Oct 23, 2009

Librarians, Is This True?

Apparently these are Things Librarians Fancy. Is this true? Across the board? Can other book-related but non-librarian people fancy these things too? Just wondering.

Bookselling in Crisis

Dear all 5 or so loyal readers:

I'm going to repost here a post I wrote for the Odyssey store blog. It's about the state of crisis the bookselling industry is finding itself in - more-so than usual, I should say, since the industry as a whole is perpetually in a state of growth and change. This time, they've really done it. Who's "they"? Read on:

I am not generally an alarmist. Yet there have been some happenings as of late that have given me great concern.

Amazon.com, Wal-Mart (online), Target (online), and Sears (online) have entered into a price war that could shake the very foundation of the book industry, and subsequently, our independent bookstore, The Odyssey Bookshop. These big, primarily non-book retailers have begun offering new hardcover books by popular authors such as John Grisham, Stephen King, Sarah Palin, Barbara Kingsolver and the like, at enormous discounts. It began a few weeks ago with the new Dan Brown book, offered at up to 60% off online.

Let me explain very briefly that a book sold at a 60% discount, especially a new hardcover, is actually being sold at a loss for whatever establishment is selling it as such. In other words, not only did they not make any money on the book, they lost money on the book. Now, as much as the Odyssey loves connecting people with great books, we would not be able to do so if we did not turn some sort of profit. As a result, the Odyssey sold the book at a 20% discount, to thank our loyal customers who bought it from us, but which also allowed us to stay in business.

Back to the big corporates - as if the 60% off nonsense wasn't enough, they have entered into a price war with each other to see who can sell these new hardcovers for less. While you may think a book priced at $25-$30 being sold for $8.98 is a great deal for you, let me tell you why it is NOT:

Remember last winter when the Odyssey, and subsequently you, had the pleasure of being the only store in the country to host Stephen King and Richard Russo for their new novels? Well, say you bought the Stephen King or Richard Russo online. Do you think the publishers would send us these great authors if we had no book sales? Think again. The answer is NO.

That is just ONE of the MANY examples I could give you in concrete terms about how buying a new hardcover book online could affect us.

Now let me explain a more dire possible result - if a new author has slaved away on a magnum opus for years, and it finally gets published as a paperback original for $15.99 - but you bought an established author's new hardcover book for $8.98 last month, so why would you spend $15.99 on a paperback for some new person you've never heard of - everyone's work is devalued AND you may never discover a great new author.

Books are set at a standard industry price. What goes into that price? Besides the years of work an author has put into it, the years of work an editor has put into it, are also the manufacturing costs, the art costs, the printing costs, the shipping costs, the publicity costs, and then of course, the small margin of profit (really not as much as you'd think) so we can all make this capitalist society we live in go 'round.

If major corporations, who, BTW, are not even directly involved in the book selling business - and by this I mean they have no author events, they don't agonize over the quantity and quality of the books on their shelves, they don't recommend books to their customers, they don't give money to local charities, they don't partner with local schools, etc. - if these corporations are allowed to devalue books in this way, then soon the Odyssey Bookshop and other local independent bookstores will cease to exist.

Here is what we (the independent bookselling industry) is trying to do about it:

The Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association today sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it investigate practices by Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target that it believes constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.


October 22, 2009
The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530

Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,
We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week, Amazon.com, WalMart.com, and Target.com have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs -- acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. -- which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products -- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market -- as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.
It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by Amazon.com, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

"If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

For our members -- locally owned, independent bookstores -- the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.
We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.

ABA Board of Directors:
Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.--San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson's Bookshops--Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople--Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King's English Bookshop--Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop--Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore--Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store--Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore--New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore--San Francisco, CA)

CC: Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

If this price war outrages you as much as it does us, you have several options.

First, and foremost, please PLEASE PLEASE continue to support us and your other local independent bookstores by purchasing your books, hardcover, softcover, new and old, at our humble establishments.

Next, please be advocates for us and inform others in your life that buying their books at our businesses will help everyone.

For the holidays, please encourage everyone in your life that if they would like to honor you with a gift certificate, please do so from our store (or another local independent bookstore).

Politically, use this website to find out who your representative is in the House of Representatives and WRITE to THEM. Please tell this how you feel about this illegal and unjust price war conducted by these giants who do little to give back to their communities but do everything to take from them.

Read more about this by looking up related articles in the New York Times (US) and the Guardian (UK).

Thank you for your time, for your attention, and for shopping locally!

Oct 21, 2009

W.W.S.D.?, or What Would Sendak Do?

For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the past few months, or just don't access the internet, radio, newspapers, bookstores, or television (which amounts to the same thing), the live-action movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was just released last week.

