Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Penguin Press: Winter by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Ecco Press: Varina by Charles Frazier

House of Anansi Press: The Break by Katherena Vermette

Algonquin Books: Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal

For Fun

Administration to Bail Out Book Biz

As the latest part of its effort to stabilize key sectors of the faltering U.S. economy, the Treasury Department this week is bailing out the book industry. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced a series of far-reaching measures in a surprise press conference late last night.

Among other measures, the government is making significant cash infusions into Borders Group, Baker & Taylor, a range of independent bookstores and selected publishers and taking ownership positions in the affected companies. 

Another key element of the effort is "the toxic asset dispersal program," which has both bookselling and publishing components. On the bookselling level, the program aims to deal primarily with piles of unsold books, whose sales the government will guarantee in an effort to keep them from being returned to publishers--and thus causing "catastrophic" backward bottlenecks in the supply chain and collapse of publishers' and wholesalers' balance sheets.

At the same time, the government aims to defuse publishers' main toxic assets by covering all advances over $1 million on yet-to-be-published books. It is, however, planning to seek reimbursement of many recent "questionable" advances, among them, former President George W. Bush's $7 million, Audrey Niffenegger's $5 million and US Airways Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's estimated $2.5 million-$3 million. By demanding the voluntary return of most of those advances, the Obama Administration also hopes to fend off bills introduced in the House and Senate to tax such advances at a rate of 90%.

Geithner noted that it is not just book industry employees who might be affected were the book industry allowed to fail. The professional lives of loggers, printers, shippers, truckers, UPS and FedEx drivers, creative writing teachers, book bloggers and used booksellers are also imperiled. Many millions of ordinary Americans who list their titles on Amazon and other Internet services are at risk. Members of the publishing industry itself would lose the extra cash they earn at the Strand and by selling online.

Reaction has been varied.

William Ackman, head of the hedge fund that is Borders's largest shareholder, has offered to take a 10% discount from the $30 million retention bonus he has demanded for his firm. "I'm taking this gracious step in the spirit of cooperation, the spirit of everyone being in this together," he said. "My generous offer to lower the payment is a sign, too, that we value this industry as deeply as any of the others we target. Who else cares enough to make the tough choices about which costs to cut and which people to fire?"

Len Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, noted that he had contributed millions of dollars to the Democratic Party over the years, and was seeking a contribution return bailout, considering that his major competitors are now receiving government assistance.

Representatives of Castle Harlan, which owns Baker & Taylor, had no public comment, but sources close to the private equity fund said that it is investigating whether in this era of contracts that are no longer ironclad, it might be able to reverse its 2006 purchase of the wholesaler from Willis Stein & Partners.

Among programs that will be put into effect by American Borders and Baker, Taylor & Geithner and the other federal-private enterprise book partnerships:

  • An effort to encourage retailers to remainder in place, which is being branded "Books: RIP."
  • A stimulus element called Barack Book Bucks, consisting of electronic cards and coupons redeemable only at bookstores that will be distributed on Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, at Starbucks outlets, Apple and AT&T stores, movie theaters, shopping centers and warehouse clubs. "We're going where the people are," a Treasury Department spokesperson said.
  • A special 50% "buy local tax"--a federal levy--on all online book sales.
  • Internet-free Wednesdays, during which the government will shut down the Internet in an attempt simultaneously to boost reading, sales at bricks-and-mortar stores, social interaction and productivity in the American workplace.

At a press conference this morning, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that while the federal government has a reluctance about owning banks and auto manufacturers, book-related ventures are a different matter. "I love books," he said. "I can't wait to visit the facilities, find a couple good titles and curl up in the corner for a nice afternoon's read. Isn't that what booksellers do?"

Geithner's enthusiasm for the book business is shared by President Obama. A red-hot author, the "book dude-in-chief" is doing his part to help the industry bailout effort by writing several new books that will appear this fall. This reverses a decision he made earlier in the year not to write any more books until after his third or fourth "economic emergency" term.

In a similar vein, the State Department is working with the U.K. Home Secretary to persuade through magic or trickery J.K. Rowling to continue the Harry Potter series as soon as superhumanly possible.

Likewise, reacting to requests by German authorities, who are concerned about the longterm viability of Bertelsmann/Random House, U.S. officials are crafting a program with the code name Novus Opus Dei that aims to get Dan Brown to finish his next book, which has repeatedly been postponed. If the MS does not arrive by specified dates, an escalating series of "persuasions" will be used for the author of The Da Vinci Code, such as requiring him to wear a hairshirt, having an editor go over his book before publication and deportation to Vatican City.

