Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 6, 2012


Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: The Very Very Very Long Dog by Julia Patton

Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet

Katherine Tegen Books: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Canterbury Classics: Compact Novel Journals

Katherine Tegen Books: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

News

B&N: Nook Download?; Holiday Sales

Barnes & Noble yesterday reported generally strong holiday sales, said it plans to report Nook results separately--and surprised the business by saying it is pursuing "strategic exploratory work to separate the Nook business."

The spinoff of Barnes & Noble's digital business from the print and bricks-and-mortar part of the company is intended "to capitalize on the rapid growth of the Nook digital business and its favorable leadership position in the expanding market for digital content." Presumably B&N is dissatisfied with its stock price, which fell another 17% yesterday, to $11.24, near its 52-week low of $10.30, because the company now predicts higher losses than forecast.

B&N CEO William Lynch put the move this way: "We see substantial value in what we've built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it's the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value. We've established one of the world's best retail platforms for the sale of digital copyright content. We have a large and growing installed base of millions of satisfied customers buying digital content from us, and we have a Nook business that's growing rapidly year-over-year and should be approximately $1.5 billion in comparable sales this fiscal year."

But the move mystified many observers, in part because Barnes & Noble has maintained that the stores have been key in selling the Nook, particularly for hesitant customers, and in part because it would put the traditional part of B&N right back where it was several years ago: a national chain of bookstores without a digital strategy, eerily similar to the situation at longtime competitor Borders, which collapsed last year.

Several observers noted that the spinoff tactic is typical for John Malone, the cable titan who last year bought 16.6% of B&N and had two representatives of his company, Liberty Media, installed on the board. In an interview with the New York Times, Lynch said there is "increased appetite" from the board to increase the Nook's value. In addition, many have forgotten that B&N chairman and founder Len Riggio has a history of either buying or creating companies, spinning them off and then buying them back, including B&N College and B&N.com, as well as Gamestop and other game retailers.

In related news, B&N confirmed that it is "in discussions with strategic partners, including publishers, retailers, and technology companies in international markets, that may lead to expansion of the Nook business abroad."

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During the nine-week holiday period, B&N store sales rose 2.5%, to $1.2 billion, and sales at stores open at least a year were up 3.4%.

B&N described book sales, which rose 4%--the first gain in five years (!)--as "strong overall, fueled by strength across multiple categories." Children's books were "exceptionally strong," led by The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, Inheritance and The LEGO Ideas Book. There was also a "significant crossover between physical and digital book sales," including the books on which several major holiday movies were based: The Help, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and War Horse.

Toys and games rose 30%, following a 48% gain last year.

B&N said it "continues to benefit from a consolidating physical book market." It estimated that the sales gain from the closing of Borders is between $200 million and $230 million.

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At the same time, Nook sales in the holiday season rose 70% over last year. The company said sales of the Nook Tablet "exceeded expectations, while sales of Nook Simple Touch lagged expectations, indicating a stronger customer preference for color devices."

Digital content sales--which include digital books, digital newsstand and apps--rose 113%. B&N predicted final digital content sales to be approximately $450 million.

Sales at B&N.com rose 43%, to $327 million, mainly because of the continued growth of Nook sales. At the same time, traditional book sales through B&N.com have declined.

Nook business throughout B&N rose 43%, to $448 million. "A substantial portion" of the Nook's sales increase came from non-B&N sellers, including Best Buy, Books-A-Million and other retailers.

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B&N predicted that digital content sales this year will be $450 million and that consolidated sales will be between $7 billion and $7.2 billion. Sales at B&N stores should increase 1%, B&N College is expected to be flat and B&N.com sales should rise 40%-50%.

But the company predicted losses of $1.10-$1.40 a share, at least double its earlier forecast, leading to the precipitous stock drop yesterday.


Freeform: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


General Retail Sales: Mixed Results for Holiday Season

U.S. retailers "salvaged their December sales figures with deep discounts," but the aftereffects "could spell trouble for the coming year for both the industry and the economy at large," the New York Times reported. Thomson Reuters said sales at stores it tracks rose 3.4%, close to analysts' expectations of a 3.3% gain. Same-store sales for the November/December Christmas season were up 3.1%.

