Feeds:
Posts
Comments

You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Today Book2Book has reported Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Of course, he was positively e(book)vangelical. He named one of the drawbacks of traditional books as the sound of turning a page – something which has not bothered me throughout my uni days when I had to read the complete works of two authors a week and nor does it now. Tinny music coming out of someone on the bus’ iPod – yes, page turning – no.

He used the analogy of the horse to describe old fashioned books i.e. something outmoded that won’t go away. ‘I’m sure people love their horses, too. But you’re not going to keep riding your horse to work just because you love your horse. It’s our job to build something that is better than a physical book.’

 Although the days of horse-shit filled streets are gladly gone, people will still put a cheap paperback in their bag for their morning commute just as they will continue to pick up a coffee on their way into work.  This is partly routine and partly because we are looking for cheap entertainment on the bus, tube, train on the way to work – something interesting to pass the time until we have to really get our brain in gear and our eyes in ‘screen mode’ when we step through that office door.  This is at the heart of WH Smith’s Travel business, cheap relatively disposable entertainment for your journey purchased in the station, departure lounge etc – brilliant.

As a recent iPhone convert, it is a rare treat to read an actual inky broadsheet on the way to work and have to worry about not knocking your neighbour when you try and fold its unruly pages rather than the usual enlarge text, slide, move down, wait for it to load, move back, wait for it to load, move down to navigate my way around the morning’s news. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from real paper for good.

Ebooks don’t make good photos so there are pointedly no graphics to accompany this post.

So we all held our breath as our beloved coalition government revealed the Big Budget 2010.  There was no excitable Davina, no exclusive diary room footage – just lots of scared people.  None more so than our nation’s creatives.  Under the Labour government, the Arts Council grew to an almost monsterous size.  It became our B.F.G. lending a hand to struggling presses, funding wacky intiatives to forcibly engage the public in art and culture, giving free entry to some of the best museums and galleries in the world.

We all knew it would be facing cuts, especially as it is part of the department of media, culture and sport i.e. olympics and a few other bits and bobs.  But actually, the cuts weren’t the slashing I expected – only 3%.   Similarly, the department of Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and Public Lending Right, (PLR) will only face a 3% cut.  Whilst some may argue that The Arts Council spent money on some pretty dubious installations, I think we’d all get on our soapbox about the importance of library provision, particularly for under 18s.

The Bookseller reported that children’s librarians feared they would be in the firing line to bear the brunt of the cuts despite the face children’s lending was actually up 8% last year to 80.1m loans – that’s a lot of happy young readers.

As Waterstones announce the expansion of its children’s section with a fun, dedicated Young Adult area, what are libraries doing to attract the same market?  Ignore the Young Adult group and you risk turning away for good those who have out grown the kids section but feel a bit intimidated or bored by the adult’s section.  We need to strengthen this bridge between children’s and adult’s libraries.

So what can we do?  There is no shame in jumping on the Meyer bandwagon – host Twilight theme nights, or late night ghost stories, interesting young adult workshops by non-fiction authors e.g. on fashion, design, music production – anything that will bring these kids back and make them tell all their friends how cool it is.

I used to work at  an arts centre which had a huge library, art house cinema, theatre, workshops and cafe.  They currently run an Arts Ambassadors programme whereby 14-19 yr olds who are interested in the arts, program events and nights for other teenagers to get them interested in the arts centre.  They make short films and screen them, they organise battle of the band nights, the put on and program performances specifically targeting teens and it seems to be working.  Their latest idea is to turn part of the enormous modern library into a ‘pop-up’ venue and get top artists to perform.  Get it Loud in Libraries has been very successful else where attracting artist such as Ellie Golding, Plan B and Professor Green.

