Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Notes: Borders, B&N Stock Gains; Bullish on Books in Maine
On a day the Dow Jones was up 1.1%, both Barnes & Noble and Borders Group stocks rose significantly, in both cases because of major shareholder comments or actions.
Borders rose 39.3%, to $1.32, in after-hours trading following a comment by Bill Ackman (whose Pershing Square Capital Management is the company's single-largest shareholder) on CNBC's Fast Money that bankruptcy is "a low probability event" for Borders. He added that Borders "may become part of an industry consolidation at some point, or it may survive as a standalone company.... I think Borders is much more attractive risk/reward than Barnes & Noble. Ultimately I think the industry may consolidate and the two companies may become one."
And a day after it became public that Ronald Burkle, head of Yucaipa Funds and owner of 18.7% of B&N stock, wants to be able to double his stake and may be preparing a proxy fight (Shelf Awareness, February 2, 2010), B&N stock rose 7.8%, to $19.40 a share.
Bull Moose, a music, movie and video game retailer with 10 shops in Maine and New Hampshire, is entering the book business by expanding its Bangor store "to make room for 3,000 square feet of book shelves, and will use it to test the statewide market," Maine Public Broadcasting Network reported.
Owner Brett Wickard told MPBN that 2009 was the most successful of his company's 20 years. "We're going to try to show that a local retailer can be really competitive and aggressive in the book business, even as inexpensive as the online firms," he said, adding, "We want to appeal to the casual reader, to the totally 'buying-everything-that's-coming-out' kind of reader and to the young and to the old--we're going for everybody."
Wickard is planning an aggressive pricing strategy, offering most titles at 35% discount. "We're going try it out up there and if it's successful out there, you're going see that go to a number of other Bull Moose locations," he said. "Our strategy is going to be that we are going to look for opportunities and, as we see them, we want to aggressively jump for them."
The 2009 Summit Unchained ("Buy Local") Challenge generated nearly $48,000--a 229% increase over 2008--between November 21 and December 31, a period when Summit County, Colo., residents and visitors were asked to shift at least 10% of their spending to local, independent businesses for the holiday season, the Daily News reported.
"We had more members this year distributing the cards and participating in the event in various ways, whether it was doing the co-op educational advertising, donating a prize for the drawing, handing out punch cards, or all three of these things," said Katie Roberts, executive director of the Summit Independent Business Alliance, which sponsored the campaign. "We heightened visibility of the campaign with support materials, such as posters and window/door decals, as well as a bright red reusable bag, which said 'Break the Chain in Support of Local, Independent Business.'"
The Summit Unchained Challenge offered a specially-designed punch card, which tracked the amount spent by each participant. Cards turned in were entered in a drawing, with winners picking up their prizes at the Next Page Bookstore, Frisco.
Yes, reading has side effects. Unbridled Books offers this cautionary and very amusing public service announcement.
N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards is Al Roker's latest pick for Al's Book Club for Kids on the Today Show.
Every great business venture has its "eureka" moment. Saturday Night Live portrayed the meeting of the minds between Mr. Barnes and Mr. Noble in 1917, and the genesis of an idea that became... well, you know the rest.
Katherine Paterson, who was recently named National Ambassador to Young People's Literature, made her case in the New York Daily News for why she believes "Apple's iPad is no book-killer." See how she threads Plato and Socrates (in "The Dialogues") into her argument.
Effective January 29, Princeton Architectural Press, a division of Springer Verlag (Berlin) since 1997, returned to independent status. Kevin Lippert, founder and publisher of PAPress, purchased the majority stake in the company from Springer.
"It has been a pleasure to be part of the Springer family for these many years, and to work with so many talented people on both sides of the Atlantic," said Lippert, "but the strategic directions of our two businesses were diverging so quickly that a partnership no longer made sense. Our new independent status will provide us with the opportunity to use the innovations we've learned from Springer, particularly in electronic books, to continue to broaden the scope of what design publishing constitutes."
