Archives for category: Bookstores

Shelf Awareness of 2 January reads:

Hold everything! The flagship McNally Jackson Books location in SoHo in New York City won’t be moving after all, according to Bowery Boogie, which broke the news last October that the store would move this year because of a rent increase.

Bowery Boogie’s report this morning reads in part: “Word on the street is now that the bookstore is to remain at 52 Prince Street. Its home of fourteen years. Several readers relayed word last week that McNally Jackson won’t be moving after all. An employee we spoke to at the store later confirmed.”

Last fall, owner Sarah McNally confirmed that the landlord of the 5,700-square-foot Prince Street store planned to raise the rent to $850,000 from $360,000. She indicated that she was close to signing a lease on a comparable space nearby that the store would move to this year.

McNally opened the Prince Street store in 2004 as McNally Robinson, part of the Canadian chain that her parents founded. In 2008, the store became independent and was renamed McNally Jackson.

McNally Jackson has several other stores. Last year, a second McNally Jackson bookstore opened in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. McNally Jackson also has two Goods for the Study stores, one near the SoHo bookstore and the other in Greenwich Village. And last August, Hudson Group announced that it will open a bookstore with McNally Jackson in LaGuardia Airport’s new Terminal B.

Photo: Christopher Bride/PropertyShark

Obviously welcome news; McNally Jackson is a great bookstore. They were the first NYC bookstore to have an Espresso Book Machine,* which may be less of a plus than we all once hoped it would be. But the bit of the announcement that gets me is that reference to the rent. $850,000! An increase of 236%. On a building that’s there, relatively modern, not by all appearances requiring any extra special maintenance. Just owned by someone who thinks they are entitled to more money. Presumably the new rent has been negotiated to some level between these two numbers: Sarah McNally herself described $360,000 as below market rate. But what a market: just because some clothing chain will pay more, why does that have to mean landlords should get as much as they want? As I have argued before we need to extend rent control from private apartments to essential business premises.

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* Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but the main use of the Espresso seems to have become self-publishers printing out copies of their own books. I haven’t asked, but I suspect the function I foresaw in my 2011 post, — printing up a copy of a book that was out of stock at McNally Jackson — is less common than I’d hoped.

Well, I’m not sure this is a battle they can win, but, as Shelf Awareness of 20 December tells us:

“The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, N.Y.*, has an answer for ‘showrooming,’ the habit of some bookstore customers to learn about books at bookstores and then order them online on their phones, sometimes in front of booksellers who just made the recommendation. Last weekend’s experience at the Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., was a timely reminder of this.

At the Golden Notebook, a sign on the front door reads, ‘Please inquire at counter regarding in-store photography. Thank you!’ As a result, wrote co-owner James Conrad, ‘we have no issue approaching a customer photographing and saying “excuse me, we do not allow in-store photography.” We then attempt a teaching conversation about how we struggle against the internet and how hard we work to find the unique and sometimes extremely hard to find types of titles that reflect our unique community and customers. Usually people are extremely apologetic and sometimes they just say nothing because we basically told them we know exactly what they were doing.

‘The sign also gives people the chance to just ask at the counter first and when they say they have a blog and want to promote us or live far away and can’t carry the hardcover home we say go ahead and photograph! (Just make sure to use an independent bookstore when you get home!)’

Conrad added: ‘Without the sign, you seem rude to mention it, but with it you can have a more polite moment to tell people the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face.'”

Now of course I don’t approve of selecting your books in your local bookstore and then buying them at a discount from Amazon, but while I’m sure a “no photography” sign helps, it can’t ever cure the problem. Once upon a time we didn’t all carry a camera around with us all the time, yet we were able, using that subversive technique called memory, or its lame-brained cousin hand-writing, to achieve a similar result. It’s not the cell phones which cause the problem, it’s the fact that on-line retailers can afford to (need to) use discounts to attract custom. Either we have to accept the fact that a proportion of the customers moving through will end up buying elsewhere at the lowest on-line price, or take up arms against the pathology, and offer discounts too. The discount doesn’t have to match Amazon’s, just something, so that people can feel they’ve negotiated a deal. Better to have more traffic than to miss sales surely. Some kind of straight-forward appeal on the subject next to the check-out counter might encourage many buyers to pay the full price: after all, people do buy books from bookstores at full price, and they must by now all be people who are fully aware of the fact that they could get the thing for less elsewhere.