Whilst I don’t believe in the concept libraries which have all but forgotten books, we do need dynamic, interactive events to engage with teens and remind them that their local libraries are still relevant to them.

http://www.getitloudinlibraries.com

The Bookseller has just reported that more people know of the Richard and Judy bookclub than the Man Booker Prize.  This is not so shocking to anyone who remembers the height of R&J fever – whole walls of Waterstone’s dedicated to them, people bulk buying the box set of all titles and beaches full of R&J reading sunbathers the world over.  I was working for a publishing company at the height of R&J fever, one which was lucky enough to get quite a few of its titles chosen.  But R&J put pressure on us all.  First the powers that be would decide which titles to put forward, then came the pitching and the finger-crossing and nail-biting.  There was an incredible amount of pressure to get that golden R&J sticker slapped on the top corner of our books as that sticker would bring riches to the shareholders.

Finally, judgment day would come and if we’d made it against the odds (cue X-factor style video montage of various editors working hard late at night hunched over a desk, then receiving the call and jumping up and punching the air), it would be champagne in the boardroom and a lot of backslapping. 

But it was too good to last and the current TV bookclub is an embarrassment, worse than that, it’s not even a bookclub.  Unsurprisingly viewing figures were low, despite the time change to attract a bigger audience.  Imagine a load of celeb-egos jostling for attention and trying to talk about themselves at all costs followed by Gok saying ‘fabulous’ and ‘girlfriend’ and you’re pretty much there.  Even Amanda Ross the brains behind it all admitted ‘We got some things wrong with the first show. Our guests were so carried away by being critics, they forgot to mention that all the 10 books we’ve chosen are really good books.” Just as well the Bookseller’s survey has shown that we value personal recommendations from friends above all else.

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/119071-rj-better-known-than-nobel-and-booker.html

In the glory days, publishers could expect to earn a good portion of the advance they paid to the author back on serial rights deals (selling an extract to a newspaper or magazine).   I happen to know of at least one tabloid serial rights deal where the publishers recovered over half the total advance they paid the author.  Lucky publishers made a huge portion of their investment in the book back before a single copy hit the shelves.  This made for happy finance directors, happy publicity directors (as it generated ‘buzz’) and happy sales directors.  But in the last 5 years or so, print journalism has really suffered.  Even before the recession, circulation figures were dropping off (do you remember the rumours that the Observer was shutting up shop?) and even Murdoch is still grappling with how to compete online with the phenomenally vast BBC website.  Budgets were cut and serialization deals nearly disappeared.

Serialization today falls in to two main categories – the lovely literary teasers and the exposés .  Literary teasers are few and far between – there are only a handful of publications willing to blow their budget in something so uncommercial.  Thankfully we still have the Guardian Books Supplement and the TLS.  In a short extract the writer draws the reader masterfully into the heart of their work to the point where the reader is ordering the book on Amazon as soon as they put the newspaper down.

The other type of ‘exposé’ serial is perfect for a tabloid readership.  Whether it’s juicy snippets from a political memoir or a footballer ‘revealing all’ the content is so harmonious with the rest of the paper’s pages, the marriage is obvious.  So is it so surprising that the Daily Express Senior Feature Writer, Jane Warren, is in the Bookseller today decrying to the publishing world she is “actively looking to bid for first [serial] rights”? Unsurprisingly she is interested in celebrity biography and autobiography.  But, she’s also looking for history titles! Having dug a little deeper, I’ve found that the average age of a Daily Express reader is 59 so that may explain that one.  With a daily readership of over 1.6 million publishers will once again have access to the homes and leisure time of the middle-market masses.

The thing about free speech is you either have it or you don’t.  As soon as you start making exceptions and stipulations it’s not really free.  If we take this statement to be true, Steve jobs (Mr. Apple) has just put a gagging order on us all.

Germany’s bestselling newspaper, Das Bild, like our Sun, appreciates that their readers need something to perk them up on a daily basis and have a naked ‘Bild Girl’ everyday.  These matter-of-fact Detutchies were in for a shock when Jobs demanded they put some clothes on chilly Bild Girl or get off his iPad.  Nudity in any form is banned.  Benedikt Taschen, publishing mogal/pornographer must be crying into some welcoming busoms wondering how he can make his products work on the iPad.  This has serious ramifications for our more liberated European publishing friends.

