Why is the Iranian government opening the world’s biggest bookstore?

23 April 2017

From Aeon:

There is a conundrum facing Iranian officials. The government, on the one hand, wants Iranians to read more. At the same time, with the other hand, it wants to cover their eyes.

Love of the written word is deeply rooted in Iranian society, due to its extraordinary history of arts, sciences and literature. However, Iranians aren’t reading enough. Bookstores in Iran are a rarity, with some 1,500 shops for a population of almost 80 million. There was a time when publishers gave books a print run of 3,300-5,500 copies. Now, the numbers have dropped drastically to 500, sometimes even 300 copies.

That’s why the Iranian government recently announced it would be opening the largest bookstore in the world – by square footage – during the coming months. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this title was held by the Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City, which covered 154,250ft. Unfortunately, the 5th Avenue flagship store closed down in 2014.

. . . .

Mahamoud Salahi, the head of the Art and Cultural Organization of Tehran Municipality, announced that Bagh-e-Ketab (the Book Orchard/Garden) will be 484,376ft (45,000m), triple the size of the once world-record holder. This bookstore is expected to cater to all walks of life and ages, but will focus on youth and include an auditorium for theatre performances, and four research departments for university professors to hold workshops and study sessions. The Tehran municipality has reportedly already spent 100 billion rials (more than $3 million) on the project.

‘Currently, we are at a stage of getting the store’s equipment. We hope that all interested publishers will be able to place their work on our shelves,’ Salahi told Iranian reporters. During 2015, he pushed for a campaign to promote reading by distributing free books and booklets on buses and subways for people. This had existed previously, but was halted three years prior, for reasons unknown.

. . . .

To fight censorship, authors and readers at home and abroad are uploading banned books to the internet, where Iranians download them for free. Iraj Pezeshkzad’s classic coming-of-age novel My Uncle Napoleon (1973) and Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl (1937) are readily available online, together with countless other banned Western titles translated into Persian. This includes Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) and The Blind Watchmaker (1986) as well as The Satanic Verses (1988) by Salman Rushdie – the very book that caused Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution in 1979, to issue a death fatwa for the author, which is still in place today.

Iranians have also come up with online publishing houses to bring out writer’s works as ebooks, either from their own websites or via apps such as Google Books. The Iran-based Nogaam has published 25 books since 2013, mostly by authors who reside in the country and would otherwise have no chance of being published due to censorship. Books are crowdfunded, and once writers are compensated for their work, the titles become available for free download. Other companies such as Fidibo serve as digital libraries that feature ebooks with publishing permission from the Iranian government.

Link to the rest at Aeon

How craft beer saved the book store

21 April 2017

From IndyStar:

Craft beer and books go together like F. Scott and Zelda. At least it seems so. Books and Brews, a brewery and used book store combination, is a love story that is expanding quickly through Indiana.

The community pub for creatives hangs on the nostalgia of classic literary and film references. Beers don names like Clifford Irish-style Red and Charlie Chocolate Milk Stout. There are no TVs. The furniture is handmade. Clay mugs are handspun. Donated books line the walls at a cost of only $3 each. Ongoing events include trivia and movie nights, open mic jams, and Settlers of Catan tournaments.

. . . .

In a world where Barnes & Nobles bookstores are closing, and screens are taking over, Books and Brews owner Jason Wuerfel is gaining momentum. He always wanted to open a bookstore, but craft beer is making it possible.

“The death of the bookstore actually works in our favor because it is a model that people can be near to books and still pay the rent,” he laughed.

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

PG probably doesn’t need to mention it, but he will: Sales of used books make no money for either the author or the publisher.

Where Have All the Shop Clerks Gone?

19 April 2017

From Strategy+Business:

We often talk about software and robots taking over jobs and eliminating the need for human labor. It’s common to hear these concerns center around jobs in factories, or in the trucking and taxi industries. Some of these changes may be far in the distance, or may not come about at all due to social and cultural resistance (and the fact that sometimes sci-fi-tinged ideas just don’t come to fruition). In fact, there are lots of jobs open in areas that you would think would be negatively affected by automation. For example, 364,000 manufacturing jobs were open in the U.S.  at the end of February 2017, up 58,000, or 18.9 percent, from a year earlier.

