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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.

 

I love this book. The message is clear and focused. It means a lot. It is deep. It is inspiring. I have read it hundreds of times.Unknown

I first read the book over 25 years ago. I didn’t know anything about it except that it seemed to always sell. I was National Account Sales Director at Knopf back then and it was part of my job to research backlist titles. This one kept on selling.

Then I found out about the backstory. This book was first published in the USA in 1923 by Alfred A. Knopf. It started out modestly but just kept on selling every year. To date, almost 10-million have been sold in the States. The book is still in USA copyright and will be until 2018. So, Knopf publishing will have the rights for 95 years. It is in the public domain in most of the rest of the world.

In 1988, the book was due to go into the public domain (at that time it was 75 years), but the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act added 20 years. If the book had been published one year earlier, it would have been PD. But, Knopf (a division of Penguin-Random House) got an additional 20 years and millions more in sales.

So be it.

imagesI just read that an animated movie is coming out this weekend in the USA. But it is only at one theater in NYC and one in LA. I guess I could pop on a train the NYC, but wish it was available closer or online. The movie stars the voices of Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, and Quvenzhané Wallis. Check out the trailer.

I hope the movie is true to the spirt of the book. I hope it is good. I don’t expect the movie to match the experience of reading this book. All it needs to do is spark interest and guide people to the book.

I look forward to seeing the movie — and now I think I will read some more of the book.

IMG_5850

“They come through you but are not from you.

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”

 

“And stand together, yet not too near together;

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

 

jwp

Take Me Home, Country Roads

07.14.2015, No Comments, Uncategorized, by .

This song was originally performed by John Denver. It has been one of his most acclaimed songs. His version has been so popular that is has been adopted by the University of West Virginia and sung after all home football games. The state of West Virginia has made it the “official state song.”

I respect the John Denver original.

But prefer a couple of remixes better.

imagesOne from Israel Kamakawiw’ole about “country road take me home to West Makaha, Hawai’i. Altering the lyrics to match the place.

There is also a cool reggae version from Toots and The Maytals. THis version is about West Jamaica. images

The song has been covered by hundreds of artists. Olivia Newton-John had a hit with it in Japan. And many country artists did versions.

The last link will be one from Ray Charles though…images

 

imagesAmazon just listed their editors picks for the 2014 Best Books of the Year. This is the overall list for the Adult titles. The Amazon editors did a very good job selecting the right mix of literary and popular – with a few execptions. It is a list that for the most part reflects the publishing industry, except it is corporate publisher dominated.

Of the 100 books listed, 41 are from Penguin Random House and another three are from publishers distributed by PRH. So, 44% of the entire list of the “Best” books of the year are from one corporation. The list encompasses over a dozen imprints within the Big House. Although the imprints are independent of one another, they are still part of one massive publishing entity. As long as Penguin Random House has this cache of rich content, they can negotiate on equal or stronger status with Amazon.

  • HarperCollins has 12 titles.
  • Simon & Schuster has nine titles.
  • Macmillan has nine titles.
  • Hachette has only four titles.

The corporate five have almost 80% of the entire list. Penguin Random House has as many titles as the next four corporate publishers combined. Harper, S&S and Macmillan are bolstered by their literary imprints Ecco, Scribner and FSG. Has the Hachette feud influenced the list? Who knows? But only four titles does seem small compared to the size of the publisher.images

A few other things of interest:

Grove-Atlantic has seven titles and combined with Basic and Nation each having one, gives Perseus nine titles. The same as S&S and Macmillan. Add Perseus Distribution (adding in PGW) to the list of the “Big 5” and almost 90% of the titles come from six corporations.

Amazon Publishing has two titles as does HMH, Norton and Bloomsbury.

A handful of publishers have a single title.

I didn’t review the Children’s list yet but a quick scan on the YA titles and Penguin Random House has five of the top seven. Penguin’s children’s books are especially strong on the list (and also on the latest NYTimes YA fiction list with six of the top eight books).

The Amazon-Hachette issue has been written about ad nauseum. I have no desire to add that debate. But I don’t fear Amazon “ruining” the culture for their list is thoughtful although it does protect the status quo.

As long as Penguin Random House has so much top-notch content, Amazon will not be in complete control.