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Posts tagged ‘Barnes & Noble’

Loss of Focus or Re-Inventing Themselves?

I had this morning’s post all planned and then I read the business section for the Dallas Morning News. There, on the front page, was an article that had to be addressed. Barnes & Noble is opening a new store in Plano, TX (north of Dallas). That wouldn’t normally be news except for the type of store it is. This is one of their new Barnes & Noble Kitchen stores. Yes, you read that right — B&N “Kitchen”.

Here’s the basic premise. It is still a bookstore. Kind of. This 10,000 square foot store will still sell books. However, it will be stocking 17,000 titles as opposed to the 35,000 – 50,000 titles in its other stores. There will be no music in the new “kitchen” although you will still be able to buy art supplies and journals. (There is nothing in the story about whether you will find all the other non-book items you find at most B&N stores). The big change, however, is in the “kitchen” part of this store. There will be seating for 178 diners inside and on a patio. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they are considering doing a Sunday brunch as well. Let’s not forget the bar either. You will be able to order wine or locally brewed beer, among others.

All that sounds like a company in search of an identity. According to the DMN, this version of the “kitchen” is smaller than the three others B&N have opened. They are still trying to figure out the market, etc. This doesn’t fill me with a great deal of hope because B&N has been trying to figure out the market — and failing to — for the last decade or more. Since 2010, the company has closed 114 stores. It has opened 17 stores during that same time. If that isn’t telling enough, their sales % change has been on the positive sign only twice during that same time period and the highest positive change was 1.4%.

Now they think they have found the right way to move forward. However, their own comments about the new store show they still don’t have a clue. This new store will open less than 2 miles from a “traditional” B&N. Carl Hauch, vice president of stores, sees no problem having two stores that close together because he thinks they will be serving different demographics. Yet, just above that comment, it is clear they are stocking the store based on demand from the traditional bookstore down the road. Is this an instance of the right hand saying one thing while the left hand believes something else or is this yet more of B&N not understanding what’s happening in the industry?

If you haven’t already, click on the link in the first paragraph and visit the Kitchen site. The first thing you see is food with a quote from Tolkien. If you keep reading you will finally see books mentioned but nothing else, other than the B&N name, would lead a casual browser of the site to know books are available.

What amazes me is how the company is relying on the new store, with its wine and beer, to be a draw for customers and yet is brags about its large manga selection in the YA section. B&N, and Borders before it, used to be a destination for families. Parents felt safe bringing their children and letting them browse the kids section while the parents looked for a book or had a cup of coffee. How many parents will feel the same now, knowing that someone can have been in the “kitchen” drinking and now, wine or beer in hand, is wandering the store? Plano is the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. This can blow up big time in B&N’s face if they aren’t careful.

As an author, the decrease in the footprint available for books is also worrisome. I welcome the news they will have more focus on local authors but they’ve said that before and it’s never really appeared. It is also another nail in the proverbial coffin for the store when it comes to indie and small press authors. It is already almost impossible to get our books on the shelves of B&N, not to mention having author events there. This means we need to let go of any hope they will work with us.

So here’s the question I have for B&N management — do you still consider yourself a bookseller or are you going to continue this transition to a restaurant that happens to also sell books? Or let’s make it easier. What do you see yourself as? I have a feeling that’s a question upper management hasn’t had a good answer to for years.

Halloween Tricks and Treats

This Halloween brings with it the usual tricks and treats in the industry. AAP and traditional publishing is touting a fairly small increase in sales as a huge gain. In the same breath, they crow about the continued slowing of e-book sales (without admitting that slow down is only in trad sales and mainly due to high purchase price). Depending on your point of view, those bits of news can be tricks or treats. Two other news items are definite tricks or, as I like to put it, “What the [expletive deleted] were you thinking?” moments. Fortunately, there are some treats out there.

Let’s look at the “tricks” first.

B&N continues with their efforts to shoot themselves in the corporate foot. It’s no secret they have been behind Amazon when it comes to e-book readers. The Kindle came out Nov. 19, 2007. The Nook e-book reader was available for pre-order for the first time on Oct 20, 2009. That is a delay of almost two years before BN realized it needed to get into the game. It has played a game of catch-up since then and is now throwing in the towel. At least that’s the way it looks. The most recent victim, er indication, is the Nook Glowlight Plus. For those not familiar with the Glowlight Plus, it is BN’s alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite (in a side-by-side comparison, the Paperwhite, the Paperwhite came out on top. The only reason the Oasis didn’t was the price differential.) However, it now appears that BN is phasing out the Glowlight Plus. If you try to buy one, I hope you are willing to pay for a refurbished model because BN isn’t selling new ones. Nor does it appear there is a replacement reader or updated reader coming down the line to replace it. Is this the first tangible example of how BN is going to abandon at least the hardware side of e-books? If so, how will this impact their e-book platform, both for traditional publishers and for indies?