PAPress will continue to be distributed by Chronicle Books in North and South America and Asia, Raincoast in Canada, Coen Sligting in Europe, PGUK in the U.K. and Manic Exposeur in Australia and New Zealand.
The joys and frustrations of "product placement." Last Sunday, Fox News interviewed a family and their treating neurologist about the Ketogenic Diet, which had been successful in the treatment of their son. On her lap, the mother is holding--but does not mention during the interview--copies of The Ketogenic Diet: A Treatment for Children and Others with Epilepsy The Ketogenic Diet and Keto Kid: Helping Your Child Succeed on the Ketogenic Diet, both published by Demos Health.
Amazon/Macmillan: The Buzz Continues
The Macmillan/Amazon faceoff continues to elicit strong reactions in the book trade.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times reported that while some Macmillan books were "creeping back" into availability on Amazon, other titles--including Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and The Politician by Andrew Young--were still absent in both physical and e-book editions. That was still the case as we went to press this morning.
"We are talking," said John Sargent, Macmillan's CEO. The Times observed that "Amazon is most likely withholding the books to maintain its leverage in negotiations, trying to get the best possible terms under the new agency model."
Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns HarperCollins, joined the discussion. Reuters reported that he "wants to renegotiate the current deal with Amazon, and said the world's largest retailer appears 'ready to sit down with us again' to talk about new terms."
"We don't like the Amazon model of selling everything at $9.99," Murdoch said. "They pay us the wholesale price of $14 or whatever we charge. But I think it really devalues books and it hurts all the retailers of the hard cover books."
The Authors Guild addressed the confrontation in a statement contending that "Macmillan's current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors."
The Guild also argued that if Macmillan succeeds, "the eventual payoff for its authors (and all authors, if a successful result ripples through the industry) is likely to be significant and lasting.... the economics of authorship in the digital age are likely to improve considerably. We may go through some rough stretches to get there, however."
James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, and Jack McKeown, director of business development for Verso Digital, engaged in a point/counterpoint exchange.
In a paidContent.org piece headlined "In Amazon vs. Macmillan, Amazon Is the Winner," McQuivey wrote, "While I believe Amazon is sincere in its belief that $9.99 is a good price for books (especially for people who have spent $259 or more on a Kindle), Amazon is secretly pinching itself right now, because":
- Amazon will now make money selling Macmillan e-books.
- Publishers will ultimately be compelled to bring e-book prices down.
- In that future, Amazon will make more money than it does now.
McKeown's op-ed response at Digital Book World featured a slightly tweaked headline, "In Amazon vs. Macmillan, Amazon Is the Loser."
"Amazon effectively has had to abandon its loss-leader pricing strategy at a point well before Kindle sales have reached a mainstream tipping point," he wrote, adding that "$12.99-$14.99 represents exactly the right price point for e-book versions of new hardcover releases, from both a publisher and consumer perspective. At that price range, roughly a 52-54% discount from standard hardcover prices of $25-$35, the publishers will make the equivalent unit gross margin that they make on their current hardcovers, about $6.75 per copy."
McKeown cited five factors making this possible:
- The agency model pays them 70% of list price vs. standard retail discounts of 50%;
- E-book royalties are established, for the most part, on 25% of net receipts vs. 15% of list for hardcovers which yields a lower per unit royalty.
- The e-book has no physical manufacturing cost, a pick-up of another $2.
- The e-book entails no physical distribution costs (packaging, order picking, shipping, etc.) for a gain of roughly $1.
- The e-book sale is a guaranteed one, affording no risk of return.
"As has always been true, publishing is best served by a strongly competitive and diversified distribution ecosystem," McKeown concluded.
John Scalzi issued a "Call For Author Support" on his Whatever blog: "Support the authors affected. Buy their books. How to do this is simple enough: Remember there’s more to bookselling than Amazon. Offline there are brick and mortar bookstores--go visit one. They like visitors. Tell them I sent you. Online there is Barnes and Noble. There’s Powell’s. IndieBound will hook you up. Specialty bookstores have their own web sites. You can often buy books online from the publishers themselves. Hell, even Walmart.com sells books."
