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A few weeks ago, President Obama selected five books for his “vacation reading.”

What was the sales impact of the presidential picks?



Five well received and award winning books. This list has been written about by most news outlets. What i want to do is explore a bit of the impact the President has on actual book sales with his picks.

First off, eliminate THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Doubleday) because it was an Oprah Book Club pick. Although Oprah does not have the enormous impact she did when her book club was in full force, she can still move units. Her pick perhaps influenced Obama? But the sales increase is attributed to her influence not his.

Also take out THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Riverhead). This book has been a top best-seller for 18 months and now is a major motion picture. The publicity driven by a big movie always drives sales of the book. Being a #1 best-seller being made into a movie with A-list talent is a ticket to printing money. read it – loved it. Ready to see the Emily Blunt movie.

So that leaves us with the other three books. All three have been reviewed well. All three have a good sales record. All three are now in trade paperback (my favorite format for reading books). BARBARIAN DAYS (Penguin Press) won the Pulitzer; H IS FOR HAWK (Grove Press) is on every “best-of” list; and SEVENEVES (Morrow) is from the acclaimed Neal Stephenson. So all three have great pedigrees.

I appreciate that four of the five are in trade paperback. My favorite format.

Sales? The print sales on all three books went up 30-40% the week after the announcement and subsequently fell about 20% the following week after. So there was a significant bump but it was short lived. Time will tell if the weekly sales maintain at a pre-Obama level or settle back to their normal sales pattern. The numbers are from Neilsen Bookscan. Will be interesting to track the sales over time. I do not have access to the ebook sales, but my sense is there is a similar pattern. 

The bottom line is there was an impact. Although the sales have declined from the previous week, they are still up considerably. These books may end up selling better over the long run because of this publicity.

But also, the President’s picks are all well-received and a sampling of some of the most talked about books of the season.

One last note. The first time and perhaps one of the most profound presidential picks was Reagan’s selection HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER from first-time author Tom Clancy and published by Naval Institute Press. Not only did the sales of the book go to #1, but Clancy became one of the best-selling authors for decades.




I was cleaning out my shelves under the TV last week. I came across a bag with a dozen instruction manuals for all of the various parts of the entertainment systems. From the Optimum online connection to the DVD and sound systems and the TV set. I had kept them all for a decade but never looked at them once. If I had a problem, I went online. Look at the bundle!

So much wasted money on printing, paper and shipping:

  1. Optimum Online Quick Installation Guide – but it is 24 pages long.
  2. Acoustic Research Performance Home Theater Hook-Up Guide – this is a poster that has dozens of lines and graphs and is the most confusing thing.
  3. Samsung DVD Recorder Quick Setup Guide – not sure what this is for.
  4. Samsung Instruction Manual DVD-R135 – the same as the one before but in a different style.
  5. Samsung Plasma Display TV Owner’s Instruction – a manual for a TV? Really?
  6. Peerless universal wall mounts assembly instructions – just make sure you find a stud — and if not, anchor it with the plastic mounts.
  7. Harmon Kardon gird to set up stereo – another really confusing grid of lines and diagrams.
  8. Some “Important Safety Precautions!” sheet with a picture of a house – just don’t stand in water when handling electricity?
  9. Optimum Quick Reference Guide – basically the same as #1, just extra stuff.
  10. Cablevision remote control Operating Instructions – remote control? Point and click…
  11. Plus a dozen other brochures and the like- you get the idea.

I tossed everyone of them into the garbage can.

I used to be so diligent in keeping every instruction and manual. I would put them in a plastic bag or a folder. I kept it nice and neat and placed it on the bookshelf next to the entertainment center. Then it just sat there for a decade. Collecting dust.

Not everything is better with our digital world — but instruction manuals are definitely better online and on demand.




SILICON VALLEY is a brilliant show. Co-created by (Office Space, Idiocracy, Beevis & Butthead), and King of the Hill), Dave Krinsky, and John Altschuler.

silicon-valley-s3-e2-conjoinedThe back and forth between the Sales and the Engineers… great discussions.

“The product is …whatever makes the value of that stock go up, that is what we are going to make.”

“I need to move the needle today,”

“It’s now taught in business schools.”


“Isn’t that just a square?”