The second “trick” comes from Australia. Gould’s Book Arcade in Sydney has been around since the Vietnam War. Back then, it was a gathering place for antiwar protesters. From what I’ve been able to learn, it’s well-known for its used books as well as remaindered, rare and out-of-print books. But, like many bookstores around the world, it has been facing financial troubles for some time. Now it appears the store has three months before it either has to close its doors or move to a new location. None of this is new in the industry.

What makes this a “trick”, at least in my book, is the attitude of the store owner. Unfortunately, it is an attitude I see all too often in not only the publishing industry but in life in general. Claiming that she is a socialist and “I don’t understand capitalism,” Natalie Gould wants someone to swoop in and save the store. In fact, she would have no problem with local government buying the store, saying, ““If I was (Sydney lord mayor) Clover Moore I’d buy the building. They (the city council) have got plenty of money.”

I would lay good money on the fact Gould has changed little, if any, of the way the store operates over the six plus years she says she’s struggled to keep it open. Reading her comments, it is clear she sees the store more as a place of protest, a gathering place and piece of local culture rather than as a business. She wants to keep having her fun on someone else’s dollar. This failure to adapt to changing demands — or, or perhaps and, in this case the change in the neighborhood — she dug her heels in. Now she wants someone to come in a bail her out. Doesn’t this sound a lot like traditional publishing and it’s failure to adapt to changing consumer demands? Traditional publishing (the Big 5, especially) dearly wants things to go back to the way they were decades ago. Instead, readers are looking elsewhere for their reading enjoyment. They aren’t paying the high prices for e-books from the Big 5 and its ilk, instead turning to indie authors.

Now for the treats.

I’m a fan of a number of the old horror films. One of my favorites is The Haunting. This 1963 film stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, among others. It is based on the book, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. The movie airs tonight on 8:30 CST on Turner Classic Movies. This isn’t one of your heavy special effects movies or hack and slash movies. It is one, however, that scared the crap out of me when I was younger and still gives me the chills, especially when it comes to the performance by Julie Harris. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the book, as well as Ms. Jackson’s The Lottery.

Then there’s always Poltergeist. Who can forget Carol Anne saying, “They’re here”?

Finally, I have three titles on sale through today in honor of Halloween.

Witchfire Burning (Now on sale for $2.99)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Skeletons in the Closet (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Nocturnal Haunts (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

B&N for the loss

If you want to see what a sinking corporate ship looks like, you have to look no further than Barnes & Noble. Unlike the Titanic, there is no band playing on the deck as the ship sinks. Instead, the call for “business as usual — in the 1990’s” has gone out. B&N plans to steam backward into obscurity.

The downward trend was confirmed earlier this month when B&N announced its quarterly revenue declined — yet again — 6.6% with a decline on the Nook side of 28.1%. I gave up counting how many quarters in a row the bookseller posted a decline long ago. Between the revolving door in the boardroom and the revolving door in the CFO’s office, the company faces an uphill battle I’m pretty sure it will lose without a major overhaul of the business and the operating plan. But that isn’t what we see coming from the ivory tower. In fact, far from it.

We got our first indication of that in the conference call between Demos Parneros, B&N’s CFO, and their shareholders. In a word salad address that said nothing new, Parneros said this:

As we look to reinvent our customer value proposition and growth sales, we’re focused on a number of initiatives to increase the value customers derive from shopping at Barnes & Noble. Our value proposition is comprised of membership, convenience, digital offerings and most importantly our stores where customers come to browse, discover, and interact with 26,000 knowledgeable booksellers.

Pricing is a key consideration and over the past few months, we’ve launched a number of price tests tied to our membership program to see which authors resonate best with customers and increase the overall value of the program. Our goals are to increase enrollment, conversion and visit frequency.

Beyond pricing, we’re also focused on growing sales by improving the overall shopping, browsing and discovery experience for better visual merchandizing and signage as well as personalized recommendations. This includes testing changes to existing store layouts and remerchandising certain businesses. We believe there are significant opportunities to manage our inventory better, increasing trends and reduce unproductive merchandize.

