Tag Archives: books

E-book numbers, Borders & other random thoughts

For those of you who haven’t discovered Shelf Awareness yet, I highly recommend it.  Their daily e-mails offer a great look into the world of publishing on all levels, from the writer to the publisher to the bookseller.  In my mind, this is a resource everyone involved in, or interested in, the industry should follow.

Today’s issue is a case in point.  One of the articles concerns USA Today’s best sellers list. Specifically, in the list to be published Thursday, digital sales of six of the top ten titles were higher than hard copy sales.  Of the top 50 titles, 19 of them had higher digital than hard copy sales.  According to USA Today, “It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print.”

What can we infer from this?  Well, the first is that a lot of folks found e-readers of one flavor or another under their trees this Christmas.  New e-readers means increased digital sales.  Add to that the latest report showing that 40% of iPad owners also own a kindle and that more iPad owners plan to buy a kindle in the upcoming months and you can see there is still a market for dedicated e-book readers.

The second thing we can conclude is that no matter how hard major publishers try to deny it or postpone the inevitable, e-books are here to stay.  Whether it is the convenience of being able to carry around hundreds or even thousands of e-books on a single small device or the fact that so many people are like me and running out of room at home for physical books, more and more people are adapting to this new technology.

And that brings us to the next bit of news and all those who will shout from the rooftops that this situation has been brought on in large by the advent of e-books.  In the last few days, Borders has been purging its executive level.  It started with the firings of Thomas Carney, their legal counsel, and Scott Laverty, chief information officer.  Tony Grant and Larry Norton, the vice president of real estate and the senior vice president for business development and publisher relations respectively, have also been let go.

Add to that a report from the Wall Street Journal that Borders has “stopped writing checks to key suppliers” and will be asking suppliers to allow them to push back payment dates as they work out a refinancing plan and, well, you have a recipe for disaster.  Consider also that in this same article it is noted that Borders canceled payment on a check for books shipped to it by an unnamed publishing company in October.  Folks, this doesn’t look good for Borders and really makes laughable the word that came out a week or so ago that Borders might actually try to buy Barnes & Noble.

In this article from DealB%k, it is reported that Borders has begun discussions with publishers seeking to delay payments.  This is necessary if they want to be able to restructure their loans from various financial institutions.  Without enough publishers agreeing, it is most likely the banks won’t agree to restructure or refinance.

From the same article:  “Several publishers said Borders owed them millions of dollars in payments, up to tens of millions each for the larger publishers. Publishers said they had been told by Borders executives that more than two dozen vendors were owed money.”

Also in the same article, a spokesperson for Borders said they expected the publishers to offer the “same terms” to the other booksellers.  Now, maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t that basically telling the publishers to take another hit, one they can’t afford right now?  Sorry, but if a company is on shaky financial ground, it shouldn’t be the one to dictate terms to its lenders or suppliers.  Those lenders and suppliers should be able to reasonably protect their investments.

Now, is this a case of e-books bringing down a major bookseller?  No.  E-books are but one of the myriad of causes behind what looks to be the inevitable collapse of Borders as we know it now.  Mismanagement, over-expansion, and no longer demanding that their employees be customer oriented or knowledgeable about the product also had a hand in Borders’ decline.

I love going to bookstores and browsing.  When my son was in high school, there as a Borders directly across the street.  I’d go there and sit in the coffee shop and read or write.  I’d look through the stacks and buy books or magazines.  I did this even though I was already reading e-books.

But things changed at that store as things changed in the company.  The floor plan was changed, taking away not only a lot of the music they’d been selling but also — and more importantly — the books.  Unless a book was a “best seller”, it either never made it to the store or only remained on the shelf for a few days before being pulled for something.  The staff started having high turnover until it reached a point where I asked them to order a book for me and 1) they couldn’t find it in their computer, 2) they’d never heard of the publisher and it was a major publisher and 3) they’d never heard of the distributor.  So, no book ordered and, when this repeated several more times, a customer was lost.

Bookstores are necessary, in my opinion.  But I think we’re going to see a return to the specialty stores and smaller stores.  The big box stores just aren’t going to be the norm in the future.  I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.  Most of all, bookstores need to sell BOOKS and they need to be staffed by employees who read and can converse with their customers about a wide range of books.  They at least need to know their stock.

