Archives for category: Bookstores

Can it really be true that a Japanese bookshop/hotel allows you to sleep among the stacks? Publishing Perspectives tells us the unlikely story. I wonder how much reading in bed you are allowed to do? Guests falling asleep over an expensive volume and crushing it when they turn over during the night makes for significant stock-shrinkage risk.

Books are well established as sleep aids of course. We know of many a book which is all too effective in this regard, no matter what time of the day one engages with it. The BBC radio program, “A book at bedtime”, began in 1949 with a 15-part reading of The Three Hostages by John Buchan. The program was a steady presence in my childhood, though I don’t recall listening in any regular way. I do think this is a good use of the airwaves, especially now that audio books are gaining in popularity and respectability. Being read to is a great way to fall asleep (educators claim it as the foundation of children’s literacy, though I think they focus on the reading rather than the falling asleep). Reading in bed is also better for your mind than a sleeping pill: it often seems to take effect all too soon. Reading a print book is allegedly better for this purpose than e-book reading, though this bright screen effect is not something that seems to stop me dozing off.

If you don’t have the energy to do it yourself, and you can’t find anyone to read you to sleep here are several options reviewed by The Guardian. Of course the advantage of having a parent or other live person read to you is that they can stop when you doze off. The machine will just go on reading, leaving you to figure out where you’d got to — something which is often hard enough if you lose your bookmark while wide awake.

The Global Read Aloud program is introduced at Book List Reader. This year’s event kicked off on 2 October and ends on 10 November. The idea of Global Read Aloud is that groups of children around the world have the same book(s) read aloud to them, by librarians or teachers, and share follow-up projects and reactions with others elsewhere. The idea that kids may take to the book because of the on-line interaction is probably a good one. The organization claims that over 2 million kids have participated since the program’s inception in 2010. Of course the trick is to get the parents to stop regarding book reading as a school activity and figure out that this is a good idea which they themselves might take it up at bedtime.

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Cambridge University Press is not the only one to tangle with the forces of regression in China’s literary marketplace.

Jifeng

Jifeng, an underground bookstore (literally — it’s in a subway station below the main public library) in Shanghai is to shut down at the end of January. Their persistent selection of books too liberal-minded for the authorities seems finally to have brought them to grief. Enough is enough: their lease from the library will not be renewed. The library says they have no choice in the matter.

Obviously anyone seeking to keep a lid on any kind of materials available to their citizens is likely to keep an eye on bookshops. Book selection is an even more challenging problem for Chinese booksellers than it is elsewhere. However, as The Economist relates politically risqué books and Western literature in general can often be offered in stores which purvey clothing or café service. The vigilant authorities will probably catch up with many of these, but in the meantime others will open. Whac-a-mole lives. (The Economist piece on-line doesn’t actually show a picture of Jifeng at the top, as their print edition did. Their picture is of the café named 1984 which displays various editions of the Orwell novel, but carefully displays a sign stating “None of the books in this shop is for sale”.)

Barnes & Noble’s shares jumped 6.9% on one day recently because of rumors that the company was about to be sold. The rumors were denied; the share price readjusted. Whatever’s up, there do seems to be problems with our big chain bookseller. They recent announced that although sales were up profit was down — as reported in a Shelf Awareness story on 31 August. Fortune piles on (link sent via The Passive Voice) reporting  year-over-year decreases in same-store sales. They appear to have a proclivity for starting digital initiatives and then looking the other way as developments overtake them. The Digital Reader tells how they seem to have lost sight of Yuzu, their textbook platform, and for all we hear of it NOOK seems to be hiding itself in some remote shady nook. From the outside it surely looks like we are observing a company in trouble. The Digital Reader tells us that B&N’s big plan for salvation is to sell more stuff! Book people always emphasize that they personally don’t believe that B&N is in serious trouble, deprecate the very idea, and certainly claim not to be privy to any real information suggesting such a state of affairs. Of course we can’t afford to say anything different. To this chorus, obviously, I add my voice.