As part of our efforts to better understand customers and develop a robust data analytics program, we’ve recently installed customer counters in all our stores and reintroduced mystery shops. We plan to enhance customer engagement and personalization through improved customer insights. And recently we’ve established an analytics team building the foundation for better analytic rigor.

Stores are an integral component of our value proposition and recently we made a few critical hires to oversee our store growth initiatives. Carl Hauch has joined as Vice President of Stores and will oversee the entire retail store organization and profitable growth of the business. Jim Lampassi has also joined the leadership team as Vice President of Real Estate Development and is responsible for developing and executing our real estate strategy. I’m excited to have Carl and Jim join our team.

In addition to the two new test stores we have in the pipeline, we are reviewing our entire portfolio in identifying opportunities to open new stores in new markets as well as opportunities to relocate stores as their leases expire instead of simply vacating markets. Our goal is to position the company for net store expansion.

As noted by The Digital Reader, they are going to sell more stuff. Riiiiight.

But it gets better. In a move that shows just how bad things are for the bookseller, Len Riggio, interim (or should we say perennial) CEO, “assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus.” He went on to say they only got into the digital market because they felt they had to because of Amazon and Google. In other words, they didn’t have the infrastructure for it, they didn’t spend the money necessary to develop it and, let’s not forget, they colluded with publishers to fix the prices for e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. But they learned nothing in the process. Instead of making their website more user friendly, instead of working to lower the price of e-books to a level that their customers would buy more product.

So what does this mean for Nook customers? No one knows for sure, but I wouldn’t be buying a new Nook anytime soon. It’s possible another company, perhaps Kobo, would buy the Nook end of the business. Or its possible BN will backtrack yet again. Who the heck knows? All I know for sure is this is the way to keep customers is not to sell them tech and then quit supporting it. What they need to do is look at what the true underlying cause of the company’s decline is. I suggest they start with their CEO. Under Riggio’s leadership, both as CEO and as head of the board, “stock price dropped from over $17 a share (when Riggio sold stock in 2014) to $7.30 a share today”

But that’s not the only idiocy B&N has done of late. I started seeing posts a month or so ago about how it had amended its Terms of Service for those indie authors and small presses using its Nook Press platform. That was done with little to no fanfare. What happened, however, is almost immediately BN started purging erotica titles from its catalog. It sent emails to authors, telling them their accounts had been frozen or, in some cases, deleted. Titles were no longer for sale. All I could think of was when Kobo did that some years ago, especially when I read how non-erotica titles were included in the purge. Note, this only applied to those using the Nook Press platform. Traditionally published books weren’t included. So not only was the bookseller angering authors but it was angering its customers by refusing to apply standards equally across the board. Keep the higher priced books from the side of the industry they want to keep and toss out those evil riff-raff authors who dare go direct to the public, bypassing the gatekeepers.

There is a lot to be concerned about with the new Terms of Service.

Please be advised that submitting or posting any of the following content in your eBook file, cover image or product data may, in the exercise of Barnes & Noble’s sole and unfettered discretion, result in the removal of said content and/or termination of your account. Please be advised that the content listed represent examples only and the following list of content is non-exhaustive. Such content includes but is not limited to: 
 

  • Obscene or Pornographic material: This may include content that graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.
  • Libellous Material: False defamatory statements that intentionally harm or have the potential to harm an individual or a third party.
  • Infringing Material: Any content to which you do not own the copyright or otherwise control the right to distribute. Additionally, content that may violate any other intellectual property rights, such as trademark and trade dress, and/or content that may infringe upon a party’s proprietary rights, such as the right of privacy or the right of publicity
  • Illegal Content or Other Offensive Material: As we may determine in our sole discretion, content that is illegal, content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction, whether or not we sell in such jurisdiction, or other content we deem offensive in the exercise of our sole discretion including but not limited to works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.
  • Material Violating Privacy: Any content that violates an individual’s privacy.
  • Advertisements: Content contained within your eBook or other content that primarily seeks to sell a product other than the eBook or content itself.

Product Data 

As stated above, the information that describes your eBook (Product Data) is also subject to our Content Policy. Please note that in addition to the points listed above, Barnes & Noble prohibits the following data points in your Product Data:

  • Hyperlinks of any kind, including email addresses.
  • Request for action (i.e.: “If you like this book, please write me a review.”).
  • Advertisements or promotional material (including author events, seminars etc.).
  • Contact information for the author or publisher.

