Archive for the ‘book news’ Category

Amazonfail

It’s all over these interwebs, and my store has a response! Cutting and pasting the whole thing here, since I was the author and I give myself permission.  You should click the link to see the picture of our bestseller list with IndieBound logo hovering above, though.

Over the weekend, you may have heard something about a controversy over recent changes to Amazon’s ranking system that are primarily affecting books with sexual content, and especially books with GLBT content, by removing their rankings and thus impacting their visibility on the site.  More information is easy to find, as the internet has basically exploded about the whole thing.

Though it’s not clear yet what’s happened, here at WORD, we wanted to take this opportunity to assure our customers that the problem of books with “adult content” not being ranked is not endemic across the book industry. In the interests of transparency, our bestseller list is calculated as follows:

1. On first day of new month, run sales report for previous month.

2. Type top ten bestselling titles on a list.

3. Print out list on yellow paper.

(Possible glitch: the manager forgets how to count.  If this happens, we’ll be the first people to let you know.)

As you can see, it is a simple process and any book can be a part. We invite customers to test this assertion by buying dozens of copies of whichever adult title they like best to drive it to the top of our bestseller list.  No one would be more amused than we by an April bestseller list composed of gay erotica and perennial bestseller Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

This should clarify our position nicely, but if you have any other questions, you are welcome to email us at info@wordbrooklyn.com, call at 718 383 0096 (no extension, no phone tree, and definitely no hold music), or for direct human contact, visit us in person at 126 Franklin Street.

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Minx

Well, in the last few weeks I have: gotten really sick (twice, with the same cold), gone on vacation, and gone to NAIBA.  I need to do a follow-up post for the panel I spoke on at NAIBA because I have a question for everybody, but first!  Today’s news.

No, not the bailout!  The news that MINX, an imprint of DC comics aimed exclusively at teenage girls, will be ending in January.  I am totally bummed about this.  I read almost all the MINX books.  I’d be the first to say that not all of them were masterpieces, but they were a lot of important things, including a good price, interesting to teenage girls, and a good tool for booksellers.  If I’m remembering correctly, they were all safe in terms of content.  I used a MINX book, Good As Lily, for YA Book Group in April.  It was the first time any of the readers had read a graphic novel, and they all loved it.  Basically, it created a whole pool of new readers of comics, and even better, there was a ready-made shallow end to jump into, of other MINX books  No need to leap right to Watchmen or any number of other so-called classics of comics that couldn’t be less interesting to your average 14-year-old girl.

I hope there will continue to be efforts from the comics industry to provide content and format that is appealing to teen girls.  I know I shunned comics as a teen girl, because they seemed stupid and because it doesn’t take much intuition to notice that the industry doesn’t really even necessarily want teen girls to be part of the club.  I only started reading them late in high school when I wanted to impress the guy I was dating.  (This did cause me to love comics in their own right, but sitting around waiting for women to read comics because they fall in love with comics nerds is maybe not the most secure way to build a bigger fan base.)  I don’t see it as pandering, I see it as meeting a genuine hole in the market.  Teen girls are one of the main reasons manga has become as big as it has in bookstores–they like the price, they like the endless nature of the series, they like the stories that revolve around contemporary issues.  I firmly believe that comics are a separate medium from books–and to that end should have just as many genres as books, including contemporary teen YA.

And I can’t get it together

There’s a blog post I started a few weeks ago but never finished that became more relevant in the last few days, because when reading Shelf Awareness Tuesday morning, I learned that Chelsea Green is selling its new book about Obama, Obama’s Challenge, via Amazon 2 weeks before the book will be available to box stores and indies. The article notes, “The ironies and oddities of this situation are striking. One wonders why a publisher that prides itself on progressive politics and sustainable living–which usually includes buying local–made an exclusive agreement with a company seen by some as the biggest threat to local bookselling.” In fact, according to the ABA’s Book Buyer’s Handbook, Chelsea Green describes itself as a “publisher of works dedicated to the politics and practice of sustainability.” And this is where my languishing blog post jumps in. Take it away, languishing blog post:

I read a lot of what would probably be called “progressive” blogs. Feminist blogs, liberal blogs, environmental blogs, and so on. And one of the things that has always bothered me is that these blogs seem to lean very heavily on Amazon and the chain stores. Many are Amazon affiliates and when linking to new books, link to the Amazon page. But I wasn’t driven to say anything about it until I read this post on Feministing.

