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Posts tagged ‘B&N’

B&N bunts and then forgets to run to first

To support these efforts, we are focused on attracting, retaining and developing top talent throughout the organization.I hate to say it but the continuing saga of Barnes & Noble is starting to bear too many similarities to the last year or so of Borders. The upper management makes sweeping statements meant to reassure stockholders. Yet, a close look at those statements shows they contain holes big enough to drive a tank — or a fleet of them — through. New agendas are announced and new programs put into place. Yet nothing really changes. Why? Because the suits at the top simply refuse to understand the changes in the industry and admit they’ve screwed up and need a new playbook.

The first misstep is the announcement of the new “book club”. Now, book clubs in bookstores is nothing new. In fact, locally owned bookstores have had them from the beginning. I can remember times when book clubs met at our local B&N. But this one is “different”. How? First, it’s “seasonal”. (Whatever the hell that means because the first title doesn’t yell “summer” to me.) Second, every B&N across the nation will be  having the same book club/reading the same book at the same time. Oh, and you’ll get free coffee and a cookie. Whoopie — not. Read more

B&N’s latest debacle – an update

I promised this the other day and got sidetracked. This is my first chance to get back to it.

By now, everyone’s read  or heard about the latest round of layoffs Barnes & Noble is instituting. Following the “how to slit your own business throat in one easy lesson” plan, it is laying off head cashiers, digital leads and others in their stores who are 1) full-time employees and 2) have the experience and knowledge that helps a store run smoothly. The company says it will save them tens of millions of dollars a year. Which it might, on a protected profit and loss sheet. What those projections don’t show are the number of customers and individual transactions that will be lost because customers can’t get help when needed, can’t get their questions answered and can’t find the books they want because they haven’t been unloaded from their boxes yet. Read more

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.

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?


One early morning during my undergraduate days, I walked into a Russian History class to find TANSTAAFL written on the board. Our professor stood in one corner of the class, watching as we staggered and lurched to our chairs and prepared for the lecture. As the other students looked at what he’d written on the board, there were murmurs of confusion and a few wondering if the prof was trying to tell us something in Croatian or some other odd language no one in his right mind would bother learning. No one save myself recognized those strange letters for what they were: “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. That day, the prof gave us a lesson a number of people today would do well to learn. What you get for free does cost, whether you pay for it now or later. Plus, other people pay for it as well.

No, this is not a political discussion. I’ll save that for my personal blog. It does apply, yet again, to writing. Not that long ago, I came across a blog post by a writer of m/m novels talking about how she and others had been plagiarized by a person by the name of Addison Scott. It seems Scott took their books, changed the names of the characters but basically that was it. Then Scott put the books up for sale on Amazon, BN, Kobo, etc. I thought I had blogged about it but I’m darned if I can find it in my pre-caffeinated state. If I remember correctly, at that point Scott took f/m books, changed them to m/m and that was about it. In once instance, the book was almost verbatim from the source material with the exception of the last chapter where the male lead had sympathetic labor pains with his now-wife. That wouldn’t work in a m/m, so the chapter was omitted.

Anyway, this morning I was looking through my FB feed and found yet another author, this time Cat Grant, talking about how she, too, has been plagiarized by Scott. In this case, Grant’s book, Once a Marine, is the book in question. It seems Scott has published “Coming Undone” which is, from a quick look, a verbatim copy of Grant’s book — with the expected name changes. Now, it doesn’t surprise me to see Scott has done this. After all, she (he?) is already known as a plagiarist. What does surprise me is that, after being reported more than once to BN, Kobo and other outlets, I find books under that person’s name on and Kobo. Not surprising, to me at least, is the fact I found nothing on Amazon by Scott.

Here’s the thing. For all the bad mouthing you can find about Amazon online, it does take plagiarism very seriously. It also is very responsive to author concerns, at least it has been in my experience. If it thinks you are publishing something you don’t have the rights to, you get an email telling you that you have a period of days to prove you have those rights or the book will be taken down. If they suspect you of plagiarism, they will take your work down and then it is up to you to prove otherwise. Okay, the latter is more of a guilty until proven innocent but better than than having your work out there, selling and putting money into someone else’s pocket. You pay for that and so do your readers.

