Shelving to Save a Book’s Life

14 July 2014

From The Atlantic:

The rules of shelving can seem arbitrary, even arcane, but the fundamentals are easy to learn: two hard covers, and no more than three paperbacks of the same title, on each shelf. The exception is the face-out. If the jacket is displayed horizontally, behind it you can stack as many books as can fit.

Turning a book face out is an act of tremendous power, or so it feels when you are working at an independent bookstore at a moment that has major chains shrinking and Amazon wreaking havoc with publishing’s already fragile ecosystem. In a bookstore, you can decide, unilaterally, without having to ask permission or sit in an hour-long meeting, to simply face out Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance because, well, because it’s one of your favorite books, and it also solves the problem of what to do with the space left by your desire to consolidate the David Mitchells, which means moving them all to the shelf below.

You can also show a little love to an obscure mid-list paperback you just discovered suffocating between two behemoth hardcovers—simply because it feels like the right thing to do. The positioning will likely only matter for a day or two before the next person doing some shelving undoes your handiwork, sticks three Fine Balances spine out, climbs the giant ladder, and puts the rest in overstock.

. . . .

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends, I suppose, on one’s ability to accept that you can only save the books that you can save. Despite the occasional gloomy headlines and the despair of some of my talented friends who are having trouble finding publishers right now, there are still an awful lot of books out there. Those bound galleys in our break room make me angsty every day. Between each cheerful cover I imagine the champagne that was popped when the book contract was signed, and see the author mugging for the photo while privately rehearsing answers for Terry Gross’s Fresh Air. I fret about the daily deluge in my inbox, too. It’s filled with requests from publicists and authors who would like to hold an event at our store. It’s hard to say no to a book with a celebrity and a cute pet on the cover even though it won’t appeal to our demographic, and hey, I’m a softie for the kindly pediatrician who keeps calling even though I have never heard of his publisher, the timing is off, and there is no room whatsoever on our calendar.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

More Book Signings from Hell

13 July 2014

From author Mary Kennedy via The Cozy Chicks:

As promised here are some more “book signing horror stories.”

. . . .

2. The Guy with His Grandmother’s Memoirs. He plunked down an enormous manuscript on the signing desk–it was the size of three Manhattan phone books.

“My grandmother in Iran wrote her memoirs,” he begins, “and her English isn’t so good. I’m having trouble finding an agent.” (what a surprise.)

“Yes?” I say, trying not to show too much enthusiasm.

“I thought maybe you could read her book and recommend it to your agent.”

“Well, I’m afraid I really couldn’t do that–”

“You’ll need a Farsi dictionary,” he says, cutting me off, “so I brought you one.” (what a thoughtful guy!)

Sure enough, he plunks a Farsi-English dictionary on top of the ginormous manuscript. “Some chapters are written entirely in Farsi, I tried to write some notes in the margins, but I gave up after the first 300 pages.”

“I’m not surprised.”

Memoir guy leaves, looks disappointed.

. . . .

3. Mr. 007 “You really should write my life story,” he tells me, “we could make millions.” He vaguely looks like a guy who knocked on my door last week, trying to sell me magazine subscriptions.

“We could?”

“Sure! With your looks and my brains, we could clean up.”

“Hmmm…”(pretending to consider). “You said, ‘with my looks and your brains,’ why couldn’t I be the one with the brains?”

“Well, it just doesn’t work that way,” he says irritably. “Now here’s the thing, I’ll give you the ideas and you just write them up. You have the easy part,” he adds generously. “We’ll split the profits 50-50. Are you with me, so far?”

“I think so.” (wow, he really knows how to tempt a girl.)

“My life is so exciting, my friends call me 007.”

“They do?”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you why. I love excitement and danger, I love to explore new places and I’m the man of a million faces. Women throw themselves at me everywhere I go.”

“Really? That’s fascinating. Are you a spy or something?”

“Not quite.” For the first time, a note of doubt creeps into his voice.

