator 23 Apr. 491/1   Resistentialism is a philosophy of tragic grandeur… Resistentialism derives its name from its central thesis that Things (res) resist (résister) men… Resistentialism is the philosophy of what Things think about us.

. . . .

1996   C. H. Elster There’s Word for It! (2005) 246   Even my daughter..is well aware of the sinister power of resistentialism… Not long ago I heard her crying from another room. I ran to her aid and found her frowning at a chair. ‘That chair bumped me.’

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

PG notes that in the average home or office, computers are the major source of resistentialism.

The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died

21 June 2018

From Rolling Stone:

If you visited Austin’s Waterloo Records recently, you might have noticed a construction project that was unthinkable not so long ago: The 36-year-old Austin music staple was replacing 24 feet of CD racks with space for more vinyl. “After 30 years of CDs, a lot of people are moving on from that format,” says Waterloo owner John Kunz. “Whether they’re going back to vinyl, or streaming, people are selling off those CDs.”

As streaming gives the music industry its biggest profits in a decade, the CD business continues to plunge. CD sales have fallen 80 percent in the past decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. Since Tesla began manufacturing cars without CD players, other companies like Ford and Toyota have recently followed. Downloads – once seen as the CD’s replacement – have plummeted 58 percent since peaking in 2012, their profits now even smaller than physical sales.

. . . .

Jack White, arguably the most visible vinyl advocate in recent years, agrees: “I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl – streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats. And I feel really good about that.”

Who’s still buying CDs? “The Walmart customer,” says Glass, adding that sales are still strong in “country, greatest-hits, soundtracks and baby records.” In the country world, Chris Stapleton’s second LP sold an impressive 373,000 physical releases last year. CDs are also doing fine in some international markets – in Japan, where streaming has been slow to take off, 72 percent of last year’s music sales were physical.

Introduced in the early Eighties, the CD prompted massive record-business expansion over 20 years—and was surprisingly resilient even after Napster and online piracy, then the iTunes Store, threatened to destroy the format. As for modern-day CD enthusiasts, Glass points to older listeners who still prefer loading CD carousels rather than configuring Spotify or Pandora on car stereos or home-theater systems.

. . . .

Still, artists, labels and record stores have been preparing for years for the CD’s inevitable death. Sony closed a key CD plant in 2011 and laid off 380 workers from another, in Terre Haute, Indiana, earlier this year; meanwhile, as vinyl sales have increased from less than a million in 2007 to more than 14 million last year, new LP plants have popped up all over the place.

Link to the rest at Rolling Stone

PG wonders if books will be any different.

Welcome to Blaine, the Town Amazon Prime Built

21 June 2018

From The Verge:

Roll off the highway into Blaine, Washington, and the first thing you’ll notice is Edaleen Dairy; on a summer day, a dozen people might be lined up outside waiting for ice cream. Across the street from Edaleen is 5D Packages and its competitor Mail Boxes Plus. Turn onto H Street, which passes for a main drag, and before you hit the US Post Office, you’ll spot 24/7 Parcel, Border Mailbox, and Security Mail services. Take a right at the post office and loop back around to Peace Portal, and you’ll also find Blaine Enterprises, Pulse Packages, and Hagen’s mail pickup.

That may seem like a lot of mailbox stores for a town of 5,000 people, but Blaine isn’t just any small town: it sits right on the 49th parallel that divides the United States and Canada. As the only US border town located in the shadow of a major Canadian city, Blaine’s economy is uniquely dependent on the relationship between the two countries. It’s a position that also leaves the town vulnerable to the vagaries of e-commerce trends and exchange rates. That vulnerability has only been exacerbated by mounting tension between Washington, DC and Ottawa, an emerging trade war, and the looming threat of a boycott.