But the reality is that machines — in the form of software, e-commerce platforms, and payment systems — are already destroying jobs in one massive sector: retail.

Retail sales are rising in the United States — up 5.3 percent in February 2017 from the year before. And overall, the U.S. labor market is in very good shape, with unemployment at 4.5 percent and 78 straight months of job growth. The monthly JOLTS report shows there were an impressive 5.74 million jobs open in the U.S. at the end of February.

. . . .

However, the job market in the retail sector is behaving as it would only in times of recession, when retail sales are falling, or when the labor market is weak. In March, when the economy at large added 98,000 payroll jobs, the vast retail trade sector lost 29,000 positions. In February, 30,900 retail jobs were cut. In fact, retail employment is off in four of the past six months, and the sector employed fewer people in March 2017 than in it did in August 2016. According to the JOLTS report, the number of open jobs in retail has fallen significantly over the past year, from 612,000 in February 2016 to 542,000 in February 2017 — a decline of 70,000, or 11 percent.

What’s going on here? In a word, technology. But not in the way you’d think. Algorithms are not yet replacing salesclerks at the mall, and software is not stocking shelves in grocery stores. What is happening is that technology-enabled retail platforms, recommendation engines, and payment systems continue to grow and improve. And as they do, they are making it more convenient and more compelling for more people to do more of their shopping online. Non-store retail sales, which is mostly e-commerce, were up nearly 13 percent in February from the year before. In short, technology and automation are pushing a great chunk of retail sales through channels that are not physical stores. It still requires plenty of human work to fulfill all the orders. But the jobs will increasingly be in warehouses, in logistics and delivery — not in strip malls.

Link to the rest at Strategy+Business

John Grisham Returns to the Road for His First Book Tour in 25 Years

19 April 2017

From John Grisham’s blog:

Celebrate John Grisham’s 30th novel–CAMINO ISLAND–and his first bookstore tour in 25 years!  Seating is extremely limited–see full tour schedule and event guidelines below.

EVENT GUIDELINES (Please check each individual store listing)

•  Events are ticketed – 1 ticket per person, which will include a copy of CAMINO ISLAND.

•  Ticket costs vary.  Check store listings.

•  Events will be strictly limited to 200 people only.

•  Mr. Grisham will personalize and sign up to 2 copies of CAMINO ISLAND (1 copy included with event ticket, 1 copy purchased on-site only).


•  Photos will be permitted.

•  The event will be structured into two parts: book signing and discussion/Q&A.

•  Your ticket will gain admittance to both the book signing line AND in-store discussion UNLESS space is limited – check in-store seating guidelines below.

•  The book signing portion of the event will be from either 1 to 5pm or 2 to 6pm only – check timing of each venue.  You must have your ticket on-hand to join the line, which will be first-come, first-serve.

•  All books MUST be signed during the signing window – there will NOT be an autographing after the event.

•  Mr. Grisham’s in-store discussion will begin at either 5 or 6pm – check timing of each venue.  You must keep your ticket on-hand to join the discussion portion of the event.

•  Seating at the discussion will be first-come, first-serve. There will not be assigned seating.

Link to the rest at John Grisham’s blog

Neiman Marcus Finds Even Wealthy Shoppers Want Better Deals

17 April 2017

More from The Wall Street Journal about problems physical retail stores are having:

 Lysa Heslov used to be a loyal Neiman Marcus shopper. Now, she buys most of her clothes, shoes and handbags at websites that carry the same designer brands, often at cheaper prices.

“I price compare now much more than I ever did before,” said Ms. Heslov, a 52-year-old documentary film director who lives in Los Angeles.

