Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 17, 2010
Quotation of the Day
'The Promise of E-Books'
"Technology is not a barrier to depth, to engagement, to the cultural discussion, and that perhaps we want the same thing from our reading as we always have, regardless of the form it takes.... The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing; by altering the conditions of the conversation, e-books and e-readers have already served an essential purpose.... This, I think, is what e-books have to offer: the promise of immersion, enhanced or otherwise, just as their analog counterparts have always done."
Image of the Day: Hardcore Panel at the Strand
At a slideshow and discussion about the cultural importance of American hardcore music at the Strand Book Store, New York City: (from l. to r.) hardcore punk singer Dave Smalley; Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Feral House); and Avenue A skinhead-turned-notorious-author Laura Albert (aka JT Leroy, aka "Literary Outlaw").
Notes: Booksellers Marketing E-Books; Big E-Brother?
Booksellers are marketing Google eBooks in a variety of creative ways, Bookselling This Week reported. For example, among other steps, the Book Bin, Northbrook Ill., is offering loaner Sony Readers, has featured a range of e-readers in a store display and has a large sign in-store announcing that it is selling e-books.
Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., is promoting e-books in a variety of ways and will highlight a handful of e-book titles in its weekly newsletter.
Several booksellers, including the Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo., and Kepler's, Menlo Park, Calif., are considering or are offering discounts on non-agency model e-book titles. Kepler's has promoted "aggressive discounts" on five such titles.
(For more on indies and Google eBooks, see Robert Gray's column below.)
Is your e-book spying on you? NPR pointed out that the same technology that allows users to instantly download books also allows information to be transmitted back to the manufacturer. "And it's not just what pages you read; it may also monitor where you read them. Kindles, iPads and other e-readers have geo-location abilities; using GPS or data from Wi-Fi and cell phone towers, it wouldn't be difficult for the devices to track their own locations in the physical world." Cindy Cohn, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted that if the company keeps the data long-term, the information could be subpoenaed to check someone's alibi, or as evidence in a lawsuit. EFF has created a side-by-side comparison of e-book devices.
Author Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, is particularly concerned with the large amount of information Amazon captures: "They could tell you with precision the age, the zip codes, gender and other interests of the people who bought my books. Now you can throw on top of that the fact that a certain number of them quit reading at Page 45."
Publishing consultant Brian O'Leary, founder of Magellan Media, said such data could benefit the rest of the publishing industry. "If people are buying books but not reading them, or they're quitting after a relatively short period of time reading the book, that ultimately tells you that the customer in this case is dissatisfied," O'Leary said. "Better understanding when people stop reading or stop engaging with your content would help you create better products."---
The New Yorker has an amusing line score for the story that Carl Crawford, who just signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox for $142 million and had said recently that he hadn't read a book "in forever," planned to spend part of his fabulous wealth to open an antiquarian bookstore. The item, taken seriously by a few too many people, was originally posted at Royals Review, a blog for Kansas City Royals fans.
"In what sports did Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Howard Jacobson demonstrate their prowess?" The Guardian
has invited readers to "test your literary knowledge with a fiendish
set of questions from our panel of writers including Iain Banks, Jilly
Cooper, David Hare, Nick Hornby, Lorrie Moore and Will Self."
The official trailer for Water for Elephants has been released and will begin appearing in theaters today. The movie of the popular book by Sara Gruen stars Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Robert Pattinson, Hal Holbrook and Tai the elephant. The movie opens nationwide next April 15.
Lori Fazio, the new manager of R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., introduced herself to the community in an op-ed article for the Shoreline Times, where she wrote: "I'm continually surprised by how many people tell me they either have moved to Madison or are thinking of moving to town because of the bookstore. They mention the books, the café, and the booksellers, but what I think they are really responding to is a wonderful sense of a lively, thriving downtown. We--and I mean all of us who live in this area--take great pride in our beautiful downtown, our strong schools, picturesque ocean-front, and intimate way of life. Our small local businesses add character, ambiance, and community (not to mention commerce) to this already great place to live."
Village Books, Pacific Palisades, Calif., was showcased as "bookstore of the week" by the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog.
