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Posts tagged ‘bookstores’

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.

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.

 

It’s not new.

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Sunday MGC post. I want to start off by thanking Brad for switching with me. Real life has been tossing me not just curve balls but has been beaning me on the head consistently. But that’s not what this post is about. Life happens and I’m moving on. The publishing industry, not so much.

One of the first stories to catch my eye this week was one from Publishers Weekly. First off, I do recognize the source and know that it is one which is firmly in the pocket of traditional publishing. Even so, the story had me shaking my head. It seems that there was a Digital Book World panel titled “Will Bars Save Bookstores?”. Now, take a moment to consider the implication of that. According to PW, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher basically said this is a euphemism for all the new and innovative things bookstores are doing to get customers in the door. Among the “new” things mentioned during the panel were bookstores running summer camps, offering dance classes, hosting travel events and more. These so-called disruption events were meant to interrupt the flow of money and attention to e-books and bring bodies into the stores.

The problem I foresee with all this is multi-fold. To start with, locally owned bookstores, and even chain bookstores until a few years ago when corporate took away much of the power local managers had to plan events, held summer reading camps. They brought in other local businesses to help support one another. They had signings and travel-related events. None of this is new. To act as if it is is to do what the traditional publishing industry and the big box booksellers have done for years, ignore the facts. These events do get people in — in you publicize them, if you have employees who are trained and knowledgeable in the topic of the event, if you properly prepare your store for them and if you make those attending feel welcome. Sticking the special event in the back of the store in a poorly lit area where they are interfering with the flow of traffic is not welcoming to the person conducting the event, the people attending it or to those customers who simply stopped in to buy a book. And, unfortunately, the last several events I attended at a big name bookstore did just that. It was as though the staff could not be bothered with the event so they put is as far from not only the front of the store but where the author’s books were stocked as possible.

Now, selling beer and wine in a bookstore. Sure, a lot of bookstores now have coffee shops. But let’s be realistic here. How many of those people stopping in for a cup of coffee actually stay to buy a book? I would wager that most do not. Okay, the bookstore gains income from the sales made in the coffee shop but does that really pay for the loss of shelf space?

Let’s take that one step further to adding wine and beer into the mix. Now, I’m like a lot of folks. I enjoy a drink now and then. However, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of my local bookstore becoming the local pub. No, it isn’t for the reasons you might be thinking. The legalities of what the bookstore owner and employees face are daunting. There is the process of being granted a liquor license and the expense of it. There is the responsibility of making sure only those old enough to drink are served alcohol. They will have to make sure those buying alcohol don’t take it out into the store — or off premises. They will have to make sure no one is over-served. There is the potential legal responsibility the owners and employees will face if someone has a beer or glass of wine there and then leaves the store and causes harm to another.

The list of potential legal issues is much longer than I have said.

Then there is the impact such a cafe/bar will have on the patrons. How many parents are going to feel comfortable letting their children roam a bookstore where alcohol is served? Bookstores used to be one of the few places a parent could let their children have some freed while Mom and Dad looked for books they wanted to read. If you take that away, you risk losing an important section of your customer base.

What it all really comes down to is this: what is more important — is it more important to get people into the store or is it more important to sell books? Getting bodies inside the store is great but not if it doesn’t translate into sales. A bookstore that relies on selling alcohol — or coffee or anything else — instead of books needs to look at what is happening and why. Is the store too large? In many cases, the answer to that is yes. It is my belief that the day of the large big box bookstores is over. Companies can’t afford the overhead of these stores that are often in the 100,000 sq ft size range or higher. That is why they keep looking for these new money-maker schemes to help them.

Is it time to look at your inventory and make some hard decisions? Absolutely. Bookstores need to be responsive to their clientele. That means the local managers need to be given more control over inventory. What sells in Brownsville, TX is not going to be the same thing that sells in Lancaster, CA or New York City. Sure, the best sellers will be popular but local tastes do vary as do local interests. Let the local managers have more shelf space to promote local authors, even indie and small press authors. Right now, the big box stores don’t seem to be doing that.