Here comes a story from Vox (via BookRiot) suggesting that social media have in some cases been good for bookstores. Just reinforces the point that it’s people not technology that make the issue (and can overcome it).

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* An employee at The Golden Notebook is one of 333 individual booksellers to receive a Christmas bonus of $750 from 2018’s top-earning author James Patterson.

Mike Shatzkin wants us to remember that the growth in the number of independent bookstores which we see today is in fact stage two of a longer process. His piece at The Shazkin Files tells us of Ingram’s involvement in the 60s and 70s in creating an efficient, numbers-driven book market, which enabled bookstores to get stock a bit more smoothly. Would this have been enough to cause a renaissance? I wasn’t there, so I just leave that as a question.

All this comparative stuff seems a little pointless without recourse to numbers, and numbers are hard to come by. Open Education Database was telling us in 2011 that there were then more bookstores in America than in 1931, when there were apparently about 4,000. But what constitutes a bookshop rather than a place selling books is rarely defined. Department stores used to sell lots of books. Macy’s opened their first book department 1902. The final one shut down in 1994. Would they be included in the 4,000? Membership of the American Booksellers Association might give some comparative guidance but the earliest year for which Wikipedia tells us their membership numbers is 1991 when there were 5,200 members. Publishers Weekly told us in 2016 that there were then “1,775 ABA members with 2,311 outlets”. In any case membership numbers for the ABA include only stores that have decided to pay membership dues: we constantly run up against the same problem with publishers and the Association of American Publishers. Heck, it’s almost impossible to discover how many bookshops there are in New York City. I wonder if that man who’s just made a film about walking every block in the city could tell?  (There’s a trailer at that Gothamist link.) The answer’s almost certainly, No, even if he had walked with this burning question in the front of his mind. After all is a drugstore selling a few puzzle books a bookstore?

Selling books to people who want to read them is really what we all want. Once upon a time you had to harness up the horse and go into town. Cars brought about malls. Now we have other options. While we all value bookshops as a browsing spot and serendipity stimulant, we can’t really claim that they are, as they used to be, the only way to obtain reading material. Counting bookstores now seems like a pretty pointless exercise when almost half of all printed books are sold by Amazon, and around 80% of ebooks. The Shatzkin Files provide some recent numbers.* With a dominant competitor taking up all the sunlight, obviously independent bookstores have to flourish on specialization, local loyalty, personal connection, knowledgeable selection. All the indications thus far are that this is a gratifyingly viable strategy.

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* As so often the tone of the discussion is armageddon-flavored. For example “Legacy publishing below the Big Five is suffering more, seeing their market share increase at Amazon even faster than the major houses are.” How is it such a bad thing that Amazon is selling a higher proportion of the books published by these houses? They are selling them, aren’t they? A sale is a good thing. Bad would be a situation where Amazon wasn’t willing to sell books from smaller publishers and as a result the books didn’t get sold at all. Sure there’s a discount issue, but while publishers can bitch about that we can of course manage it. Somehow Amazon represents such a fundamental change to some people that they cannot resist the Pavlovian response which makes them witter on about the end of the world as they know (and love) it. Relax: it’s just another way to sell books. Ever bought music, shoes, jeans, electric lights, even a television, a car! on-line?

Market Watch reveals that Barnes & Noble’s list of suggested gifts for this Christmas includes only one book. Odd for what we think of as a large chain bookseller, but perhaps not altogether out of line with the preferences of the general public. The list is:

Gifts of “Comfort”:

  •  Black and White Houndstooth Long Reading Socks.
  •  Grey Heather Long Reading Socks.
  •  Black Heather Short Reading Socks.
  •  Grey and White Houndstooth Short Reading Socks.
  •  Flannel Seattle Puff Floppy Hat with Pom Pom.
  •  Flannel Seattle Puff Mittens.
  •  LapGear Designer Tablet Pillow – Plaid.
  •  Lilac Ash Seattle Puff Mittens.
  •  Lilac Ash Seattle Puff Snood.