  1. Manufacturing and Engineering.
  2. Growth and Sales.

The main thing is to “compromise” to reach the sales goals. This is NOT the way to do things but it is so smart of SILICON VALLEY to have this as the way to success. HBO actually sells posters with this “business plan.”


This show is so great at making fun of business and the tech world. It is all about getting to market quickly — and not about what is best for the product.

No doubt within the humor there must be a compromise between the creation of the product and the selling/marketing of it.

The lesson? Even the most absurd things can be put into practice with a few graphs and some corporate jargon.


Last week, a rumor was started when a mall executive off-handedly mentioned that Amazon might open 300-400 bricks and mortar stores. People started getting all excited and upset. Book executives pontificated about the value of bricks and mortar and how Amazon is realizing the need for a presence. The media went gaga — and this was all just based on a throw-away comment by an executive not even associated with the Seattle monster. The executive quickly recanted the comment and Amazon refused to comment.

Amazon has opened one bookstore in Seattle. They have ads up for employment in another location in southern California. Who knows what will happen next? But even a hint of what Amazon might do gathered a lot of angst and comments.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 9.27.16 AMBarnes and Noble stock took an immediate 17% drop on the rumor that Amazon was entering their playground. Although the news was corrected, B&N’s stock has not recovered. To be fair, it has been in a tailspin all year, so the market analysts were already looking for a reason to sell. As of today, B&N stock is down 72% since July 17 (when it was $28.66 a share). It is now $8.30.

So what if the rumor is true? It doesn’t really matter.

What if Amazon actually opened 300-400 stores?

What would happen? Why?

  1. Amazon has more consumer data and spending habits than most any company in the Universe. They could use this information to better target the areas of where optimal locations would be. They already have the addresses of millions of customers, know their buying habits and how much they spend a year.
  2. When Amazon tried to publish physical books and be “more like a NY publisher” they were stymied to make it successful. Although they had a partnership with HMH for sales and distribution, the stores who compete with Amazon didn’t want to carry their titles. So, although it a digital world, there is still a necessity for physical locations to sell certain types of books. This would give Amazon a platform for doing so.
  3. Glut of retail space plus Amazon’s market power could create a series of favorable leases. This might be the perfect time for Amazon to commit to hundreds of locations as retail offers better deals for them.
  4. Amazon is great at “counter programming.” In a world where bricks and mortar stores are closing everywhere, there is an opportunity for Amazon to go against the tide. As others are retreating, Amazon can attack.
  5. Apple is successful at retail. No doubt there is a huge difference between the two tech giants. Apple used the “need to fix the device” reason to open up stores. But since these two companies compete on so many levels, an Amazon store might be a way to compete.
  6. Amazon could use the stores to sell basically anything, Given books is just an opening to all the crap Amazon sells. Having retail outlets might open up opportunities to sell other things. Perhaps music? There are no record stores left.
  7. Would give Amazon a place for consumers to pick up orders that they can’t have shipped home or to the office. Plus, Amazon could offer specials if picked up at a location. They currently have lockers in the major cities, why not put the lockers in the stores — or make the stores into lockers?

The bottom line is regardless of what Amazon does or does not do, even rumor has a profound impact on the bookselling and publishing industry.


IMG_0816Although the Academy seldom rewards actors for starring roles in blockbuster movies, it would be refreshing if they gave the Best Actor Oscar to Harrison Ford.

I enjoy STAR WARS, but am not a rabid fan engrossed by the enormity of it. Ford’s portrayal of Han Solo in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was the best performance of the year.

Generally the Best Actor award goes to a role as a historical figure (Lincoln, Idi Amin, Ray Charles, Truman Capote, Harvey Milk, King George VI, Stephen Hawking) or a character that overcomes some major obstacle. But this year, why not give it to an amazing performance in the creation of one of the greatest characters in all of movie history?

A few reasons:

  1. His role was pivotal in the movie. Without Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, there is no movie. He had the most important role in the biggest movie of all time.
  2. Ford brilliantly reprised one of his signature roles nearly 40 years later and didn’t miss a beat. How many actors can reprise a role nearly four decades later and maintain the essence of the role?
  3. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is the biggest movie of all time. It deserves more than just technical and special effects Oscars. IMG_0815
  4. Ford has only been nominated once (for WITNESS) although he has been in numerous great roles. He has been ignored way too often by the Academy. It is time to right this injustice.
  5. Ford is in his 70s, he deserves the Oscar for a lifetime of achievement. Many actors win in a way that represents an entire body of work.
  6. Han Solo is one of the greatest heroes of all time in any medium — movies, books, music, tv shows etc. Ford took what was on the page and made it one of his signature roles. He created an amazing character and for that he deserves to win.