But the nasty question keeps being asked. What if Barnes & Noble went bankrupt? is is the title of a discussion between Nathan Bransford and Mike Shatzkin. Their answer is: bad news for publishers. We have grown accustomed to being able to get lots and lots of copies of big books in front of the public upon publication, and B&N’s a big part of that ability. But I often wonder just how important those front-of-store tables-full of the latest wannabe bestseller really are. Just because this is what we have become used to doesn’t have to mean that some other model (e.g. no chain bookstores) might not work adequately. As Bransford and Shatzkin indicate there are significant financial demands on publishers who deal with Barnes & Noble. At a minimum you have to pay to manufacture the books you print in large quantity: and that frequently means, pay for and kiss goodbye to the books they take. Barnes & Noble, with the encouragement of publishers’ sales reps it’s true, will tend to over-order to be sure they don’t run out of a runaway success. Few books, unfortunately turn out to be runaway successes, so many/most of the books they’ve ordered will be returned to the publisher for credit. Regardless of the cost of shipping stuff back and forth and issuing credit notices, the realities of modern warehousing mean that unless we are talking about an expensive book (and with books ordered in mass quantities we rarely are) the cartons of books will just be destroyed when they come back. To check them for wear-and-tear and then restock them just costs too much, so it’s cheaper to waste returns. Unsurprisingly smaller publishers have to think hard about whether they want to deal with a big customer who often seems almost to be paying for their new purchases with returns of older inventory.

The idea that retailing works best if centralized is only about 100 years old. Are we on the edge of a switch away from that model? It’s not just books that are being affected by on-line sales. We hear rumbles about Macy’s and other department stores. Similar changes can be expected in the grocery business: maybe 50 years is it for the supermarket model of food retailing. Consolidation in the bookstore business was a relatively recent phenomenon — certainly taking place during my working life — and it looks like it’s now going into reverse. Borders disappearance was an early indication of the withering of the mall model of general retail.

It does seem evident that the book business is undergoing big changes. Two words, Self-publishing and Amazon, are enough to indicate the shifting earth. Does it seem realistic to think that that’s the end of it?

People will go on about this. In crude terms publishers can be said to have wrested control of pricing back from Amazon, who were allegedly loss-leadering ebooks. Unsurprisingly publishers have an interest in their books (in whatever format) not being sold too cheaply — they are after all all profit seekers, even not-for-profit university presses who, like any publisher, have costs which must be covered if they are to continue in business.

The commentariat often moans about this, mocking publishers for charging so much that nobody’s going to buy their product. The commentariat is mercifully free of any need to cover the costs of creating a book. Its members also gaily play the other side of the street and complain about publishers’ meanness in paying royalties at far too low a rate on ebooks which after all, they claim, have no costs associated with them, so 70% of revenue ought obviously to go to the author. Why should these guys care that they are asking for 30% of lower and lower prices to be all that will keep publishers afloat: after all, they claim, if you lower retail prices sales will increase, so that a 30% piece of the huge pie will represent so much more than the larger current slice of a smaller pie. Sounds like it might be reasonable — except that it’s not. Selling your books for $1.99 may well increase the sale, but it will in almost every instance not increase it enough to compensate for the loss of revenue. An example like the sale at 20p of 250,000 heavily discounted ebook copies of The Life of Pi represents a bonus sale of a book which has already covered its costs with regular print sales. Would that all our books could get to that category: but they don’t.

Sales of ebooks have indeed slowed, and I’m pretty sure the major explanation for this is price. Whatever these commentators think, selling fewer copies at a higher price is not in and of itself a crazy policy. It’s hard to reprice a physical book, but you can switch the price of an ebook up and down as often as you want, and starting off fairly high is the obvious way to go. It’s the time-tried way too: for years publishers tended to publish in hardback and then follow up with a (cheaper) paperback a year or two later. The ebook is just another format, but allows for easy price adjustment as there’s no physical stock that needs to be stickered when the price is changed. But there are costs, and if they are not covered bankruptcy inevitably follows. Such, one often feels, is the animus of the commentariat that this is an outcome that they’d welcome.

Recently we’ve had a flurry of rhetoric driven by a Daily Mail article reporting that Amazon had called for publishers to reduce their ebook prices. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly, and all too typically) this article reports on ideas which come out of the writer’s brain rather than anyone at Amazon’s mouth. The Digital Reader corrects the record. What Amazon was actually advancing was the anodyne and undeniable comment that setting a lower price may well be a good way for an unknown author to get attention. It obviously is. Can we go too low? Of course we can, as The Writers’ Workshop reminds us: the strategy works best when no one else is doing it!

The Brooklyn Book Festival 2017 is coming up soon: 11-17 September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a link to their website where you can see their program. There are also booths with lots of publishers, well-known and local, selling their books at discounted prices.