Before Borders went out of business, I had a long talk with one of the local managers. Her complaint, and it was one I have heard echoed by B&N managers, was that she could no longer order large quantities of books she knew the local schools had on required reading lists. Oh, she could order them but they had to be paid for in advance by the teacher, etc. Before, a teacher could call her and say she needed approximately X-number of a book and the manager could order it. Now, all she could do was special order the book as students or their parents came in. Then it would be a week, at least, before the book would be there for the student to pick up. Parents and teachers gave up and went to Amazon. Why? Because there was no waiting for the book to be in stock and, if they had Prime membership, they got it in two days.

I’ve run into this with other big box bookstores around the country. Some bean counter in the corporate office decided doing away with the goodwill of their customers was more important than maybe having a book sit on the shelf for a couple of weeks before it was bought.

Yep, that’s the way to win over customers.

So, instead of mending fences with the local reading community, they’re going to try all these “new” and “innovative” ideas. Riiiiiight.

But, lest you think it’s only booksellers turning a blind eye to what needs to be done, Author Earnings has posted its Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the Numbers presentation. There is some very interesting information in the presentation. What struck me, and what made sense, is how print sales increased in 2016 approximately 3%. Why did those sales increase? Because the agency pricing was no longer in effect for e-books. That meant e-book prices went up (even though publishers kept telling us the end of agency pricing meant they would decrease). To counter that, some retailers — Amazon — discounted the price of print books more. That meant a number of readers bought print who had been buying digital.

However, if you continue scrolling through the presentation, you will see that the trend to by print over digital is on the decline once again. Why? Because retailers are no longer discounting print books as deeply as they had. That once again makes e-books a better buy in a number of readers’ eyes.

Did we hear any of this from the traditional publishing sector? Nope. We heard them crowing about how their print numbers increased and digital sales decreased and e-books were no longer the hot item. Ergo, e-books were dying. Riiiight.

When an industry based on people reading ignores the fact that the current generation and a large part of the generation before it is a digital generation and is glued to their tech devices, that industry is circling the drain toward doom.

I don’t think this is the end of traditional publishing or of bookstores. What I do think is we are seeing a shift toward something different. Indie bookstores are once more starting the thrive in a number of areas and I welcome it. Those stores have learned they need to cater to local customers and their tastes. They know they can’t afford the huge real estate footprint the big box stores still insist upon. They know they can’t have a huge inventory. They also know they have to excel at customer service and know their stock. Most of all, they have to make their customers feel important. Those are lessons the bigger stores would do well to take to heart.

As for traditional publishing, it will continue to totter on. Some publishers will manage to find a way to survive. Others will go out of business and still others will find themselves merging. A few years ago, we had the Big Six. Now it is the Big Five. I have no doubt we will one day see the Big Four and then Three. Unless and until corporate understands that they have to adapt their business model and listen to their customers, I don’t see any way this is going to change.

 

 

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.

Bookstores: Friend or Enemy

The other day, without meaning to, I started what could have turned into a flame war in a group I belong to. I did what so many of us have done before. I placed a link to an article I had seen referenced in the group with a note it was for future reference with the thought it might need to be snarked. I even noted that I hadn’t read it yet. Oh my, the “discussion” that came after that. The thing is, on a whole, the article is a good description of what the traditional publishing model happens to be. The author of the article is also fair to indies. However — yes, yes, you knew there had to be a however — I will take issue some of what she had to say about bookstores.

The first point in the article where my teeth were set on edge was when the author stated that “[p]eople use bookstores like a freaking library.”

That makes me wonder if she has a negative opinion of libraries, at least as an author. Me, I love libraries. They are one of the first places many of our children learn to love books. They are where we can find books we don’t have in our homes. We can discover new authors through the library. As an author, that is important. The cost of traditionally published books continues to rise. People aren’t buying as many books as they used to. That means new authors have to find an audience somehow and the library is the perfect place for it to happen. Readers can borrow a book by a new author. If they like the book, they may go out and buy the next book by the author. Even if they don’t buy the book (they may be on a fixed income and the library is the only way they can read newly published works), they will tell their friends about the book and that can and will lead to sales down the road.