Gifts of a “Magnolia Home”:

  •  “Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave,” by Joanna Gaines.
  •  Magnolia Home Gather Mini Tin.
  •  Magnolia Home Love Diffuser.

Gifts of “Creativity”:

  •  Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Camera Holiday Bundle.
  •  Original Buddha Board.

Gifts of “Festivity”:

  •  Blue Tote with Book Tree.
  •  Green Tote with Metallic Birch Trees.
  •  White Tote with Cardinals.
  •  White Tote with Snowman.

Gifts of “Tech”:

  •  Google Home Mini.
  •  Google Mini Mickey Mouse Speaker Mount.

Before we get too scandalized we should reflect on the fact that this single book represents an increase in book content over last year’s list.

I am aghast to note that though I count myself as a big reader I don’t own a single pair of reading socks, of any color! How have I been managing? NYRB’s Reader’s Catalog also offers socks, somewhat more literary in fact, but not pushed as reading socks. Are they missing a marketing opportunity?

On the other hand, let it also be said in fairness to Barnes & Noble that a few minutes of dedicated noodling around their website has failed to discover this list. There are just too many gift lists, chock full of boring old books, getting in the way. Here’s a page of 108 gift lists to ease your holiday gift giving choices. Those reading socks may be located in “Cozy Gifts” if any of you think that reading socks will up your literary throughput. Furthermore B&N’s commitment to books can be shown by their discounting 100 of them by 50% as reported by BookRiot, who pick up on Publishers Weekly.

Also, let it be said, we commentators constantly urge bookstores to widen their offerings to include items with wider margins and it really doesn’t behoove us to turn around and mock them about the results. Sorry B&N.

And let it further be said that it does seem B&N’s stock has rallied a bit recently, partly it’s true as a consequence of sale rumors. (That possible purchaser cold-shouldered by Mr Parneros, is said to have been in fact British chain W. H. Smith.)

Shelf Awareness reports on possible consolidation in the book wholesaling world. Apparently the FTC is mulling over the possibility of the purchase of Baker & Taylor by Ingram.

Reaction from the world of independent bookselling is predictably nervous. And rich in wishful thinking. “It is also intriguing to see how Barnes & Noble will find their future in relation to this topic”, Hiroshi Sogo, director of Books Kinokuniya, quoted at Shelf Awareness on 5 December, speculates. “As commonly known, the Barnes and the Folletts families were originally working together in Chicago before William Barnes moved to New York and tied up with G. C. Noble to set up the B&N business. In a way, it may be seen as a reunion of the parties after a hundred years or so.” (I for one didn’t know that.)

I’d imagine B&N has enough on its plate right now without worrying about preserving diversity in the wholesale business. Still, vertical integration is often an attractive option, and they do already publish books, so why not wholesale them too? They already have a network of warehouses around the country which would be an asset for a wholesaler. We’ve become so used to agonizing about Barnes & Noble’s future that a surprise like this might be seized upon as really good news.

Via Book Business Magazine we receive this tale of woe originating at The Bookseller.

Peter Donaldson, managing director of Red Lion Books in Colchester, relates

“A few days ago, a customer approached our counter. She had in her hand the just published, new edition of that wonderful reference work Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Endlessly fascinating, it is an idiosyncratic treasure trove of word history, culture, folk lore and legend—and one of my favourite books. At £45, the price was more than our customer was expecting. I encouraged her saying that running to 1,600 pages it’s a monster of a book and one that will be used time and time again. For the right person it will become a loved friend in the bookshelf for a lifetime. Looked at in those terms, the £45 seems less daunting; more an investment and lifetime resource.

However, it seems a less worthwhile investment when The Book People and Amazon are selling it for £12.99.

I am well aware that since the demise of the Net Book Agreement every retailer can set their own prices for all books. I also recognise that, like supermarkets, some retailers of books might sometimes choose to sell at an unrealistic price as a “loss leader”. However, we also all know that there is some relationship between the discount a publisher gives and the price that a company can realistically sell at.