At least that’s my opinion.  Any thoughts?

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Happy New Year!

I wanted to pop in for a moment to wish everyone a Happy New Year.   To kick things off here at NRP, later today we’ll be offering the e-arc of Dave Freer’s novella Without a Trace.  In this YA offering, a boy’s search for his grandfather’s crashed plane leads to a parallel South Africa with pirates and worse.  His quest to clear his grandfather’s name turns into a desperate race against time to return to his own reality with his injured grandfather.

We’ll post here and on our homepage later this afternoon when the e-arc goes live.

Also, to help kick off the New Year, starting tomorrow, we’ll be offering some of our titles for free.  These free downloads will be announced the night before (CST time) and will be available for one day only.  Specific dates and times will be listed in each announcement.  You’ll have to follow the links in the blog for the freebies.

Don’t forget that our submission period is now open.  We’re accepting submissions for short and long fiction of all genres until 2359 EST January 31st.   If you have any questions, leave a comment or send us an email to submissions at nakedreader dot com (you know how to fix it to work.  Just trying, probably in vain, to beat the spambots)

Remember, check back this afternoon for the announcement that Dave’s e-arc has gone live and for an announcement about our first freebie offering of the month.

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If it’s Saturday…

I should be repairing the ceiling in the garage.  But, as you can see, I’m not.  Instead, I’ve been reviewing a couple of contracts — announcements soon — and reading slush — more announcements soon — and pondering the holiday season.

Like a lot of folks, I hate to shop.  It isn’t that I don’t like to give.  I do.  But I don’t like crowds.  So I do my best to avoid malls, especially this time of year.  This is when the internet can be my friend.  I say “can” because a lot of it depends on how reliable the product information and shipping times happen to be when you purchase online.   Then there’s the whole thing of making sure someone is home to accept the packages when they’re delivered, etc.  Now, if only I could find a way to have everything gift wrapped, without having to pay more for it….oh well, that, too, will happen one day.

Over at Mad Genius Club today, I posted links and cover images to some of the books and short story collections the other mad ones have for sale.   Three of them — Dave Freer, Sarah A. Hoyt and Kate Paulk — already have titles out with NRP.  A fourth, Chris McMahon — a wonderful Australian author — will have a short story in our upcoming Angels and Demons themed anthology, due out later this month.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we’ll have something to offer from Rowena Cory Daniells as well.

What I’d like you to consider, if you have books — or e-books — to purchase for friends or loved ones this holiday season, is buying something from one of these wonderful authors.  Dragon’s Ring by Dave Freer is probably the best fantasy I read this year, and that’s saying a lot.  Darkship Thieves is the best space opera I’ve read in a long time.  Both definitely make my top ten list in books I’ve read this year.  Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin trilogy is in my tbr pile as are Chris’ books.  (See the MGC post for links to all their books I mentioned today.)

Give the gift of a book, or an e-book, to someone you care about.  Share an author you love.

 

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Latest Industry Numbers

The AAP (Association of American Publishers) has released the sales figures for October.  I predict there are going to be some very unhappy bean counters sitting in their offices today trying to figure out what’s going on.  Or maybe not.  Maybe they will stick their heads in the sand, their fingers in their ears and do their best to ignore the trends, hoping the holiday season will save them.  The trouble with that is it might be a short term solution, but it won’t cure what ails the industry.  The only things that will are for the publishers to start accepting the fact that e-books are here to stay and their business models need to be adapted to reflect it AND they have to quit trying to drive the market with novels they think are socially relevant and give readers novels that entertain.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is a place for literature and “socially relevant” fiction.  But it hasn’t been and, I think, will never be the money-maker they want it to be.  There’s nothing wrong with fiction having a message, as long as you don’t hit the reader over the head with that message over and over again until they black out.  Most people read for entertainment — the same reason they watch movies or TV.  That is something we, as publishers, have to remember.

Any way, for the figures.  October wasn’t a good month for most segments of the publishing industry.  Only four areas showed an increase in sales over those reported a year ago.  Higher education books were up 12% over Oct. 2009.  Children’s and YA hardcover books were up 13.9%.  Downloaded audiobooks were up 20.7% and e-books were up a whopping 112.4% over October 2009.