“But what do you do?” I persist. “Do you have a business card?”

“Sure.” He pulls out a card and hands to me.

I read the card. 007–the man of a million faces–sells Venetian blinds.

I hastily get rid of him.

Link to the rest at The Cozy Chicks

One of Mrs. PG’s favorite things about indie publishing is no book signings.

Barnes & Noble To Strengthen Protections For Breastfeeding Mothers

11 July 2014

From the office of The New York State Attorney General:

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Barnes & Noble, Inc. that will protect the rights of nursing mothers seeking to breastfeed at its stores in New York. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an investigation into the national chain following a March 16 incident in which a woman was asked to cover up or leave the company’s Nanuet, New York, store while breastfeeding her infant son. Under New York State law, a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, so long as she otherwise has the right to be there, regardless of whether she is covered while nursing. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the law’s passage.

“All New York residents, including breastfeeding mothers, must be afforded equal protection under the law,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “No mother should endure harassment for breastfeeding her baby in public. There is one set of rules for everyone in New York, and I applaud Barnes & Noble for taking steps to ensure that moms are not harassed or discriminated against.”

Under the agreement, Barnes & Noble will strengthen its customer complaint resolution procedures with respect to the handling of complaints received from breastfeeding mothers, train all New York store employees and managers on its breastfeeding policy, which prohibits employees from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed at its stores, and display the international symbol for breastfeeding at the entrances to its New York stores. In addition, the company will pay $10,000 to Rockland County to support the activities of its Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Program.

Link to the rest at New York State Attorney General

The French Do Buy Books. Real Books.

10 July 2014

From The New York Times:

One of the maddening things about being a foreigner in France is that hardly anyone in the rest of the world knows what’s really happening here. They think Paris is a Socialist museum where people are exceptionally good at eating small bits of chocolate and tying scarves.

In fact, the French have all kinds of worthwhile ideas on larger matters. This occurred to me recently when I was strolling through my museum-like neighborhood in central Paris, and realized there were — I kid you not — seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. Granted, I live in a bookish area. But still: Do the French know something about the book business that we Americans don’t?

I was in a bookstore-counting mood because of the news that Amazon has delayed or stopped delivering some books, over its dispute with the publisher Hachette. This has prompted soul-searching over Amazon’s 41 percent share of new book sales in America and its 65 percent share of new books sold online. For a few bucks off and the pleasure of shopping from bed, have we handed over a precious natural resource — our nation’s books — to an ambitious billionaire with an engineering degree?

France, meanwhile, has just unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazonlaw, which says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books.

. . . .

The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law,” named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers.

Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it’s common around the world, for the same reason. In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.

Even with the state’s help, French bookstores are struggling.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to James for the tip.

Let’s see. 1. The French “secret” is that publishers set book prices. 2. No discounting is allowed. 3. Bookstores are struggling.

Could it be that many French readers can’t afford high prices? Or that, in the face of high-priced books, more and more French people are choosing alternative low-priced entertainment options?

PG says you can’t trust traditional publishers with a nation’s literary legacy. Only authors are worthy of that trust.

New York Bookstore Workers Fired For Voting To Unionize

4 July 2014

From The Huffington Post:

On June 24, Bec Goodbourn and Kerry Henderson cast ballots in a union election held for the staff of Book Culture, the independent bookstore where they worked in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York. Like the vast majority of the bookstore’s workforce, both Henderson and Goodbourn voted in favor of union representation.

By the end of the day, they were both fired.

After letting Goodbourn go in person, her boss, Chris Doeblin, included her on an email in which he explained to the store’s management team why she and Henderson had to go.

“It was indicated to me … that two people in our management group voted in the union and effectively undermined the interests of the store. The store always being in opposition to the Union,” the email read. “Unfortunately there is no other recourse but to remove these people from our employ effective immediately. Therefor [sic] Bec and Kerry have been fired.”

. . . .

The union that won the election, the New York-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces labor law, demanding that the two be re-instated.

. . . .