Then there was this statement by the author of the post: Now the spines are cracked, the pages wrinkled and no one is going to buy that book, but the bookstore isn’t out anything because they can rip the covers off and send them back. Ultimately the writer is the one who takes the hit.

Here is where I have a couple of issues with what the author has said. First, the current purchasing model used by bookstores is one they basically negotiated with the publishers (from what I’ve been told). Publishers would have preferred the old model where the bookstores bought X-number of books. If they didn’t sell, the bookstores still owned the books and that was when we found them on the deep discount shelf. Now, however, the bookstores can send those books back.

Now, as Lamb states, the publishers send the books back. However, the number of books ordered is determined by the bookstore buyers. The real problem, at least with the big box stores, is that the individual stores no longer place their own orders on most books. The regional or national purchasing agent determines how many copies to order and then divvies them up among the stores they are responsible for. Then, based on how well a book is selling in that region (or nationally) the individual bookstore is told when to remove the book from its shelves.

My second issue comes with how she describes the treatment of books by those browsing in bookstores. Sure, there are some who don’t respect the books. But most of those I’ve seen treat the books with respect. For one thing, they are book lovers. The very idea of being destructive in their handling of a book, whether they own it or not, is foreign to them. For another, they know that if they are caught destroying or damaging the book, the bookstore is well within its rights to have them pay for the book.

But let’s continue.

Lamb goes on and comments about how bookstores want to give their customers the “browsing experience” and have stock on the shelves instead of going to the POD model. I’ll agree with her here. POD with the appropriate tech in the stores would be a much more economical model for the bookstore. However, Lamb seems to overlook the fact that people go to bookstores to see, well, books. The basic mindset is still to go in and browse and look for a book that grabs your interest. That is hard to do if there is nothing on the shelves.

From an author’s standpoint, I have a concern about going to a POD model in bookstores. We are already being hamstrung when it comes to royalties by the current method. Publishers rely on BookScan for sales figures. This method uses sales figures from only some bookstores and then a lot of handwavium to determine how many books have been sold. Which is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age of RFID, inventory control and instant communication. There is no reason why publishers and distributors shouldn’t know how many books are printed, shipped and sold or returned. All you have to do is walk through your local grocery store to see how bar code scanning helps them know when they need to order more of a certain product and how their inventory control function on their cash registers lets them know how many of an item were actually sold — and returned — and how much was paid for that item IN EACH TRANSACTION. Going to POD in bookstores without some sort of update to the mindset of the bookseller and publishing industries scares me. How would the accounting be handled and what safeguards would we have in knowing how many of those copies printed were done for promotional purposes (ie to put on the shelves) vs. were sold to paying customers and for how much?

Lamb is absolutely right when she talks about how the big box stores and the change in ordering impacted the mid-level authors. Those of us at MGC have written a number of times how the mid-listers have been sacrificed by the publishing industry, not only to the detriment of the authors and their fans but the industry itself. Publishers could count on those mid-listers selling a certain number of books because they had an established fan base. Then came the day of quick turnaround on books on the shelves or they were returned to the publisher and the publishing houses needed a sacrificial lamb. It was easy to justify cutting mid-listers because they didn’t sell mega-numbers right out of the gate.

When I started this post, I did so figuring I’d be flaying Lamb over how she viewed used bookstores. Why? Because some of the comments I’ve seen around the internet claimed she denounced used bookstores as bad for authors. She doesn’t, not really. She points out something a lot of readers don’t understand. When you buy a book from a used bookstore, the author gets nothing from that sale. Also, she rightly points out that the books you will find in such stores are, by the vast majority, traditionally published books. So, used bookstores aren’t much help for indie authors.