Steven Pearlstein had an optimistic take on the issue in his Washington Post column: "Reports of the death of book publishing, like those of music publishing and newspaper publishing, are greatly exaggerated. Business models will change, companies will come and go, and people will lose their jobs. But at the end of the process, there will be fewer people who will be paid higher incomes to produce a wider array of products at lower prices. There's a word for that--progress--and it's exciting to see it unfold right in front of us."
Something unimaginable has popped up in the news: according to Candlewick Press, a cargo of Flanimals--Flanimals Pop-Up, that is—has gone missing! The brainchild of Ricky Gervais (the mind behind The Office and Extras) and illustrated by Rob Steen, Flanimals Pop-Up was scheduled to release on March 9. After being shipped across the Pacific to a West Coast port, the 12,000 Flanimals traveled by train, and were then taken into custody by a trucker. But when the trucker made a pit stop en route to an Indiana holding pen, he discovered upon his return that the Flanimals Pop-Ups were missing. Since the Flanimals' disappearance on January 25, there have been rumored sightings of an eyeless Puddloflaj and malnourished Plamglotis wandering the Interstate.
Author Ricky Gervais commented, "This is obviously a misguided Flanimal Rights Group or an organized gang of 8-year-olds. Just like the books, the thieves will fold under questioning." Flanimals fans hope the creatures will pop up soon.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Robert Harris, Art Spiegelman
Tomorrow morning on NPR's Morning Edition: Robert Harris, author of Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9780743266109/0743266102).
Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Adriana Trigiani, author of Brava, Valentine (Harper, $25.99, 9780061257070/0061257079).
Also on Today: Bethenny Frankel, author of The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life (Fireside, $16, 9781416597995/1416597999).
Tomorrow on Oprah: Bob Greene, author of The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781416588382/1416588388).
Tomorrow on the Martha Stewart Show: Jeffrey Ross, author of I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges (Simon Spotlight, $24.99, 9781439101407/143910140X).
Tomorrow on the Book Studio: Bethanne Patrick, author of An Uncommon History of Common Things (National Geographic, $40, 9781426204203/1426204205).
Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, authors of The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics (Abrams ComicArts, $40, 9780810957305/0810957302). As the show put it: "TOON Books and Raw Books co-editors Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly went tunneling through archives and private collections to create this perfect anthology of classic children's comics. These are the spunky kids and sassy animals--the Lulus and Unca Scrooges--that you may envision at the edges of your memory. Walk down memory's backs streets with us when we explore the golden age of someone else's childhood."
Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Henry Louis Gates, author of Colored People: A Memoir (Vintage, $13.95, 9780679739197/067973919X).
Movies: Oscar Loves Books
Four of this year's 10 Academy Award nominees for best picture--The Blind Side, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Up in the Air--are adapted from books. The Christian Science Monitor observed that Hollywood "has always owed a large debt to the skills of those who tell their stories in the shape of books."
Sometimes the transformation can be a little complicated. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis "was a nonfiction title published in 2006, the kind of book that critics like to call 'literary journalism' and it was an analysis of the changing nature of football as much as it is the story of a remarkable player adopted by an unlikely family," the Chronicle wrote.
Last year, three of the five nominees--The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire and The Reader--were adapted from works of fiction.
Books & Authors
Awards: Discover Great New Writers Finalists
The finalists for Barnes & Noble's 2009 Discover Great New Writers Awards are:
- Barb Johnson for More of This World or Maybe Another (HarperPerennial)
- Victor Lodato for Mathilda Savitch (FSG)
- C.E. Morgan for All the Living (FSG)
- Dave Cullen for Columbine (Twelve)
- Toby Lester for The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America Its Name (Twelve)
- Neil White for In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir (Morrow)
The winners in each category receive a $10,000 prize and a year of additional promotion in B&N stores. Second-place finalists receive $5,000, and third-place finalists take home $2,500. Winners will be announced March 3.