"Retailers came in with pretty conservative assumptions and they were hoping to blow them out of the water--they really didn't," said David L. Bassuk of AlixPartners. "Retailers hope that as they plan some promotions on key items, that will entice the consumer to spend money. That didn't happen--the planned promotions were not as exciting as the consumer today expects, so the retailer has to revert back to things that were unplanned, like '50% off our whole store,' '60% off our whole store,' which is when you can see times are tough."

The Wall Street Journal noted that the results "show that middle-class consumers remain cautious in the face of a weak jobs market and a still-tepid economic recovery. And while they did show bursts of willingness to spend during the holiday season, the largess wasn't spread around evenly."

"It was a holiday period characterized by sharp promotions and retailers pulling out all stops by expanding hours," said John Long of Kurt Salmon. "What's remarkable in the numbers is that while there were some standouts, this didn't produce the extraordinary results we might have expected."


Other Press: Bookselling Without Borders Scholarship


Holiday Hum: Canines, Craft Beer and a Mock Caldecott

"We like to keep it local, and our bestselling books of the season were no exception," said Libby Cowles, community relations manager at Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colo. Three of the top four titles were the 2012 Be Local Coupon Book, Delightfully Durango: Local Chefs Share Great Recipes by McCarson Jones and Pure Gold: Adventures with Six Rescued Golden Retrievers by area author Holli Pfau, who is donating $5 to an animal shelter for every copy sold.

The other popular pick was Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney. Overall, sales of children's books were strong, along with selections featured in the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association winter catalogue (copies of which are inserted into three newspapers and used as the anchor for the store's holiday decorations) and sideline items. Stocking stuffer-sized sidelines were a hit, including the party game Spot it!, Bacon Gumballs and handcrafted earrings by artist Joseph Brinton.

Sales for December were down 1.5% compared to last year but up nearly 20% for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Some of the increased, post-Christmas foot traffic came from families whose kids had a two-week break as well as vacationers who headed to snowy Durango rather than other ski resorts. For the first time, Maria's Bookshop hosted a New Year's Weekend Sale from December 30 through January 1. In addition, the closing of a Waldenbooks earlier this year brought in new holiday shoppers.

"People seemed happy to shop with us, in the holiday mood, and glad to be giving books for the holidays," said Cowles. "We heard lots of people saying, without prompting, that they were intentionally shopping with us because they understand the importance of supporting locally owned independent businesses like ours."

Several of the books Cowles and her colleagues are looking forward to sharing with readers in 2012 are the novels The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (January), a tale set in North Korea, and the "wise, funny, gorgeous" Contents May Have Shifted (February) by Colorado resident Pam Houston. Another is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (March), Cheryl Strayed's memoir about undertaking (with no experience) an 1,100-mile solo hike after losing her mother and ending her marriage. "It's just the sort of adventurous, introspective travel writing that does really well in our community," said Cowles.

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At Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Wash., customers, too, indicated they were making an effort to shop at local retailers and "thanked us for still being here," said owner Suzanne Droppert. Overall sales are up 3% over last year. There was a 13% increase for the month of December, while online sales surged 50% over 2010. Good weather has kept business steady since Christmas.

The most popular gift choices at Liberty Bay Books were an eclectic mix--Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest: A Beer Lover's Guide to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by Lisa M. Morrison, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini and Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi.

An emphasis for this year is on boosting sales of e-books. Every Friday morning, customers are invited to come by the store for free coffee and assistance demystifying the e-reading and buying process. As a nice perk, they receive a discount on an e-book of their choice.

After having the "best ever" December at Liberty Bay Books, said Droppert, "I hope 2012 continues to be a return to the indie for buying books, not as a showroom." Her upcoming favorites? Joshilyn Jackson's novel A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty (January 25) and the other reads on the Atlantic's list of "15 Books to Look Forward to in 2012."