No, I haven't s
een it yet myself. Yes, I might, but it's not high on my list of things-to-do. Pack, move, finish my grad school assignments, begin new grad school assignments, do laundry, get over this cold, and sleep all fall higher on the list than seeing this movie. So sue me.

What interests me is the array of mixed reactions I've seen, read, and overheard from the general populace. Generally, people without children have been excited to see it, people with young children have been dismayed by how "dark" it looks, children are bouncing up and down until they see the "dark" parts, teenagers are stoically apathetic while secretly reading a copy of the book in the corner with their friends - you get the point: everyone has a reaction, including Sendak himself.

Now, as some of you may be aware, there comes a time in most people's lives when an internal filter of socially acceptable behavior may malfunction. This can happen on purpose or accidentally, be in direct proportion to age (either old or young), be affected by outside factors (bad day) or inside stimuli (bad sleep, cold, headache, et
c.). For whatever the reason, we fail to consider or choose to disregard that something we may say or do could possibly be construed as slightly inappropriate or offensive (albeit often very funny for those simply observing).

While it may be more fun or even interesting to live life without these filters, most of us keep these filters well-tuned in order to co-exist peacefully. People even have role models and little catch phrases like W.W.J.D.? (What Would Jesus D
o? for all the Christian folk out there) or W.W.B.D.? (What Would Barbara (Streisand) Do? for all the Jewish folk out there) to remind themselves of the "proper" behavior.

I think, as a children's book seller, unpublished author, and book enthusiast, I shall take my example from someone of "my" world and say, W.W.S.D.? or What Would Sendak Do? Today's ShelfAwareness gave me my answer with this blurb about the illustrious Mr. Maurice Sendak:

"Maurice Sendak offered some short but direct advice for parents concerned that the film version of Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children. In answer to a Newsweek question ("What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?") he replied: 'I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate.'"

Now I know. When in doubt, follow Sendak's lead and tell them to go to hell. Hmmm...not sure how many books I'll sell that way, but what's good enough for Sendak is good enough for me!

Oct 16, 2009

Now I Know My ABCs...

This really should be subtitled "ode to the ABC book".

I'm probably not the ONLY person in the world who has a fascination with ABC books, judging by the number of them a) availa
ble, and b) recently published, but I'm finding that the ones I find absolutely, stunningly, drop-dead, a full 10, gorgeous (!), are not ones that fly off my shelves. So, I keep ordering them in and sending them back out, and sighing over them, and spending too much money adding them to my collection, and now, I'm going to bombard you with them too. Enjoy!

The book that inspired today's blog post:

Bembo's Zoo by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

(who I think also wins the coolest name award)

The illustrations are comprised of the letters it takes to spell that animal. For instance: MONKEY.

To see them all, go here.

To continue on the "type is amazingly cool" theme, check out Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. In this one, the animals are formed by the first letter of their name in different type fonts. Swoon.

Now, not to be too confusing, but after Alphabeasties comes Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards, featuring
intricately drawn illustrations of an animal whose name begins with whatever letter s/he's posing for, which is not to be confused with Graeme Base's tongue-twister Animalia, the illustrations of which are possibly even more intricate than Edwards's, but with the caveat that there's more than one 'letter' thing in each illustration.

For something really different, look for really retro design by Charley Harper. In both a chunky and a skinny ABC book version.

And last, but not least,
the most recently released
(so sorry that rhymed):

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman
(which, incidentally, also comes in a really vibrant floor puzzle version that I would have loved as a kid)

P.S. I get props for not mentioning a single B is for Baseball type of book in here. Cause you know I wanted to. But I'm in baseball mourning at the moment. I'm sure you understand. Next year in the holy land.

Oct 13, 2009

Procrastination Post

Considering I have about 100 pages worth of writing due on October 20th, I have a feeling I'll be coming up with many "procrastination posts" over the next 7 days.

Basically, whenever I'm struggling to finish a picturebook manuscript, I just feel lucky I'm not this guy. (It's a youtube link. Almost worth the 2.5 minutes of your life it'll take to watch it.)


Today's book rep showed me this picture on his laptop during his sales call. Totally appropriate, and entirely work-related. I made him forward it to me. I'm now sharing it with you. Tickled my funny bone; hope it tickles yours.

Oct 11, 2009

Word of the Day

I'm currently reading How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott - no, not as a bit of light reading, but actually for grad school - and came across this word today:


in this sentence: "Tenniel also chose to illustrate such verbal images as the Mock Turtle, and nonsensical portmanteau constructions such as Rocking-horse-fly and Bread-and-butter-fly" (213). What a neat word, I thought to myself, I wonder what it means. One of the reasons I wondered that is because, (besides being slightly obsessed with anything Alice in Wonderland-related), to me it seemed like one of those words that originally meant one thing, but over time had come to have all sorts of other meanings, and was being used in one of those secondary meaning ways in this very passage.
And wouldn't you know it? I was right.