For the past decade Blaine has flourished, thanks to the discrepancy between the explosion of e-commerce in the US and the still-developing e-commerce network in Canada. Blaine’s handful of residents have grown accustomed to a regular stream of Canadians who come to town specifically to pick up their US packages. For these Canadians, Blaine is simply a mailing address: the nearest, cheapest, and most convenient way to order packages from Amazon and other major US retailers.

But as Amazon continues to step up its Canadian operations and a growing number of American (and Canadian) retailers have made it easier to ship to Canada, Canadians are no longer as dependent on their US mailing addresses. Between economics and politics, Blaine will soon be forced to reckon with an uncomfortable question: is there a future for the town if it no longer serves as Canada’s front porch?

. . . .

It wasn’t too long ago that Blaine boasted only a handful of mailbox options. Then came the dawn of online shopping. As e-commerce operations for major US retailers like Macy’s, J.Crew, and Best Buy took off in the early 2000s, they tempted Canadian shoppers who were already familiar with the brands. Although Amazon hung out a shingle in Canada in 2002, its operations were initially limited by regulations intended to protect Canadian publishing. While Amazon.com expanded into more product categories, Amazon.ca contained only a tiny fraction of its US offerings well into the 2000s. And Canadian retailers were in no rush to match the e-commerce boom of the US: imagine selling to a population the size of California’s, but shipping products across the entire land mass of the United States. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.)

As a result, Canada’s armchair shoppers were left to drool over the online offerings of retailers to the south — many of which, if they could be delivered to Canada at all, arrived with an unpredictable bill for shipping, taxes, and / or customs duties.

. . . .

I’m one of those cross-border e-shoppers. As a dual citizen who has spent many years living on each side of the border, my Blaine mailbox, Trader Joe’s, and Target runs have allowed me to scratch my American retail itch even after settling in Vancouver. My family set up our Blaine mailbox in 2010, and we now make monthly pilgrimages to pick up such elusive goodies as Hanna Andersson’s kid clothes (cheaper to ship to the US), a round of Rent the Runway outfits (won’t ship to Canada), or a new set of drinking glasses (so much more expensive on Amazon.ca, you wouldn’t believe it). These pilgrimages became even more frequent when Ben & Jerry’s stopped distributing New York Super Fudge Chunk in Canada. Once you’ve committed to hitting Blaine for a monthly ice cream restock, you might as well order some shoes, board games, or toilet paper from Amazon.com.

. . . .

[Jeffrey Lazenby, the city’s revenue officer] traced Blaine’s revenue windfall to a sales tax agreement that was put in place in the mid-2000s which allowed states to levy sales taxes based on where a package was delivered, rather than where it was sold. Though the agreement only led to municipalities keeping a sliver of those state sales taxes, that sliver can really add up when you’re the point of delivery for tens of thousands of Canadian residents. In 2017, Blaine collected nearly $1.7 million in sales tax, which is two to five times the amount collected by comparably sized towns not on the Canadian border.

That $1.7 million in sales tax isn’t all earned from Canadians who are buying discount housewares on Amazon: some of it comes from local purchases or online purchases by actual residents of Blaine. But between the sales tax and a penny-per-gallon gas tax that’s largely paid by the many Canadians who cross the border to fill their tanks, Lazenby calculates that taxes paid by Canadians make up 5–10 percent of the city’s revenues. And that’s just the direct revenue. Lazenby estimates that three-quarters of Blaine’s employment is related to the border in some way.

Link to the rest at The Verge

First Impressions

20 June 2018

From Bomb Magazine:

“First Impressions” consists entirely of first sentences from 268 short stories published in The New Yorker over the past 20 years, from 1997 to 2017, all of which are cited below. After collecting every first sentence, I found they fell into a number of patterns, some surprising, others obvious: points of view, different tenses, genre fiction like western and military, stories set in smalltown America, stories set in Montana (oddly there were a lot), etc. I then arranged these patterns into a sequence of vignettes, a short story in its own right.