"We live in the kind of community where you know customers by name--it is the Cheers of a bookstore," said owner Katie O'Loughlin, who opened her shop in 1997. "You know what they like to read; it really is an old-fashioned, Mayberry-type setting. I lived here before I opened the store--I knew a lot of people from being a mother, being involved in church and school."
The Reuters holiday spirit: the lede for an article about the challenges faced by Barnes & Noble and Borders begins "The two largest U.S. bookstore chains have offered up a compelling cliffhanger this holiday season that will seal the fate of brick-and-mortar bookselling."
BoingBoing offered offered its eccentric holiday book list.
The Philadelphia Inquirer featured a "cornucopia of good books for cooks."
A gift guide to the year's "Best Books for Music Obsessives" was offered by Flavorwire, which noted: "If music writing was endangered in 2010--and oftentimes it felt that way--it was also on fine display on the nation's bookshelves."
Italy will be the guest of honor at BookExpo America's Global Market Forum. BEA, which will be held May 23-26 in New York City, will showcase Italian publishers, books and authors. At the same time, literary and related cultural programs that focus on contemporary fiction in translation and in original editions, imports and exports of original books, children's and YA literature and digital developments in the U.S. and Italy will be held throughout New York City as part of New York Book Week.
Previous Global Market Forum focuses and guests of honor were Spain (this year), the Arab World (2009) and Global English Reading (2008).
For more information, per favore contact Ruediger Wischenbart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maruzen Co. and Junkudo Co. will jointly open Japan's largest bookstore, "with the aim of being able to offer any book sought by customers," Japan Today reported.
At the Morrow/Avon division of HarperCollins:
Ben Bruton has been promoted to senior director of publicity. Before joining Morrow in 2004, he worked at Putnam, Doubleday and Atria.
Brianne Halverson has been promoted to director of publicity. She joined HarperCollins as a publicity manager in 2007 and earlier worked at Simon & Schuster.
Obituary Note: Kathy Kitsuse
Kathy Kitsuse, longtime general manager and co-owner of Capitola Book Café, Capitola, Calif., died suddenly on November 30 at the home of her daughter, Alicia, in Venice, Calif., where she had been living in retirement for the last three years. She was 78.
She began working at the store in 1981, less than a year after it opened, was general manager from 1989 through 2006, and was co-owner from 1991 to 2007.
The store noted that "without her high standards and financial savvy, the Capitola Book Café would not exist today.... Kathy liked what was traditional about bookstores--books piled high with classical music playing in the background. She was an avid reader of mysteries, biographies, travel stories, English authors and children's books. Because she cared deeply about independent bookstores, she was willing to take on the always difficult and sometimes unpopular job of managing the money. Her more pleasurable responsibility was buying books for the children's section. She relished introducing children to the classics that she loved and to modern stories of imagination and adventure as well."
The store also offered this tribute:
What Kathy loved: opening the store in the mornings, working at the front desk, uncluttered counters, dusted shelves, classical music, a cup of real English tea when she sat down at the end of the day to do the books. She also loved opera, London theater, and sharing her beautiful Japanese style house with authors and friends.
What Kathy could fix: toilets, cash registers, leaky faucets, computers, the grease trap, the bottom line.
What Kathy wished she could fix: coffee-stained books, store alarms that went off at 3 a.m., Ingram bills, the predatory tendencies of chain stores, Amazon's refusal to pay sales tax.
The store will hold a memorial for Kathy Kitsuse in the spring.
The Digital Story from the eBookSummit
Some 200 of the best and brightest literary digerati crowded into a ballroom at the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan all day this past Wednesday for Media Bistro's eBookSummit. Panelists and speakers included Ken Auletta, Douglas Rushkoff, Richard Nash, Jason Ashlock, Debbie Stier, Peter Costanzo, Ryan Chapman, Brendan Cahill and more. Perhaps overshadowing the high-caliber speaking roster were the buzzwords of the day: "transmedia," "multiplatform," "social" (as in "you have to do social if you want your app to succeed"), "discoverability" and "metadata." (Savannah Ashour, the new director of digital publishing at Workman, wanted the word "transmedia" banned.)