Doeblin has been clear that he feels having a union in the workplace is bad for business, a sentiment that might rankle some of the progressive students and faculty from nearby Columbia University who shop at the store. Much of the store’s workers are either recent college grads or working toward their degrees.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Carolyn for the tip.

BookStats Report Reveals a Stable Industry

27 June 2014

From BISG:

According to BookStats Volume 4, the industry remained flat in 2013 as compared to 2012, with $27 billion in net revenue. New 2013 figures show some notable trends:

  • 2013 defied conventional wisdom predicting a significant decline in revenue and units in the wake of 2011 and 2012′s blockbusters, including Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey. While specific extraordinary titles may impact sales from year to year, the industry shows consistent health, driven by the depth and range of publishers’ titles.

. . . .

  • In formats, ebooks hit record volume numbers though revenue was flat. Audio downloads hit all-time highs in both revenue and units.
  • In sales channels, publishers’ net revenue from sales of digital and print content via online retail is now ahead of revenue from brick-and-mortar retail.

Link to the rest at BISG

Note the low-key announcement that revenue from online sales now exceeds revenue from physical bookstore sales for publishers.

Shelf Awareness says:

Publishers’ net revenue from sales online of both digital and print products ($7.54 billion) is now higher than revenue from products sold in bricks-and-mortar stores ($7.12 billion).

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG says the gap between revenues from online sales and physical bookstore sales will grow in future years. Of course, publishers’ profit from online sales is substantially greater than profit from bookstore sales.

Amazon-Hachette Battle: Another Turning Point?

25 June 2014

From Digital Book World:

The Amazon-Hachette feud has been on going for over a month. Everyone has an opinion. Most of the press and book industry pundits take Hachette’s side; even Stephen Colbert has weighed in. The usual Amazon defenders have stepped up with their commentary. I see both sides of the argument.

This discussion reminds me of some recent history and a “what if” things had been different:

Barnes and Noble Buys Ingram for $600-million but Withdraws After Pressure from the FTC: In 1998, B&N was at its peak as the biggest and most powerful bookseller in the nation. Publishers both feared and respected them. Many beat a path to 122 Fifth Avenue and spent millions to get their support. If a publisher could get Sessalee or Bob to back their make-book or debut novel, the chances of success were much higher.

At the same time, Ingram was the dominant wholesaler to the book industry. They owned warehouses throughout the country, were the most efficient shipper and owned the best logistics systems. Ingram guaranteed books delivered anywhere in the continental USA within two days. No one else could do that as consistently. Plus Ingram was the main supplier to independent bookstores and had a lot of data on their buying habits. One other thing – Ingram fulfilled 58% of all of Amazon’s book orders.

Outrage from the ABA representing independent booksellers, publishers and Amazon finally forced B&N to withdraw when it appeared the FTC was going to disallow this vertical merger.

. . . .

What would the industry look today if B&N and Ingram had been allowed to merge? Would B&N have been able to compete better with Amazon? Especially since they would control almost 60% of their shipments plus access to the customer behavior. Would that information helped B&N get their website off the ground? As a side note, at this time, Bertelsmann (soon to purchase Random House) owned 50% of…

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Barnes & Noble To Split Retail, Nook Businesses

25 June 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Barnes & Noble Inc. said it would pursue a split of its retail and Nook e-reader businesses into two separate public companies.

The bookseller said it plans to complete the separation by the end of the first quarter of the next calendar year.

Shares jumped about 7% in recent premarket trading.

. . . .

For the latest quarter, the Nook segment posted a 22% revenue decline to $87 million, the company said on Wednesday. Digital content sales fell 19% to $62 million.

Barnes & Noble’s retail segment, meanwhile, posted a 0.8% increase in revenue to $955.6 million as the latest quarter included an extra week. However, same-store sales, excluding Nook items, fell 1.9%. The company pointed to “unusually severe February weather,” as one reason for the decline. Including Nook items, same-store sales fell 4.1%.

