Also published on this date: Monday, August 27, 2012: Maximum Shelf: It's Fine By Me
Shelf Awareness for Monday, August 27, 2012
Case Study of Paid Book Review Mill
On the front page of yesterday's business section, the New York Times had a depressing story about paid book reviews, focusing on GettingBookReviews.com, a defunct service founded by Todd Rutherford. Beginning in 2010, the service wrote online book reviews at rates that included $99 for one, $499 for 20 and $999 for 50. For a time, he was taking in $28,000 a month, and "in its brief existence," GettingBookReviews.com wrote 4,531 reviews.
Rutherford paid, it seems, $15 a review. His most prolific reviewer earned $12,500 in several months. For a 50-word review she found, she said, "enough information on the Internet so that I didn't need to read anything, really." For a 300-word review, she spent "about 15 minutes reading the book." Early last year, Rutherford was forced to shut down GettingBookReviews.com, in large part because of one unhappy customer's many posts about it and because Google suspended Rutherford's advertising account because Google doesn't approve of ads for paid favorable reviews.
The problem of paid reviews has risen because in the digital age so many books are being sold online, where consumer reviews have become exceedingly important, and self-publishing has grown dramatically, leading authors to do anything--even pay for positive reviews--to get attention.
One of the biggest GettingBookReviews.com stories involved John Locke, best-known as the first self-published author to sell more than a million e-books through Amazon. While Locke downplayed the help he got by buying 300 reviews from the service, Todd Rutherford said that Locke did not give him proper credit.
Locke and others who pay for reviews may have benefited handsomely: Amazon reportedly does major online and e-mail marketing pushes for books that receive a certain amount of four- and five-star reviews, efforts that are greater than for some established authors. These programs have created bestselling authors, some of whom were then signed by traditional publishers. According to some in the business, Amazon has not been diligent about recognizing paid-for reviews.
Our favorite (five stars) line from the article:
"It used to take the same time to produce a book that it does to produce a baby. Now it takes about as long as boiling an egg."
Our review of the Times article (for free): a downer, but read it!
New Bookstores Planned for Queens, New York
Early next year, Lexi Beach plans to open the Astoria Bookshop in Astoria in Queens in New York City, the Daily News reported, observing, "It will be the only independent bookstore in Queens to sell mainstream titles."
Beach "manages accounts for a website that sells digital audiobooks" and is arranging author events to promote the store in advance of opening. "I'm confident that a good portion of the community will be very excited about having a place to buy books locally," Beach told the paper. "Obviously, anyone with a computer or smartphone can buy books online, but there's something about a bookstore, a physical place to go and browse books, that is special."
And Faye Skandalakis, who opened the Story Nook in February in a small section of babyNOIR, an Astoria children's boutique, said she hopes to open a children's bookstore "within a year or so."
Moby Dickens (and Cats) Change Hands
Susan Bachrach, who founded Moby Dickens Bookshop, Taos, N.Mex., nearly 30 years ago with her late husband, Art, has sold the bookstore, Taos News reported.
Bachrach said that the store "has brought us more joy than you can imagine. I love to put something into people's hands that I know they are going to enjoy." Art Bachrach died in late 2011.
The new owners of Moby Dickens are Jay and Carolyn Moore, who moved to New Mexico from Dallas, looking for a job or investment opportunity. Told about Moby Dickens by a broker, the Moores stopped by one night after closing. "They peeked in the windows and both fell in love," the paper wrote.
Jay Moore, who is 38, told Taos News that he was initially wary of owning a bookstore in the Internet age. "Everybody said we were insane," he said. But, "I just felt in my heart that it was the right thing."
The couple plan to update some of the store, including adding "new bookkeeping" and expanding its online presence, but otherwise keep it the same. Most important, store cats Tony and Mable (r.) are staying, as Bachrach specified.
"We really want to respect what Art and Susan have done here," Moore said. "It's not just a bookstore. It's an icon in Taos."