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Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa., wrapped up 2011 on a high note. Revenue from off-site events held steady this year, but in-store sales were down. That is until gift buyers turned out in droves in December, leading to a 14% increase over last year's holiday season total.

General manager Maryanne Eichorn attributes the merry sales surge in part to the Explore Sewickley marketing campaign developed on behalf of the borough by a local advertising agency. Additional efforts were made to draw shoppers and revelers into town during the holidays, including enhancing the traditional "Light Up Night" festivities with fireworks. "We had a phenomenal turnout for that. You couldn't even move in the store," said Eichorn. "We did all the things we typically do, but with their help the word really got out and the marketing was more astute and targeted."

Customers clamored for bestsellers this season, among them Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James and The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht. Gayle Forman's young adult novel If I Stay "was really big," while a plum pick for kids was Jan Brett's Home for Christmas.

Also on wish lists was Gimbels Has It! by Michael J. Lisicky, a history of the iconic department store that especially appealed to customers who had once worked or shopped at the outpost in nearby Pittsburgh.

Every January the Penguin Bookshop aims to put on a fun post-holiday event for the community. This year on the 17th they're hosting a "Mock Caldecott Discussion," devising a list of their own nominees and inviting customers to participate in selecting a medal winner. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt


Ingram Publisher Services: Celebrating the 45th Anniversary of Dundurn Press


Kobo Had a Merry Christmas, Too

Although its sales results may not rival Amazon's Kindle or B&N's Nook, Kobo reported record numbers for the holiday season, increasing its e-reader customer base to 10 times the pre-holiday total, with "hundreds of thousands of devices" having been activated each day since Christmas Eve to fuel the highest e-book download rate in the company's history.

Kobo also noted there was a 500% increase in eGifting from November to December, and gifting of e-books was up more than 200% compared to same time last year. Some of the biggest gains internationally were in France (over 7,000% growth), the U.K. (over 1,000%) and Germany (just under 1,000%).
 


Disney-Hyperion: Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner


Amazon Settles Touchscreen Patent Lawsuit

Calling it "a surprise development," paidContent reported that Amazon "has quietly resolved a lawsuit that alleges its Kindle Fire violates four patents related to touchscreen technology."

Court papers filed in Texas this week indicated that Amazon and Smartphone Technologies requested the lawsuit, which was filed in October, be dismissed. The company is a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corp, "a publicly traded company that is one of a growing number of firms that amass patents and then sue technology companies that refuse to buy licenses," paidContent noted, adding that Amazon "may simply have paid Acacia to go away in order to ensure that the lawsuit didn't impede booming demand for the Kindle Fire."
 


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Lilac Lane by Sheryl Woods


Nebraska Focusing on On-Campus Stores

The Nebraska Book Company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year as part of an effort to restructure debt (Shelf Awareness, June 27, 2011) and operates 290 college bookstores, among other operations, is cutting back its off-campus stores. Next month the company will close seven off-campus bookstores, and it is evaluating the future of another 40 stores and negotiating rents with landlords of those stores. Altogether the company has 138 off-campus stores.

Nebraska Book Company president Barry Major said, "The changes in our industry over the last few years have been especially difficult for our off-campus bookstores and we are taking this time to ensure that we are making decisions that improve our bottom line." He stressed that Nebraska's "on-campus stores continue to perform well and it is our plan to expand the company in this direction. Many schools are looking to out-source their bookstore operations and we are excited about growing this area of our business."

 

 


Notes

ABA's End-of-Year Letter: A Bookseller's Response

Bookselling This Week featured a letter from George Fox Rishel, owner of the Sly Fox bookstore, Virden, Ill., on the current and future state of the bookselling profession. It was sent in response to ABA CEO Oren Teicher's year-end letter.  

Rishel posed some "fundamental questions publishers need to give serious thought to," including: "Do you foresee a viable role for bricks-and-mortar bookstores? And do you see a continuing need for hardback and trade paperback books?... If a publisher is able to answer yes to these questions, then it needs to consider this one: What policies and distribution systems--and changes to current ones--are needed to maintain the economic well-being of bookstores?"