For the year-to-date figures, things don’t look much better.  K-12 (kindergarten to high school) books are up 3.8% over the Jan – Oct figures for 2009.  Higher education is up 10.6%, professional books up 8.4%, university press paperbacks up 4.1%, university press hard covers up 1.9%, downloaded audiobooks up 38.6% and e-books up 171.3%.  Adult paperbacks were down for October but show no change for the month-to-date.  Every other category has fallen.

What is really interesting, at least to me, is to see the progression of e-book sales since 2002. The following is the graph AAP included in this month’s report:

I know it’s small but, basically, the figures from 2007 to present are what are the most telling.  In 2007, as e-book readers were beginning to hit the market, e-books represented 0.58% of the total sales figures for the year.  That increased in 2008 to 1.19%.  This corresponds to the release of the first generation of the Kindle in November 2007.  in 2009, e-books sales increased to 3.37% of total sales and, in the first 10 months of this year, e-book sales represent 8.7% of sales.

Digital downloads, whether of e-books or audiobooks, are here to stay.  What is up in the air is how the major publishers adapt.  If they continue forcing DRM onto their e-books and not listening to what readers want, it won’t stem the tide.  At least not for long.  What it will do is continue cutting into their profits and the livelihoods of their authors. Here’s hoping a happy medium is found soon, for everyone’s sake.

 

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Wednesday Morning

Thanksgiving is almost here and, like so many folks, I’m facing — and dreading — that last minute run to the grocery store later today to make sure I have everything needed for the big Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course, because of family scheduling conflicts, dinner will actually be lunch on Friday.  Not that it means I can postpone the trip to the store… Oh no.  Have to brave the crowds today to do food shopping in case I have to brave the crowds Friday for Black Friday sales.

And, yes, that scream you heard was me.  I hate, absolutely HATE, shopping of any sort.  Add crowds to the equation and, well, I’m sure you get the picture.  Thank goodness most of the sales also have online equivalents.  Still, you know there will be that one item my retired mother will want me to go out to get for her and, dutiful daughter — okay, quit laughing — that I am, I’ll go, grumbling and clutching my mug of coffee like a lifeline.

Any way, if you check out the site today, you’ll see that Darwin Garrison’s latest Animanga Viewpoint is up.  You can see what he has to say about Raiders by JinJun Park here.  Go take a look and let him know what your thoughts are.

Also, don’t forget that Dave Freer’s collection of short stories, A Goth Sex-Kitten & Other Stories, is now available for sale.  You can find it  on our site or at Barnes & Noble.  As soon as it goes live on Amazon and smashwords, we’ll let you know.

Enjoy your holiday.  Be safe and have fun.  Oh, and check back on Friday.  I have a feeling you might find a few “Black Friday” sales here as well.

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Goth Sex-Kitten

and other stories.

Okay, admit it.  The title of the post caught your attention.  Think of how I felt when I saw that in the subject line of an email first thing one morning.  Now, imagine it happening pre-coffee.  Yes, I did do a double-take, especially since the sender of the e-mail was Dave Freer.

Now, there are a couple of thinks Dave’s known for.  The first is his wonderful writing.  He’s a wonderful writer of fantasy and sf.  A lot of his work reminds me of Terry Pratchett.

He also has a wicked sense of humor when he wants.

So, yes, I was a little leery when I opened the email.  I was also very surprised and did a fan girl squee to see that the subject line referred to one of his short stories.

That short story is now the lead in a collection of six stories by Dave that we’ll be bringing out later today.  The collection will be available in our store tomorrow, when the store comes back online.  It will be available over the next few days at Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.

But, for now, I thought I’d give you a taste of what he has in store for you. . . .

The Goth Sex-Kitten

Standing inside its pentacle of finely powdered bone-dust, the alembic quivered and shook on its stand.”Concentrate, famulus, for Zorathsyrtus sake!” cursed the master. “Keep that flame steady or I’ll turn you into a privy in a camp full of puke-drunk Joringian mercenaries.”

Tom concentrated. That was enough of a dire — and possibly real — threat to focus his mind remarkably, turning it away from thoughts inspired by his secretive perusal of one of the volumes on the master’s locked shelf. The one with the well-thumbed color illustrations. Tom retained little of his origins, except for a certain fastidiousness, some vanity and a tail, but he knew what he had been, and he knew what he had no fancy to be.

