Around the writing and publishing world
Several articles and reports caught my eye over the past couple of weeks. I thought you might find them interesting, too.
First, the BBC has a fascinating video report on ancient libraries in a town in the Sahara Desert.
The ancient African town of Chinguetti was once a stopover for trade caravans and pilgrims in the Sahara Desert.
As many of the people passing through were rich and educated, libraries started opening along the route to allow visitors to read and write.
Today the remaining libraries are fighting to preserve these ancient books in the hostile desert climate.
I can’t embed the video, but you’ll find it at the link. It makes interesting viewing.
Next, Viacom is looking to sell its publishing arm, Simon & Schuster. This is likely to have a direct impact on some of the authors writing for Mad Genius Club, because they’re published by Baen Books, whose distribution is handled by S&S. (I don’t know if the latter is a shareholder in Baen – can anyone tell us?) I’ll be interested to see if there are any changes once S&S is sold.
The BBC published a major analysis titled “Why Amazon knows so much about you“. It examines how the company has, almost from its earliest days, sought to monetize the data it gathers about its customers, and uses it to increase its market penetration. The article isn’t directly about author-published books on Amazon, but it gives a useful perspective on writers’ value to Amazon. We’re not just sources of income in terms of the company’s share of our books’ sales price; we’re probably of greater value to them in the fans we draw to our books there, so that Amazon can gather data about them and use it to sell them other products. We’re just digits in the database, so to speak. It’s a sobering perspective.
Those needing cover art or illustrations can rejoice. The Smithsonian is releasing millions of images and (in due course) other material into the public domain.
For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.
And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.
There’s more at the link. I think this will become a very valuable resource for writers and others involved in author publishing.
Finally, and with a muttered, cynical “Oh, yeah?”, I note that “Barnes & Noble’s New Plan Is to Act Like an Indie Bookseller“.
In its 1990s heyday, Barnes & Noble’s superstores blended the sociability of a Starbucks with the bargaining talent of a used-car dealer. But two decades after Amazon.com Inc. capsized the bookselling industry, America’s largest chain of bookstores was flirting with bankruptcy. By the time it was acquired by the hedge fund [Elliott Management Corp.], its footprint had been slashed in half to a little more than 600 stores, sales were in their seventh straight year of decline, and the company was hemorrhaging cash.
. . .
At three times the size of its closest competitor, and the only major chain left of its kind in the U.S., Barnes & Noble was the cockroach after the catastrophe.
No corner of retail has been more disrupted by the decline of the physical shop than bookselling. In 1995, Jeff Bezos began selling books on Amazon.com because there were more items in the category than in any other. He aimed to sell the majority of the 3 million titles that were circulating in print, more than 20 times the number carried by the largest physical bookshops. Today about two-thirds of all books in the U.S. are sold online, almost exclusively through Amazon. Barnes & Noble is fighting to keep selling 1 in 5.
. . .
Barnes & Noble will shrink the space it allocates to miscellany, including its CD and DVD section, replacing it with expanded children’s and young adult sections. The company is also testing new layouts at some of its stores, such as lower tables instead of midlevel units, to speed up the traffic … Elliott has agreed to front the initial cost of renovating Barnes & Noble’s stores until the bookshops are profitable enough to reinvest in themselves … the company’s bookselling strategy needs a complete overhaul … Another major aspect of the strategy to revive the company will be to open new locations in “significantly under-bookstored” parts of the U.S. … The test will be whether each bookshop can be mindful enough of the community it’s attempting to sell to and curate a stock appealing enough to bring back readers.
Again, more at the link. It’s a long article, focused upon the business of selling books rather than writing and publishing them, but it’s full of interesting information. In the light of B&N’s previous missteps, one can’t help but be dubious about its prospects of success in reinventing itself, but who knows? Under new management, and with a capital injection, many things are possible.
That’s all for today. More soon!