In his concluding remarks, Rishel wrote: "Permit me to be a bit of a contrarian (something I'm told I'm good at) and suggest that perhaps the ABA has been a bit too fixated on establishing an Internet presence and the e-book fad to devote sufficient time to thinking about what programs bricks-and-mortar booksellers selling the printed book need. I don'’t suggest resurrecting the old programs, but thinking anew for today and the future."

Teicher addressed the issues raised by Rishel and observed: "We at ABA believe that readers and book buyers will continue to find in bookstores an unmatched venue for discovery, connection, and enjoyment--and that this will translate into sales for bricks-and-mortar stores. We have seen the inventory mix in bookstores continue to evolve--encompassing more gift and sidelines selections than a decade ago--but a bookstore's shelves are still an essential, and unduplicated, bridge between the unique creation of the writer's talent and a reader's inquiring mind.... This inventory evolution includes, for some of our member stores, the selling of e-books. The sales of e-readers, tablets, and e-books underscore that the era of digital content has arrived."
 


Chelsea Green Adds Commission Reps

Chelsea Green Publishing has signed up five independent commission groups to represent its books to the trade. This is the first time since 2006 that the company has had independent trade representation. The in-house sales team has been reorganized by channel rather than territory and will manage and expand the consignment program, manage the commission staff and handle special sales and digital sales.

The commission groups are Karel/Duttong Group in the West; Abraham & Associates in the Midwest; Bill McClung & Associates in the Southeast; Rovers in the Mid-Atlantic; and Nanci McCrackin in New England.

Chelsea Green publishes and distributes between 35 and 50 titles a year on sustainable living and progressive politics.


Media and Movies

TV Series: Downton Abbey

The second season of the very popular Downton Abbey series begins airing this coming Sunday, January 8, on PBS Masterpiece. The episode resumes the story of love and intrigue at an English country estate, now mobilizing for the trauma of World War I.

Books that should interest Downton Abbey fans include:

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (St. Martin's Press, $29.99, 9781250006349), a collection of photos and text that details both the trappings of life on a country estate in the Edwardian period and the efforts of the shows to create such an estate. Fellowes is a journalist, former deputy editor of Country Life and niece of Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of Downton Abbey.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon (Broadway, $15.99, 9780770435622) tells the story of the family that inspired the series. The character of Lady Cora Grantham (portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern) was patterned on Almina de Rothschild, whose American industrialist father married her off to the Earl of Carnarvon. In a typical money-for-title transaction, the impoverished Earl received a dowry large enough to maintain his ancestral home and fund his passion for archaeological digs and young Almina acquired the title "lady" and the social status that went with it. Their home, Highclere Castle, is the setting for Downton Abbey. The book is by the current Countess of Carnarvon and draws on the archives of Highclere Castle.


Movie Projects: Alias Grace; Heck

Sarah Polley is working on a film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace, the Hollywood Reporter wrote. The Canadian actress and director earned a best adapted screenplay Oscar nomination for Away from Her, the film version of Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came over the Mountain" that starred Julie Christie and Gorden Pinsent.

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MGM has hired Chris Weitz (A Better Life; About a Boy; The Golden Compass) to rewrite Heck, based Dale E. Basye's book Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. Weitz replaces Bob Iserson. The Playlist also reported that Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher; Gutenberg! The Musical!), who is expected to be named director of the project, is "an interesting choice for the gig. Timbers has worked on a handful of acclaimed stage shows over the years.... And while his hiring suggests Heck may go in a musical direction, there is no word yet on if the filmmakers will take that route (though the official site for the book does offer up a song to download)."
 



