Flashlight: Strobing the Book World #6


As I predicted September is proving to be a very hectic month. However I’m on course for normal so bear with me.

And so to keep the pilot light on, here are some more of the things I’ve been watching and reading.

Firstly, the latest Mike Shatzkin post which demonstrates that we are still a long way from having a settled ebook marketplace. Could this confuse the average consumer? Absolutely yes. I think it’s also relevant to the point I make here about the discoverability of fiction. Mike is finding things difficult when he knows what he wants. How much harder is it when you don’t?

This interesting branching out of publisher into bookseller, cafe and event space is something I think (and hope) we will see more of as book companies start thinking of themselves as experience brands as much as product brands.

A couple of other new business models are worth checking out here and these guys at Paper Radio are great.

I think these two articles (New York Times and Teleread) on who can now be a publisher are really fascinating and link clearly to the opening up of long form writing (beyond journalism but shorter than a book). Interesting territory this and because its where a lot of my reading is at these days, I’m hoping it will lead to more dynamic and timely publishing.

There’s an interesting debate, started by an article from writer Seanan McGuire, being had over on Teleread about the potential social impact of e-reading.

The Economist and Harvard’s student newspaper The Crimson both run pieces about the rapid changes in book industry economics. Makes me think that maybe we should run a ‘stats of the week’ counter here on the blog and chart the changes.

Sadly, this last weekend saw the final demise of Borders in the US. Some of their staff composed this widely circulated ‘ode to a bookstore death‘. I understand their frustration and lord knows I’ve had some ‘customer encounters’ myself working in bookshops, but somehow I read this and I can also understand why trucking off to Amazon could save a customer a lot of hassle. Many people are intimidated by bookshops and having people look down their noses at you for liking Nicholas Sparks is not terribly helpful in the great scheme of things. Reading is a journey and I’ve met too many people (working in bookshops) who with little formal education found their way to War and Peace by beginning with Pet Sematary. Just starting is an enormously powerful step into an imaginative world.
They are right about Glenn Beck though.

It might also be the case that genre is really where its at. Go plot!

I’m not sure about this article or indeed this (though full marks for effort guys) but I do think that one of the interesting elements of technological convergence is that it may also provoke an artistic convergence. Games are becoming increasingly sophisticated narratively and perhaps we should push that further rather than being appalled by it. We need good stories, if a great game can provide engagement with them, why should we worry?

And finally two excellent sites on the art of book covers, which I will really have to do a post on at some point. 20 best here and the absolutely wonderful gallery site The Jacket Museum here.
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A calm and wise man


I want to acknowledge my friend and colleague David Tebbutt who was killed last week. David was a truly wonderful man and one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever worked with. His loss is especially tragic given the ongoing fears for the safety of his wife Jude who was taken captive by his attackers and whose whereabouts and situation are still unknown. My thoughts are very much with David’s son Oliver and his colleagues at Faber and around the UK book industry. You can see the myriad tributes to David here.

Flashlight: Strobing the book world # 5


I’ve got a rather full agenda at present. There’s suddenly a lot to think about in all sorts of ways and while a lot of it should be on the blog, I’m a bit pushed for time to think and write.  Here in the interim are some of the things that I’ve been been looking at this past week.

Not a lot to say on the demise of Waterstone’s 3 for 2 promotion largely because it is just the retirement of a promotional tactic and not the fall of the Roman Empire. The fact though that it caused so much ink to be spilled is in itself a telling comment on how important this simple pricing mechanic had become to the perception of the Waterstone’s brand.

Critics of the move are absolutely right to point out that it will have an impact on sales but I think the point has been missed that what we are seeing is not just a shift in promotional strategy but a deliberate alteration of their brand positioning. Clearly this is an attempt to move away from a value-led proposition to a more value-added proposition. I have no idea whether this will work because I can’t yet see what the full shape of what that new offer will look like. Obviously this is risky but while the sales impact may well hurt, if Waterstone’s is successful in redefining its territory, it may pay off. We watch with interest.

James Bradley is an Australian novelist who has written a very thoughtful, considered response to Ewan Morrison’s Edinburgh Festival lecture. Absolutely a must read. As is his book The Resurrectionist I might add.

Faber and Faber partnering with Perseus is highly interesting news, marking as it does, the evolution of Faber’s business model towards an offering that supports the business of publishing in tandem with the publishing itself.

Alan Cooper gives a new view of how the local bookshop might reinvent itself.

Paul Carr cuts up rough with Graham Swift on the remuneration of authors.

And who could forget its Booker Shortlist day. Very interesting list it is too. Have absolutely no idea which book will win.

Lastly I really enjoyed watching the Twitter feed from last week’s #Bookcampaus run during the Melbourne literary festival by If:Book Australia. Great idea and surprising how much inspiration you can get from 140 characters at a range of over 2500kms. I also enjoyed this lecture by If:Book’s Chief Executive Kate Eltham.