Ken Auletta related interviews he'd had with Google executives and engineers while writing Googled (just out in paper from Penguin). Google's managers are "not cold businessmen," he said. "They're cold engineers." In other words, they're not out to crush their rivals (like Microsoft in the '90s). Rather the company can't not ask "why not?" Their impulse to question the foundations of every business they look into is driving change at a dizzying pace. Auletta pointed out that while electricity took 70 years to reach half of the American people, the Internet took nine to do the same, and Facebook has reached 550 million users in just five years. "What scares the shit out of a lot of people is the velocity of change," Auletta said.
eBookSummiteers got a good look at what publishing and web folks are trying right now, or rolling out in the near future, as they deal with the velocity of change:
- "Metadata is our sales force" proclaimed Brian Cahill of Open Road Integrated Media, celebrating the e-book-only publisher's first year in business. Its innovations: a 50/50 profit share with authors, no in-house editors and sales via "discoverability" achieved with good metadata and aggressive social networking.
- Peter Costanzo of Perseus announced an enhanced version of Roots to come out for Black History Month early next year.
- Brad Inman of Vook thinks the company's time has come, saying, "We are bringing our iPads into the bedroom," and expects his company to produce 200-500 titles in the next year.
- Mischief and Mayhem's Dale Peck told the story of its "protest" event on the sidewalk outside the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City. When authors attempted to sell their books through the store's free wifi, B&N turned off access.
- broadcastr will be launched by Electric Literature early next week. The Web and mobile application will allow users to record personal stories about a specific place and geolocate them, so that a user can listen to the tales on smartphones when in the same area.
- "ThumbScribes" is a platform that allows collaborative, social writing, inspired by Japanese cellphone novels.
- Comixology has developed the top three grossing apps for iPhone/iPad, for DC Comics, Image Comics and Marvel Comics. Its Android app releases this week.
- Bookscan's "buzz metrics" attempts to correlate "book buzz" to sales, by scanning and analyzing blogs and other online resources. A host of firms like Cymfony, Converseon, Radian6 and Collective Intellect will now scrape social media sites to provide market research.
Jenny Frost tweeted: "cold outside but room is full of dreams." A few of those dreams may have to do with the publishing industry surviving this digital upheaval in a recognizable form. Some participants are ready to dispense with what worked in the past and move on. "I don't feel that we have to be sacred about anything except trying to deliver some really good content," said Brad Inman, on embedded video and how it can interrupt narrative flow. Douglas Rushkoff had a more hopeful view: "What is the future of the bookstore? It's the past of the bookstore--little bookstores. The big box thing is over, or it's ending. Aggregators get aggregated." Firms that attempt to do it all are endangered by a public that is willing to do things for themselves, with a little help from the experts. The experts are ready for them.--Sean Concannon
Media and Movies
Movies: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Thirteen-year-old Thomas Horn, who won $31,800 on Kids Jeopardy in October, is joining a cast that includes Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks to play Oskar Schell in the film verson of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Stephen Daldry (The Hours and The Reader) is directing from a screenplay by Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
Books & Authors
Book Brahmin: Thomas Hurka
Thomas Hurka is the author of The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters (Oxford, December 17, 2010), a philosophical survey of things that make life worth living: pleasure, happiness, knowledge, achievement, virtue, love and more. His previous writings include Perfectionism (Oxford 1993) and Virtue, Vice, and Value (Oxford 2003), and he had a three-year stint as a weekly philosophy columnist for the Globe and Mail. He teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and lives in Toronto with his wife and son.
On your nightstand now:
Gladstone by Roy Jenkins, a (long) biography of the 19th-century British prime minister; The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler, an early novel, after I've enjoyed so many of her recent ones.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Winnie-the-Pooh (pre-Disney) and then the Freddy the Pig books.
Your top five authors:
Philip Larkin, Alice Munro, P.G. Wodehouse, W.D. Ross, Rohinton Mistry.
Book you've faked reading:
Political Liberalism by John Rawls.