Harrison Ford deserves not only to be nominated, but he deserves to win.


IMG_0582One of the few remaining independent toy stores in Pleasantville, NY, Westchester County announced they will close this month. After 42 years in business, it was no longer profitable and the owners felt they had no other options.

On their Facebook page, the owners listed a few reasons why. I want to discuss each of these points and also how they apply to the challenges facing all independent stores — and also how it applies to independent book stores.

  1. RENT: Building landlord was not willing to lease for more than two years — one of the bigger challenges to any store is the rent. If the store is in a desirable spot with strong foot traffic, the landlord generally can get more money from a corporate entity. It is too bad but it is reality. There are already too many Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Chase Banks and the like. The owner of the building is in it to make the most money.
  2. SYSTEMS: Old systems need to be upgraded to meet new credit card security demands — the Try and Buy owners mention it would be a “$40,000-$50,000 investment” just to be up-to-date to take the new chip-enchande cards. I don’t know much about the costs, but do know it is imperative that stores have modern inventory; cash-register and credit card swipers. I wonder if something like Square would resolve this?
  3. CHANGING MARKET: They also mention that children are more enamored with electronics than traditional toys (so are adults). This is a trend that has been ongoing since the beginning of time. It will continue. Makes it tough for a “traditional” store. The inventory mix is harder and harder to predict with the push away from the tried and true. But there is also a backlash against being wired all the time.
  4. AMAZON: Customers “show rooming.” This is the one that drives me more crazy than any other. I shop on Amazon. But if I am in an independent store and find what I want, I buy it there. I never understood the cheap mentality people who of use a store as a showroom one to buy online. Don’t do it people. Don’t abuse the bricks and mortar outlets just so you can see it before buying online (except if you do it to Walmart!). This is an issue that stores need to continue to educate consumers about the harm this does to stores. It is also just plain rude.
  5. COMPETITION: They mention more places selling toys like drug stores and grocery stores as hurting their sales. Again, I am not sure of the amount of toys purchased at these other outlets, but it does seem like something that has been ongoing for years. The selection at these chains is still limited. But in an ever competitive market, I guess all competition chips away.

Each of these issues can be applied to independent bookstores. Realizing that these are going to be obstacles regardless, many have successfully fought and won in the battle for the retail dollar. But it will always be a challenge. To survive a store must adapt and keep current.

I will miss Try and Buy. I hope the landlord doesn’t put in another bank branch in the spot.



What is on your nightstand? A common question. I ask it all the time.

On my “bookstand’:Version 2

THE MARTIAN, Andy Weir — Love the backstory. How Weir went about gathering an audience while writing the book. He has written a modern classic. Plus it had a great movie adaptation. The combination is rare and creates a lore around it. Although many have suggested I read (including my son), I have not done so. I expect to read it now. The book will have so much more detail.

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Howard Zinn — Wonderful writing. A view of America that is a different perspective than what was taught in my school growing up. All history is written from a point of view. Some are more direct than others. When I was an undergrad, I read INEVITABLE REVOLUTIONS by Walter LaFeber.  The book had an influence on how I looked at American history. A changing perspective. This book has a similar feel. Also, gets a good plug in GOOD WILL HUNTING. Probably the book that flows the easiest of the four.

GRAVITY’S RAINBOW, Thomas Pynchon — I just read the first page, “A screaming comes across the sky.”

INFINITE JEST, David Foster Wallace — Have always wanted to read. Have never felt the urge to start though. Watch the movie THE END OF THE TOUR with the Jason Segal’s Oscar-worthy performance. That inspired me to finally delve in. Still in the early stages, but enjoying the slow burn. I have two bookmarks – one for the narrative and one for the footnotes.

IMG_0348I am reading all of these in trade paperback. What a great delivery system for a book! Love the QP (as Borders would call it). Trade paperback is my favorite format to read books. I will still read some in hardcover and also ebooks. But, in the end, the ones I want to read and keep on my shelves, it is trade pb.