It was all very well for Master Hargarthius. The master magician was as wrinkled as a dragon’s hide after a long hibernation, and was even older than the cheese that lurked at the back of the third pantry cupboard. Marcencius, who had been the master’s previous famulus from before Tom was born, said it had been there a century or so, and he was not to go too close to it, or the cheese would have the flesh off Tom’s hands at the very least… If he was lucky, which, as Marcenius pointed out, he wasn’t. It was a cheese that ate mice. . . .

Rob

The churn of the ocean boiled foam for the gale to pick and fling landward. The spume gobbets swirled up the cliff, as great seas ate into the narrow cove across the grinding cobbles.

The storm had left a grey dawn, hazed with rain-squalls and tatters of racing cloud. It was hard to see clearly from the cliff-top, but they could still make out the straight black lines of masts and spars above the angry water that pounded the reef. The two men standing there, braced against the wind, stared at the wreck. “There’s never a man that got off her alive, Bart,” said the shorter of the two, giving an involuntary shiver.

The other, a broad, tall and solid pylon of a man, nodded. “Aye, William-lad. You’d be right about that. It’d take a seal to swim out of there. But the bodies’ll come in the tide. We’d best get down there before anyone else does.”

It was grim work picking through the sodden clothing of the bodies washed ashore, but the rewards could be great, for poor men. And it was fitting that they’d get something for the labour of hauling the corpses to the churchyard. . . .

There are four other stories included as well.  Check them out tomorrow when the collection goes on sale!

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Back to Work — Sort Of

This past week has been the week from Hell in a lot of ways.  As my last post noted, a dear cousin passed away.  Add to that my son having his first wreck — and totaling his truck — and, well, you get an idea of what my life’s been like.  Add in the 350 mile drive each way to attend my cousin’s funeral (which was held on the anniversary of my dad’s death — not that her family realized it when they planned the service).  So today I’m trying to play catch up, at least some, even as my brain and body are begging to go back to bed.

First off, for some business matters.  The website store will be back up either tomorrow or Tuesday.  Probably Tuesday.  I’ll announce it as soon as it’s live again.

Also, Dave Freer’s collection of short stories — The Goth Sex Kitten and Other Stories — will be available for purchase when the store goes live.  It will take a couple of days for it to show up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  We are now publishing directly through BN, just as we are Amazon.  Of course, you can still find us on Smashwords and through their affiliates as well.  Naturally, all our books and short stories are available through our site as well.

Okay, a couple of items of interest.  The review process for Amazon has come under fire again, specifically because people can rate books — and ebooks — without reading them and that their ratings can be based on anything.  The issue has been around for a long time but has been gaining notoriety after the agency model pricing of e-books came into being.  What is happening now is that a number of folks are giving 1-star reviews to e-books when they cost as much, or more, than the hard cover books.  This happens almost exclusively to e-books published by those houses under the agency model.  The hard cover prices can still be discounted by Amazon and are.  However, the publisher sets the price for the e-book.  This often means there is little or no difference between the cost of the digital copy and the cost of the hard copy.

What some people see as the crux of the matter is that Amazon allows customers to post reviews whether they’ve read the book or not.  As with other on-line retailers, all you have to do to post a review on Amazon is have an account with them.

I understand the concern over these negative reviews.  But to require Amazon to police the reviews so that only someone who has read a book can post would mean they would have to buy the book from Amazon.  That would prevent someone who borrowed it from the library, or who purchased it elsewhere, or who received it as a gift from ever posting a review.  That’s not the way to do it.

In my opinion, what Amazon needs to do is simply add another section to their reviews.  Rate the book for content and quality and then rate the book for pricing.  Most folks who give negative reviews for books due to their cost, say so in the body of the review.  That leads me to believe they would be honest and simply mark the cost/value portion of the review if they were offered that option.

But let’s face it, these reviews are anything but reliable.  If you follow any of the e-book boards, you will have seen instance after instance where authors (or their friends or family) have created multiple accounts to post glowing reviews for their loved one’s book.  This isn’t something unique to just Amazon.  So, if you are relying on the reviews by customers, you need to take them with a grain of salt.  Or at least you need to look at what else that reviewer has rated.  Often, you will find that they have never reviewed anything else.

