Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Bookshelf Blog

I admit, I've got a lot of stuff bookmarked that I never get around to posting; a lot of them lately have been bookshelves, because I've been loving the design blogs. Now, I don't have to (although, readers who wish I'd post more...sorry): BOOKSHELF is a blog devoted to...bookshelves.

I'm more talky than a lot of other blogs, so I'll probably still link if there's things to say. As an amateur writer, I can't fall into the "post a picture and three words" kind of blogging, which is what disappoints me most about a lot of other blogs. The Bookshelf blog does a good job of compiling, but has sadly little to say. If you love bookshelves so much, wouldn't you want to gush?

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Forgotten Books and New Media

Over at The Infomercantile, I posted an ad I found in a library-industry magazine from 1968. Race relations were definitely at a head, and the ad was promoting a "forgotten" list of Negro-focused books, many of which from the 19th century (I believe they were public domain even in 1968). I found that most every book listed in the ad is still available today, many of which for free from various sources.

Back in '68, there was a firm structure for how books were published and distributed -- it left a lot of control in the publishers and distributors, and less in the hands of bookstores and customers. With the advent of the internet, two sides are benefiting most: publishers and customers. Publishing has become enormously cheap, provided you look at new technology models (eBooks, POD), and customers can ask for and receive most any publication they'd ever want. As you can see flipping through LuLu, quality is all over the board -- but that's not bad according to capitalists; you need the wide range of quality and value in order to have a truly open market. Middlemen, of course, dislike open markets because it reduces their influence over what's sold and for how much. Markets which can circumvent salespeople has a huge negative impact on those middlemen, and when publishers say the new market hurts them, it's largely because the impact on distribution has climbed the chain and they had no other plan. Distributors go under, inventory is lost or siezed, and that results in loss for the publisher.

Bookstores, as is lamented so many places, has received a large brunt of this new technology impact. People love bookstores for their cultural and social aspects -- but the ability for customers to get books from other places, the problem of how to carry sellable books out of so many available, has quashed so many sellers' operations. Figuring out how to continue to provide the societal value of a bookstore, despite diminishing value as a seller of books, is the toughest aspect for bookstores to overcome. It requires a niche, fulfilling a need.

The original ad, however, does have a purpose: there was a need in the marketplace, and the publisher saw the niche to fill and took it. They made it easy to stock African-American focused books without requiring the stereotypical white, female librarian to do much research. Publishing today has a similar need: publishers are running full-force into meeting the needs and niches they saw twenty years ago; I can't say we've been the most successful at it, but there's a need for a certain type of publishing business might not be the same as the publishers remember from fifty years ago (which is good) and it might not be the same as the business model that once supported independent bookstores (which is bad), but there will be a need for books, whether it was 1968 or is today: books are here, used, and needed...somehow, a model for book distribution will evolve that will profit businesses and writers, but it's scary now and hard to believe that someday people will look back and wonder how the book business stayed afloat in the 20th century.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In Hot Pursuit of Book Thieves

I have not much to say about this, except to recommend you read it: Paul Constant writes about working in a book store and dealing with shoplifters. People shoplift from a book store? Barnes & Noble has those security gates for a reason, you know.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Girl Covers

Good Girl covers are those mildly sleazy, kinda-sexy, pulp covers that were all over the market in the 50s, 60s, and somewhat into the 70s. While publishers couldn't print genuinely sexual and lurid content, they often went all whore-y on the covers. Just look at the amount of unsexy Perry Mason paperbacks with semi-nude women on the cover -- the one on the right is from the wifey's private collection. (via)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Wall-Mounted Book-Light

It's not exactly the "clip to the dustjacket' booklight, but I'm sure it can still be used for reading. As I always do, I wince at the idea of dismembering a book, but I soften when I see how ingenious and pretty the results can be. The creator was being very responsible by recommending only a small-wattage bulb (paper plus high heat equal bad news), but the current crop of fluorescent bulbs would probably do quite well. I suspect you don't want to go too bright or it may lose some of the ambiance; this book-lamp is akin to a wall sconce -- designed to throw light in a beautiful way rather an a functional form. Imagine a library with these on all 4 sides of the columns holding up the vaulted ceiling, or one of those 11x14 Atlases of the World. Very nice.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 03, 2008