Shelf Starter: The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection
The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection by Martin Page (Penguin, $14 trade paper, 9780143116523/0143116525, January 2010)
Opening lines of books we want to read:
Virgil's shoes slapped the wet street. He'd left Svengali Communications later than usual. Just as the sun was setting he'd noticed the face of the clock above the door.
Located between the Louvre, the Council of State, and the Comédie-Française, the offices of the advertising agency where Virgil worked were in fine company. The entrance to the subway station, caked with multicolored pearls like a child's creation for Mother's Day, appealed to him. Even so, Virgil and this part of the city weren't exactly at home with each other; rubbing shoulders, they kept on their guard, both realizing that things could end badly. The young man claimed only two little islands in this gilded section of the first arrondissement: the Librairie Delamain and the restaurant-café called Á Jean Nicot, the only dive left that wasn't overrun by the smart set. He got onto the bus and punched his ticket. Six months ago he'd stopped taking the subway, weary as he was of putting up with a constant feeling of suffocation, spiked with moments of pure panic.
The red LED on his old cassette answering machine was blinking. Virgil liked getting messages; whether they were from friends or people selling full-service kitchens, they reminded him that he existed in society. But the very first thing he had to do was make something to chow down on, so he inspected the fridge: eggs, some leftover tomatoes wilting in a can, an impressive collection of yogurts. He broke two eggs over a frying pan, covered them, and finally went to push the play button on the machine.
"Virgil," said a woman's voice.
He got closer to the speaker to get a better dose of the captivating voice. God had a woman's voice, he figured. The message went on:
"It's Clara. I'm sorry, but I'd rather stop here. I'm leaving you, Virgil. I'm leaving you."
--Selected by Marilyn Dahl
Book Brahmin: Matt Beynon Rees
Matt Beynon Rees was born in South Wales. He was previously the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine and has covered the Middle East as a journalist for more than a decade. He is the author of Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, as well as four books in the Omar Yussef series, including the latest, The Fourth Assassin, published this month by Soho Crime. The first book in the series won the CWA New Blood Dagger.
On your nightstand now:
Strange Things Happen: A Life with the Police, Polo and Pygmies by Stewart Copeland, new autobiography of the Police drummer, who turns out to be the son of a Middle Eastern spy and a really spirited voice as a writer; Caravaggio by Catherine Puglisi--a life of the artist, plus very technical analysis of how he worked; Go, Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman, for when my two-year-old son invades the bedroom; and a small bottle of arnica massage oil (but that's not for reading...).
Favorite book when you were a child:
Straf Battalion 999 by Heinz Konsalik, a rather graphic and violent German novel about a punishment battalion on the Russian front. I read it when I was nine and my parents were worried it might make me morbid. It did. But as a writer of crime fiction I can say that it's an important attribute.
Your top five authors:
Paul Bowles. Every day he incorporated something from his travels of the previous day, which I've tried to do with my Palestinian novels.
Graham Greene. Did I mention that I was a bit morbid? Well, GG is the master of morbid.
Raymond Chandler. The greatest stylist, on the level of the sentence, ever.
Mary Renault. I read The King Must Die in Amman while I was waiting for King Hussein of Jordan to die. I've loved Renault ever since.
James Ellroy. I saw him give a reading in New York City when American Tabloid came out. One of a kind.
Book you've faked reading:
Finnegans Wake. I faked reading it at college because I knew no one would believe I'd read it in the first place, so there was no point in actually reading it anyway.
Book you're an evangelist for:
My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century by Adina Hoffman, a history of modern Palestinian literature through the life of Taha Muhammad Ali, a poet from Nazareth. Much better than reading a political history of the Palestinians.
Book you've bought for the cover:
When I was in a bookshop in South London at the age of 16, I saw a striking image of the war in Spain on the cover of Homage to Catalonia. I stole it. (All my teenage shoplifting escapades were in bookshops.) So that doesn't quite answer your question, but it's the closest I've ever come to choosing a book for its cover, and in the case of Orwell I have to say I was right.
Book that changed your life:
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I was a student of literature at Oxford University at the time I read it. I realized that Hammett had something gritty that French post-structuralists just couldn't match. I knew which side I was on.