First, the language is vague and gives total control to BN to decide what is or is not in violation of the ToS. There is no appeals process listed. Now, there bight be elsewhere in all their documentation but it is not listed where it should be. Worse, there are no definitions for what the important terms mean. So it is totally subjective and that means it can and probably will be applied differently depending on who reviews a title.

But it gets better. Note the language on “offensive material”. It can determine content violates the law of other jurisdictions, even those where it doesn’t sell products, and use that as an excuse to delete content. Under this clause, many mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction could be excluded because it portrays things BN “can” determine is offensive. Welcome to the land of the perpetually butt hurt.

Authors, it gets worse. You can’t include your email address in your product data. You can’t urge readers to post a review at the back of your book. In other words, in your “from the author” or afterword, you can’t say “If you like this book, please consider leaving a review”. You can’t even put in contact information for you or for your publisher.

WTF?!?

Technically, this means if you have your logo and publisher name on your title page, you can’t have the PO Box listed as well. You can’t have it hyperlinked. In other words, they want to make it as difficult as possible for your readers to reach out to you. Now, they say this applies only to your “product data” but the earlier language of the ToS makes it possible for them to apply it to everything about your ebook and to change the terms without reasonable notice.

I’ve gone on too long already but I will admit that this is making me wonder if I should reconsider putting titles into BN. If they don’t want my business, either as an author or as a reader, why should I go out of my way to help them? That’s a question we each have to ask ourselves. B&N might not like our answers.

Writers write and more

When I woke this morning, I had an idea for today’s post but wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So I checked several sources and came away with several things to discuss today. All are things we need to think about as writers. I know, I know. Writers just want to write. Unfortunately, there is a great deal more to it now, whether you plan on going indie or traditional. Writing is a business and that means we have to make business considerations.

The biggest considerations we have to make today as writers is whether we want to go the traditional publishing route or go indie. There are pros and cons to both. We’ve discussed those factors time and again here at MGC, so I’m not going to spend a great deal of time rehashing them. However, there is one thing to take into consideration when making that decision you do need to know about.

When talking to writers about the big difference between indie and traditional publishing, the main difference you will hear is that traditional publishing can get you into bookstores. I knew very few writers, myself included, who would’t love to see their books on the shelves of the local store. As indies, that is a near impossibility, especially if there are no locally owned bookstores in the area. So that leaves us, whether we are traditionally published or indie, to hope for shelf space in Barnes & Noble, at least here in the States.

Unfortunately, the fiscal health of B&N has been in question for some time and those questions are growing louder. As of last Friday, stock in the company was down 17.04% for the year. That includes a 5.61% decrease in the last 30 days. For the past year, stock is down 24.43%. Think about that. In 12 months, the stock value of the company has declined close to 25% and this at a time when the S&P has risen more than 16%. If that news doesn’t trouble you as a writer, it should. B&N is the main bookstore in the United States. If you thought the publishing industry was rocked by the loss of Borders, think about what will happen if B&N goes under. Even if it doesn’t, do any of us doubt that it is going to have to greatly change its manner of operation? More stores are going to close as leases come up for renewal. How many of them will be opened in new locations? No nearly enough. Worse, the loss of brick and mortar stores means publishers will lose their bookstore advantage and, believe me, they aren’t ready for that to happen. Not yet and, I hate to say it, I’m not sure any of the Big 5 will be ready when — and if — that time actually comes. So it is up to the authors to take steps to protect themselves now. What those steps are is up to each individual author. But they need to know what is happening in the industry and not let events broadside them.

Next up is the latest in the Tate Publishing debacle. A year ago, Tate was hit with a class action law suit filed by its authors. It later closed its doors. Last week, Xerox won judgment against Tate for more than $2-million. This was after Tate’s lawyers withdrew from the case after they hadn’t been paid. The basic lesson to come from this is that, as a writer, you need to do your homework before submitting your work to anyone, much less before signing a contract. Tate’s reputation for having problems predated the class action law suit for quite a while and yet authors continued to submit to them. This is why using sites such as Preditors & Editors is so important. So is doing a simple Google search. You need to know who you are doing business with. Beyond that, you really should have an IP attorney look at contracts before you sign them. Publishers are in the business to make money — for themselves. Authors are merely cogs in the machine, cogs they feel are interchangeable.

Finally, I came across this article and I really, really hope it’s someone’s idea of an April Fool’s Day joke.  I want to believe that it is. After all, any of us who have submitted our work to an editor or publisher only to have it rejected know how much that hurts. But to give up after trying with two books, especially in this day and age when indie has gained a strong foothold in the market, is beyond me. So is the oh-so-precious “I’m scarred” attitude. I really want to believe the author was trying to be funny on April Fool’s but considering the site where the post is published, I can’t be sure. What do you think?