In the meantime, remember that the review you give can and will impact an author’s sales.  So, until there is a way to show up front that you are marking the book down because of price, limit your review to what you liked or didn’t like about the contents of the book, not just the price.  Oh, and let the publishers know if you think the price is out of line.

Going hand-in-hand with the above is this article from the NY Times.  With the availability to look at, touch and play with e-book readers in such places as Walmart and Target this holiday season, there is the potential for the e-book market to really soar.  Will this be the tipping point?  I don’t know.  But it will be one giant step toward it, in my opinion.  With the explosive growth of e-books sales over the last couple of years, the lower prices for e-book readers, the wide availability of PC/Mac versions of the kindle/nook/sony/kobo, etc., programs so you can read on your computer, laptop or cellphone, e-books are no longer only for the technically inclined.  It is going to be interesting to see how the figures pan out over the next few months.

Finally, for the writers out there.  I recommend you take a look at this entry from Lucienne Diver’s blog.  Not only is she an agent with the Knight Agency, but she’s a wonderful author in her own right.  (Vamped and ReVamped)  Earlier this month, she had a post that really hit home with the writer side of me:

I suppose that the long and short of what I took away from this is that publication has never been easy…not the path to it or the continuation of the journey.  It’s never been painless.  No artist of any stripe has ever been universally loved or acclaimed.  In order to reach out and grab readers by the throat, authors have to be able to throw open the doors and windows to the soul.  Unfortunately, in letting their creativity out, those open doors allow for stiff, bracing and sometimes stormy winds to sweep through as well.  To me it’s a comfort that the literary greats went through the same vicissitudes we do today.  They survived.  Their names have gone down in history and, perhaps more importantly to them as writers, their works have remained in print.  We read them today, often thinking that they must have been aware of their own genius and been gratified by their success, while the truth is that authors do not sit back content with the accomplishment of their last release, but are constantly struggling with the new and wondering whether they’ll be able to live up to or exceed expectations.  I’m not sure whether there’s an actual saying that you’re only as good as your latest novel, but I do know that that’s how all writers feel.

So, for those of you battling toward attainment of your dreams, whether they be of initial or continued publication, take comfort in the shared pain and find compatriots with whom to celebrate your triumphs.  Appreciate them when they come and pull out the memories of them to get you through the hard times.

And, with that in mind, I leave you to the rest of the weekend.

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What Should Be Done?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I spend time each day checking out various discussion boards relating to e-books.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, far longer than NRP has been in existence.  One reason is I’ve been an advocate of e-books from the first time I was introduced to them via Webscriptions.  The second reason is that, not matter how contentious the boards get at times, they are populated by readers.  These are people who are passionate not only about the technology behind e-books and e-book readers but are passionate about the books as well.

One of the topics that comes up from time to time is how e-books and online retailers have impacted bookstore sales and why.  It’s not a new discussion by any means.  It started with the first online order from Amazon and has never really gone away.   There have been different permutations of it, including the possible cannibalization of hard cover purchases by e-book sales. It’s too early in the morning to kick my ulcer into full gear by going into the agency model.  We’ll do that later.  Today, a few thoughts on bookstores.

The U. S. Census Department released the September figures for bookstore sales.  New book sales were down from September 2009 by 7.1%.  August figures were down 6.5%.  For the year, sales are down 2.6%.  To translate that into dollars, year-to-date sales for new books from bookstores is $12.3 billion.

According to John Marmaduke, CEO of Hastings, their sales for stores open at least a year fell 6.2%.  That includes a 9.3% drop in new book sales.  However, they experienced an increase of 7.8% in sales of used and “value” books.  Marmaduke claims that e-book readers are impacting the sale of new books but noted that they are countering this by offering used and value books at “price points that resonate well with our customers.”

That last phrase is the key, in my opinion.  Books are not, to most people, a necessity.  Especially not in this day and age of the internet.  You can go online and find something to read, no matter what your taste.  Be it fanfic or your local newspaper, it’s there.  If you don’t mind breaking a few laws, you can find the newest best seller for free.  (And I am not advocating this!)

There’s also the local library.  Most of us can go a few miles from home and take advantage of free library services.  Not only can we check out books, but there’s music and video as well.

