The Vladimir Putin Book Club…Or Literary Censorship in Russia?

28 July 2015

From Flavorwire:

Putin, president of Russia, will follow in the footsteps of fellow mononyms Oprah and Zuckerberg by selecting books for his nation’s reading public. But the owners of Russia’s bookstores are pointing to the government’s new plan as an act of censorship by other means.

According to the U.K.’s Publishing Perspectives, a news release by the Russian Ministry of Science and Education has publicized a new plan by the Russian government to offer rent and tax breaks to booksellers “in exchange for an ‘opportunity’ to provide a selection of titles chosen by the government.” The official goal of the program, as cited by ministry head Dmitry Livanov, is “to increase sales of high-quality literature, as well as books on culture, art, history and education.”

More to the point, Livanov explains that the government tax breaks may “help promote sales of those books which have historical value” and “can contribute to patriotic education of local population.” If this sounds like another example of what Georgetown professor Harley Balzer, writing in the New York Times, calls “Putin’s campaign to stifle civil society in Russia” — well, it might be just that.

. . . .

This month’s move to subsidize what amounts to a national Vladimir Putin Book Club comes with characteristically ingenious timing on the part of the Kremlin. Many Russian bookstores, for example, are now shuttering on account of escalating rents. Paradoxically (this is Russia, after all), the rest of the country is in the midst of a nationwide Year of Literature celebration. In other words, Putin’s tax break comes at a time when Russia’s commercial literary culture is in need of a helping hand. Putin, tough man of culture, is more than happy to provide it — with strings attached.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

Kobo, ABA Renew Partnership For Another Year Even Though Indie Booksellers aren’t Selling Many eBooks

28 July 2015

From The Digital Reader:

If you were surprised in late May when Kobo revived its defunct affiliate partnership with US indie booksellers then this next piece of news will knock your socks off.

Late last month the American Bookseller Association announced that its contract with Kobo was being extended for another year. Originally signed in 2012, that contract was set to last three years and included an automatic one year renewal clause, which has now gone into effect.

. . . .

According to the ABA’s Indiebound website, around 500 booksellers in the US (out of 1,700 or so ABA members) take part in the Kobo affiliate deal. It’s not known just how many ebooks they’re selling, but if a recent report in the Denver Post is any sign then this deal is not having much of an impact on the ebook market:

Eight years after Amazon released the first Kindle, surviving independent bookstores are now selling e-books — and finding that no one really wants the ones they’re offering.

“It’s not even a drop in the bucket really,” said Arsen Kashkashian, inventory manager at Boulder Bookstore. “Our sales are up for the year and they’re coming from physical books.”

Boulder Bookstore sells e-books through Kobo and was previously part of a Google eBook deal. But Kashkashian said neither deal was “any good.” He estimates the store has about 10 customers who regularly purchase e-books, with a few other occasional downloads.

“I don’t have exact numbers but let’s say we make $10 off each hardback copy of (Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”). E-books make 50 cents,” he said.

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

Taking Stock (for Once), Self-Styled Hoarder Makes Lucrative Deal to Close Bookstore

21 July 2015

From The New York Times:

John Scioli never met a book he did not like. They loom over the doorway of the Community Bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, his home of 30 years, cataracts of white, brown and yellow pages tumbling from the 10-foot ceilings and spilling out onto the corner of Court and Warren Streets.

To the regulars, neighbors, dinner dates, bookworms, French transplants, Spanish tourists, Italian grandmothers and authors acclaimed or otherwise, the Community Bookstore is a beloved local fixture, even to those who recoil at the cluttered and musty shelves that endear the place to everyone else.

“I’ve always been glad it’s there as I walk past,” said Kurt Andersen, a radio host, an author and a resident of nearby Carroll Gardens. He has ventured inside maybe once. “Its particular style of cramped, crowded chaos is not really my bookstore ideal,” he said.

Once a mainstay of brownstone Brooklyn and literary Manhattan, secondhand shops like Mr. Scioli’s now seem like relics deposited by receding glaciers. Then, one day, they are gone, and for the Community Bookstore, that day is near.

. . . .

This time there is a happy ending, if not for the neighborhood, then at least for Mr. Scioli, who will soon turn 70. His is not a case of an opportunistic landlord shutting down a beloved shop — if it was, that would have happened long ago. Mr. Scioli was able to stay as long as he did only by virtue of owning the building, which he has finally agreed to sell after offers piled up like the donated books on his stoop. A few buyout proposals were actually slipped under his door.