Time to Change

Last week, a number of companies released their financial reports for the last quarter of 2016. Among those doing so was Barnes & Noble. The bookseller, that has seen a revolving door in the CEO’s office over the last few years. Leonard Riggio is now back in charge, at least temporarily, and he addressed his stockholders after the release of the figures.

The good news is that B&N did post a profit of 96 cents (per share, I assume). The bad news is that the forecast profit was $1.13. The worse news was that same store sales fell 8.3% (as compared to the same period the previous year). This was the worst performance for the chain in the “holiday quarter” since 2005. The result saw stock dropping 9.1% (intraday drop). That comes on the heels of an 11% drop for the year.

The Nook and its related products, including content, completely failed to deliver. According to Bloomberg, linked above, sales “of Nook content, devices and accessories fell 26 percent.”

Another indicator that the publishing/book industry has become one that relies too much on “trend” buying and not in building a solid customer core by expanding their mid-list offerings, etc., is that BN knew the quarter would be weak “in part because sales of coloring books and other art supplies have slumped. That category had helped prop up results the previous year.” We’ve seen this sort of thing in YA sales when the Twilight series ended. In adult fiction sales when the 50 Shades trilogy ended and now, this past year, with coloring books no longer being the rage. Were publishers ready with something to take their places? No. Because they were still trying to push the trend with pale versions of what had been “hot”. Again, when publishers pared out most of their mid-list, those authors whose books they could always count on selling, they hurt themselves as well as bookstores.

Several things hit me as I read various articles about the earnings report. The first was that BN has been rudderless for so long, because of the turnover in the CEO’s office but also in its failure to adapt to the changing demands of its customers, that it might not be long for the retail world. If written before about how it needs to lessen its retail footprint. The overhead of running the hugs “superstores” is no longer justified in most instances. Before leases are up, it needs to be making the hard decisions about what stores should be closed due to under-performance and what stores should be moved to smaller real estate footprints. Doing this would serve several purposes, all of which are positive. First, it would lessen the financial hit the company takes in leases and related expenses. Second, with less space to fill, it could then sit down and do a serious look at what BN is going to be going forward.

It is easier to be a bookseller if you aren’t trying to pay the rent, utilities, etc., for a building you can no longer afford to stock with just books. We see this with the resurgence of indie bookstores. They are moving into small storefronts — sort of like what they did before they were driven out of business by the big box bookstores like BN and Borders. If BN truly wants to continue being a bookseller, it needs to take a hard look at where its money is going and how wisely — or foolishly — it is being spent.

It also needs to understand that e-book fans are not the enemy. We buy books too. But we also, or at least a lot of us, buy print books and magazines. Give us a reason to come into your stores again. Let us actually see books when we walk in instead of non-book related items. Give us employees who are knowledgeable about your stock and enthused about books. I miss the days when I could walk into a BN, be greeted by name and have someone take me over to the shelves and shown a new book they think I might like.

Put comfortable chairs back into the stores and even the small reading areas. Sure, some folks came in and spent hours reading without ever buying anything. Guess what? That’s okay. It builds up goodwill with them as customers and they will come in later to buy something. Even if they aren’t buying a book, they are buying coffee and food at the cafe. They are talking to their friends and families about what they read, how nicely they were treated, etc.

Now, the problem doesn’t just rest with BN. What is happening with BN is indicative of what is happening with the publishing industry. Major publishers are still trying to convince themselves that the reading public wants things they way they did 20 years ago. Publishers price e-books so high, their sales suffer. Then they point out how their digital sales dropped. You can see the glee in their eyes because, to them, it means people really want print books.

Sorry, but no. It means people are finding other ways to get that e-book they want to read. They check it out from the library. Don’t ever forget that most libraries have the capability of checking out e-books and audio books. It also means people are turning to smaller presses and indie authors to feed their reading habit. E-books, like it or not, are here to stay and readers are smart enough to know that an e-book, especially when publishers say you don’t actually own it, should not cost the same as a print version.