Books you're an evangelist for:
The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia by Bernard Suits, philosophically profound ideas presented in a witty, unpretentious style (and a loving parody of Plato as well); Soulsville, USA: The Story of Stax Records by Rob Bowman, the business ups and downs, the people and, especially, the music of the great Southern soul studio.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Old Toronto Houses (well, it is a picture book).
Books that changed your life:
The philosophy books I read as a first-year undergraduate that convinced me to devote my life to that subject: Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant.
Favorite line from a book:
"Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (Which was rather late for me)/ Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles' first LP."--Philip Larkin, "Annus Mirabilis" from High Windows.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin.
Book Review: The Year of the Hare
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Penguin Books, $14.00 Paperback, 9780143117926, December 2010)
The sheer literary delight of Arto Paasilinna's comic novels is one of the best-kept secrets in Finland. Until now the only evidence of this in English translation has been the superb novel The Howling Miller and, like it, The Year of the Hare is a spare narrative about a social misfit that builds with an unexpected cumulative impact. These are tall tales that are halfway between fairy tales and fables, yet decidedly realistic in all their details and their depictions of the human race. Paasilinna puts his money on the outsider, the rule-breaker, the good man outside of society who is condemned for listening to a different drummer.
Kaarlo Vatanen, his Everyman hero in this newest novel in translation, is trapped in a loveless marriage and has a job as a journalist for which he feels contempt. Arguing with his grumpy photographer as they drive through a forest, the sight of a hare trying to get out of the way of their car comes too late, the hare is hit and runs injured into the trees. Vatanen gets out of the car and runs after it, and is never seen again.
That's how the story is launched, and it just keeps getting better. Once he's splinted the rabbit's leg and two of them have become inseparable, Vatanen leaves his unhappy life behind and keeps on going into the forest, encountering one adventure after another--a raging forest fire, a cow stuck in a marsh, a robber crow, an angry bear, a beautiful lawyer and an old man who has discovered evidence that the president of Finland is really two different people. His hare is never far behind, and as they break one petty law after another, they make their way across Finland into the snowbound reaches of the Soviet Union for a climactic showdown on the ice.
Paasilinna not only sees the ugliness of social conventions, but portrays all the animal life in the book with an exhilarating compassion. "Loving animals can be a heavy load," says Vatanen as he risks his life to save the cow in the swamp. These animals aren't anthropomorphized. They're utterly true to their natures, endearingly so. Vatanen's faithfulness to the hare is never in doubt. They even share the same jail cell. When this hero returns home, he shatters the macho mold by rushing to sweep his rabbit into his arms.
Here's a unique novel for readers who think they've read everything, a story that goes in one unexpected direction after another, perpetually unpredictable, constantly heartwarming, as the reader willingly goes along with Vatanen, just like the rabbit hopping along beside him, from a bear's lair to the frozen wastes of the White Sea. For reading in the heart of winter, there couldn't be a more enjoyable antidote, but the book is lamentably short and over before you know it. So read it slowly. You'll want to laugh out loud at all the good parts, and savor every lean, simple, honest sentence.--Nick DiMartino
Shelf Talker: A spare narrative about a social misfit and a hare, halfway between fairy tale and fable, that builds with an unexpected cumulative impact. Perpetually unpredictable and constantly heartwarming, it's a book to read slowly and savor.
Robert Gray: What to Expect When You're E-Bookselling
"If being able to sell e-books allows us to serve our community in one more way, then it's a no-brainer for me. People already look to us to help curate the vast world of books for them, so we'll have to start doing that for e-books as well. People will want to support us if we make it easy enough, I think, and this has made it pretty easy."--Christine Onorati, owner of WORD.
Anticipation of Google eBookstore's debut has given way to implementation for indie booksellers who are now in the game. So my next question has to be: What are your expectations (and/or hopes) in terms of "gain"--financial (e-book sales, sidelines), customer perception, marketing opportunities, etc.?
Customer perception ranks high for Susan Fox of Red Fox Books, Glens Falls, N.Y. "We're now seen as current; we're a 'real' store that can serve them completely. We're already seeing lots of marketing opportunities with the partnership with Google. Even if no one buys an e-book, our name is out there in the local press and indie bookstores are in the national press. Maybe we'll sell a few e-books, although we're not assuming that will be a large percentage of our sales any time soon."