But it also shows something else I’ve come across when it comes to Kobo and BN. Both are slow, sometimes glacier slow, to respond to author concerns/requests. This is especially true when a third-party aggregator like Smashwords is involved. That adds one more layer into the communication mix and it gives BN, Kobo and others an out. They are contracted to work with that aggregator so they can and will wait for the aggregator to propagate the take down notice.

And that is if you are lucky.

As writers, we work hard to put out the best story we can. It is more than just writing what we hope is an engaging and entertaining book or shorter work. It is then editing it, formatting, finding the right cover, promoting, and all the other steps necessary to try to be successful in this business. When someone rips off our work, as it appears Scott is doing (look at the samples for Grant’s book and Scott’s and tell me then that there isn’t plagiarism involved), they are stealing from us and laughing at us as they take the money they earn off our work. Worse, they are stealing from our readers.

The response isn’t to add DRM. That is simply waving a red cape in front of the bull and someone will hack it before you can sign your name. The response is to be alert. To listen to your readers when they say they’ve seen something that looks an awful lot like your work. Then the response is to be swift and merciless in how you deal with the plagiarist. Report them to every outlet you find their work in. Show proof with your reports that they have plagiarized your work. Send cease and desist letters to them and, if necessary, file suit. This is your livelihood they are attacking.

It comes down to one simple premise, something a lot of writers tends to forget about. Writing is our work, our job and part of our livelihood. We should treat it just as seriously as we would any other job, any other profession, we might have. That also means letting other authors know if we suspect they have been plagiarized. Reporting to the sales outlet suspected plagiarism and making sure those responsible are dealt with.

Plagiarists are looking for that free lunch. The problem is, they don’t care that it isn’t really free. Someone — in this case, the author and her fans — are paying for it. That means it isn’t free. Perhaps, if the plagiarist is made to take responsibility for their actions, it is a lesson they will finally learn.

One can hope.

The howls of protest rise again

Yesterday I was trying to figure out what to blog about today. Between working hard to finish the latest work in progress, dealing with some personal stuff and the usual NRP stuff, blogging was most definitely not the most important thing on my mind. Add in an unusual amount of troll activity on by Facebook wall as well as on my friends’ Facebook walls and blogs I follow and I knew I needed to find something that didn’t send me over the edge. That’s when I saw a link on Facebook that had me alternately shaking my head and thinking about the “whys” of it.

In a post titled “Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores“, The Digital Reader wrote about what appears to be a trend to remove certain titles from the catalogs of Amazon, Kobo, B&N and WH Smith. I’ll let you read the article but the basic gist of it is that these e-book stores are removing certain erotica titles which are all either self-published or small press published and are doing so without notice. Over on the KBoards site, in a thread going back to September, there are howls of protest about this that range from condemning Amazon for changing its terms of service to censorship. I’m not going to get into the technical argument of whether or not a non-governmental entity can actually censor someone.

However, with regard to the changing of Amazon’s terms of service, that’s the company’s prerogative. It is why you should always read the changes when you get notice of it — something that is required to be given. So that is also a non-argument, in my opinion.

But there is a problem that has been presented in what happened and the reasons for these stores to start pulling these titles. (I’ll get into the argument some have put forth about how it is the prelude to them removing all self-published titles shortly.) This problem has been exacerbated by the explosion in the number of self-published titles coming through the various e-book stores over the last few years. As could be expected, some of these titles are erotica. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the number of erotica titles increased dramatically after the success of Fifty Shades of Gray. Nor would it surprise me to find out that these titles pushed the boundaries on a number of different levels, including being poorly written and being barely legal.

The real problem isn’t that these books exist. Nor is it that they may not be well-written or edited. The actual problem is two-fold. When you put an e-book up on most e-book platforms, you are asked for basic information: title, author, cover image, product description, copyright, pricing, territories where it is to be sold. What you aren’t asked is if it includes adult content. (Caveat here, Smashwords does ask this and does use that as a filter.)