Neiman Marcus and other luxury retailers were long thought immune to the troubles of mass-market chains—falling foot traffic and the constant price wars that have triggered widespread closure of brick-and-mortar stores.

. . . .

But high-end chains, which raised prices incessantly over the past decade, are learning the hard way that even wealthy customers are hunting for better deals and selection, whether online or at shops run by individual brands.

“Even a very rich person can say, ‘Enough is enough,’ when it comes to price,” said Matthew Singer, Neiman’s former men’s fashion director, now with his own clothing line.

Sales of personal luxury goods, such as designer apparel and handbags, fell 1% last year, the first decline since 2009, according to Bain & Co. The slowdown contrasts with 4% growth in the global luxury market, which reached $1.16 trillion when including expenditures on pricey cars, travel, restaurants and such.

“In the past, women had loyalty to a particular department store, and they would come in with a page torn from the retailer’s catalog and say, ‘I want that look,’ ” said Robert Burke, the former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman who now runs his own consulting firm.

The shift in consumer tastes has put pressure on several storied brands, including  Tiffany & Co. and Ralph Lauren Corp. , which both recently ousted their chief executives.

. . . .

“Our mantra had always been, ‘There is nothing too expensive for our customer,’ ” one former executive said.

Burt Tansky, chief executive for nine years until 2010, was fond of saying, “I’d rather have one customer spending $5 million, than five million customers spending $1,” other executives said. Mr. Tansky declined to comment.

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

TPV isn’t going to become a blog about the retail business, but this story demonstrates that the move from bricks and mortar to online is a megatrend that’s not limited to physical bookstores alone. And that a wide range of customers are price-sensitive.

Here Are the Retail Stores Taking Hits, Closing Hundreds of Locations

15 April 2017

From NBC Washington:

For the retail industry’s brick-and-mortar stores, the realities of online shopping and changing tastes have driven down sales, causing hundreds of locations to close their doors.

So what’s the status of the stores making headlines these days? Here’s a quick guide:

Abercrombie & Fitch: The preppy classic clothing store is closing 60 U.S. stores during the 2017 fiscal year as leases expire, CNBC reported. This follows the closing of 53 domestic shops last year and likely won’t be the end of it. The company has more than 700 locations, and half of them have leases that will be up for renewal by the end of fiscal 2018, lending the option to more closings.

Aeropostale: The teen clothing store filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2016 after losing money for 13 consecutive quarters. They announced the closing of 154 of its approximately 800 locations, with 113 closings in the U.S. and all 41 Canadian locations closing. In a negotiating fight that lasted into fall 2016, the company was able to save 504 stores and keep them operating, saving 26 percent more stores than it had initially projected would stay open.

. . . .

 Barnes & Noble: The bookstore will close its Bethesda, Maryland location at the end of 2017. Barnes & Noble only closed eight stores in 2016 and currently has 640 locations as of 2016.

. . . .

 J.C. Penney: The nearly 115-year-old department store announced in February that it will close 130 to 140 stores and two distribution centers over the next several months, but reversed course Thursday, announcing that it has postponed liquidation sales and closures of those stores. “The liquidation will now begin May 22 instead of April 17 as originally scheduled,” according to CNBC. The new closure date, July 31, is about six weeks later than originally planned, CNBC reported. J.C. Penney currently has 1,014 locations.

. . . .

 The Limited: After 50 years in business, The Limited filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after closing all 250 stores in January, CNBC reported. The store’s styles will now be available online only.

Macy’s: Macy’s announced in January that it will be shutting down 65 stores in 2017. The company announced in August 2016 a planned shutdown of about 100 stores out of its 730 locations.

Office Depot: The home goods store said it would close 300 more stores in the next three years to cut costs by the end of 2018, Time reported. The brand already closed 400 U.S. stores by the end of 2016. As of 2017, there are approximately 1,400 retail stores in North America, according to their website.

Link to the rest at NBC Washington

PG posted this because sometimes the discussions in the traditional publishing business focus on Amazon vs. the local bookstores everyone loves.