Then there is the attempt to survive by going from trend to trend. There aren’t enough words to explain how foolish this is. Yes, publishing has always been an industry where editors have been in competition to try to figure out what will be the next best seller. However, in the past, they also knew they needed a backbone of mid-listers who basically supported the publishing house. These mid-listers might never sell as many books per title as a best seller. However, those mid-listers had a fan group that could be counted on buy pretty much anything and everything their favorite authors put out. That, my friends, was guaranteed income and it was what the publishers used to keep their houses profitable and successful over the years.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, publishers decided they needed to clean house to decrease their expenses. Not only did we see a number of editors and other employees being let go – resulting in more work being outsourced – we saw a number of mid-listers being cut loose. When that happened, guaranteed income was lost. Now publishers and, because they are tied to closely to publishers, bookstores, rely upon trends to keep them afloat. Because of this, we see things like entire lines of books being recalled or delayed so the publisher can “rebrand” them to look like 50 Shade of Grey. Go talk to some of the authors involved in that debacle. How many saw sales go down the tubes because their books were delayed or because their book looked like every other one on the shelf and readers couldn’t tell if they’d read it or not.

Because there was nothing on the cover or in the blurb that made it stand out from every other book.

This lack of foresight, this lack of originality, is what is hurting the industry. Add in the fact that, for whatever reason, publishing doesn’t seem able to adapt to changing customer demands, and I find myself wondering how long it will be before we see the major publishers shrinking in number again. They can continue to blame Amazon for their problems but the real problem is they refuse to take an honest, deep look into their own practices. They need to allow store managers to order stock — and arrange displays — to appeal to local customers.

A store in El Paso, TX shouldn’t look like the store in Times Square or Seattle. Employees should be required to know the stock. Hell, if you work in a bookstore, you should be able to talk books with the customer.

Right now, BN is suffering from an identity crisis. Partly because of its leadership failing to adapt to changing times and partly because of problems in the publishing industry. Mr. Riggio and others need to understand that people aren’t staying home because they are watching TV. We are staying home because you aren’t offering us the shopping experience we used to get when we went to your stores. We want bookstores to be, well, bookstores. We want to be able to browse and sit and read and have a cup of coffee. We want to see books when we enter and not Nooks and toys and who knows what else. We want books.

 

Of reading and buying and other things

This past week has been busy. I’ve been pounding away at the keyboard, adding a new opening section to Dagger of Elanna, one I think better serves the overall story arc. I’ve been looking over edits, not only for my own work but for someone else as well. I’ve had meetings and other “normal life” distractions. So, when it came time to blog this morning, I worried I might not find anything to write about. Wrong! The problem turned into narrowing it down.

Okay, let’s get the important part out of the way first. If Hell hasn’t frozen over, it is definitely experiencing a cold wave. After all, the Cubs AND the Indians are in the World Series. What other explanation can there be?

The first item to catch my attention this morning was yet another “study” — and I use that term loosely — supposedly confirming that boys don’t read as much and don’t comprehend as well as their female counterparts. This particular study was done by Keith Topping, a professor at the University of Dundee. What set my B-S meter off where this study is concerned was the method of collecting data.

The studies drew on data from a computer system used in schools across Britain to test the progress of pupils’ reading. First, a pupil reads a book either at school or at home. Next, the pupil takes a computerised quiz of five, 10 or 20 questions depending on the length of the book. Then the pupil and teacher receive immediate computerised feedback from the Accelerated Reader programme, with reports detailing the books read, the number of words read and the book’s reading level – along with the child’s level of comprehension, as indicated by the percentage of correct answers in the quiz.

Now, there is so much wrong here that I’m not sure where to begin. We don’t know if these books were assigned by the school or if they were books chosen by the students and approved of by the school, etc. My guess is they were books assigned by the school. Then there is the fact that this sounds like it is nothing more than standardized testing. My guess is these questions were multiple choice or true-false questions. I don’t know about you, but I did lousy on those sorts of tests. There are studies out there showing the problems with that sort of test. Add in that you aren’t giving the student a chance to explain their answer or expound upon it.

Studies like this are pet peeves of mine. I had to fight to get my son to read after his third grade teacher turned him — and other boys in his class, as well as a few girls — off of reading by using it as punishment. She purposely chose books for them to read that she knew they wouldn’t enjoy. Why? I have my guesses and they aren’t fit to print in this blog. But by her own words, she did it to punish them. Her reasoning? They had been reading things she hadn’t approved of.

As I said, it took me more than a year to get him interested in reading again. I’ve described the process here before. Basically, one of the youth librarians at our local library — a wonderful woman who also worked at one of the local schools — turned him on to manga after asking him what he enjoyed. Imagine that. She wanted to know what interested him. Now he is an avid reader. He reads fast, retains what he reads and he enjoys it. But, like me, give him a multiple choice test over what he read and he will freeze. It isn’t because he didn’t read and digest what was in the book. It’s because his brain doesn’t work that way.