Books & Authors

Awards: PNBA Winners; WGA Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

The winners of the 2012 Pacific Northwest Book Awards, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, chosen by member booksellers and honoring "exceptional books written by Northwest authors," are:

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Ecco)
Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson (Basic Books)
Habibi by Craig Thompson (Pantheon)
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books)
West of Here by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin Books)
Shards by Ismet Prcic (Black Cat)

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The Writers Guild of America has unveiled its nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen during 2011. Winners will be honored February 19 at the Writers Guild Awards, held simultaneously in Hollywood and New York. The nominees for best adapted screenplay are:

The Descendants by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemming
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
The Help by Tate Taylor, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett
Hugo by John Logan, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Moneyball by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (story by Stan Chervin), based on the book by Michael Lewis
 


Book Brahmin: Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens is the author of The Informationist, the first novel in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. Born in New York State into the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult, Stevens was separated from her family at age 12 and denied an education beyond sixth grade. She lived in communes on three continents and in a dozen countries before reaching 14. In place of schooling, the majority of her adolescence was spent begging on city streets at the behest of cult leaders or caring for younger commune children, washing laundry and cooking meals for hundreds at a time. In her 20s, Stevens broke free of the Children of God and now lives in Texas. Her second Vanessa Munroe novel, The Innocent, was published by Crown December 27, 2011. She's at work on a third Munroe novel.

On your nightstand now:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin; Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner; and The Brothers Karamazov. I think the underlying theme here is trying to avoid being a broke bad writer.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I didn't have much access to books and wasn't really allowed to read fiction for most of my childhood, but when I did, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys were my secret companions.

Your top five authors:

Christopher Moore, Robert Ludlum, Napoleon Hill, Carl Hiaasen, Robert Greene.

Book you've faked reading:

I'm about to start faking having read Brothers Karamazov. I'm only halfway through and it has been on my nightstand for about two years. 

Book you're an evangelist for:

I recommend Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way to every creative person I know.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Still looking for that book. It's out there, I know it.

Book that changed your life:

Definitely The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum, because without Jason Bourne, chances are I would have never had the epiphany that got me writing fiction in the first place.

Favorite line from a book:

"Remember that all who succeed in life get off to a bad start, and pass through many heartbreaking struggles before they 'arrive.' The turning point in the lives of those who succeed usually comes at the moment of some crisis, through which they are introduced to their 'other selves.' "--Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Oh man, I always get a kick out of Christopher Moore. His books are weird, but a lot of fun. I wish I could read A Dirty Job again for the first time, if for no other reason than for the sheer joy of laughing so hard!

 


Book Review

Review: At Last

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 hardcover, 9780374298890, January 31, 2012)

A period of global economic turmoil may not the best time to read At Last, the final novel of Edward St. Aubyn's superb quintet of novels chronicling the sort of aristocratic dissolution that Britain is famous for. Can anyone these days really understand or care about the troubles of a family who "had a good run," lasting "six generations with every single descendant... essentially idle?" But strip away all the money, and St. Aubyn's fictional Melrose family--with its history of child abuse, rape, murder, addiction and bad marriage--still possesses a little something that touches almost everyone. It's just that the introspective, ironic, sensitive Patrick Melrose has had to bear all of it... and, well, he was bound to have a messy life.

Although the first of the Melrose novels (1992's Never Mind) began when Patrick was five years old, At Last provides enough background that it can easily stand on its own--the only disadvantage readers face from not having read the first four novels is that you'll leave At Last wanting to go back to the beginning of this saga (which is being collected into an omnibus paperback edition to coincide with the final book's U.S. publication). The funeral of Patrick's mother, Eleanor, finally frees him from a lifetime of ambivalent feelings: hating her for abandoning him as a child to his abusive father, resenting the late-in-life irrational philanthropy that spurred her to give his "inheritance" to New Age shamans, but also desperately wanting her to be a real mother. "In a sense he had been missing her all his life," St. Aubyn writes. "It was not the end of closeness but the end of the longing for closeness that he had to mourn."