Favorite line from a book:
From Chandler's The Long Goodbye, when a beautiful woman walks into a bar and all the men stop to look at her. A silence falls: "It was like just after the conductor taps on his music stand and raises his arms and holds them poised."
Close second would be: "Heat. Bugs. Bullshit." The entire opening paragraph of a chapter in The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. The fictional story (based on a snippet from Herodotus) of Alexander the Great's Persian manservant and lover. It's the greatest examination of love and of history.
Children's Review: Henry in Love
, $16.99, 9780061142888/0061142883, 48 pp., ages 3-6, February 2010)
Here's a love story that everyone from elementary school students to adults can enjoy. Peter McCarty (Hondo and Fabian) employs his characteristic wit and understatement in a story of affection that blooms on the playground between Henry, a cat, and Chloe, a bunny. "Henry awoke to the smell of blueberry muffins." He sleeps in a bed in a simple yet tasteful room; a poster of a bunny in a baseball uniform and a goldfish in an aquarium tip us off that Henry is not a typical cat. In the kitchen, Henry's mother informs him that the blueberry muffins she baked are for school. McCarty uses colored inks and watercolors in neutral tones to give the feline family dimension and applies color sparingly. The trio of blueberry muffins--blue down to their wrappers--positively glows on the page. On the way to school, his blueberry muffin safely stowed in his backpack, Henry catches a pass from a high school football player. The older kid praises Henry: "You're pretty fast. I have a sister your age--she's fast too."
Henry knows just who the older boy means. Henry "thought she was the loveliest girl in his class," reads the narrative beneath a line-up of schoolmates that includes chicks, bunnies, puppies and squirrels. They seem to float on a cushion of air. McCarty uses white space to accentuate the feeling of contented isolation that stems from the hero's preoccupation. Henry utters not a word, but his button-eye expression says everything. "Are you looking at me?" asks Chloe, a bunny with almond-shaped eyes and a pink dress. Watercolor poppies and purple five-petaled flowers drawn in ink seem to migrate like butterflies across the page in her direction. This is love. "You're not going to talk to a girl, are you?" says Henry's pal Sancho at recess. Ah, male peer pressure. Instead of approaching Chloe, Henry does "his best forward roll," while Chloe turns "a perfect cartwheel." Henry chases Chloe in a game of tag down the page in a zigzag line of inked green grass. McCarty gets the dynamics exactly right: the unspoken cues, the teasing and the token of affection (hint: it's blue) once Henry's sure the feeling is mutual. A year-round Valentine with just the right touch of humor.--Jennifer M. Brown
Nitty Gritty 3, Part 2: Made of Fail
In this second part of a two-part column, Jenn Northington, general manager of breathe books, Baltimore, Md., continues to write about her adventures with her new Barnes & Noble nook e-reader.
Fail #7: Deciding which button to hit when you're doing anything other than reading takes some thought. I noticed this the first time I played with the nook in-store, but I assumed that button-use would make more sense over time. It's actually becoming more difficult. I keep forgetting about the touch screen and trying to use the page-turn buttons to navigate on-screen options, because they are right next to said options and appear to point to things. The touch screen is lovely and does in fact do what it's supposed to do; it's just not intuitively placed. Luckily, instead of sending the device into a tailspin or triggering auto-destruct mode, pushing the wrong buttons does exactly nothing. Hats off to you, designers.
Fail #8: For some unknowable reason "Open Audio Player" is always (and I do mean always) an option, no matter which menu screen you're in. I guess they really want you to use that function. Except that I can't figure out why. They aren't selling music (after I noticed this odd design choice, I checked), so I'm lost as to the rationale. Nook, the iPod Slayer? Unlikely at best.
Fail #9: The Samples feature is absolutely pointless. I downloaded a sample of Michael Pollan's new Food Rules, and the six pages I got were literally the first six pages of the book: cover page, table of contents, second cover page, copyright information, a threat regarding piracy and the (three-line) dedication page. As nice as it is to know the location of every Penguin Group office in the world (courtesy of the copyright page; I had no idea there was a New Delhi office!), I seriously doubt it will win over any hesitant potential buyers.