But let’s take those out of the equation right now and just look at why bookstore sales are down.  I’ll start by saying this is my opinion, based solely on my own experience as a customer and my discussion with booksellers in my area.

To me, the problem began with the influx of big box bookstores.  Before they came in and took over the market, we had small, often specialty stores.  The national stores were in the malls — where there was lots of foot traffic so they got a great deal of people just stopping in to browse.  That turned into sales.

Even though space was limited in these stores, the selection was broader than it is now.  New authors were highlighted.  Mid-listers had shelf space.  At least once a month there was some sort of activity going on, be it a signing or a release party or what, to bring in more customers.  Most of those working in the stores knew their product.  If you asked where a title was, they could take you right to it.  And they knew your name.  In short, there was good customer service.

There was a difference in the quality of the books, too.  I don’t mean they were better written — although, on the whole, I think a lot of them were.  What I mean is they were copy edited and proofread more closely.  Sure, you might find a couple of errors in a book — not a couple per page which seems to be happening more and more often now.

In short, when you walked into one of these smaller stores, be they a national chain or your local independent bookseller, you could be sure they had what you wanted or would get it for you.  In a lot of cases, you felt welcome and valued as a customer.

Then came the big box stores.  Oh, I welcomed them along with so many others because of the lower prices.  I didn’t think about the impact they’d have on the local independent sellers.  Living in the DFW area, I was lucky.  A number of our independents held out far longer than they did in other parts of the country.  Still, almost all of them eventually closed their doors, leaving only the big, often cold, box stores.

Prices creeped up and the smaller national chain stores located in the malls closed.  The once free “memberships” either became for purchase memberships or the requirements for the “free” benefits doubled or trebled.   To bring in more people, coffeeshops were added to the stores.  More big box stores were built, increasing competition but not lowering prices.

Basically, they flooded the market with locations at a time when the economy had to take a downswing — nothing keeps growing without hitting a bump somewhere along the line.  So costs were cut by hiring more and more part-time help that often didn’t read, much less know the product.  Books by new authors and mid-listers were taken from the shelves.  If they manage to get there now, it’s only for a very short period of time.  Instead, the “guaranteed” best sellers are stocked ad nauseum.  This hurts everyone, the reader and the writer AND the bookstore.

As book sales slipped, non-book items started slipping into the stores:  stuffed animals, board games, etc.  You walk into some of these stores now and they bear little resemblance to the bookstore they’re supposed to be.

Are bookstores doomed?  Absolutely not.  But, as with publishing as a whole, they need to retool their business plans and development plans to meet changing demands.  I think the days of the free standing mega bookstore are numbered.  Stores need to relocate to malls and other areas where they will get the walk-in traffic.  Getting people in the door is the first, and greatest, challenge.  The second is figuring out how to handle those who want e-books.  Follow the Barnes & Noble example and have you e-bookstore available in the physical store.  Offer discounts on coffee or something if the customer shows the Nook or that stores reader application on a smart phone or laptop.

People still want to go to bookstores, even if they also use online retailers like Amazon, or even Barnes & Noble or Borders online.  There is still something about seeing row after row of books and being able to take you time browsing through the titles, flipping pages and reading back covers.  If you don’t believe me, look at the outcry when the closure of a bookstore is announced.

It’s more than just a few people saying how they wished the store was staying open.  There are campaigns to find new owners or new locations for the store in question.  Don’t believe me, check out the facebook page for the Davis-Kidd Bookstores in Nashville.  Or look at what happened in Fort Worth when Barnes & Noble announced it was closing one of its stores because they hadn’t been able to negotiate a new lease.  There was so much public pressure put on not only B&N but the landlord of the shopping center where the store’s located that favorable lease terms were finally agreed upon and the store was saved.

This is a trickle down effect.  The bookstores can’t solve the problem by themselves.  It has to include the publishers and the customers.  If you want to keep your favorite bookstore open, visit it.  BUY something there.  Sign up for their email newsletters so you know when there’s a sale or they have a discount coupon available.  Don’t rely on someone else to do it for you.

There is room in this world for both physical and digital books.  The day of the big bookstore may be over soon.  I don’t know.  But there is a place for bookstores.  Let’s not forget that.