In writing this piece I wanted to examine the production of prestige fiction as well as the editorial character of The New Yorker fiction section, its idiosyncrasies, biases and imaginative limits. 

. . . .

The above is not my real name—the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. This is the truth, whichever way you look at it. I’m not a bad guy.

Approaching eighty, I sometimes see myself from a little distance, as a man I know but not intimately. My memory is proglottidean, like the tapeworm, but unlike the tapeworm it has no head, it wanders in a maze, and any point may be the beginning or the end of its journey.

My Life

My legal name is Alexander Perchov. Here’s the story of my life: whatever I did wasn’t good enough, anything I figured out I figured out too late, and whenever I tried to help I made things worse.

It’s hard to believe, but I was born in a neighborhood called Los Empalados: The Impaled. The nurse had wrapped my brother in a blue flannel blanket and was just about to hand him to his mother when she whispered, “Oh, God, there’s another one,” and out I slid, half dead. Mama said I was thenceforth to be her nephew, and to call her Aunt Dora.

When I was a child, I had a family of doll people. Musa was my older brother. My stepfather wasn’t a big man, not much taller than my mother. We didn’t like him. Mitchell had never so much as changed a baby’s diaper before. All he knew, really, was digging.

As a young boy, I learned many things from many wise people. Max knew that a bunk bed was the perfect structure to use when building an indoor fort. Cahal sprayed WD-40 on to the only bolt his spanner wouldn’t shift. When I was a hiccupping boy, my mother would fetch the back-door key, pull my collar away from my neck, and slip the cold metal down my back. The pancake suppers were my idea.

One morning, two hundred and twenty-five days after my father left home, specks appeared in the huge blue sky over our house. A year after my father departed, moved to St. Louis, and left my mother and me behind in New Orleans, to look after ourselves in whatever manner we could, he called on the telephone one afternoon and asked to speak to me. My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. It was a very cold day.

. . . .

Our Town in the ‘70s

All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it the seventies were not as we picture them now, or as I had known them even in Vancouver.

In the old days when there was a movie theatre in every town there was one in this town, too, in Maverley, and it was called the Capital, as such theatres often were. In front of the church, which contained a carved altar brought from Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, there stood a row of six horse stalls. The drum major lived a short distance from my house and could sometimes be seen sitting pensively on his porch wearing his shako—a tall truncated cone of white simulated fur, with a strap that cut across his chin—while folding the Free Press for his paper route. When the old brothel—known as the Butt Hut—closed down, years ago, the house it had occupied was advertised in the paper: “Home on the river: eight bedrooms, eight baths, no kitchen. Changing times force sale.” This happened here in our town.

Drummond opened the shop every morning at seven so he and his boy could eat breakfast while the first drop-offs were coming in. Of course I’d seen them, his customers, walking past the diner and thrift shop and firehouse clutching their oil-stained kraft-paper sacks—dishevelled and outdoorsy, these people, healthy-looking in an unpremeditated way, their skin unblemished and tanned and their muscles toned.

In the morning, at his favorite restaurant, Erick got to order his favorite American food, sausage and eggs and hash-brown papitas fried crunchy on top. Arthurs ordered liver and peas and mashed potatoes in Strode Street. Ann Gallagher was listening to the wireless, cutting out a boxy short jacket with three-quarter-length sleeves, in a pale-lilac wool flecked with navy.

. . . .

My Second Life

It was a wife’s worst nightmare. I married an ice man.

He was a man shaped by money. He dreamed his brother’s death at Frederiksburg. In his latter days—and even that is now more than thirty years ago—he was always referred to as “the old man.”

So Natalie put me straight. She was only twenty years old but had an old person’s name. She had big breasts, slim legs, and blue eyes. When I saw her standing outside the theater the evening after meeting her at a dinner party, her first sentence couldn’t have sounded more reckless. “Tsk-tsk.”

He was at work when it began.

She came back from the island on Friday, August 16th, on the two o’clock ferry. Two rafts were anchored offshore like twin islands. The sun was a wolf.