As this article demonstrates, physical retail is on a serious downward trend across a wide range of product categories. This helps put the “most people secretly want to shop in real bookstores” stories we see in publications focused on the way things used to be into proper context.

What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?

10 April 2017

From The Atlantic:

From rural strip-malls to Manhattan’s avenues, it has been a disastrous two years for retail.

There have been nine retail bankruptcies in 2017—as many as all of 2016. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have each announced more than 100 store closures. Sports Authority has liquidated, and Payless has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, several apparel companies’ stocks hit new multi-year lows, including Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren announced that it is closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue, one of several brands to abandon that iconic thoroughfare.

A deep recession might explain an extinction-level event for large retailers. But GDP has been growing for eight straight years, gas prices are low, unemployment is under 5 percent, and the last 18 months have been quietly excellent years for wage growth, particularly for middle- and lower-income Americans.

So, what the heck is going on? The reality is that overall retail spending continues to grow steadily, if a little meagerly. But several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping.

. . . .

1. People are simply buying more stuff online than they used to.

The simplest explanation for the demise of brick-and-mortar shops is that Amazon is eating retail. Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years. Even more remarkable, according to several reports, half of all U.S. households are now Amazon Prime subscribers.

But the full story is bigger than Amazon. Online shopping has done well for a long time in media and entertainment categories, like books and music. But easy return policies have made online shopping cheap, easy, and risk-free for consumers in apparel, which is now the largest e-commerce category. The success of start-ups like Casper, Bonobos, and Warby Parker (in beds, clothes, and glasses, respectively) has forced physical-store retailers to offer similar deals and convenience online.

What’s more, mobile shopping, once an agonizing experience of typing private credit-card digits in between pop-up ads, is getting easier thanks to apps and mobile wallets. Since 2010, mobile commerce has grown from 2 percent of digital spending to 20 percent.

. . . .

People used to make several trips to a store before buying an expensive item like a couch. They would go once to browse options, again to narrow down their favorites, and again to finally pull the trigger on a blue velvet love seat. On each trip, they were likely to make lots of other small purchases as they wandered around. But today many consumers can do all their prep online, which means less ambling through shopping centers and less making incidental purchases at adjacent stores (“I’m tired, let’s go home … oh wait, there’s a DSW right there, I need new sneakers”).

. . . .

2. America built way too many malls.

There are about 1,200 malls in America today. In a decade, there might be about 900. That’s not quite the “the death of malls.” But it is decline, and it is inevitable.

The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen Research. By one measure of consumerist plentitude—shopping center “gross leasable area”—the U.S. has 40 percent more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more the the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany. So it’s no surprise that the Great Recession provided such a devastating blow: Mall visits declined 50 percent between 2010 and 2013.

. . . .

3. Americans are shifting their spending from materialism to meals out with friends.

Even if e-commerce and overbuilt shopping space conspired to force thousands of retail store closings, why is this meltdown happening while wages for low-income workers are rising faster than any time since the 1990s?

. . . .

Second, clothing stores have declined as consumers shifted their spending away from clothes toward traveling and dining out. Before the Great Recession, people bought a lot of stuff, like homes, furniture, cars, and clothes, as retail grew dramatically in the 1990s. But something big has changed. Spending on clothes is down—its share of total consumer spending has declined by 20 percent this century.

. . . .

There is a social element to this, too. Many young people are driven by the experiences that will make the best social media content—whether it’s a conventional beach pic or a well-lit plate of glistening avocado toast. Laugh if you want, but these sorts of questions—“what experience will reliably deliver the most popular Instagram post?”—really drive the behavior of people ages 13 and up. This is a big deal for malls.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Here’s PG’s contribution to social media food pictures for the day.


Labyrinth Books is a local store with a worldly mission

10 April 2017


The French booksellers (known as “bouquinistes”) and their stalls along the Seine are fixtures in Paris, dating from the 16th century. Tour guides call them “literary entrepreneurs.”