The second part of the problem comes with how the author classifies and then tags the title. There is no guarantee an author is going to tag their erotica as erotica. Also, as with anything, there are varying degrees of erotica. Some can be well-written and hot but in a sensual way — not in a way that sends you running from the room screaming “EWWW!”. It can be nothing but “vanilla” sex or it can include BDSM. It can be consensual or non-consensual. I think you get my meaning. The problem is, the reader doesn’t know this if it isn’t classified and described very specifically.

But there is an underlying problem that goes beyond just the classification of a title. It is the tagging. You know what I’m talking about: those pesky words or phrases you are asked to put in that will be used as search terms for your title. For example, my novel Nocturnal Origins (an urban fantasy/police procedural) has tags of Dallas, murder, shapeshifter, police, werewolf, and a couple of others. So, if you were to type in “Dallas”, it would come up somewhere in a long list of other books with Dallas as a search term.

That’s all very innocent and no problem. But think about sitting down with your child and typing in the word “Daddy” and the search bringing up a list of titles that include books about underage sex, incest, etc. Add in then the cover images that would go with such titles and, well, you get some upset parents — especially if they discover these are the sorts of titles their kids are seeing when they aren’t around to supervise.

Now, does this justify removing en masse a bunch of titles that can be classed as erotica and only doing them with self-published titles? No, at least not in my opinion. However, I really think this is a tempest in a teacup. Historically, this has been the way Amazon, Kobo and the others have reacted when they’ve received a number of complaints (unfortunately, we don’t know what that magical number is). They react by pulling everything that might be “offensive” or against their terms of service and then they go back through and start returning titles for sale. It’s happened with everything from works that included parts of other works to other issues with erotica titles and more. Each and every time, the problem has been clarified and new procedures put into place.

And I think it will happen exactly this way again.

However, these different e-book stores have to do something to make sure these potentially objectionable titles aren’t available for easy access to minors. I say that not because I think we need to protect our little babies but because it will make life a lot easier for the retailers. A simple question about whether or not your book contains adult content — with that term clearly defined, including a list you can check to show what sort of content is included — like Smashwords currently has in place would help. Then those titles could be put behind a filter so their tags wouldn’t necessarily show up in a search for common terms like “daddy”.

And, no, that isn’t censorship. We so aren’t going to have that conversation here.

That said, the different e-book stores do have to worry about what they sell and the legality of it. This is especially true for those selling in multiple countries. Because of that, we may see periodic glitches as titles are pulled either by accident from all countries instead of just one or two countries due to legal issues or through a bit of overzealous precaution. But, it is more likely to happen because these stores use software “spiders” to search for certain words and terms and pull potentially questionable titles until real eyes can look them over. It is far from perfect but instead of taking to the internet to whine and gnash your teeth, contact the e-book retailer and find out what is going on and then find out what you can do to correct the situation. Don’t just rely on the e-mail you get telling you your title has been pulled for some none-too-specific reason.

On the KBoards and elsewhere, there is the renewed accusation that this is all part of some big conspiracy by Amazon, mainly, and the other retailers, to pull all self-published books from their virtual shelves. All I can say to that is, “get real”. I’m sorry, but Amazon and Jeff Bezos is anything but foolish. The KDP platform is a moneymaker for Amazon and it isn’t going to do away with an income stream that basically costs them nothing more than the price of transmission fees and hosting web pages. Okay, it is a little more than that, but not much.

Is it a problem when our titles are removed, even for a few days? Yes. Of course. Those titles are our income. So keep an eye on your titles, all of them, and make sure there are no problems. If there are, go to the source and keep pushing until you find out why they have been taken down. There are ways to contact Amazon and the others that don’t end with the generic notes you get in e-mail. With only one exception, NRP has never had any problem getting resolution within a few days of what the problem happens to be. That one exception is still taking place on a non-Amazon platform but I think I have an idea of what it might be and it is something to discuss with the bosses.