Instead of taking shortcuts and using second and third-hand data, the researcher would have a better chance of proving his point if he had conducted the tests himself. If he had used a mix of computerized and discussion questions. But no. It was easier to do it this way. I suspect it also fit his narrative better but that’s just me. Oh, and it might help to ask the boys what they want to read instead of handing them a “classic” or something similar.

The next piece that caught my attention centers on Barnes & Noble. Leonard Riggio is once again in charge of the bookseller. In an article published by the New Yorker, Riggio makes several comments that left me shaking my head. According to the article, Riggio wanted to scale back the size of the stores years ago. But, because things were going well then, it didn’t happen. Now, the company is left with these huge stores at a time when smaller, much smaller, locally owned bookstores are returning to the marketplace.

Then there is his comment about what the real difference is between the smaller stores and B&N. According to the New Yorker, “The only thing that he believes distinguishes new-generation independent bookstores from Barnes & Noble is better food and drink, which is something he hopes to capture in the new concept stores. Those stores will have Scandinavian-looking cafés with fully licensed bars, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

What?

Sorry, but no. The real difference between the smaller stores and B&N comes down to two things. First, stock. The smaller stores are BOOK stores. The customer knows the moment they walk into a smaller, locally owned store or chain that the emphasis is going to be books and magazine. You know, stuff you can read. They don’t have to wade through displays and aisles filled with knick-knacks and toys and puzzles and who knows what else before they get to the books. The second difference is the staff. In the smaller stores, the staff usually knows the stock better, they have a passion for books and — gasp — they will order something for the customer if it isn’t in stock. I finally gave up trying to order anything from B&N because I got tired of having to educate them that there are books out there that weren’t on their shelves.

As for the cafe and being able to buy a drink — or three — as well as full meals? Sorry, while it is nice to grab a cup of coffee while shopping, I don’t go there to eat. From a merchant’s point of view, there are going to have to be safeguards put up to make sure those who buy liquor don’t go wandering the store. Those same safeguards have to be in place to make sure the liquor doesn’t go outside the shop. The easiest way to do that will be to make sure nothing leaves the cafe and that sort of defeats the purpose. How often do you see someone at B&N buy their coffee or tea and then go wandering through the rest of the store?

The New Yorker hits the proverbial nail on the head with this, “Riggio may be missing the bigger lesson of independent bookstores and the intangible experience of shopping there. The independent bookstores that have proved successful are uniquely suited to the community they’re in.” Unless and until B&N recognizes this, it will continue to struggle. As long as it continues to use a system where what sells in major markets determines what is on the shelves and for how long in other markets across the nation, he fails to get the “uniquely suited for the community they’re in” aspect.

Finally, there was this:

“The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are,” he said. “It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.” His target market is the same as other book retailers: young, educated customers, and women with small children.

First, not only no, but NO. Price is often the defining determination on where a customer will buy a book. Indie bookstores have come to understand that they have to do something to get customers through the door. They do this in a number of ways. Part of it is location. Foot traffic is important. Part is ambiance. Part is staff. A lot of it comes down to this — once the customer is in the door, they make him feel important and welcome.

As for the target market, what? What about those who are older and have disposable income and time to read? Those customers are the ones more likely to buy a physical book than an e-book. They have more time to go to the bookstore and browse and, duh, make impulse buys than a mother with kids in tow.

And folks wonder why I have little faith that B&N will survive long term.

What are your thoughts?

And now for the mandatory promo bit.

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) is now available for purchase.

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Witchfire Burning is the start of a new series. However, it takes place in the same town as Slay Bells Ring and some of the same characters are present in both. Both have a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance. Witchfire adds in an urban fantasy note as well. While it wasn’t a book I had planned when I sat down at the beginning of they year to figure out my publication schedule, it’s one that decided it needed to be written and I had a blast doing it. I hope you guys all enjoy reading about Quinn and company as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Also, for those who prefer print versions, it should be available in approximately two weeks. I’ll make an announcement when that version is ready.

Also, Skeletons in the Closet, a novella in the same series as Witchfire, will go live on Amazon later today, fingers crossed.

Too little, too late

I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t make up stories. When I learned how to write, I started putting my stories down on paper. When my cousin Clarice discovered I loved writing, she told me about her father. Uncle Herb had been a playwright but, raising a family during the Depression, he had given it up to make sure there was a roof over their head and food on the table. Uncle Jack had been a newspaper man like his father before him. Others in the family he written for enjoyment. It was Clarice’s first step toward encouraging me to follow my dream to be a writer.