I think it is clear that selling a new book at over 70% discount (plus free postage on a heavy book) is way beyond normal discounting of new titles and one can only presume that the publisher, Hachette’s John Murray, has given a discount which enables this. If so, then surely it is short-sighted. It undermines sales through high street shops, which are under enough pressure anyway. Shops that support and sell across the range of John Murray’s books.

If you consider the publisher’s earned income from a title across different market sectors, then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that, in reality, high street bookshops are subsidising the discounts given to online and direct-to-consumer operations like The Book People.

We and our customers are treated as mugs.

Brewer’s might be a relatively recent addition to the list, but I believe at least six generations of John Murrays will be turning in their graves!”

Now of course he’s right, isn’t he? Not necessarily I fear. The whole tale seems a little odd. As far as I can see, John Murray doesn’t in fact publish an edition of Brewer — though several other publishers do. It’s one of these popular reference books which has largely migrated to the special markets/promotional/remainder-table market, and all sorts of publishers compete for the lowest denominator buck. No doubt Mr Donaldson is referring to the Chambers 20th Edition of the book which was published on 1 November this year at £45 in hardback. (Chambers is also part of Hodder & Stoughton, which in turn is part of Hachette — acquisitions make for messy structures, so who knows whether Red Lion Books may not be ordering their Chambers books from the Murray rep?)

The Book People do indeed have a Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable for £18 but it’s a paperback of the 19th Edition, also listed as coming from Hodder & Stoughton. Amazon UK offers this edition at £13.93, while they do indeed show an offering of Mr Donaldson’s £45 hardback for £12.99. However if you drill down to the next level you’ll find that all the copies Amazon UK is offering are from partner sites, book dealers, and while there is indeed one copy offered at £12.99 most of them are over £30. Indeed one intrepid seller in Germany is trying to tempt you with a price of £51.09 (these odd looking prices on Amazon are usually translations from a different currency). It almost looks like Amazon hasn’t ordered this edition at all. Chambers published it a month ago, so it can’t be a matter of the books not having arrived yet. Maybe Amazon have decided that the market for Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is just too capricious to play in, and have decided just to leave it to the remainder-table market.*

One can sympathize with Mr Donaldson, clearly a fan of the book. A well-stocked bookstore should no doubt represent this book.  Maybe in addition to his £45 copy he might buy for 1 penny a “good” used copy of the 1981 edition as a discounted alternative.

The problem appears not to be with Chambers’ or Hodder & Stoughton’s discounting policies, and certainly not with John Murray’s. The problem is the modernization of the book market, enabling people to access books “slightly used” or allegedly “new” at all sorts of prices. Sure things were simpler with the Net Book Agreement. I used to like it when the telephone was tied to the wall, and you didn’t have to remember to take it with you, but now we just have to play along.

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* This explanation becomes rather less probable when one finds Amazon US offering the £45 book, as a regular Amazon-stocked item. They show their discounted price of $37.39 as being reduced from a published price of $59.95, consistent with a £45 UK price. This entry is just what one would expect from any regular book stocked by Amazon. It is a bit odd too though. Amazon lists publication date as 5 March 2019. The ISBN they show is the same ISBN as Chambers is using in the USA. The publisher who they say will be supplying this book in March next year is Teach Yourself, yet another imprint of Hodder & Stoughton.

However, as of today, you can buy a new copy of this book from Amazon US but you can’t get one from Amazon UK, where you can only get it from a partner dealer. Can it just be that Amazon UK is out of stock temporarily? If they cannot supply a book, Amazon will take down the publisher’s information leaving only any partner offerings there may be. If this is the correct explanation, it’ll be interesting to see what price they ask when/if it comes back into stock. However the book is currently available for instance from Waterstones at £45, and from W. H. Smith at (sorry Mr Donaldson) £29.25. Brave new world that has such discounts in it!

Websites with cultural aspirations (must include Making Book I suppose) love to reproduce photos of nice-looking book places.

Here’s a showing of bookshops and libraries in Scotland, followed by a library photo gallery from The Atlantic. Fascinatingly they both feature a phone box converted into a library from different ends of the UK. One wonders how people are meant to access the shelves in this Seoul library.

Photo: Aaron Choi/ Shutterstock

Even just to dust the books, if as I suspect, they’re only there for display.