Definition: 1. a case or bag to carry clothing in while traveling, esp. a leather trunk or suitcase that opens into two halves; 2. a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (as smog from smoke and fog)

Fascinating, no?

But it gets better!

I did a basic Google search for images, and the most amazing things popped up, one of which was this blog named Willy-nilly! At least one of you out there knows of my affection for the term "willy-nilly" (sometimes used in the phrase "willy-nilly style"), and now to discover a blog by the name, a blog which they, themselves, had already done a post on the word portmanteau, well, as you can imagine, this is a Red Letter Day in my book. Here's an actual blog named Portmanteau, and here's A.Word.A.Day's more in-depth definition of the word, if you're at all interested.

Just had to share. And now, back to those papers!

Oct 9, 2009

Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

As you might have guessed by the title of this blog post - Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it - I am not always such a fan of the oft-publisher-pushed addition to an established series, author, or beloved character.

The Toot & Puddle, Holly Hobbie, syndicated television show with accompanying merchandise? Awful. The originals - delightful!
Curious George
- same.
Fire, the "prequel/companion" book to Graceling by Kristen Cashore? Could have stood on its own two feet (and does - who needs the extra bits about Leck?).
Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry? In my humble opinion, she's a Time Traveler's Wife one-hi

And now, wonder-of-wonders for some, horror-of-horrors for others, after 80 years of treasured reading, Winnie-the-Pooh, formerly only by A.A. Milne, has been upstaged by an OTTER! Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus is an authorized addition to the series that, before now, consisted of Winnie-the-Pooh, House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six.

I confess that I am ranting without having actually picked up a copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood sitting on my shelves, but then, the fact that customers have been more excited about new editions of the original four than the newest fifth, make me believe we have similar feelings about this imposter in our midst.
The re-release of the hardcover original classics? Great!

The new audio editions of Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner read by Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry (among others)? Incredible!
This new otter? Who the heck is she, and what right does she ha
ve to inflitrate the Hundred Acre Wood?

It's not really the otter that I object to. I'm sure she's a very nice otter, and probably makes great friends with everyone in that "I've moved to a new high school in my junior year where everyone else has known each other since they played together in the bath as babies" sort-of-way. It's the principle of the thing - what was wrong with the original four? NOTHING! So, to repeat myself: if it ain't broke, why are we trying to fix it?

Now, to be fair, not all sequels, prequels, additions, and companions are terrible ideas, or even bad reads. My number one, desert island, top favorite, if I could only read one book for the rest of my life book is a *gasp* sequel, AND furthermore, it's *drumroll please* written by a different author than the original! I know! HUGE HYPOCRITE, you're probably thinking to yourself, and yes, I may be. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, is my absolute favoritest book.

There are others that fit this category that aren't so bad either. Peter Pan in Scarlet, for one, by Geraldine McCaughrean, is a great rompy Peter Pan addition. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was written in part by the original author, Betty MacDonald's, daughter Anne MacDonald Canham, who took half-written stories of her mother's and finished them after her mother's death; maybe that's what it holds up so well. Kenny and the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi's brilliant tribute to Wind in the Willows is one of my 2008 favorites. I'm also eagerly anticipating the release of Eoin Colfer's (author of the series Artemis Fowl) attempt at a sixth book, And Another Thing..., in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxey series by Douglas Adams.

So, hypocrite though I may be, I'm still just not thrilled over this otter situation. What do you think? Sequels, prequels, additions, and companion books, whether written by the original author or not, do you have favorites, or are there times you want to point out "when bad books happen to good authors/characters/series"?

(For more reading on this topic, check out the
NYTimes post on Winnie-the-Pooh's addition, and the AOL Living section.)

Oct 3, 2009

Ode to the Coffee Table Book

Dear Coffee Table Book,

It's been some time now since I've admired your glossy photo pages and larger format. 

Since I first cracked your spine, you've enchanted me with your miscellaneous in-depth information about a subject on which I will never be tested, but which deeply enriches some part of my soul. I drool on your full-page pictures and snippets of accompanying text, giving me tantalizing glimpses into worlds I'll probably only ever read about. 

You allow me to travel far beyond my resources, hampered only by the confines of my imagination. As I turn each page for further glances at sumptuous displays, I fancy myself able to jump right into that place and time, like Mary Poppins, Jane, and Michael popped into Burt's sidewalk sketches. 

One day, I hope to be able to offer you a place in my permanent collection. When I'm curled up in bed on an early morning, during a rainy afternoon, or at the end of a long day, I can comfort myself with lavish daydreams fueled by your bright renderings of unfamiliar landscapes, settings, and situations. Thank you for the countless hours of eye candy you've offered me.

Forever yours,