Not only is Mr. Scioli getting $5.5 million for the three-story brownstone, but he has a year to clear out the shop and another two years to move out of his apartment upstairs — time he very much needs.

“I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a hoarder,” he said last week from his regular perch, a blue folding chair just outside the bookstore’s doors. “I was afraid I was going to die under a pile of books one of these days, and no one would ever find me.”

. . . .

The Community Bookstore is not the kind of place one goes for the latest best sellers, literary magazines, a coffee or an author talk. It is a place to rummage and ruminate, a place for treasure hunters and lost souls as much as bibliophiles.

The genre-bending novelist Jonathan Lethem remembers trying to get a job there while growing up a few blocks away.

“It was fairly representative of a kind of New York City used bookstore with tremendous character and a very deep inventory, and a certain air of willfulness,” he wrote in an email. “Over the years the place became more and more singular and time-lost.”

Its stock, estimated at 60,000 to 100,000 books, can feel as broad as Amazon’s, with better deals, though it takes some bushwhacking to find them. There is no computer to help search but also no need; Mr. Scioli knows exactly where everything is.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

How Chicago’s Weirdest Bookstore Keeps Its Edge

18 July 2015

From Inc. Magazine:

On a frosty night last January, noisy, skinny-jeaned crowds pressed into cocktail bars and dance clubs around Chicago’s Wicker Park. Meanwhile, inside a small brick neighborhood storefront, about 20 young people sat at tables, laboring to express their visions, their aesthetics, their whimsies, or their true selves with pens, paper, and scissors. Many had brought sleeping bags and pajamas, planning to spend the night. With luck, whatever they produced would soon be displayed for sale on the shelves around them.

Manager Liz Mason calls the annual slumber party her favorite event on the packed calendar of Quimby’s Bookstore. “It’s a bunch of cute, nerdy, zine-ster and comics kids. They work in total silence or just whisper to each other,” she says. Quimby’s holds the event in January, she explains, “because it fuels your creative fire when you still have that New Year’s resolution to put out another issue of your zine.”

The zines Mason refers to are self-published print magazines. They flourished in the 1980s and — weirdly, wonderfully — may be even more abundant in the digital age. Personal and idiosyncratic, zines range from the artistically provocative (“Crap Hound” uses clip art to test the boundaries of fair-use doctrine) to the smartly snarky (“How to Talk to Your Cat About Abstinence” is part of a series for a hypothetical audience of right-wing pet owners). Someone looking for a specific title may have a tough time. Amazon fodder this isn’t. Fortunately for zine fans, almost all fetch up at Quimby’s, which stocks thousands.

. . . .

Svymbersky understood that when outsiders find someplace that treats them like insiders, they respond with gratitude and loyalty. Quimby’s has never made much money. But it is a magnet for artists and iconoclasts, the freethinking and the curious. By contrast, conventionally minded folks often feel intimidated or uncomfortable in this outré environment. “The frat boy types will wander in and say, ‘Awesome!'” says Kirsammer. “Then they really look around. Blink. Blink. And they say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go now.'”

For small presses and self-publishers, Quimby’s can be the skewed trellis up which they clamber. “There’s this wonderful synchronicity between our community and their community, and so we grew together,” says Joe Biel, the founder of Microcosm Publishing, whose books include Crate Digger: An Obsession with Punk Records and Hot Pants: Do It Yourself GynecologyAlthough based in Portland, Oregon, Biel periodically brings authors to do signings at Quimby’s, bunking down at Mason’s house on more than one occasion. “The magnitude with which they promoted our titles is incalculable,” he says.

. . . .

Svymbersky opened Quimby’s in a former bodega, which at the time was surrounded by pretty much nothing. Within the first week cartoonist Chris Ware — now famous, then largely unknown — came in. Coincidence #1: Ware lived around the block. Coincidence #2: he had created a comic strip starring Quimby the Mouse: a two-headed rodent that suggests what might happen if Mickey went skinny-dipping nearThe Simpsons’ nuclear plant. “I immediately asked him, “How about you do my sign and my business cards?'” Svymbersky says. The mouse became the store’s logo.

To promote Quimby’s, Svymbersky prowled Chicago’s pulsing alternative scene — concerts, gallery openings, tattoo shops. “I went anyplace that had the smell of being underground, and I would always have flyers with me.” Ware and Dan Clowes, another now-famous cartoonist who also lived nearby, acted as heralds. “They immediately told all the other underground cartoonists in Chicago, and within a couple of weeks I knew everybody,” says Svymbersky. “We had signings right away. I had their original artwork on the walls.”