Noting that it's much too early to gauge what her e-book sales will be, Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Texas, likes the fact that "now the staff can start talking about the e-books to our customers. I don't think it will affect holiday sales, as now people tend to be buying for others. It will definitely go into my bookclub/group talks that I do all the time."
Anne Holman of the King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah, does "hope to see financial gain from selling e-books. More importantly, we want our customers to continue to see us as their resource for all things literary (both serious novels and lighter fare). Our first e-book event will be launching a local author's novel that is e-published by Rosa Mira Publishers in New Zealand. How are we going to do that? Not sure yet, but half the fun will be figuring it out."
One of the greatest advantages "will be in not sending our regular customers to another source for e-books," observes Chuck Robinson of Village Books, Bellingham, Wash. "We believe we sell information and entertainment, not paper and cardboard. Sending folks elsewhere just because they don't want the paper and cardboard makes no sense. We do expect some revenue as this builds and folks become aware that they can buy books from us--many at the exact same price as from any other source. We don't expect to be selling e-readers, though a few years ago we didn't expect to be selling e-books or to have a print-on-demand machine in the building."
The chance to offer books in any format is also key for Lanora Hurley of the Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, Wis.: "I am pleased to be able to tell our customers that they can support their local independent bookstore, regardless of the format they choose. The ability to give my customers the same products and services as my competitors is crucial. However, I don't foresee that e-book sales will be a major part of my business anytime soon, at least any more of a percentage than audiobooks or remainders. We will continue emphasize and sell bound printed books for a long time."
Although WORD's manager Stephanie Anderson hopes there is money to be made through e-book sales, she also believes that, since the bookstore's "customer base tends to be younger and more tech-savvy, to have this capability and this relationship with Google is a good thing for how we're perceived. My hope is that we can sell our customers the books that they want to read, in the format that they want to read them, as often as possible. I want that for sales, perception, marketing, and general succeeding-as-a-bookseller reasons, and I think Google eBooks will help with that."
For Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., Casey Coonerty Protti's expectations are quite specific: "I think we will keep 1% to 4% of e-book purchases that we would have lost elsewhere (just an estimate). I think it is a really good development for people using Apple products or computers, but it is not as easy with Nook, Sony E-Reader, etc. There is also a large group of customers that have already gone with the Kindle, which we can do nothing about. It is not going to save the business, but saving any sales that we would have lost is a step in the right direction."
The real gain for Books & Company, Oconomowoc, Wis., comes from "no longer losing," according to Lisa Baudoin. "The conversation is not about either/or but about both. Customers can come into Books & Company through our front door or through their laptop, smart phone, or e-reader and know they will receive the same great service and expertise. Our customers are incredibly loyal and this only helps to continue the growth and development of that relationship."
Looking to the future, she sees "some wonderful opportunities for publishers to create promotional content in an e-book format that can be interactive for kids or maybe teaser chapters for adults. Wouldn't it be swell if some of that were exclusive to indie bookstores? I love the idea of kids interacting with books on their Nintendo DSI. Imagine a Wimpy Kid promo where a kid could finish a story on their DSI or computer using the characters from the novel. I just think this opens up some interesting ways to promote and strengthen readers. I do not see this as a threat as long as indie bookstores are able to be in the game."
Tattered Cover's Neil Strandberg has conservative expectations for the impact Google eBooks will have on the store's bottom line. "In fact, it will surprise me if customers previously lost from indies to the chains and to the Internet will return to us now that we have a credible ability to sell e-books, often--but not always--competitively.
"Instead I hope and expect that relationships with some of our customers, those that value independent bookselling and also covet new technologies (and their convenience), can now be kept under our roof as opposed to being driven away. In fact, we [recently] received an e-mail from a customer thanking us for participating in the Google eBook agreement so that they can continue to support their favorite brick-and-mortar stores and their digital desires. This, I think, is the double-reverse benefit of participating in Google eBooks: It helps leverage our value as neighborhood brick-and-mortar stores, as opposed to matriculating us into the glorious world of a more mature digital download function."
Coming soon: e-handselling.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)