Eleanor Melrose's funeral is thinly attended by what's left of her family and friends, along with Patrick's ex-wife, his ex-girlfriend, his fellow AA confidants and two young sons. St. Aubyn knows these people well--like Aunt Nancy, "exhausted by her own haughtiness, as if her raised eyebrows might not be able to stand the strain much longer... it must be hard to be exclusively social and entirely friendless at the same time." With easy balance, At Last moves the narration among the funeral guests, bringing respite from the often witty, often sardonic, but always perceptive musings of Patrick. He is the one who has suffered a lifetime of real family pain and has perhaps earned his resentment; but he is also the one who must accept who he is, "the inevitability of things being as they were," and decide what kind of parent and man he still could be. It is heartening that St. Aubyn ends his mostly disheartening, but also brilliant, Melrose cycle with a suggestion of hope. --Bruce Jacobs

Shelf Talker: With ironic flair and sharp observation, Edward St. Aubyn masterfully concludes a cycle of novels spanning 20 years.

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Refuge & Prospect in 2012

Q: Does Russo's sell eReaders?
A: No, we'll let the other guys sell you the machine. Our expertise is books, so come to us for great e-book selections, prices and recommendations.

This little q&a appeared in an e-newsletter from Russo's Books, Bakersfield, Calif., last week. I bought the e-book edition of Arguably by Christopher Hitchens from them a couple of days ago. That seems to be how it works for me now. I purchased John Berger's Bento's Sketchbook from Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., last month after receiving an e-mail notice about something else entirely. I wanted the book, and there they virtually were.

"People hold books in a special way--like they hold nothing else," Berger writes. "They hold them not like inanimate things but like ones that have gone to sleep. Children often carry toys in the same manner." I don't hold my e-reader that special way; it's just a tool, maybe even a toy. My home is engulfed in traditional books, which I do handle with care. There's room for both. All part of the adaptation process.

Many of the communications from indies that hit my inbox during this holiday season were inviting their communities to buy e-books for new devices (and old, of course); to explore the new IndieBound Reader app; or to take advantage of e-knowledgeable booksellers on the sales floor as well as in special "get to know your e-reader" sessions hosted by the stores.

Independent booksellers are in the e-game now, exploring the potential of, and finding their place in, this evolving digital book landscape just as they have faced every other challenge that has come their way over the decades.

Maybe "landscape" is the right way to think about it after all. In The Experience of Landscape (1975), Jay Appleton introduced his Prospect-Refuge theory, seen through the lens of our oldest instincts for survival as applied to our aesthetic experience of landscape.

In the prehistoric sense of the term, when we were in caves our survival depended upon how far we were willing to venture out on the open savannah to hunt and gather. It was all about balance. Stay in the cave too long and you died. Go too far away from it and you were prey. The survivors (our great-grandparents to the nth power) found the right balance between the two and eventually became, among other things, landscape architects and booksellers.

A bookstore traditionally provides the temporary refuge of quiet and a cozy space. It offers limitless prospect within the pages of books on the shelves. But I'm intrigued by another way in which Prospect-Refuge theory can be applied to the book trade. The best indie booksellers--the ones who fended off any number of predators on the retail savannah--have always been willing to venture a little farther from their refuge to scout the terrain for opportunities to survive... and to evolve.

Consider a digital ancestor of e-books. During the mid-1990s, Voyager introduced a collection of interactive multimedia CD-ROM products, ranging widely from The Complete Maus and Poetry in Motion to Laurie Anderson's Puppet Motel and The Residents: Freak Show. I was reminded of these during the holidays when I happened to hear Schubert's "Trout Quintet" on the radio. One of the first Voyager discs I tried was an interactive version of this piece.

At the bookstore where I was working then, we carried a full display of Voyager products near the POS counter, as well as a demo computer to showcase them. We were booksellers, but some of us also became CD-ROM handsellers. I don't recall how many we sold, but having them on the sales floor sent a message to our customers that the bookshop was as intrigued by prospect as it was by refuge.

That was at least 15 years ago and the basic rule hasn't changed. The cave feels safe, but we also know we must explore the digital savannah, where some of the fiercest retail predators are roaming about. The best indies are not prey, however; they still look ahead more often than they glance furtively over their shoulders.

"At times, it can feel as if the whole planet is joyriding in somebody else's Porsche, at ninety miles per hour, around blind curves," Pico Iyer wrote in his book The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home. That's another e-book I bought last year. It was published in 2000, which now makes his message ancestral rather than dystopian.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)
 


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