Rough edges on two of the books. Flaps on two of the books. Paper feels good on all of them.

Now I just realized, that two of the four books are connected to Matt Damon. Which leads me to another must read book that Damon is connected. Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY. The Amazon review starts out, “One of the great crime novels of the 20th century, Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is a blend of the narrative subtlety of Henry James and the self-reflexive irony of Vladimir Nabokov.” High praise. Should probably read all five in the Ripley series in a row – The Ripliad.IMG_0387

I started with “4 must reads.” Then I added one more. But that addition is the first one of five. So now I have nine books to read. They do multiply.

I intend to read all of them, I may not get through them. But I figure I will read as long as i remain engaged. I drop books all the time. There are just too many great books that I need to read — that I don’t have the desire to read ones that I don’t get something from.

Always the quest of reading.

To know more.

To be engaged.


IMG_0182There has been a lot of recent discussion of the flattening of eBook sales and the resurgence of print. This post has nothing to do with that debate and the validity of the numbers (until Amazon actually releases real sales, there will always be a debate).

I like both eBooks and physical books. I read both. But there are numerous differences.

Instead here are my top 10 reasons why I prefer print:

  1. Unplugged – I spend so much time looking at a screen, Whether it be this blog post, reading endless emails, getting my news – I am online a lot. Reading a physical book gets me away from the screen. My escape! No device needed.

  2. Search – sure the ability to search by key words in eBooks is great. But when I want to go back and re-read a passage, it is easier to flip a few pages and find what I want than to scan digital.

  3. Note Taking – I like to write in my books. I like to underline in many colors. I like to draw in my books. I like scribbling in them. Again, although there are digital tools available to do that – it is inferior. More personal.

  4. Privacy – No muti-national corporation knows what I am reading. When I am reading. How long I am reading. Where I am reading. The fact that Amazon, Apple, Google etal can actually know exactly where I am in a book is disarming. Does anyone really need to know all this “big data?”

  5. Smell – Yes, I love the smell of my books. I love the smell of a bookstore. How many of you open up and smell your books? John Updike used to smell his books. Do you do that to your Kindle? No.

  6. Design – Books are beautiful. From the typography to the cover to the paper weight to the deckled edges. Digital can be bland and boring. Too many bells and whistles and it no longer is a book — but a game (which is cool — but not a replacement for reading).IMG_0134

  7. Gift – A physical book is a great gift. It can be a $100 Art book or a $5 board book. But a physical book is perfect. A signed book is even a better gift. A book is easy to wrap and people always need another one. Digital books are not that giftable and no one can really “sign” an eBook.

  8. Insight  – One of the first things I look at when visiting someone is what is on their bookshelf. I love seeing what others have read or want to read. In addition to looking good, it is an insight to the individual. I am not ever going to scan through someone’s iBook library.

  9. Burns Better – Last Fall, I ran out of wood for the firepit. So I went to my “excess books” pile and started to burn books. Before you pitchfork me, theseIMG_0183 were old books (or new ARCs that I will never read). I would never burn books for content, just heat.  Can’t burn my Nook.

  10. Support Bookstores – As much as bookstores tried and wanted to sell ebooks, the game is rigged and Amazon dominates.  So, physical books help support bookstores which are integral to our civilization.

I still read a lot of ebooks. I think they are great. But ink and paper are superior in many ways…


imagesOyster eBook subscription service last week announced they are suspending business. This two-year old start-up had gathered a lot of publicity and industry buzz. They had $20-million in seed money and founders from the tech world. But, in the end, Oyster could not generate enough business to sustain. The company will “sunset” over the next few months with Google is picking up some of the pieces.

So what went wrong?

