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Goliath v. Goliath
Jun09

Goliath v. Goliath

At a party Saturday night, I had a long conversation with a friend about the contentious situation between Amazon and Hachette publishing. This friend is a professor and an author, so these two roles do elevate his awareness of publishing issues, but still, I think this battle is a publishing business issue that has really spilled over into public awareness. It is something that people really care about, because they have a stake in it. Most of us shop from Amazon, so what Amazon does affects us. How are we to feel about the latest move by the online retailing giant, hindering sales of books by Hachette authors? Do we calmly continue to enjoy the convenient free shipping offered by our Amazon Prime accounts or do we learn to shop elsewhere? Even Stephen Colbert is weighing in! With Amazon demanding a higher discount from Hachette on ebook sales and Hachette’s now closely-watched CEO Michael Piestch holding the line, Amazon has fought back by making Hachette books harder to purchase, claiming long waits for shipping, removing discounts, and recommending other titles instead. Many authors, including Colbert and Malcolm Gladwell, have weighed in to say how this situation is affecting them. Gladwell, speaking to the New York Times, explained how, over the years, he has sold millions of dollars’ worth of books on Amazon and therefore made them millions of dollars. “It’s sort of heartbreaking when your partner turns on you,” he says. James Patterson, who, according to New York Times columnist David Carr, has penned one out of every 17 hardcover novels now being sold, railed against Amazon at the recent Book Expo (the annual publishing trade conference), warning that: “Amazon seems to be out to control shopping in this country.” Several authors, however, have weighed in in support of Amazon, and in a story in The Daily Beast headlined “Amazon Is NOT the Vladimir Putin of the Publishing World,”  Nick Gillespie says the fight is really about how much readers, having gotten used to Amazon’s deep discounting, are going to have to pay for books. He says: “It’s really about how much readers are going to be asked to pay for titles coming out of big publishing companies. Amazon’s track record on that score is pretty damn great: It always wants the price to be lower. That sucks for publishers and authors, and maybe even for Amazon’s bottom line. But it’s worked pretty nicely for readers so far.” According to Publishers Weekly, Amazon has captured 40% of all book sales. That’s pretty difficult for any publisher or author to just walk away from. The recent government lawsuit accusing five publishers...

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The Newspaper is in the News
May28

The Newspaper is in the News

The big news in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer is about its own ownership. Like so many others, the paper (the one I still get delivered daily to my front door) has been experiencing much uncertainty of late, with changes in ownership and losses of employee jobs and benefits, not to mention the ongoing struggles of newspapers everywhere to maintain readership and monetize digital. According to the paper itself, this is its sixth ownership change in eight years. In a private auction held yesterday, the winners are local businessmen and philanthropists Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.  (If you live in Philadelphia, you have already become accustomed to seeing the Lenfest name on many notable local institutions). Katz and Lenfest were previously owners of 42.55% of the paper, and they notably feuded with co-owners the Norcross Group. Bill Marimow, who was ousted by Norcross but later reinstated by the court, is to be editor. As quoted in the paper, Lenfest says: “We want to return the Inquirer to the great newspaper it has been for many years.” We the readers, and certainly the paper’s 1800+ employees, hope this will be the case. The paper has had several recent notable achievements, including a Pulitzer Prize won this year by architecture critic Inga Saffron for distinguished criticism, and breaking important local stories such as a recent to-do in a case involving the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Philadelphia is the country’s fifth largest city; we deserve to have a newspaper of which we can be...

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The Indie Bookstore Tour, Part 1
May02

The Indie Bookstore Tour, Part 1

Authors are often sent “on tour” by their publishers to prearranged readings at bookstores across the country, with the goal of attracting readers and selling copies of their books. Many authors have talked and written about this experience, notably Ann Patchett, who, in an essay in The Atlantic called “My Life in Sales,” claims the most important thing an author needs to remember to do on tour is bring water. It’s desirable to be sent on tour: if you are an author chosen to tour, it means that the publisher has high expectations for your book and is allocating some of their limited marketing money to promoting your title. On the other hand, it’s grueling: you’re not a glamorous author/celebrity; you’re sleepily slogging from town to town, potentially staying at less than luxurious accommodations and more than likely playing to less than SRO crowds. At the heart of the question of whether sending an author on tour works is, to me, the question of whether the bookstore reading is worthwhile activity. We know that bestselling authors with new books can draw a crowd, but even the stores with the most loyal and active followings have a challenge dragging people away from their routines and out of their comfortable homes to come to the store and listen to a new or unknown author. I experienced this challenge myself when I was a community relations manager at Barnes & Noble’s Park Slope Brooklyn store. Getting attendees to readings is but one of the challenges that bookstores face these days. The bigger challenge is attracting customers in general, and selling enough books to stay in business. Those of us in the book business and even outside have certainly heard plenty about the struggling independent bookstore (and now even the struggling chain stores), working hard to stay afloat by serving as a nexus for their local community, and by providing extras, be it events, a café, games and other sidelines, and other add-ons. Yet the American Booksellers Association, which supports independent stores, claims that the indies are surviving and thriving, as illustrated by the fact that 45 new independent stores opened in twenty states in 2013. When my family left our Pennsylvania home for a spring break road trip to upstate New York recently, I decided that we would go on tour to independent bookstores along our route. I don’t have a new book to promote at the moment, so this would not be a typical book promotion tour, but it would be an unscientific look at the health of the independent bookstore. In four days of travel, we went to four stores....