Many a Book Token I received as a child in Scotland. They were never exactly what you wanted, as they carried that hint of “this will be good for you”, but they were obviously much better than socks or hand-kerchiefs. In those days the Book Token would be a little greeting card, costing 3d, into which the bookseller would stick a sort of postage-stamp-like thing which indicated how many pounds the purchaser had paid to their local bookshop, and thus the amount you could spend in your nearest shop. All bookshops accepted them in those days.

Book Tokens were first introduced in Britain in 1932; a brainwave of Harold Raymond, publisher at Chatto and Windus. Booksellers were skeptical, seeing the whole process as a fiddly additional cost. They were eventually mollified by the evident success of the scheme, and importantly by the additional discount they were granted on books thus sold. As Iain Stevenson tells us in Book Makers, “Part of the antipathy . . . arose from confusion with the gift vouchers provided by the tobacco manufacturers Wix and Sons with Kensitas cigarettes.” Among the gifts for which these cigarette “tokens” could be redeemed was a list of 450 different books. Booksellers pointed out that the cost of the cigarettes you’d need to buy in order to qualify for a free book came in many cases to less than the retail price of the book. This objection evaporated when Wix withdrew the vouchers in 1933.

Reverse of Lackington token. From Bryars & Bryars

As close readers of this blog may recall “book tokens” had in fact been invented rather earlier. In the late 18th century James Lackington at The Temple of the Muses, had issued medallion-like tokens which could be exchanged for books. Bryars and Bryars give more details of these tokens.

 

Book Tokens still exist in Britain, but unsurprisingly they are now little electronic debit card things. The National Book Tokens site provides a lot of information. We don’t have anything exactly similar over here in America: an Amazon gift card can be frittered away on anything, even, god save us, groceries! You can in fact buy a gift card for “mind food” — a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, but as the Amazon help page emphasizes you can trade it in for a general Amazon gift card if you don’t want to be lumbered with anything as boring as buying an ebook. In January The Digital Reader (and Shelf Awareness) reported on Amazon’s testing title-specific Kindle gift cards — I don’t know whether the test is still on-going, and what may have been learned. The Digital Reader post mentions a few other similar failed initiatives.

 

Do we really have to face the translation of everything into money? We may wish we could keep bookshops as places where we can look at books and buy them when we are inspired, but, in the real world, bookselling is a business, and profit is necessary. We all know that costs mount, especially as rents just keep rising — as they must in response to the laws of capitalism. Sure capitalism may have done us all a lot of good, but can’t anyone come up with a modification which would mean “good” things get a break? Or are we doomed to see all retail outlets operated by merchants of international schmattes?

Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder has just announced the opening of a new store on West 84th Street in addition to their original location on West 18th Street. The New York Times quotes him “Given the rise in retail rents along 18th Street, I am not optimistic about our ability to renew the lease”, so the new second store is there as an insurance against the first one’s having to close. Just walk along New York streets and you’ll encounter a surprisingly large number of shuttered stores. (I guess real estate people take tax write-offs against their losses from empty buildings — they certainly don’t seem to be in any hurry to re-rent. Increases of 3 or 4 times the current rent are being proposed on lease renewals. Surely this can’t be sustainable.) The Mayor of New York City is seized of the problem. Hasn’t figured out what to do about commercial rents, but does recognize that having all the little shops shut down because they can’t afford to pay the rent is not “a good thing”. We just had an announcement that the City will now pay for legal representation for tenants faced with eviction from their apartment by landlords — previously a very uneven playing field. This expense will apparently be more than balanced by reductions in the cost of providing housing the homeless after the landlords have thrown them out.

People power can help. In our neighborhood we recently “saved” our local supermarket whose lease had been gazumped by a chain pharmacy. We all turned out on the street in front of the store; local politicians got involved; and eventually the pharmacy accepted that bad publicity didn’t really work; so we have our supermarket, for the next few years at least. I don’t know if we could turn out impressive enough crowds for a bookstore though! Still, somehow bookstores are still opening. Maybe some of those landlords are getting fed up with keeping properties empty. We obviously need to reinforce this behavior by changing the tax deduction for losses of this kind.

Why is it that landlords are the only ones who appear to be guaranteed to make money? (And this is a problem which long predates our current administration led by an über-landlord!) We all know that they are not making any more real estate; quite the opposite I fear. I suppose there’s no way to get to a world where land is a public good. As far as I can figure it, nobody has any basic right (other than force majeure) to own land. Just because your great-great-great, etc., etc., etc, grandfather bought it or even worse just beat everyone else to the punch, killed off all contenders, and grabbed the land in your home valley should not, in any sensible ethical scheme, allow you to collect rent from me for settling on a small bit of that valley floor. Calls for the socialization of land tenure are unlikely to meet with any kind of positive response, but at least let us allow it to flit through our mind. We need to consider for whose benefit this whole game is for, and whether that’s as it should be.