Also President Obama, an avid reader, is launching a book club with Oprah Winfrey. Called the Double O Book Club, the joint venture will feature titles from "distressed" publishers and be tweeted from the White House.--John Mutter

 


Quirk Books: My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris


BEA to Leave Javits Center, Disperse Across City

BookExpo America, which recently announced major changes--including a permanent presence in New York City and midweek dates instead of weekends--is making yet more changes. They will be effective with this year's show, to be held in New York at the end of May.

Reached for comment while standing outside the HarperCollins building selling pencils, BEA v-p and show director Lance Fensterman said, "We're looking forward yet again to hosting the preeminent English-language gathering of the book industry in the world. We believe that the changes we are implementing will further establish the show as a must-attend event for everyone who's left in the business."

Among the changes:

BEA is moving out of the Javits Center and will be held at a variety of locations in New York City. Fensterman called the move a "liberating" decision that will make the show "a movable feast. We plan to take advantage of Manhattan, the setting for so many novels, the center of American publishing, the home of Barnes & Noble, a place with such resonance for the book business internationally. Having the show wander, as it were, will allow the industry to have more contact with the people who read what it creates. It will also allow exhibitors to exhibit in venues appropriate to them. For example, some sports books publishers will be at Citi Field in Queens for the Mets series against Florida (and may add revenue by selling peanuts and Cracker Jack). Likewise, gardening and outdoor publishers will cultivate customers in Central Park and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Several publishers with strong cocktail and beverage book lines will be lining the bars on Seventh Avenue."

Fensterman added, "We expect larger publishers to split up the exhibits so that, for example, a big house may highlight some financial titles in a booth on Wall Street while it hawks liberal political memoirs and histories on the Upper West Side. Cutting-edge, hip publishers will be in the East Village and make forays into Williamsburg. Librarians will hold some programming at the main library on Fifth Avenue.

"International publishers will exhibit at the United Nations, while some national collective stands will be hosted in the appropriate consulates. Gay and lesbian publishers are expected to have booths on Christopher Street and in Chelsea. African-American events will be held in Harlem. If it has a board quorum, the American Booksellers Association will hold its annual meeting at its headquarters in Tarrytown. (Because of the economy, the association is canceling plans for the Hotel ABA in Brooklyn. Booksellers who had planned to stay there are invited to overnight at the association's offices.)

Opening BEA events will be held in the Dr. Seuss Room at Random House. Keynote speaker Paul "Glass Is Totally Empty" Krugman will speak to attendees via satellite because his safety cannot be guaranteed. During the show, Fensterman himself will offer hourly comedy routines in Bryant Park. (He promises that his material will "non-book-topical-like.") The closing event on Sunday is a cash-bar get together in the main room of Grand Central Terminal, convenient to publishing executives' last trains out of town to Westchester and Connecticut.

Unofficial events abound. Some publishers will exhibit in their own offices, using various draws to entice trade visitors, including free food and drink and overnight lodgings in conference rooms. Invitations to the two publisher parties planned so far are in high demand, the blog site Publishers Weekly reported. At least one entrepreneur has organized a "Vanished Manhattan Book World" walking tour, whose highlights include visits to sites of defunct bookstores as well as restaurants where editors and agents used to have expense account meals.

Among BEA educational seminars and presentations:

* One Is the Fullest Number. Jane Friedman will discuss her new-concept publishing house, which will launch later this year. To be called One, it will put out one title a year. It will publish one copy of the book, relying on POD and e-book versions for sales. After its first year, it will have a backlist of one title. Friedman will be the only employee and reports happily to herself.

* The New Swindle: A Virtual Handheld Bookstore. Hear about this new Amazon product. Press a button on the device and a virtual bookstore with cats, cappuccino and artificial intelligence booksellers appears all around you. In 30 seconds, a droid will be handselling an e-book, BBQ grill, shampoos and telling you to have a nice day seconds before you logout. CEO Jeff Bezos giggled, "We've often heard from customers that they miss the 'real' interaction of going to their local bookstores, so we've created the Swindle just for them. No more worries about parking, walking or unnecessary human interaction. Version one is already out of stock, and version two will have slightly less creepy-sounding voices. For version three, we're developing a mask you wear with it, in which a virtual bookstore smell that we've patented is puffed into our customers nostrils."

* Down 60% Is the New Up: Bookselling in Modern Times. Three booksellers from across the country will discuss what it's like selling in a depression. Meet rain or shine at the soup kitchen on the corner of Twelfth Avenue and 28th Street.

* Pick of the lists. Among other presentations, Craig Popelars, marketing director for Workman, will introduce the house's very limited, collector's edition version of Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Rather than the more typical precious metal page leafing, the entire page block will be subjected to careful flame lapping prior to hard binding in a cover made from the fire-proof material used for firefighters' suits. As a coup de grace, the finished book will be packaged in a genuine fire alarm wall casing with a glass window, small hammer and instructions to "break glass in case of literary emergency." Popelars, who claims to have worked tirelessly on the project for months, said, "With a not-so-subtle price of $451, and the subtly applied scent of gasoline emanating from every page, demand should be epic!"