Running a bookstore is obviously not quite the same thing as running any other business. I suppose there may be the odd ironmonger fascinated by those ancient pliers lurking in the back corner, but booksellers are surely more at risk of having strong feelings about their inventory than any other retailers. Still, if you open a bookshop and insist on stocking it only with books you love, you risk disappointment culminating in early financial embarrassment. On the other hand the reason why local independent bookstores are currently doing better than big chains is precisely this feeling of the stock being selected by someone with likes and dislikes, and who is there to talk about their choices.

NPR tells about the tweet storm (maybe just a tweet weather incident) consequent upon Southport, UK bookseller Broadhurst’s Bookshop‘s announcement “I have just sold a book that we have had in stock since May 1991. We always knew its day would come.” Their tweet is followed by several comments which are worth seeing.

Now, if Broadhurst’s were to inventory only books which they had held in stock for 25 years, they would of course not be doing too well. No business can afford to keep its capital tied up for that length of time — as book publishers have been forced to acknowledge over the last fifty years. It would make for an interesting study to work out the average age (time since it was printed) of books sold by publishers over the last century. I’d guess that nowadays the answer would be less than one year, whereas back in the sixties it might have been near two: obviously new books will always tend to sell more than back-list, so looking only at back-list one might find numbers more like 2-3 years today and 5-10 back then. We publishers used to love to hang onto those objects we so loved and had lavished such care and investment dollars on creating. I can remember in my early days in this business finding in the “slow-moving stock” part of the warehouse books which had been printed in the 18th century. We’d even wrap up slightly damaged books and keep them so we could sell them off years into the future when we’d begun to run out of stock. These were called first copies. All publishers overprinted in those days; there was a letterpress technological determinant driving this, and we went along with it happily. These books looked so good; we all cared deeply about them; and laying down a few years’ stock made us feel warm and virtuous. Just not a really good business plan, as we were eventually forced to recognize.

The tightly managed bookshop nowadays cannot afford to hold their inventory for too long; probably something like one year would be considered too long. Sitting on the sidelines one often gets the impression that large bookselling accounts are settling their bills with publishers by returning for credit books which they’d ordered a year ago. In this way they come close to acting like a consignment supplier — taking a cut on the sale of inventory which is actually owned by the publisher. Rigorous inventory control and profitability are (unfortunately for the sentimental bookman/booklady) essential to business survival. There’s a certain Quixoticism involved with 25-year old inventory, and the romantics among us should perhaps do whatever we can to encourage such behavior.

I particularly like the proposal of one of the respondents to the Broadhurst tweet who plans to go into bookshops and buy the book which has been in stock for the longest time. Such regular randomness should result in a fascinating collection of books: inevitably some of them will be good, won’t they? It’s sort of like hanging about in second-hand bookshops.

Thanks to Jeremy Mynott for the link.

Amazon, as we all know, has opted to place its second headquarters in two places: Long Island City in New York City and Crystal City adjacent to Washington, DC. Nobody (except presumably Amazon people) yet knows what’ll go here and what there. Apparently DC is richer in computer programmers, while NYC is the center of book publishing and media, retailing, advertising, and finance.

Shelf Awareness carries a report on reactions in the book community, which reads in part “In strongly worded letters to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, ABA CEO Oren Teicher wrote that ‘it is unconscionable that state tax dollars paid by [New Yorkers & Virginians] would be redirected to subsidize one of the world’s largest — and most profitable — companies, which, among other things, has a history of doing whatever it can to drive competitors out of business and to avoid paying its fair share of taxes.’

Teicher added: ‘It is simply bad public policy to direct public money away from infrastructure, first responders, and public schools — which benefit all [New Yorkers & Virginians] — and, instead, to direct that money to a single international mega-corporation with a market capitalization that dwarfs virtually every other company. . . Local businesses are the backbone of our state’s fiscal health. The news of such massive public subsidies to one of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations is contrary to the long-term interests of all [New Yorkers & Virginians].'”