They quote the Bitch magazine blog in saying: “And [independent feminist publisher South End Press is] in trouble, because Borders is in trouble, and the unfortunate thing about the publishing business is that the actual producers of actual content are generally at the mercy of retailers and distributors when it comes to our financial survival.” The posts suggest subscribing to the press directly, so that you receive the books at your home from the press, a “community-supported publishing program” that I think is an excellent, if partial, solution.

But I have another one. What if these independent presses and independent bloggers, all devoted everyday to changing so many aspects of the system we live in, thought about changing their reliance on chain and internet bookstores? I read many blogs devoted to pointing out and changing unconscious racism, sexism, ableism, cisgenderism, etc–how about adding pointing out and changing unconscious capitalism? Corporate monoliths by their nature will always do what is best for their stockholders. However, as an independent bookseller, my primary goal must always be to keep the doors of the store open, but I can assure you that supporting independent feminist presses is also on my list of things to do.

However, I understand why these progressive bloggers, for all their love of local communities and independent presses, don’t do it. Independent booksellers have, for the most part, done a bad job keeping up on the internet. I love the ABA, and I am excited about IndieBound (obviously) but we need to start sprinting to get our E-commerce up to par. No, above par. There are many people who don’t link to ABA E-commerce sites because they don’t know we exist, don’t know they can also have an affiliate program with E-commerce, etc–and that’s another kettle of fish altogether, this failure of our community to reach out to and make knowledgeable the opinion-makers of the internet (especially as these people are increasingly writing books, as well). But there are also people who might link but don’t because the site is not as user-friendly, fast, or well-stocked as Amazon. Period. There have been times that I haven’t been able to link to my own E-commerce site on this blog or in my weekly e-newsletter because the book I’m looking for isn’t there. And while I have the option of calling to bug somebody to fix it, 99 out of 100 bloggers are gonna walk away after that happens once or twice.

Technologically-oriented folk are used to having a powerhouse of a book website at their disposal, and we need to make a better one if we want to keep playing. Period. I am dying to write an email to my 50 favorite bloggers and say, “Hi! I read your blog everyday, and I’m asking you to consider also affiliating yourself with independent bookstores across the country. Not only would doing so benefit me and my fellow indie booksellers, but it will also benefit communities across the country. As you may be aware, independent businesses are important for communities in the following ways: x, y, and z. And furthermore, indie bookstores in particular are good for this, that, and the other thing. So won’t you please consider?”

I think I’ll be able to send that email soon. I know the folks at ABA and IndieBound are working their asses off to get us back on the internet playing field. I just hope that 1. they’re designing an interface that, like Amazon’s, is equally useful to the tech n00b and the professional blogger and that 2. it comes soon, so I can send that email.

If the IndieBound campaign has shown me one thing, it’s that when you remind people of why indie stores are awesome to visit and great for the community, the majority of the time, they are incredibly receptive. Sure, there has been a little backlash, and some people simply don’t care. But most people are excited to have a tangible way to incorporate this whole “local-independent-sustainable-green-&etc” thing they’ve been hearing about. I have lost count of how many times in the last year people have said something to me about the fact that they specifically want to support my store because it is local and independent–a sentiment I didn’t hear much when I first started here 5 years ago. So I’m confident that we finally reach out to the intarwebs community, they’ll be receptive in similar percentages. I’m just getting an itchy trigger finger about doing so.

Thanks, languishing blog post! As for Chelsea Green; well, I don’t have much nice to say, so maybe I shouldn’t say it at all. I found Bookdwarf’s post on the subject to be particularly awesome, especially “And will they please stop talking down to us like we’re luddite idiots? This means you Jennifer Nix and you Margo Baldwin.”

Except this one thing I’d like to get off my chest: “I hate to tell you, indie booksellers, but this isn’t just about business.” Yeah, maybe not for you! Must be nice! It is for me. At the end of the day and the end of the election, I’m still going to be a bookseller, and I’m still going to want to be in business. I’ll personally be a lot happier to be in business under an Obama administration, but I’m still going to be a bookseller if McCain wins. (And here I resist the temptation to make a joke about how long ANY of us will be alive under that circumstance. Well, I sort of resist the temptation.)

However, with this decision, a small indie publisher is effectively saying to the world at large: “Hey everybody! We believe in sustainability, but we think that Amazon is the best way to release IMPORTANT books–not those pesky indie stores with all their individual buyers and branches! Indie stores are good for some things, but it’s definitely NOT getting the word out to liberal-minded book buyers in a timely fashion!”