The one and only bookseller on Nassau Street, Labyrinth Books, has become a Princeton fixture, dating from the 21st century with its “stalls” in the form of tables pushed out onto the sidewalk. It too is a literary entrepreneur, as indicated by the fact that in spite of enormous changes and challenges in the bookselling industry, the store is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

. . . .

“Four or five years ago, many thought that e-books would spell the end of print as we know it,” said von Moltke, who lives with Cliff and their two daughters in Princeton. “Maybe because we operate in a bit of a niche market that values print as its own . . . we were perhaps less nervous than others about this trend.

“And in fact, publishers have seen their e-book sales not only level off, but decline of late, so it seems that both e-books and print books are here to stay. Interestingly, there is now a substantial body of neuroscientific study that confirms what many readers experience: retention when reading from a page is markedly better than when reading from a screen. Add to that the persistent interruption and auto-interruption when reading on a connected device, and it becomes easy to see how reading a book is a far more immersive experience than reading a data file can be. Students everywhere, too, are showing a clear preference for a printed book over an e-book when price is not the overriding factor.”

. . . .

Labyrinth came to Princeton at the invitation of Princeton University and has had a very close partnership with the university as its official book provider. “Princeton University truly went against the trend of the day in bringing an independent, scholarly and community bookstore to town for all their book needs and has remained an incredible partner and supporter over the years,” von Moltke said.

. . . .

Even though Dorothea acknowledges that the printed book is preferred over e-books “when price is not a factor,” price is a “huge factor when buying textbooks,” and the partnership with the university has been invaluable in helping to keep the price under control.

“For better or worse, students have become very savvy at finding ‘free’ books online, at circulating pdfs of textbooks, at substituting video tutorials for textbooks, and at using social media for buying and selling from each other. So you can see why our course book operation has needed to adapt,” she said. “Fortunately, in all of this Princeton University has remained always willing to sit down with us to come up with joint solutions that benefit the students and the university while helping to support the store. As a result since 2012 we’ve been able to offer an across-the-board 30 percent discount to all students, which keeps us in the mix as a competitive option for students when they are deciding what and where to buy. As for our non-course book sales, we are happy to have been able to either hold steady or grow a little each year, and are grateful to our varied customer base, without whom we would not be here.”

. . . .

Finally, the close relationship with the community is in the store’s equivalent of bookbinding glue. This spring, the store will be averaging three to four events per week. “The events are central in allowing the store to engage with the community we serve and, we hope, in creating dialog around books that also connects people with one another,” von Moltke said.

Link to the rest at

San Diego booksellers succumb

5 April 2017

From San Diego Reader:

Robert Schrader can recall the moment when he decided to close 5th Avenue Books, the cavernous, off-white, brightly lit used bookstore that lasted longer than most on what used to be Hillcrest’s book block. (Bluestocking Books soldiers on, but the Blue Door, Bountiful Books, Grounds for Murder, and the Cook’s Bookshop and now 5th Avenue are no more.) “I came in one morning and there were eight people in the store, and I noticed that five of them — a majority of the customers — were looking at their phones. That’s when I realized that there was so much traffic on Amazon that even those people who come in here were using it as a sample store. Oh, I like this book; I’ll look it up on Amazon and see if I can find it cheaper.”

“The store hadn’t made money since 2011,” he continued, “but I was hanging on, thinking, I can reverse this. I bought from different sources, looking for stuff that wasn’t available on Amazon. But everything’s available on Amazon.” Schrader ran his closing in stages throughout February: 50 percent off on one Friday, 80 percent off the next, then $5 a bag, then $1. I visited on 80 percent day and bought, among other things, a $150 signed copy of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer for $30. Waiting in the checkout line, I started rooting through a box on the floor after spotting a couple of novels by Shusaku Endo. “Hey, whose box is that?” asked a familiar voice. It was Craig Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Books in La Mesa. Of course he had snagged the Endos before me; he’s a pro.