Fair enough I guess: that’s Oren Teicher’s job. However I can’t really see why Amazon’s having HQ 2.1 in the city really carries any more of a threat to local booksellers that their being based in Seattle did. If they want to build a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon will build a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Does anyone really think that by putting staff into the Citicorp Jackson Avenue building, Amazon will suddenly realize that this is just where they should have had a bookstore all along. Of course as they move more and more high-paying jobs into the area they will inevitably improve the outlook for local retail businesses, but I assume they have pretty sophisticated analysis of where they might place new stores, and don’t just watch their employees flooding out of the building to buy their lunch.

There’s lots of knee jerking going on over this issue. NYC has managed to prevent Walmart’s setting up stores in the city, so some ask, what’s the difference between Walmart and Amazon. Well, rather obviously, the difference is that Amazon is bringing headquarters staff jobs, not retail stores which would directly negatively impact local shops. (Of course, one can argue that Amazon does indeed represent a threat to local retailers anyway; but that on-line retail threat would exist whether their headquarters were in Walla Walla or Long Island City.)

I have heard it claimed that the tax subsidy in New York City amounts to about 7¢ on every $1 of salary paid. The mayor says that the city will be getting $13.5 billion in tax revenue over the 25 year life span of the deal. Obviously such estimates are based on assumptions about staffing and salary levels. There will apparently be 25,000 new jobs over 10 years, with “most being paid $150,000”. The job total may rise to 40,000 over 15 years. I can’t really see how this is a bad deal for the city. Sure, it could have been 6¢ or less — but surely the city’s tax take from income taxes earned from good paying jobs which didn’t exist yesterday is worth a lot more than that. And there will be tax benefits from the extra consumption of new employees. Even before this deal $2 billion had already been committed in infrastructure in the already growing area of LIC. Amazon is donating part of their site for a school. Of course Jeff Bezos doesn’t really need any subsidy, but all of the subsidies offered to Amazon are subsidies available to any company. In other words, according to the mayor, NYC refused to fashion any tailor-made incentives for Amazon. One can deplore the common practice of states and cities providing subsidies to bring jobs to their communities, but, if everyone’s doing it, refusing to take part obviously guarantees failure. City boosters who claim that even if NYC had refused to talk to them Amazon would have come here anyway are just whistling Dixie. If the purists had prevailed in their insistence that no subsidies should have been offered to a company run by the world’s richest man, the end result would no doubt have been that 100% of HQ2 ended up going to Crystal City or somewhere else. Seems like a reasonable sprat to catch a rather large mackerel.

 

The account given by Shelf Awareness of the trouble over CEO Demos Parneros’ firing, B&N’s chronicle of a deal undone, sounds embarrassingly like an episode of a trashy television drama. You’ll have to scroll down a little to get to the S.A. story: it’s the fourth item. As The Digital Reader points out this is just the opposite of the kind of publicity Barnes & Noble could use right now.

For a couple of years we have all been living in fear of a Barnes & Noble collapse. True, the share price did bump up a little recently, but maybe that was just because of take-over rumors. Surely the brutal truth is that the day of the massive bookstore has passed. Twenty years ago someone who was looking for a non-bestseller book would know that the widest inventory holdings would be found down at the mall, so it would be worthwhile driving down there to take a look. Worst case, B & N, Borders, Walden could special order it for you and in a week or so you’d have the book. Nowadays it’s just not worth using the gas — they probably won’t have the book anyway, and everyone knows that Amazon will, and will be able to get it to you quicker and cheaper than any B & N special order can.

More and more the center of gravity of bricks-and-mortar bookselling looks like settling on the local independent bookstore.* Its stock has been selected with the local customer base in mind, so maybe you will actually find that book there since they may have anticipated your interest! Offering the sort of intimate, personal experience that a chain just can’t manage, your local bookstore is above all local, and book readers are preselected to want to encourage local businesses which are making clear efforts to cater to an audience of neighbors. Barnes & Noble appears to recognize this — they’ve been trying to move towards smaller stores. But no matter how good the staff they put into these smaller stores may be, B & N cannot escape the crushing reality that they are not a local store: they are a national conglomerate. Killingly though, from the shareholder point of view, can small stores generate the sort of sales volume needed to keep a Fortune 500 company going?

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* I’ve been preaching this small-is-beautiful line for ages. Just the other day I dragged it in to a discussion of the outlook for book publishing.