Mark Twain said: ‘Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.’

My Flatmate, Lucy, says that on the iPhone, there are sexual positions apps -Jobs didn’t seem to mind about that.

Those of you in the publishing-know, will be aware that Waterstone’s unveiled their much-hyped rebrand yesterday.  The result was incredibly underwhelming.  A simple, lower case black ‘w’ which many have compared to an inversion of the MacDonald’s ‘M’- Lovin’ it?  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it looks like a fridge magnet ‘m’ that’s been knocked over.  But it’s not just the logo, they’ve changed their tag-line too, ‘feel every word’- although there have been some jokes about Braille, what are they really trying to say with this? Has it been focus group-approved or is it like Cameron’s ‘big society’ tag line that was ditched before it started? I think they are trying to conjure something of the experience of book-buying but a more elaborate, luxurious (less patronizing) logo would have served them better if they are trying to entice customers in for a treat.  Because let’s face it, browsing a bookstore and paying high street prices is a treat compared to online/supermarket book shopping.

I applaud Dominic Myers’ attempts to break away from the homogeneity of the high street chain.  Although the colossally expensive hub means that centralized buying will continue and he can’t devolve too much power, he is giving local stores a bit more freedom.  There will be local charts and each store will have its own recommendations (which unlike many, will be unbiased, impartial and publishers won’t be able to bribe their way in).  But a lot of the charm of the local independent bookstore comes from the staff, you can’t put a price on the knowledge of a dedicated life-long bibliophile with encylopeadic knowledge of everything in their store from military history to translated poetry.  Waterstone’s current policy of relying so heavily on temporary staff in their larger stores has resulted in a huge drop in customer service.  In fact, their Piccadilly branch is very near the bottom of their mystery-shopper customer satisfaction table.  You can’t expect staff to really care about service (or even books) if you are making them reapply for their own temporary job on a monthly basis.  Waterstone’s has a long way to go, to reach out to the local communities they have lost touch with, but let’s hope they make it as the high street will be a lot poorer without them.

 

In the last couple of years, nearly all of the major publishing houses have been burnt by paying out humungous advances for celebrity biographies which were destined for the bargin bin (see my previous post about the Richard Madley biography).

Publishers often get it wrong but the length of the publishing process is partly to blame, in the year it takes to get a book to market, a celebrity star could have plummeted (as is often the case with reality TV stars), or the fickle celebrity could decide that actually they can’t be bothered to do any publicity.  But these are not the only pitfalls,  Tess Daly’s diary of perfect family life was somewhat overshadowed by her love rat husbands sex-texts, revealed around the publication date.

Our voyeristic hunger for celebrity biographies is waning.  A friend of mine who is a bookseller at the Picadilly Waterstones said that since the recession hit, people have no patience for celebrities whining about how hard their life is.  However, the unstoppable John Blake’s raison de’etre is to rush out unathorised biographies of everyone from SuBo to RPatz.  Most of these modern classics are penned by ex-fleet street reporter, John McShane.  But even  John Blake have had to diversify with a sensitive range of break-up momentos such as Cheryl and Ashley – Love Wars.

However, although the celeb biog market is struggling, celeb endorsement is still make or break.  Publicity departments are constantly sending proofs to the literary agency where I work, for our clients to endorse.   Last week Cheryl Cole commented in Hello that her mum had given her a copy of Eat Right For Your Type a diet plan based on your blood group.  Cheryl praised the diet and said she believed it 100%.  Cue Century rushing out a reprint and the 12 year old book climbing to Amazon’s top 30.  There’s no getting away from it, celebs sell.  Although we may not want to indulge them, it seems we want to be them.  Good news for backlist paperback editors everywhere.  I wonder if there’s a Eat Right For Your Type ebook yet?