It began in the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. She knew there was someone else in the room. She had never perfected the trick of moistening the envelope flap with the tip of her tongue so it would stick and lie perfectly flat. It’s not my fault.

Link to the rest at Bomb Magazine

Test your way to bestseller success

20 June 2018

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is risky. It takes years to write, produce and market a book with only slim chance of success. Instead of racing up the bestseller charts, most books are on a fast track to the high street discounter.

Traditionally, publishers have mitigated risk with professional expertise – commissioning editors with rockstar author contacts, sales reps with a track record of smashed sales targets, booksellers with local market knowledge, and reviewers with the power to make or break a title. But in the age of Amazon these experts are being edged out.

Technology has disintermediated publishing, but tech startups, as well as disrupting the established ways of working, can offer alternative ways of working.

. . . .

In The Startup Way, Eric Ries – author of The Lean Startup and a champion of lean product development – shows how conventional businesses can implement approaches used by startups. His case study about publishing sparked my interest and got me asking: why a publisher was chosen to represent the old, established ways of working? And why, in a book crammed full of named businesses, this is the only anonymous example? Ries wrote:

‘In the past, the publisher didn’t seek out much of any feedback from test groups or from author communities. “Beforehand we kind of just trusted ourselves,” explained the executive. “We trusted our individual biases and the hubris that we actually knew more than the customer.” But as the publishing market has shifted … the company has had to pivot to adapt to the buyer’s habits.’

All power to our plucky publisher who set out to disrupt ‘everything’ in the traditional publishing process. Our anon executive took startup methodology to heart, creating a feedback loop, so that book buyers’ opinions were integrated into the publishing cycle. Their approach strikes horror into every publisher I know: they tested an entire manuscript – once the book was already in production!

It’s such a late stage to get user feedback – once the book has been written, edited, typeset, the cover designed, the sales and marketing planned – all those people and processes, a huge investment of time and money to find out if anyone is interested in reading it.

Book production resembles the much derided ‘waterfall’ development, which takes a linear, step by step approach to building software. It can lead to a sunk cost, where we continue forward on a path because we’ve gone so far down it. This approach can become the norm for a sector, baked into the way we do things, and is why publishing is an all too easy straw man for Ries.

. . . .

Testing takes courage and in a long production cycle there might not be time, but it improves products and decreases the risk of failure. There are three principles of testing to bear in mind:

  1. Test early
  2. Test often
  3. Test with end users

Testing early saves time and money as you validate decisions earlier, and testing often enables you to ‘iterate’ and improve so you keep going in the right direction. It also builds a habit of testing, creating smaller feedback loops within a production cycle, so when you make changes they are less disruptive.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suggests that an ebook has an inherently shorter development and production cycle than a printed book (under current publishing practices).

He thinks a better business approach for a publisher would be to create and release the ebook first to test the market for the book. If readers were drawn to the ebook in sufficient quantities, then the publisher could invest in a printed version of the book.

An intermediate step between the ebook and rolling big presses overseas is print-on-demand or short-run printing. Short run could be used to further test the market to see if a large print run were justified.

Publishers’ marketing departments would require a substantial upgrade to do something other than large country-by-country releases to all bookstores in a country.

All of this would require a significant retooling in most traditional publishers with a big upgrade in the quality and skills of publishers’ manufacturing management departments.

Doing away with bookstores’ right to return unsold copies would also improve the management of print books. At a minimum, if a bookstore wanted to participate in early short-run book releases, it would have to do away with its right to return printed books.

Ideally, publishers would evolve past the idea that big stacks of books in bookstores are ideal advertising and marketing tools. PG suggests that most potential book purchasers are more likely to learn about new books online or via word-of-mouth rather than walking into bookstores. This will be even more true when Barnes & Noble finally files for Chapter 11 relief.

I am no bird

20 June 2018

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

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