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Monday Morning Mash-up

Well, it was an interesting Sunday, in the proverbial sense of the word.  When I posted yesterday morning, I had every intention of spending the day writing and watching football with friends.  Well, I accomplished the latter. Friends came over to watch — gasp — the Cowboys beat the Giants.  That was the high point in the day, sandwiched between news of how my almost 91 year old cousin did in surgery (partial hip replacement) and news that my son had been involved in an auto accident.  Both are okay, but it did sort of take the focus off of more mundane things like football and writing.

But it’s back to work today.  Let’s start with an article by Julie Bosman that appeared yesterday.  This will be the first holiday season when e-readers will be available in such retailers as Walmart, Target and Best Buy.  More importantly, they’ll be available at prices likely to entice purchases as gifts.  As noted in the article:

“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”

If things go as forecast, according to the article, there could be as many as 103 e-readers in circulation by the end of the year.  To which I have only one thing to say:  COOL!  Especially the part of the article where the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, says she expects e-book sales to “shoot up” on Christmas day.

To revisit a couple of topics from last week, Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine has apologized again for using material from an author without permission.  In an interview, Griggs has pledged to be more vigilant about copyright.  It may be too little, too late to save the small magazine.  The internet uproar over what happened has cost the magazine advertisers, something no publication can afford to lose.  However, so much of this could have been avoided had Griggs either not used the article without permission or had simply issued an apology when requested.  Instead, her defensive stance may have cost her more than just a few advertisers if, as alleged, she did take articles from such big name sources as Food Network.  You can find more about this here.  Many thanks to Chris Meadows and TeleRead.com for keeping up with this situation.

Next up is the continuing saga of the book supposedly promoting pedophilia over at Amazon.  That slippery slope we discussed last week keeps getting more and more slippery.  Amazon has found itself in a no-win situation.  If they had left the book up, they would have been crucified for promoting a truly heinous crime.  By taking it down, they get crucified in some fora for censorship.  Then there are the cries that they didn’t act quickly enough — read that as immediately.  And, as predicted, they are now being hit with more demands from other groups to take down yet more books.  PETA has sent emails to Jeff Bezos demanding the removal of books about dog fighting, etc.  People on the different kindle and amazon boards are posting links to books they want taken down because these books are objectionable.  Barnes & Noble is now adding a disclaimer to book published through its PubIt program telling readers to report any objectionable material.

Then there is this article from PC World.  Entitled “5 Things to Learn from Amazon’s Latest PR Disaster”, it starts out by talking about how Amazon has backpedaled from an earlier stance about the book.  Yes, there is some backpedaling, no doubt about it.  The problem arose because Amazon responded too quickly, imo.  They issued their no censorship statement before reviewing the title in question.  Had they waited — and, yes, it would have been difficult to do so because of all the cries of outrage going viral across the internet — they could have issued a statement saying they were pulling the book due to a violation of their terms of service.  Instead, they jumped the gun in a knee-jerk reaction and it’s come back to bite them.

The one thing I will agree with in the article is that this has potentially tarnished the reputation of legitimate e-books.  I say potentially — a qualifier the author of the article does not use — because I do think most readers are more forgiving than the author is giving them credit for.  Otherwise, the first time someone read something they didn’t like, they’d quit reading — e-book or not.  Most people know there are books out there they aren’t going to agree with or enjoy.  They simply refuse to buy the book.  This is a storm that will blow over.

The real culprit when it comes to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate e-books is poor editing and proofreading.  Go to almost any e-book related forum and look at the number of instances where e-books are being criticized because of poor proofreading.  It doesn’t matter if the e-book comes from an established publishing house or a new e-press or the author himself.  OCR errors, overlooked spelling and punctuation errors, formatting errors are all driving readers up a wall.  This is what will hurt us the most in the long run

Overall, however, I think the author of the article has it right.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy or quick answer to keep this from happening again.  If it does, I just hope that the protests go straight to Amazon or whomever and they don’t go viral again.  If they do, I’m afraid we will see more and more restrictions being put on the DTP-type platforms, making it all but impossible for small presses and authors to publish through them.  And that will be a loss for everyone.