“We believe we are now in a better position to begin in earnest those steps necessary to accomplish a separation of NOOK Media and Barnes & Noble Retail,” said Chief Executive Michael P. Huseby. “We have determined that these businesses will have the best chance of optimizing shareholder value if they are capitalized and operated separately.”

. . . .

The company in August abandoned any plans to split up the company after considering the idea for 18 months.

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

PG says spending 18 months unsuccessfully trying to split Nook from the bookstores, then deciding to stay together then deciding again to split up doesn’t portend a sunny future for Barnes & Noble.

PG suspects that Nook has already suffered a significant brain drain. This news will send even more talented employees out the door.

Booksellers Score Some Points in Amazon’s Spat With Hachette

22 June 2014

From The New York Times:

Robert Sindelar, the bearded, redheaded managing partner at the Seattle independent bookseller Third Place Books — definitely a David to Amazon’s Goliath — got the idea to take on Amazon while attending BookExpo America in New York a few weeks ago.

“As you can imagine, all anyone was talking about was the standoff between Hachette and Amazon,” he told me this week, referring to the much-publicized impasse in contentious negotiations between the publisher and the giant Internet bookseller. “I wanted to do something positive that would take advantage of this.”

. . . .

I spoke to someone involved on the Hachette side of the negotiations, who is under orders not to discuss them and asked not to be named. This person said that Amazon has been demanding payments for a range of services, including the pre-order button, personalized recommendations and a dedicated employee at Amazon for Hachette books. This is similar to so-called co-op arrangements with traditional retailers, like paying Barnes & Noble for placing a book in the front of the store.

Amazon “is very inventive about what we’d call standard service,” this person said. “They’re teasing out all these layers and saying, ‘If you want that service, you’ll have to pay for it.’ In the end, it’s very hard to know what you’d be paying. Hachette has refused, and so bit by bit, they’ve been taking away these services, like the pre-order button, to teach Hachette a lesson.”

. . . .

Third Place Books began featuring “The Silkworm” prominently on the home page of its website, offering hardcover copies at a 20 percent discount along with free, in-person delivery the day the book was released, which was Thursday. Mr. Sindelar, along with several other store employees, delivered the books (although a surprising number of customers said not to bother — they wanted to come into the store for their copy). He also handed out what he called “Hachette swag bags” with a T-shirt and advance copy of a coming Hachette novel. Some buyers also received a surprise visit from a local author, Maria Semple, who wrote the best-selling book “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

“I thought this would show what we as booksellers stand for,” Mr. Sindelar said. “While Amazon is blocking people, we literally put the book in their hands. But we’re not asking people to boycott Amazon. We’re in Seattle and Amazon is a big part of the local economy. We’re sensitive to that.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

A bookshop is more than its discounts

9 June 2014

From The Independent:

If buildings had souls or bore the imprint of everyone who had ever inhabited them, the new home for Foyles would be bursting with spectral rebels, creatives and a few anarchists, too.

Having moved two doors down from its old site on Charing Cross Road in central London, the new flagship store is where the old Central Saint Martins art school used to be.

. . . .

All commendable, but the most radical difference between Foyles and many other booksellers is the lack of bargain-basement prices, discounts and two-for-one offers. Sam Husain, its CEO, is clear on why Foyles has remained unmoved by Amazon prices. “The value is not just in the books alone; the value is in the theatre of the experience [of the bookshop].” He talks of bookselling as curation, as performance, as added value to the acquisition of that £7.99 paperback that everyone is talking about.

. . . .

Foyles is making a heroic attempt to put curation back in to the heart of bookselling – inviting authors such as PD James and Sarah Waters to pick their favourite books to have on front-of-store tables, for example. It is commendable, too, that the store wants to emphasise the “beauty” of the book as a physical item, as with the art books in the key space by the door. But the best, best bit in all of this is Foyles’ defiance of discount. Books are precious objects that are sometimes – quite often – worth much more than the price of a cup of tea.

Link to the rest at The Independent

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