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A Skeptical Scholar
Mar24

A Skeptical Scholar

  Frank Smith, Director, Books, at JSTOR spoke today at a symposium honoring the outgoing Director of Temple University Press, Alex Holzman. Smith began by talking about a new technology that had come along and was expected, basically, to put print out of business. He did not at first name the technology, in a sneaky attempt to fool the audience into thinking he was going in the obvious direction of invoking the print vs. “e” debate. But no—the technology to which Smith was referring is microfilm. And for his audience, made up mostly of scholarly publishers and librarians, the significance of microfilm, even to this day, was, shall we say, a no-brainer. On a broader level, what Smith was telling his audience was that “we continuously mislead ourselves about the potential for technology to change our lives.” Was being able to store fragile, sensitive, and bulky materials on microfilm a tremendously helpful development? Yes. Is the technology still in use and still useful? Yes. Did it change the way we read and write and research? Some, but really, not so much, according to Smith (who notes that even in this day and age, microfilm readers are awkward to use). With the digital tumult we are currently experiencing, we are, says Smith, “in the grip of futurology.” We should shake off our obsession with the new, he suggests. Smith notes that many, if not most, of the inventions we use on a day-to-day basis are not actually new—they’ve been around for some time. That obviously doesn’t apply to some of tools we most frequently rely upon—smartphones and iPads, for example—but when I think of the other technology that gets me through the day—microwave oven, cordless phone, ATM card—it’s not brand new. A friend recently sent me a poster that quoted news sources bemoaning how technology was ruining the fabric of our society, and it turned out these complaints came from newspapers going back to the 19th century and they were referring to inventions like cheap and rapid newspaper printing, “artificial locomotion,” and airmail. The more things change, the more they really do stay the same. I’m not saying new technologies like ebooks and search engines don’t have the potential to create significant change, nor do I think that is what Smith is saying. I’m just saying: the sky isn’t falling, Chicken Little. Smith says we can’t ignore new technology, but we should be more skeptical about its promise. That sounds like sage advice. Now I’m going to go read a...

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Patterson Helping to Save the Indies: A Chat with Austin’s BookPeople
Feb28

Patterson Helping to Save the Indies: A Chat with Austin’s BookPeople

Mega-selling author James Patterson announced last fall that he would be donating $1 million to help independent bookstores; last week he began giving out the money. According to Publishers Weekly, the first chunk of $267,000 was disbursed to 54 stores in payments ranging from $2,000 to $15,000. Some stores applied for the grants via Patterson’s website; others were recommended to him by author friends such as R.L Stine and Kate DiCamillo (the new the Library of Congress’ 2014 –2015 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature). Patterson has stepped to help in the absence of what he believes should be a government bail-out of the troubled publishing industry. As quoted in the New York Times, he says: “I just want to get people more aware and involved in what’s going on here, which is that, with the advent of e-books, we either have a great opportunity or a great problem,” Patterson continued: “Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake.” The stores chosen for grants will use the money in a variety of ways, from replacing carpet to rewarding hardworking and underpaid employees to creating streaming video of in-store events to purchasing a bookmobile for off-site sales. Pub Hub spoke with Meghan Goel, Children’s Book Buyer at BookPeople in Austin, TX, one of the Patterson grant recipients. Goel was the force behind BookPeople’s proposal and discussed the impact of the gift. Pub Hub: Tell me something about the process of requesting the grant: did you apply via Patterson’s website? Did you ask for the funds for a specific purpose? Meghan Goel: We actually asked for funds to help us grow a program that we started this year to bring book based curriculum enhancements into Austin schools. We are currently running a pilot program with 40 Austin schools to expand upon local author Shana Burg’s book Laugh with the Moon by providing art, music, and social studies curriculum enhancements and connecting over 3500 kids with Malawi pen pals. It has been such a success that we are currently putting together a committee with Austin Independent School District to collaborate on these kinds of programs annually. PH: Did you have any indication ahead of time that you might be selected? How were you informed that you were chosen?   MG: We received a heads up that we were on the list for final consideration a few days in advance and then found out for sure just before the announcement was made public. It was exciting! PH: Has the actual check arrived? How did...

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Quelque Chose D’amusant
Feb26

Quelque Chose D’amusant

Thanks to Chris Kenneally of Copyright Clearance Center for pointing me to the Facebook page for Improbables Librairies, Improbables Bibliothèques, where I found this entertaining...

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