Reciting Farenheit 451 From Memory

As a meta-reference to Bradbury's excellent book, a student at Northwestern has memorized the content of Fahrenheit 451 for the purpose of recitation. At the end of the book, former firefighter Guy Montag escapes from his world and meets up with a community of book-lovers whose sole desire is to read and memorize books, so that their contents will not be lost to reckless destruction. The performance, excruciatingly long at 6 hours, did show the human flaw in Bradbury's dystopia: the human mind is fallible and the student was unable to perform without referring to the book. I've acted before, and it's tough enough to memorize just my own lines benefited by reacting to outside cues, let alone hundreds upon hundreds of words as a single sequence (although oral traditions do show that, with the right training and culture, it can work). If anything, it's an emphasis on how we need books in a permanent, bound way, one resistant to the random loss of data, whether in a brain or in a computer.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Short and Free Books Bring New Readers

Since I'm a small-time publisher, this topic is of interest to me: how do people learn about new books? When I say 'new,' I mean new to the reader, not just recently-street-dated books. When I think back to some of my more favorite books, they came from a small number of sources:
  • Browsing a bookstore;
  • Recommended in school;
  • Recommended by friends.
So, how much of this is influenced by a publisher's advertising and review copies? The first one is probably the only one -- as near as I can tell, recommendation by authorities and acquaintances are the two primary ways everyone I know reads. While reading a review may have been handy, I can't think of a book I've bought based solely on a review. The 'browsing' one has gained a huge foothold in online stores like Amazon: you don't have to rely on what can fit into a cramped storefront or Borders' bottom line. Since online stores hold a heck of a lot more than retail, there's more opportunities to find something new.

So, how does a book improve its chances of being recommended? Neil Gaiman says free copies is a huge influencer -- the low risk to the reader lets them be more adventurous in what they read. If a couple people who got a free copy recommend a couple new readers, in theory the marketer has improved their customer base. A lot of publishers sell their remaindered books to discount chains, but we keep them here and send them out as review copies and, from time to time, do a mass donation to libraries around the country. While this reduces our bottom-line profit, one copy in a library has a chance of passing through dozens of hands -- or it might be sold at a FOL sale for four bits to someone who might not have otherwise bought it even for $2 at a discount store. Might those copies end up on eBay? Yeah, probably; but, again, if they're that valuable, our sales are better. If not, some eBayer is going to buy it for a buck plus shipping, again reducing their risk in the chance of reading something crappy. Big publishers, the tightest of publishers, probably spend a buck to print a hardcover with a dustjacket; do they give them away for free? Not a chance. Small publishers like us spend a couple bucks per TPB , but everything we've seen is that you get better exposure by giving away $500 in free copies than a dinky, two-color advertisement in the back of a magazine for $500. (by the way, if you're wondering how to get a free copy from a publisher, your best best is to ask -- you might have to claim to be a reviewer, but to avoid being called a liar make sure to write a review at Amazon or your blog when you're done).

That possible risk for readers is also a driving force behind the increase in shorter books. Although, from looking at the reasoning evidenced in the NPR story, the problem isn't that books are getting smaller, but that publishers have been driving for big-bucks with huge books. Go look at a paperback from the eighties or earlier: they're in relatively large print on small pages, printed all the way out to the edge of the paper, and they still can only hit 200 pages. And they used to release darn near everything in paperback form: novels, biographies, business advice, joke books. In an attempt to increase revenues from books, publishers started spending more money on acquiring writers who produce larger books that they can charge more for. And they did away with the small-format paperback, charging twice as much for the same content in a slightly larger shape. Readers, in return,balk at the time and money to devote to reading a $19.99, 550-page book when they would gladly have spent $4.99 on a 250-page book for an afternoon of reading fun. So, to improve flagging revenue, publishers give larger advances to proven writers, and get the writers to produce more and which readers responds, "too long, too expensive." I'd say this is a balancing out of that cycle -- readers want to be entertained, and you can't be entertained if you're afraid of how you're going to afford it.

Labels: , , , ,