For years, I dreamed of seeing my books in bookstores, of being able to sign my books at author events and of making my cousin proud. What I didn’t realize was that between those first few days of encouragement from Clarice to when I finally got serious about writing — yes, Sarah has very pointy boots — the publishing industry would change dramatically. Now, I can hold my books in print. Yes, there is a little thrill of excitement when a new proof copy comes in and I finally pull the button to put the print book on sale. But the reality is that the vast majority of my sales — just as the vast majority of my purchases — are e-books.

 

I have long accepted that my books would never grace the shelves of Barnes and Noble. After all, their feud with Amazon is well-known. B&N had made it clear it won’t stock books published by Amazon or made available through Createspace. So when I saw news that B&N was finally going to stock indie print books, I sat up and took notice. Could the bookseller finally be admitting that the indie market was large enough to take it seriously? If so, what did I have to do to get my books into its 640 stores?

The initial press release filled me with hope. Nook Press, B&N’s alternative to KDP, was going to offer a print side. Better yet, it would allow for hardcover as well as soft cover print books. Cool. I kept reading and that is when I started realizing there was a big “if” to it all.

Through the new print platform, eligible* NOOK Press authors have the opportunity to sell their print books at Barnes & Noble stores across the country on a local, regional or national level, and online at BN.com. Authors can also qualify** for the opportunity to participate at in-store events including booksignings and discussions, where they will be able to sell their print books and meet fans.

Oops. I’m not out of the first paragraph of the press release and there are already two asterisks that tell me the fine print is going to be anything but warm and welcoming.

The rest of the release talks about how wonderful the Nook Press platform is and what an opportunity this presents to those who take part. But those damned asterisks to look at.

Let’s look at what you have to do to be eligible. “Opportunity available for those print book authors whose eBook sales [of a single title] have reached 1,000 units in the past year.” Okay, does that mean you have to sell 1,000 units of a title before that title is eligible for the print program? (That is my take) Or is it if you sell 1,000 units of any title and all your titles can be eligible for the print program? I doubt the latter, figure the former.

I also have a sneaky suspicion that those 1,000 units of sales have to be on the Nook platform. So that is a big hurdle right there. I know there are some authors who have had success on the Nook platform selling e-books. But from personal experience, as well as talking with other authors I know, those who have sold 1,000 units of a single title in a year on B&N are few and far between. The reason I left B&N in the first place was because I was making very few sales there. My Amazon sales ran more than 10 to 1 and, with the start of KDP Select and then KU, well, there was no reason to go anywhere else. Not when I compared the numbers.

But, maybe it is time to reconsider if I can get my books onto BN shelves. So, I tried to keep an open mind and kept reading down to the second asterisk. Again, it leaves more questions than it gives answers. An author can qualify for in-store events if they sell fewer e-books (single title) in a one year period than is required to be eligible to be placed on the shelves. Does this mean the author or store will order print versions of the book and have them on hand to sell at these events? If so, what sort of hit will the author take for returns? Does the author have to buy the books outright or what?

All in all, it is something that looks good on the surface but that really isn’t doing anything to help win the average indie author over to BN. First of all, unless I keep my prices und9er $2.99, my royalties will be less from BN than they are from Amazon. With Amazon, I get 70% for my books, all priced between $2.99 to $4.99. With BN, I would receive only 65%. That isn’t much per unit but when you consider I would be giving up my Kindle Unlimited reads, which make up at least 1/3 of my income each month and is always in a minimum of the 3 digit range, it turns into a very big hit.

More importantly, I don’t see a guarantee that my print book would be stocked — or for long — in stores if I did have the magic 1,000 units sold in a year.

Oh, one more little thing I guess BN thought we would miss. To be eligible for this, it means your book has been out as an e-book for months, or years, before it will make it onto the shelves. Remember, you have to have sold 1,000 units in a year before it is eligible. We don’t know what the steps are from there (Full disclosure. I did a quick search of their site and didn’t find more information. It might be there but it shows another of my complaints with BN. Their sites are not well designed.) So, by the time the print comes out the initial push for the book is done and the author is on to writing another book and pushing it.

Timing, they say, is everything and in this instance BN is badly out of sync.

It will be interesting to see how this falls out over the next few months. I wish those taking part luck but I will not be moving away from KDP Select and KU anytime soon. Not on something that I have so many questions about. It really is, in my mind, too little, too late. And that is too bad.