Link to the rest at Inc. Magazine and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Putting an End to Returns: Utopian Publishing Dream or Eventual Reality?

18 July 2015

From Huff Post Books:

It’s time to blog about returns. Not because it’s a glamorous subject, but because it’s an important piece of the book publishing business that too few authors (and readers) understand.

The fact that books are returnable in the first place is cause for frustration, and it should be cause for concern. I’m hard-pressed to think of another returns-based industry like book publishing. (Name one if you know one in the comments, please!) The fallout from being a returns-based industry is that retailers have little incentive to order what they think they can really sell, and publishers rarely push back on what might be perceived as unrealistic orders because they’re desperate for a shot at getting their product in a position where it might really move.

As a small publisher (with authors investing in their own work to boot), I am cautious about Barnes & Noble, and outright against being carried in superstores like Target, Costco, or, god forbid, Walmart. Why? Not only do these stores take massive up-front buys at horribly steep discounts, but the product is returnable. I once worked on a book that went into Target, actually; they ordered 30,000 books at a 60 percent discount, meaning the publisher got 40 percent to divvy up between themselves and the author. Of course, the publisher held money against returns, because the likelihood that Target would return that book was very high. (Honestly, this was not a good gamble on the publisher’s part.) Guess how many came back? 25,000 books. Those books were a write-off for the publisher. Pulped. Destroyed. But this little scenario is why I avoid any possibility for this type of massive (steeply discounted) order like the plague. It can sink a small publisher, and be devastating to an author.

. . . .

Somewhere once upon a time, the notion that a book could or should be returnable was a good idea. I read but can’t corroborate that Simon & Schuster came up with this idea to give themselves an edge on the competition — and then it became industry standard. The problem with book publishing is that the world has changed, but the model is still the same stagnant one that gives massive cuts to retailers and allows them to return whatever they can’t sell — even though the most massive retailer out there (Amazon) is nimble and knows how to order what it will sell.

When B&N goes out of business, I desperately hope that book publishers will rally together to say no more to returns. Being a returns-based business is bad from every angle, and the damage to the environment should not be understated. We’re printing more than we need. While books sit in warehouses not moving, inventory must be available to fulfill actual orders that are moving. This forces publishers to overprint, even publishers that are using print-on-demand technology.

Link to the rest at Huff Post Books and thanks to Dave for the tip.

We already know that big publishers are very good at getting together to collude against Amazon. Perhaps, they’ll do the same thing to get rid of returns. It’s something that a lone publisher will be afraid to do unless they all do it together.

What could go wrong?

Go Set a Watchman sets B&N record

16 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has set a new record for the number of copies sold at US chain Barnes & Noble stores in one day.

The title, released globally on Tuesday (14th July) has surpassed B&N’s previous first day sales record set by Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol in 2009, the company has said.

Go Set a Watchman is currently the bestselling book at B&N stores across the country, and has been since February when it was announced. In the same period sales of To Kill a Mockingbird have doubled and the book is currently in the number 2 position, the US bookseller said.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bookstore Sales Up 0.9% in May

16 July 2015

From Shelf Awareness:

May bookstore sales rose 0.9%, to $776 million, compared to May 2014, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. This was the third consecutive month that bookstore sales increased over the comparable month last year. For the year to date, bookstore sales are still off slightly compared to the first five months of 2014, down 0.3%, to $4.193 billion.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

This book lists for $26. Amazon sells it for 40% less. Is that an antitrust problem?

15 July 2015

From The Washington Post:

The list price for the bestselling book “H is for Hawk” is $26. The price is printed right on the inside jacket. And that’s what the nonfiction hardcover sells for at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The same book sells for $15.60 at Amazon.

Amazon has been discounting books for so long that it hardly surprises. Readers expect it from the online retailer. It’s why Amazon has become the largest single mover of books in the U.S.

But now a coalition of U.S. booksellers and authors has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how Amazon conducts business. The group Authors United wrote requesting an antitrust inquiry into how the retailer came “to dominate a venue for communication.”

. . . .

Publishers typically charge booksellers about 50% of the list price. Amazon sells “H is for Hawk” at a 40% discount, meaning Amazon likely still turns a small profit, depending on the specific arrangement it has with the publisher. However, small booksellers say they can not afford to offer such widespread and consistent discounts.

. . . .

Readers in the U.S. are paying less for books, thanks to Amazon. That would not appear to be harmful. But the complaint from booksellers and authors argues that something else is being lost in the process.