That makes my store, and all indie stores, seem impotent in terms of cultural relevance. And as I noted above, I’m willing to admit that maybe we’re not the most relevant institution at the moment. But damn, this sure would have been a great opportunity for a publisher interested not just in the politics but also the PRACTICE of sustainability to give the sustainability of local communities a nice little push, by providing indie stores with a book that we know we can sell. We know who to sell it to. We know their names and they trust our judgment when it comes to books, and that will push your message further than any 25% discount.

I’d also like to point out that contrary to popular belief, there actually DO exist customers who refuse to shop at Amazon, no matter how fancy the buzz. I know they exist because I see them a lot. Said customers have a massive amount of overlap with customers who are interested in books from a “publisher of works dedicated to the politics and practice of sustainability.” Especially a book about Obama! Let me set the scene: my store is literally a block up the street from Obama headquarters in my area, Obama had a drink in my favorite bar during the PA primary, and the store is frequented by Obama supporters. It’s a shame that it will be weeks until I can sell them a book they’d be interested in, especially because I hear tell that this book “is too timely and important to be left out of the national political conversation this fall.

The book thieves (and other links)

This article, in the Stranger, should be interesting to any bookseller who wonders, come inventory time, just where exactly those supposed 4 copies of On the Road have gotten to.  I’ll second the popularity of “any graphic novel.”  In addition, I’ve noticed the PostSecret books grow legs an awful lot (I think we must have lost 3-4 over the holiday season, which hurts, given that they’re HCs that you can’t not have in stock!), and I also keep a close eye on The Communist Manifesto.

Also ran across a blog I hadn’t seen before: Pub Rants, which I really love.  As I was reading back through the last few months, I particularly loved this (re-)post about the 25 things that repeatedly show up in YA novels.  Especially # 11 – Heroines who can’t carry a tune, even if it were in a bucket; # 10 – Guys with extraordinarily long eyelashes (seriously, what is up with that?); and definitely # 4 – Main characters who want to be writers, although this applies to fiction in general, I think.  Yeah, I’ve heard of write what you know, but you’d think a group as dedicated to creativity as (I hope) the writing community is would find more inventive ways to apply this maxim.

Finally, if you are part of that (rare? not sure) group that loves both books and Lost, then this should keep you occupied for the next half hour, and then keep your mind working for the next few days.

10 ways to ensure fewer good books will be published

I believe I saw this in Shelf Awareness a few days back, or maybe on a blog.  Either way, here is the offending article:

MSN Money offered “10 ways to save money on books:”

  1. Avoid new releases.
  2. Read reviews.
  3. Find the classics online.
  4. Search for bargains.
  5. Make Amazon your all-purpose book tool.
  6. Frequent your public library.
  7. Explore used bookstores.
  8. Harness the power of the Internet.
  9. Buy only what you intend to read.
  10. Share.”

I suppose not all of those are negative.  I support used bookstores and public libraries financially and in spirit, in addition to sharing (for selfish reasons–I am running out of floor space!).  And in fact, now that I turn a more critical eye, I wonder exactly how reading reviews saves one money–I find it exposes me to books I never would have seen and therefore never would have bought if not for the review.  For that matter, what is the meaning of “harness the power of the Internet,” outside of sounding like it should mean something?  Again, the Internet only ever makes me spend more money, not less.

But “make Amazon your all-purpose book tool”?  Well, that will work until everybody does it, and then Amazon will charge whatever it damn well pleases–and in the meantime, say goodbye to the next Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, etc.  (NB: That link was written in 1999, and I think things have improved for indies since then, although MSN is not helping matters here.)

Same thing with “avoid new releases.”  What?  I don’t even know what to say about that.  For how long should we do that?  Just in hardcover, or should we avoid the paperback release for awhile as well?  Actually, when you consider that most new releases get heavily discounted pretty much everywhere if they hit the bestseller lists, it’s not necessarily a bad financial decision to buy new.

As for “buy only what you intend to read,” I have only this to say: hahahahahahaha!

I guess I’m also a bit miffed that with all the conspicuous consumption in this country, BOOKS are somehow the place to cut back.  Even if you ignore all the advice MSN Money has for you and buy Stephen King’s latest at full price without intending to read or share it, you’ll still only be out $28, which for many Americans is a week of coffee money.