Finally, if you are an author of erotica titles that push the envelope, look for other platforms to sell you titles on besides the major players. I know of a number of erotica and m/m titles who sell much more on platforms like AllRomance than they do on Amazon or Kobo or B&N. Watch what you use as tags and be very careful that your cover images do not violate the terms of service for the various platforms.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eye on what happens with this latest problem and, hopefully, by the time next week rolls around, solutions will be in place and this will be just another bad memory for those who have been affected.

Tuesday Morning Links

I came across several articles I thought might be of interest and thought I’d share them.I promise to be back to regular blogging next week. My brain has gone on vacation even if my body is still here, trying to function normally.

Booksellers refuse to carry New Harvest imprint books. A bit of background. Earlier an announcement was made by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  that it had reached a licensing agreement with Amazon “to publish and distribute all adult titles from Amazon Publishing’s New York office under the newly created New Harvest imprint”. Now comes news that some brick and mortar bookstores, apparently including Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, won’t carry these books. The reasons range from Amazon’s alleged predatory practices that these booksellers say have hard hit their businesses to the fact Amazon will be the sole e-book distributor of these titles to the fact Amazon manages not to pay taxes in some areas. Some of these booksellers absolutely won’t order or carry the books. Others will special order if asked.

Okay, I won’t go into my thoughts on how they are viewing Amazon as the big evil. I’ve been over that time and again. Yes, Amazon is competition for them, but they have other concerns they ought to be looking at as well. Nor should they forget that the real problems for small bookstores came with the influx of the big box bookstores like B&N. You can do a search on the blog for an expansion of these thoughts if you like.

But what gets me is how one of the booksellers says they feel sorry for the authors but — and I am paraphrasing here — this is an attempt to strike back at Amazon. Look, they can hate Amazon all they want, but if they think the book might bring customers into their store, why in the world aren’t they stocking it? Readers are very often impulse buyers. If I know you are carrying a book I’m interested in, especially if other stores in the area aren’t, I’m going to come to your store to look. That gets me through your door. I’m very likely to buy something while there. That’s especially true if your staff is friendly and knows their stock. So quit parroting the party line and think about what is best for your business and that is getting bodies through the door.

As for the argument that only Amazon will be selling the e-book, this is nothing new. There are titles that are unique to B&N just as there are titles that are unique to Amazon.

For those of you who are following the Department of Justice’s price collusion suit against Apple et al, here is the litigation schedule. Long story short, unless negotiations move forward (and no one is thinking they really will at this point), we should see the trial starting in 2014 in all likelihood. Who knows where the e-book market will be by then. Of course, we are still waiting to hear what the court will do about the proposed judgment accepted by three of the named defendants. Here is a companion piece to the schedule.

Here’s an interesting article about what the global e-book market might look like in the future. As for the U.S., there are predictions that 50% of the trade book market will be e-books by 2016.

I’ve written several times about how libraries face increasing difficulties in lending e-books. Between several major publishers not allowing lending and others pricing e-books for libraries at a much higher price than physical books and another publisher limiting the number of times an e-book can be loaned before a new license is required (in the low 20s), library budgets are being hard hit. Now there’s this article pointing out how libraries are now concerned that their ability to lend physical books is in jeopardy. While this particular case is centered on books published outside of the US, it does bring up an interesting question. As publishers fight to hold onto their rights and further limit the rights of those who buy books — whether those books are digital, audio or hard copy — how will that affect our libraries? I will be honest, I’ve been waiting for some publisher to start backing out of library programs using the same argument they have about not allowing e-book lending — that allowing someone to walk into a library and borrow a book is costing the publisher sales. But that’s just me being my own cynical self.

Finally, for those who want to self-publish and then give away their book, you have a new outlet. I haven’t read all the way through the site yet, but Project Gutenberg now offers a self-publishing portal. According to the site, it will offer authors “ the free Author’s Community Cloud Library, a social network Self Publishing Portal.  This portal allows authors to share their works with our readers as well as allows readers to provide comments, reviews and feedback to the authors.”

What do you think about the links above and do you have any to share?