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And the Mob Mentality Continues

Sigh.  I’d planned on not posting anything else today.  It’s Friday.  I’m not feeling great and I really thought things would die down once Amazon removed the book that caused all the uproar.  Boy was I wrong.  If you were to go to the first page of the kindle discussion board at Amazon right now, you’d find no less than five different threads talking about the book.  Two are claiming the book is about to be put back up for sale.  Why?  Because in an interview the author said he was “confident” it would be back on Amazon before long.  Nothing else.  A couple of threads are simply extension of the threads that have been up for the last 24 – 48 hours.

And then there’s the thread that lists other books the thread’s author thinks are worse than the original book.  Apparently this person went on a search through the books offered on Amazon looking for things that are so bad they should be taken down.  He even, oh so helpfully, adds links to the offending books.  Needless to say, the mob mentality is continuing despite one poster’s assertion that it is dying down.  Heck, there’s even a thread noting that the witch hunt has begun.

This isn’t limited to the Amazon boards either.  If you go to some of the nook boards, or other boards dedicated to e-books, you’ll find the same thing.  Why, because a lot of posters are active on more than one forum.  So, the topic is being hashed and rehashed over and over again.

What worries me is the fact that, even though there are people warning them that all they are doing is giving free publicity to these books they disapprove of, these people continue to shout at the top of their lungs, metaphorically speaking, about how offensive and evil these books are.  They spend time searching out books that probably, until they brought attention to them, had very few sales.  Worse, they don’t seem to recognize the slippery slope they’ve started down.

Where do we draw the line?  If we demand a site like Amazon or B&N or any other remove a book for “offending matter” and that site agrees, it makes it so much easier to make the demand the next time.  Today they take down a book supposedly promoting pedophilia.  I say supposedly because I haven’t read it.  I didn’t click on the link that folks posted.  So I can’t say for sure what it is about.  Frankly, the title of the book was enough to keep me from looking at it.

So, what is to prevent a group of people from protesting, for example, paranormal romances as “porn”?  Oh, don’t laugh.  There are those out there who think that is exactly what they are.  These books have lots of sex.  They have magic or unnatural creatures in them.  They have sex outside of marriage and, often, outside of species.  After all, vampires aren’t human — at least not any longer.  Nor are werewolves or elves or ghosts.

Okay, I’m using this very much tongue in cheek but  hope you get my meaning.  It is very easy to find books that someone isn’t going to approve of.  Do we want to find ourselves in a position where book burnings, even metaphorical ones, are common place?

The way I look at it, once Amazon was notified of the book, they had the responsibility to determine if it violated their terms of service.  It did, if it said what it is alleged to have said.  Amazon was then in the position to take the book down.  No harm and no foul.

I’ll even allow how going through their catalog to see if there are books that are objectionable is something anyone can do.  They can then email Amazon and voice their objections.  But to start rallying the troops for boycotts and demanding books be taken down isn’t something I can support.  Maybe I read too many reports and saw too many interviews of people demanding the Harry Potter books be taken off of shelves because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft.  Then, when asked, the person being interviewed would have to reluctantly admit they hadn’t read the book.  But they’d heard about it.  So it had to be true and, therefore, the book was bad.

The way to battle books like this is to do our homework and see first if they are promoting what we’ve been told they do.  If true, then we should privately contact the distributor or publisher or store where it is being sold and give them the facts.  Show how the book violates their terms of service.  (In Amazon’s case, anyone can find the terms of service for the DTP program).  Then wait.  Give them a reasonable period of time to investigate the issue and act.  Only if they don’t respond should we then consider starting the calls for boycotts, etc., for the simple reason that once the call goes out, we are now giving the offending material publicity it hadn’t had before.  Remember the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR.

There was one commenter on this topic who brought up a very interesting alternative.  He noted that every time we order a book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or any online store, they have not only what we ordered but our names, addresses, etc.  That means there is a list available for law enforcement to subpoena should a book be found to promote illegal activities.  Think about that.  Not only would those honestly wanting to learn how to commit the act and get away with it be tagged, but so would all those who downloaded samples of the book or who bought it based solely on the curiosity factor because of the calls for boycotts and more.

I will close simply by repeating what I said in an earlier post.  We need to think about the consequences, intended and unintended, that are arising from this call for action.  Are we willing to live with these consequences, especially the unintended ones?

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