Fail #10: The magazines & newspapers purchase options are frustratingly vague. Take the New Yorker: Single issue $3.99, Subscription $2.99. Nowhere does it say how much content I am getting for said $2.99. Is it a year? Six months? Three issues? WHAT AM I GETTING FOR MY MONEY? OH GOD PLEASE TELL ME ALREADY!
Win #4: The nook syncs beautifully, almost seamlessly, with Adobe Digital Editions. The instructions in the User Guide (once you find it) are exactly correct and surprisingly easy. This means that any PDF you can read in ADE, you can transfer to and read on your nook, including DRM-protected PDFs. Hallelujah! Formatting can be a little wonky, but I honestly don't care as long as I can read e-galleys that were, formerly, only readable on my computer. Publishers are starting to offer more and more digital ARCs, and I for one am thrilled finally to be able to take advantage of them.
Fail #11: One of the features I was most excited about was the cross-syncing between nook and the B&N eReader app for iPhone/iPod Touch since, as I have admitted, I do enjoy reading books on my Touch. This feature is lacking in, well, almost every way. Your nook Library is divided into a B&N Library, consisting of books from their store, and My Documents, consisting of everything else. Only the B&N Library syncs with the iPhone account, which means that any other e-books, galleys or files that you put on the nook, stay on the nook. On top of that, apparently only e-books will sync--I couldn't access my subscription to the New Yorker at all. Add insult to injury: books that I already paid for and downloaded on my account had to be unlocked with the entire credit card number from the purchase. I ask you, what's the point of having an account if I have to enter the same information over and over again?
Sort-of-Win: The lending feature is okay, which on this curve equals a win. Katherine Fergason of Bunch of Grapes very kindly agreed to be my guinea pig for this feature and notes: "Really very easy on my end. Wait. Spoke too soon." Maybe that should have been the subtitle for this article.... Anyway! You select a book, find the "lend" option (I've already forgotten where I found it and can't seem to refind it), give the e-mail address of the lendee and you're done! All the lendee has to do is a) have a nook or b) have an iPhone/iPod Touch and the B&N eReader app, sign into their B&N Account--hopefully with the same e-mail address that you used to lend the book--and accept the lend by a certain date. And then enter in their credit card information. Really. And god forbid you didn't set up a default credit card when you created your B&N account. If you didn't, you have to go back, create a default card, then download the loaned e-book and then enter your credit card information again. But you can read the book! For the next 14 days, anyway.
Fail #12: In what I can only assume is a misguided attempt at verisimilitude, I can't read a book I've loaned to someone else. (Katherine, give me my book back!) Yes, I understand that's how it works in real life, but this is the digital age, baby! Maybe it's something to do with piracy (although for the life of me I can't figure out how that works either). At least my nook tells me very clearly that the book is on loan. Kind of like a virtual "neener neener." Probably designed by whoever wrote the FAQ.
Part of me thinks, well, it's new technology, what did I expect? The other part of me replies, BETTER!
Verdict: My first interest in e-readers was in their potential to revolutionize the clumsy and often frustrating system of ARC distribution. The nook enables me to participate easily in NetGalley, S&S's GalleyGrab and whatever else publishers do next, most of which involve DRM-protected PDFs that are otherwise unreadable (or at best painfully difficult to upload) on my iPod Touch. So in that sense, a nook is exponentially more convenient than a stack of ARCs. For a reader on the go who wants to have access to a lot of books, a lot of the time, the buying and reading features are user-friendly enough to make this a good investment. One can hope, also, that since it has an OS, B&N will fix some of these problems and push out updates, the way that Apple does for iPhone/iPod or Microsoft does for computers. For the casual reader, however, I can't imagine the frustrations will be worth the pay-off. So unless you're too excited about technology or digital galleys to wait, I'd start saving up for the iPad. I hear it's going to be huge.