Bookery Nook to Close This Friday
The Bookery Nook and Ice Cream Parlor, Denver, Colo., is closing this coming Friday, August 31. On the Bookery Nook's Facebook page, Shannon and Gary Piserchio, who founded the store a little more than three years ago, wrote, "As most of you are aware, e-books really took a dent out of our book sales starting two Christmases ago and things only got worse after this last Christmas. We introduced ice cream last summer and the sales made us very optimistic for this summer. However, ice cream sales took a nose dive despite increased advertising. We had an opportunity that would have kept the bookshop going indefinitely, but that just fell through, so now we have a short time to wrap everything up."
They added, "It's been a great experience for us and we've thoroughly enjoyed being part of this wonderful community. It's very sad for us, of course, but we will always cherish the friendships we made and we'll always hold Tennyson Street and the neighborhood close to our hearts."
MSU Bookstore Had Increasing 'Shrinkage'
More about Missouri State University Bookstore, whose director, Mark Brixey, resigned August 17 after auditors concluded that in the past three years he had embezzled at least $400,000.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, as part of the current bookstore audit, "weeks ago Brixey was asked to explain a $16,000 check to the university that he appeared to have cashed instead of deposited. Brixey, who was off work, insisted he still had the check and that it was in his locked desk in his office, according to [MSU chief of staff Paul] Kincaid. The auditors had an extra key, and in looking for the check found the $81,000 in cash. Some of the money was banded; most of it was loose. The smallest bill was $10."
Brixey offered no explanation of the disparities and resigned the day he would have been fired. The school hopes that a theft insurance policy will cover its losses.
In addition, the News-Leader discovered that in the past few years, the store has had a growing problem with "shrinkage," with its rate of loss because of employee theft, shoplifting and vendor error jumping to 2.54% in 2010 and 3.49% in 2011, for a two-year total of $609,500. (The store's revenue in the last fiscal year was just over $15 million.) It's not known how much of this is or isn't related to Brixey's embezzlement.
The paper obtained the information through Missouri's open records law.
Designers & Books Fair Makes Debut in October
The inaugural Designers & Books Fair takes place on the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology, at 27th St. and Seventh Ave., in New York City October 26-28. Created by Steve Kroeter, founder of designersandbooks.com, the fair will feature appearances by Todd Oldham, Simon Doonan, Andre Leon Talley, Michael Graves, Billie Tsien and Paul Goldberger, among others, who will talk about architecture, fashion, graphic design, interior design, landscape architecture, product and industrial design, and urban design--all with a focus on books.
Publishers and rare and oop book dealers will exhibit and sell books; author will do signings. Attending publishers include ACC, Actar, AMMO, Artbook DAP, Bauer & Dean, Lars Muller, MIT, Paint Box, Norton, Princeton Architectural Press, Rizzoli and Thames & Hudson.
Obituary Note: Josepha Sherman
Author and editor Josepha Sherman died on August 23 at the age of 65 from early-onset Alzheimer's.
She wrote, anthologized and contributed to an amazing amount of fiction and nonfiction titles, mostly science fiction, fantasy, folklore and mythology. In 1990 she won the Compton Crook Award for the novel The Shining Falcon.
A memorial service, with an emphasis on sharing memories and celebrating her life, will be held Wednesday, August 29, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art, 138 Sullivan St., in New York City. Anyone planning to attend should RSVP to email@example.com.
Image of the Day: Elevation Readjustment
On Saturday night, Shelf Awareness hosted a Down from the Mountain party for Craig Popelars, marketing director at Algonquin, who had just climbed to the top of Mount Rainer. Booksellers from as far away as Portland, Ore., and Bellingham, Wash., came to welcome him back to sea level. Here from l.: Richard Jobes, Shelf Awareness's CFO; Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain; Paul Hanson, community outreach director, Village Books, Bellingham; Paul Haskins, who also climbed Mount Rainier; and Popelars.
Book Trailer of the Day: Hollywood Enigma
Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews (Hollywood Legends) by Carl Rollyson (University Press of Mississippi). The trailer is a Rollyson production.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Political Books for Conventioneers
Today on MSNBC's Martin Bashir: Michael Grunwald, author of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781451642322).