“I spent $1000 and got some good stuff,” said Maxwell when I visited his shop a few days later (the Endos were priced at $12 apiece). “Lit was probably the best; he had almost every author under the sun. But I found good things in the nautical travels section and the Civil War” — even though World War II is a bigger seller for him and even though “80 percent of the people who walk through the door ask for children’s literature. I know they don’t read themselves because they never look at anything around them.”

. . . .

Asked why he maintains his La Mesa Village storefront, Maxwell paused before replying with a smile, “I just can’t see waking up at home, schlepping to the kitchen in my pajamas and having a piece of toast and then schlepping over to the computer and being ‘at work.’ I think of a brick-and-mortar store as a real business. I know that’s anachronistic, but these illusions are important to some of us.”

Link to the rest at San Diego Reader and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG takes no pleasure in seeing bookstores close just as he has taken no pleasure in seeing newspapers close. The Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media says the newspaper workforce has shrunk by about 20,000 positions, or 39%, in the last 20 years.

However, PG is about to permit his last subscription to a physical newspaper lapse, thus ending a reading habit that began when he was seven years old and mispronounced most of the words he read. He just doesn’t read the physical paper much any more.

Since he spends most of his work day on the computer, PG has no shortage of access to the information contained in his newspaper. Away from his desk, his phone alerts him to breaking news at least 12 hours before the newspaper arrives.

Once in awhile, PG buys a physical book on Amazon, but he hasn’t finished reading one of those in 2-3 years. Despite a lifetime of reading books on paper (think voracious childhood reading, college lit classes, law school, law practice, voracious adult reading), they feel sort of clumsy to him now. On the other hand, he inhales ebooks, particularly titles that would never appear at a Barnes & Noble.

Despite the numbers of pleasant people in the paper book business, it’s going away. There are a couple of large universities not far from Casa PG, but backpacks stuffed with books are an increasingly rare sight. Backpacks are for laptops and tablets. Everybody carries phones and assiduously studies them between classes.

Used book stores will outlast stores that sell new books (and will probably morph into antique book stores) but there won’t be enough of those to employ most of people currently working in the paper book business.

Politics and Prose To Consider Opening Bethesda Store After News of Barnes & Noble Closing

4 April 2017

From Bethesda Magazine:

The co-owner of the Politics and Prose bookstore in upper Northwest D.C. said he will “definitely look at the possibility” of opening a store in Bethesda in light of Friday’s announcement that Barnes & Noble in Bethesda Row will close at the end of the year.

Bethesda resident Bradley Graham, who co-owns Politics and Prose with his wife, Lissa Muscatine, said Friday the couple has been considering opening another store somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area. However, he said “it’s far from certain that we would end up being able to open a branch” in Bethesda because of the proximity to the couple’s D.C. store at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, which is about 3 miles from downtown Bethesda.

Graham said he was “saddened, but not surprised” by the closing of the Barnes & Noble’s store. He said it’s always disappointing to see brick-and-mortar bookstores shut down—whether they are independents or chains—but he knows the Barnes & Noble company has faced difficulties in recent years.

Link to the rest at Bethesda Magazine

PG will be happy for DC/Bethesda locals to elaborate, but for visitors from outside the US, Bethesda is an upscale, close-in suburb of Washington, DC. Politics and Prose is a fashionable bookstore in Washington, DC. A staple of the Obama White House was a photo-op of the President shopping for Christmas gifts in Politics and Prose.

The Washington DC area is full of wealthy people who are bookish, wealthy people who want to appear bookish and wealthy wannabes who want to appear bookish. Saying a bookstore can’t succeed financially in Bethesda is like saying a jewelry store can’t make it in Beverly Hills.

If the clientele and building rents can’t make the finances work for a bookstore to be a profitable enterprise in Bethesda and similar locations across the US, the future of Barnes & Noble and other bookstores is in very serious jeopardy. PG doesn’t know if anyone keeps track of the dates on which Barnes & Noble building leases expire or not, but that may be an accurate indicator of how fast the number of Barnes & Noble stores will decline.

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