Jonathan Pie (a socially alert commentator portrayed by comedian Tom Watson) as usual hits it radically on the nose. Sensitive ears may want to be aware that his outspokenness includes lots of cuss-words. For non-Brits: Swan Vestas is a brand of matches.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post so you can read it in your browser.

 

All you have to do is pay a $75 entry fee and write a 250-word essay on why a bookstore is important to a community, and you can win the ability to turn your words into action. The bookstore’s in Wellsboro, PA, so I guess you might need to be prepared to move there. Wellsboro is a small town (pop. c. 3,300) in the north of the state about halfway along, not close to any large cities. Details of the competition, which were noticed by Shelf Awareness, can be found at the From My Shelf store’s blog. You have until 31 March 2018 to come up with your 250 words.

Here’s the bookstore’s website. As they want a minimum of 4,000 entrants you could try offering them $300,000 if you develop writer’s block.

“Oh the irony” Mashable headlines its story on Amazon’s filing a patent for a way to block on-line in-store price comparison. Irony I guess, though I suspect bare-faced audacity might be closer to the mark. I bet filing the patent is more a matter of preempting the opposition than of protecting their own bricks-and-mortar world.

Maybe Amazon doesn’t want you checking alternative prices on-line while you’re in their stores, but you can be sure they find this practice an altogether more attractive idea when it’s being done in someone else’s shop and it’s Amazon’s price which is being looked up. Is it just too “conspiracy-theory” to suspect that they are really trying to lock up the technology in order to prevent others from coming up with a means of preventing their own customers from checking prices at Amazon.com?

And hey, why not? If you have all the money in the world, what are you supposed to do? Not spend it?

Amazon’s new bricks and mortar store in Manhattan is on the third floor of the Time Warner Center. A few years ago we had a large Borders bookshop in this building, but of course that went the way of all flesh. Here’s a C-net story with a brief video which gives a good impression of the store.

I looked in on Thursday, the day it opened, but couldn’t stay, ‘cos I had to be elsewhere. I went back the next day, and had to stand on line to get in the front door! In this picture you can see the security guard at the door, allowing us in in proportion to shoppers who’d leave. It didn’t last too long: maybe 5 minutes, less if anything. I suspect this must be the first time I’ve ever had to get on line to get into a bookshop — heck, any shop — though I suppose I may have had to queue up at Titus Wilson’s in Sedbergh to buy my schoolbooks at the start of term. I doubt if this Amazon queue at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon indicates an accelerated love of books among my fellow citizens. Most people were there, like me, out of curiosity.

And it is curious. All the books are displayed face out: which results in there not being that many of them. I didn’t attempt a count, but I wonder if it’s the 3,000 CNN Tech says it is, though several do get duplicate locations under different category headings. They’ve used sales data to govern the inventory selection, so I suppose I shouldn’t really have expected to find anything I wanted (my bag being the off-beat rather than the popular). However I was surprised to discover they did stock the book I was reading while on line, Keith Houston’s The Book — luckily I had shown it to the security guard, so didn’t have to panic about being forced to buy it again! Not, I have to confess, that I saw anyone actually doing anything as vulgar as buying a book. One of the many employees in evidence told me I could make a purchase through an Amazon app, though unfortunately that’s not an Amazon-Go-type of sale: i.e. buy it on the iPhone and just walk out of the store. The CNN Tech link above shows a sale being made. (I declined to download the app till I had found a book I’d want to buy.) If you are an Amazon Prime member you get the discounted price shown at Amazon.com, if not it’s full price for you. Around the store there are scan stations which will read the barcode and tell you what you’ll pay. Non-Primers can of course just read that information off the back of the book as in any shop: it’s not like they are obscuring the prices so that you’d have to go on-line.

Slightly less than a quarter of the store, half of the front area, is devoted to electronics: various Kindles, Alexas etc. I guess it’s the sort of bookstore you might go to if you wanted to get a last-minute gift, or are looking for a discount on a current bestseller. It just doesn’t feel like a real bookstore — but maybe that was because of the crowd and the large staff.

Business Insider has a photo gallery.