Today on Sirius XM Radio's Cover to Cover and Book Radio: Stuart Woods, author of Blue Water, Green Skipper: A Memoir of Sailing Alone Across the Atlantic (Putnam, $26.95, 9780399161117).
Today on ABC Radio's John Batchelor Show: David Crist, author of The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran (Penguin, $36, 9781594203411).
Today on a repeat of the View: Rielle Hunter, author of What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me (BenBella Books, $24.95, 9781937856403).
Tomorrow morning on Fox & Friends: Mike Gallagher, author of 50 Things Liberals Love to Hate (Threshold, $27, 9781451679250).
Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, a discussion of e-books and libraries.
Tomorrow on NPR's On Point: Mike Lofgren, author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (Viking, $25.95, 9780670026265).
Tomorrow night on the Daily Show: Senator Marco Rubio, author of An American Son: A Memoir (Sentinel, $26.95, 9781595230942).
Books & Authors
Awards: Lane Anderson Science Writing Shortlist
Finalists have been named for the Lane Anderson Award for Canadian-authored science writing, Quillblog reported. The two category winners, who will each receive $10,000, will be announced September 27. The shortlisted titles are:
Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System by Ray Jayawardhana
Cascadia's Fault: The Deadly Earthquake That Will Devastate North America by Jerry Thompson
The Atlantic Coast: A Natural History by Harry Thurston
What Does the Earth Sound Like? 159 Astounding Science Quizzes by Eva Everything
Totally Human: Why We Look and Act the Way We Do by Cynthia Pratt
Nowhere Else on Earth: Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon
Review: Telegraph Avenue
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (Harper, $27.99 hardcover, 9780061493348, September 11, 2012)
Anyone searching for a Dickens-like portrait of early 21st-century Oakland need not look any further than Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, a love letter to the scrappy, distinctive community adjacent to his Berkeley home.
The central setting is Brokeland Records, a "church of vinyl" on the street that gives the novel its name. Co-owners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, an often fractious pairing of black and white, find their used records business threatened by the impending construction of a "Dogpile Thang," an entertainment complex owned by Gibson Goode, a Magic Johnson-style ex-athlete and entrepreneur. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are partners in a midwifery business, while Nate and Aviva's son, Julius, develops an intense attraction to 14-year-old Titus, the son Archy learns he has fathered when the boy returns to California after his mother dies.
Chabon is most intrigued by the daily struggles of these characters to survive the challenges of love, work and family, and he knits their lives together in a dense web of incident and reflection. There's an undercurrent of racial tension manifest in everything from Gwen's confrontation with a white physician after a near-disastrous home birth to the relationship between Titus and Julius. The novel toys with a subplot involving a 1970s murder associated with Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party, but that distant event serves more to give Chabon a chance to deliver some scenes reminiscent of Elmore Leonard than to add much narrative drama.
Chabon's high-wire prose style, on the other hand, couldn't be less Leonardesque; it's one of the novel's consistent pleasures. Those narrative pyrotechnics are displayed most vividly in the brief middle section entitled "A Bird of Wide Experience." In a single sentence that spans 12 pages, he offers a literal bird's-eye view of the principal characters as they experience the "heartaches and sorrows of Telegraph Avenue." Whether it's classic jazz and blues, the world of blaxploitation films of the 1970s or the intimate details of childbirth, Chabon demonstrates command of an impressive array of subjects that gives the novel the feel of real life. With creations like musician Cochise Jones and his talking parrot, or Archy's father, Luther Stallings, who dreams improbably of reviving his film career as a minor league version of Bruce Lee or Richard Roundtree, Chabon's characters are never less than memorable.
Complex, earnest and generous of spirit, Telegraph Avenue adds to Michael Chabon's stature as one of our most vital contemporary writers. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Shelf Talker: Michael Chabon's seventh novel illuminates the lives of a diverse group of colorful characters brought together around a used record shop in Oakland, Calif.