  1. Flawed Business Model — Oyster paid publishers their full cut of an eBook once 10%-20% was read. So even if a consumer only read 1/5 of the book, Oyster was still on the hook for the full amount to the publisher. Plus the best customers were the ones that Oyster lost money on.
  2. The Best Customers Were Not Profitable Ones — Subscription services appeal most to those who read a lot. This group easily consumed more than the $9.95 monthly fee. So this group of customers used the service the most, also cost them the most. There were not enough “join the gym and never go” customers to make the service profitable.
  3. Lack of Publisher Support — Although they had over 1,000,000 titles, they were missing most of the high profile front-list ones. Quantity is not nearly as important as the quality. The biggest publisher, Penguin-Random House (with 50% of the best-sellers) didn’t participate. Although other corporate publishers played (S&S and HarperCollins most notably), they only let the back-list on the service.
  4. Tough to Compete with Amazon — They lost competing with one of the strongest retailers in the world. Amazon created their own subscription service and set the rules. They acknowledged out the gate that there would not be books from big publishers; they have most of the top self-pubished authors locked in; and they set the financial terms. Amazon has paid out almost $100-million to authors over the past year from Kindle Unlimited.
  5. Book Market isn’t Big Enough to Sustain — Millions of Americans don’t read even a book a year. Many read just one or two. That group is more apt to just buy the book that they want to read. The movie/tv industry and music are much more broad based. Most everyone listens to music or watches something every day. Reading is a much smaller subset. A book can sell less than 10,000 copies and still make the NY Times bestseller list.
  6. Comps to “Netflix for Books” is Seriously Flawed — This comparison never made sense. Viewing movies and tv shows is vastly different than reading books. Consumers will watch movies together. They will browse through the Netflix offerings and watch something on impulse for “a night in.” Reading is a solo event and has much different reasons for consuming. Plus, Netflix has original programming that competes with the major studios. Oyster had no original works.
  7. Comps to “Spotify for Books” Equally Flawed — This comparison also was not appropriate. Music is background. Music is on all the time. Music is easily sampled. People listen to the same song thousands of times. All of these are not characteristics of the way people consume books. Plus, the music industry has much different economics.
  8. Few Have the Time to Justify a Subscription for Books — Reading takes time, It isn’t quick like watching a movie or listening to an album (another reason why it will never be like Netflix or Spotify), Most books take days or even weeks to read. There just are not enough people who have the time to read that many books.

Oyster made a good run at creating a subscription service for eBooks.  They had funding, smart leaders, good UX, a fair amount of mindshare from the publishing industry. But in the end, they missed on too many key points.

Oyster was a good experiment in a new way to read/buy/consume books. There will be others. The idea of subscription can work.

Over the past few decades, I have accumulated thousands of books. I have also donated thousands as I cull my collection to a manageable amount. No longer is “having the most books” the goal. It is now to have the right books and to pass on the other titles to others to enjoy.

I sorted my non-fiction books by subject. I became fascinated by the U.S. CIvil War ever since the Ken Burns PBS series THE CIVIL WAR. The Civil War more than any other event shaped America.  At the time the series debuted, I was a new book buyer at Waldenbooks (at that time having over 1,200 locations). I was given History for it generally was a sleepy category and seldom had bestsellers. Ken Burns changed that.

The book that benefitted the most was the official tie-in, THE CIVIL WAR : AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Geoffrey Ward (Knopf). What a wonderful book and made the perfect gift. This book is still in print and worth adding to anyone’s collection. It was a $50 book back when that was a lot of money for a book, and the sales exploded the History category. But it also helped sell so many other books.IMG_0010

Stumbled across three books that I loved that helped me understand the dynamics:

BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James McPherson (Oxford) — this is the best, single volume history of the U.S. Civil War ever written. I realized watching the Ken Burns series that my understanding of the war was lacking. So I turned to McPherson’s 904-page tome. It was wonderful. Although over 900-pages, it was still a “quick read” in that the story of the war just flowed. This book gave me more background on the most important event in American history. I may re-read it now.

IMG_0011THE CIVIL WAR : A NARRATIVE by Shelby Foote (Random House) — an amazing feat of writing and research. This three-volume, 1.2-million word opus is amazing. It took me a bit longer to plow through this set, but it was worth it. Foote was one of the talking heads on the Burns series and became a star because of it. His story-telling prowess made the events come to life. He spoke as if he was actually experiencing the events live.

IMG_0012A BATTLEFIELD ATLAS OF THE CIVIL WAR by Craig Symonds (N&A Publishing) — while reading the other books, I needed better visuals on the battles. This book was great to use as a companion to the narratives. The maps are clean and clear. The minimilist style of the maps was perfect. There are a lot of books of maps on the battles on the Civil War, but I found this to be the most effective.

I read all of these in physical book form for at the time, ebooks were not available. But if I was to read today, I would stick with the physical editions.