* Austerity R Us. Hear panelists from across the industry discuss how they're saving money. Among examples: the sales rep who ditched her wasteful car for Greyhound and Amtrak and the "green" assistant editor who refuses to print out MSs or makes photocopies--or much else, for that matter.

* The New Standard Book. Learn more about the new downsized standard book format being promoted by the AAP and BISG. (Excuse us: not downsized but rightsized!) The new format is 3" x 3", roughly the size of a smartphone--if a smartsphone were square. Presenters discuss the many advantages of the New Standard Book: it can fit easily in most pockets and bags; it is remarkably cheap to make, ship and store; its weight is barely noticeable; it encourages shorter narratives, which are so important in this ADD era. Only two "small" problems: the New Standard Book uses more hyphens than its predecessors, and the upcoming 23-digit ISBN takes up several pages.

--John Mutter, with many thanks to Jenn Risko, who contributed the item on Amazon's virtual handheld bookstore, and Alex Baker, who lit up the Workman item.

 


Trinity University Press: Arte Kids - Bilingual Board Books


Robert Gray: Smashmouth Bookselling for Hard Times

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a cool idea of the day, but Craig Wilkins of Best of All Possible Bookshops has an intriguing new concept for increasing sales at the retail level--smashmouth, trash-talking, in-your-face handselling.

Wilkins said he realized last summer, as the economy began to slide, that his problem as a bookseller was "the damned readers. They weren't listening to me and even when they came to the bookshop, they often slipped out with no purchase."

Instead of the traditional, cooperative, conversational, low-impact approach to bookselling, he began taking the fight directly to his opposition. "Essentially, I make them eat their words," Wilkins said. "We don't let them out of the bookstore until they've bought books."

And if his customers think they can avoid all this by simply not coming to the shop, Wilkins has a little news flash for them. "I know where they live and I have a van," he said, touting the advantages of an up-to-date mailing list. "We go to their houses just like Amazon does and make them buy books, but with the added incentive of actually being there in person so they have to look us in the eye to say no rather than simply moving a cursor over to a toolbar and switching to the Desperate Housewives website."

For booksellers considering this approach, Wilkins cautioned that the most important step is game preparation and execution--the Xs and Os. "You must have your head in the contest at all times," he advised, "looking for weaknesses, ready to adjust to the flow and not get caught by surprise. So many things can happen during a sales transaction, but a gifted smashmouth bookseller will always be ready to move and hit, move and hit, reacting again and again to the changing momentum of a confrontation with an underachieving opponent . . . um, customer."

I was fortunate enough to be in his bookstore during one of these smashmouth handselling sessions recently. A customer entered, and instead of the traditional greeting ("Good morning; may I help?"), Wilkins moved aggressively from behind the counter and rushed the newcomer with an all-out blitz, reaching his foe as the customer plucked a copy of Snow by Orhan Pamuk from a Staff Picks display.

"You don't deserve that book!" Wilkins screamed, snatching it away.

"Why not?" the customer asked timidly, looking for an escape route. But Wilkins had him cornered.

"You aren't smart enough, pal."

"Sure I am."

"Yeah? Prove it! What was the best translation of a Pamuk novel before this one?"

"Um, Black Book?"

"Wrroonngg!" (Wilkins imitated the sound of a harsh buzzer)

"Oh, My Name Is Red?"

"Too late."

"But I want to read this book. I do!"

Now that Wilkins had his opponent caught up in the game, he went for the literary kill. Holding Snow just beyond the customer's reach, he said, "If you want to read this, you're going to have to buy five books by midlist authors, too."

"Why?"

"Because I said so and because if you're smart enough to read Pamuk, you're too smart to ignore these other books. Deal?"

"Deal." There was surrender in the customer's eyes, but also, oddly, pleasure. Was that the thrill of defeat?

Wilkins observed that while bookstore sales have slumped nationwide during the recession, his have actually held steady. Not one to be complacent, however, he recently sent out a threatening e-mail newsletter warning that if he doesn't see an uptick of at least 10% by the end of April, he will be making more house calls.

I asked Wilkins if he had any words of wisdom for prospective smashmouth booksellers, and he shared his basic, primal philosophy: "Your opponents read their books one page at a time just like you do. The best narrative defense is a good narrative offense. Our backs are to the shelf. We have to take this one book at a time. Reading isn't everything; it's the only thing."

 


Thomas Nelson: Perennials by Julie Cantrell



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