“It’s so galling,” said Betsy Burton, president of the American Booksellers Association, who has run The King’s English Bookshop for 37 years. “They are using books as loss leaders to sell more — I don’t know — washing machines. Amazon sees books as products. I’ve never thought of books as products.”

. . . .

“It comes down to purely price,” she said. “That’s the problem right there.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Of course, poor people shouldn’t be able to buy books. Or maybe if books are not products, all books should be free.


Why Powell’s Bookstore Will Outlive the Kindle

15 July 2015

From Condé Nast Traveler:

In 1971—long before we could all fit 1,000 books in our pockets, before browsing titles became a matter of algorithms rather than thumbing pages—a motley used bookstore opened in Portland.

Today Powell’s City of Books spans an entire block in the city’s Northwest quadrant, a temple of print so vast that visitors find their way around via fold-up maps (free souvenir alert) and giant directory boards that resemble the arrivals-and-departures signage at the airport. Miriam Sontz, the company’s CEO, likes to say that Powell’s is a visceral experience: “Take the bookstore in your brain and multiply it by 10—then you’re close.”

The best way to visit Powell’s is with lots of time and no agenda whatsoever. While used, new, hardcover, and paperback volumes commingle on the shelves, a system of color-coded rooms and clearly labeled aisles directs browsers in a most orderly fashion.

. . . .

In an era where many readers have a Kindle or Nook on the nightstand, Powell’s is proof that readers still yearn on some level for what Sontz calls “paper between boards.” The bookstore sees 8,000 visitors a day, she says, attending young adult story times and author events, purchasing paperbacks, or just plopping down in an aisle to read for a bit. “It’s all about growing a reading culture.”

Link to the rest at Condé Nast Traveler and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Why Indigo Books & Music Inc CEO Heather Reisman believes we are on the cusp of a bricks and mortar renaissance

7 July 2015

From The Financial Times:

Despite the glut of store closures, downsizings and outright failures in the retail market, Heather Reisman sees a coming retail renaissance for the bricks and mortar stores that remain enticing enough to keep customers coming through their doors.

The founder and chief executive at Indigo Books & Music Inc., points to the company’s results as proof of its tenacity in a mass market book industry under siege: U.S. big-box chain Borders went bankrupt and closed in 2011, and surviving rival Barnes & Noble has just reported its fourth consecutive quarter of declining sales. In the meantime, wider discretionary retail in Canada is going through a sea change brought on by online commerce. The past six months has seen the closure of 133 Target stores, 66 Future Shop stores and 59 Blacks Photo stores, while businesses such as HMV and Staples have reduced their square footage.

Indigo’s fortunes seem to be improving, however.

. . . .

Indigo recently bumped up the number of books being sold at a 40 per cent discount to 100 titles from 40, but Reisman said the move was not made due to competitive pressure from Amazon or mass merchants like Costco, but as a means to reward and keep drawing in loyal customers.

“It wasn’t a function of competition,” she said after the Toronto book retailer’s annual general meeting of shareholders on Monday. “It legitimizes the investments we have been making.”

To enhance its stores in recent years, Indigo has opened a number of American Girl doll boutiques in larger urban locations, in addition to improving its selection of toys, décor and gift products.
Bruce Winder, a Toronto-based retail consultant, believes Indigo has led the way in Canada in terms of how retailers are trying to become “experiential” — trying to provide an environment that customers like and want to return to for reasons beyond what they want to buy.

“People can pick up a book online if they want to, but they still want to go somewhere for an experience and have some community with people,” he said. “Stop at one of the coffee shops, maybe read a book.”

. . . .

“In everything but books, prices are exactly the same online (at as they are in store,” she said. “Books have this idiosyncratic reality where Amazon priced books from the beginning at literally pennies above cost. We needed to meet that, because that was the competitive reality.”

But landlords, publishers — and perhaps most critically, customers — seem to accept the realities of so-called “omnichannel’ commerce, Reisman added.

“We say to customers: ‘It’s very simple. This business would disappear if we had to sell books at online prices.’ Indigo could not continue to exist.

Link to the rest at The Financial Times

PG suspects that he’s not alone in using online purchases to save time and avoid hassle. He can search for a product online with much more efficiency than he can find it in a store. Unless a water pipe is broken, PG would rather wait a couple of days for a product to arrive than leave his office or house and spend time looking for it.

Any online purchase takes less time than any bricks & mortar purchase.

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