However, for authors whose books are found there, used bookstores do serve a purpose. In fact, it is much akin to the same purpose libraries serve. A person is more likely to pay a percentage of the price of a new book for an author they have never read before than they are to pay full price. So, even though that author doesn’t get a royalty from that particular sale, if the buyer likes the book, there is the possibility of a royalty sale down the road. Even if the reader doesn’t buy a new book later, they will discuss the book with others who might. To me, it is promotion and a good thing. Word of mouth is the best sort of promotion an author can have.

So, whether we like the accounting method for sales or the purchasing model currently in use, bookstores are something every author should look at as a valuable marketing tool. This is especially true for the traditionally published author or for those indie authors fortunate enough to have a locally owned independent bookstore in their area that is open to having indie books on their shelves.

My opinion is we are going to see a change in bookstores. Heck, we already are. Those big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble are moving further and further away from “bookstores”. The new COO (CEO?) has announced that he wants to take the stores and make them into a lifestyle store. So we may see them going to an approach on books that is POD. I’m not sure. If they do, the traditional publishing industry will feel the hurt, if for no other reason that it will be a major departure from the current operating models.

The best change on the bookstore front, in my opinion, is the slow return of the locally owned bookstores. Some are coming in as niche market stores. Others are similar to the mom and pop general interest stores that were driven out of the market when Border and Barnes & Noble came on the scene. These stores can be our best friends as indie authors because they are more open to letting us hold author events there and, as noted above, to selling our books.

So, to answer the question asked above, bookstores are my friend and they should be yours. New or used, they serve a purpose and help get our names out there. Sure, I’d prefer those browsers buy my books but if they read it and like and tell their friends, I’ll take that as well because those friends might wind up buying even more books than the original reader would. And kudos to Ms. Lamb for the job she did dissecting traditional publishing.

Same old excuses

As I wandered through the interwebs, looking for something to blog about this morning, I found myself checking the calendar. Had I somehow fallen through a time hole and gone back a year or two? There was an article about the Apple price fixing trial. Closer examination showed it was actually about a brief filed by Authors United in support of Apple on its appeal of the original ruling. There were posts from MSM about how Amazon has killed Barnes & Noble. There were blogs about how there is a great divide between traditionally published authors and indies. I guess it just proves the old adage that the more things change, they more they stay the same.

As our regular readers know, I have long been tired of the “Amazon evil” argument pushed by a number of authors and other people associated with traditional publishing. How many times have we heard the screed that Amazon killed the locally owned bookstores? I won’t even go into the arguments put forth by Apple and the Big 5 (now the Big 4) as an attempt to justify their price fixing scheme.

CNN Money, a couple of days ago, published an article with the headline of “Should Barnes & Noble Just Rename Itself Amazon’s Showroom?” What prompted this was yet another quarter of losses for the brick and mortar bookseller. The article isn’t quite as one-sided in its reporting as the headline would imply. It does point out the fact that the executive suite at B&N has been basically a revolving door for the last couple of years. That, by itself, is enough to cause problems with the bottom line. It also mentions the revamped website that, well, had more problems than any site in development as long as this one supposedly had been should have.

But it ignored the real issues with why B&N is behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to Amazon. B&N, like Borders and other chain stores, was riding high when Amazon came onto the scene. These stores scoffed at the thought of having a company based solely as an internet marketplace. Heck, I’ll admit that I scoffed initially. But it didn’t take long to convince me that Jeff Bezos had found the golden goose and was capitalizing on a new market. I kept waiting for the other stores to follow suit, especially when it came to e-books. But they didn’t. They continued to hold onto their old business plans and that let Amazon get the foothold and, by the time they realized what was happening, Bezos was halfway up the economic mountain.

Then there was the well-documented lack of response to the e-book market, both in setting up e-book stores and in marketing e-book readers. Once again, Amazon became the leader in the market. The Kindle e-book reader was developed and released and then the kindle e-book site took off. No longer were we relegated to reading our e-books on our Palm Pilots or Rocket Readers, etc. Better yet, our books could be delivered directly to our e-readers instead of having to sideload them onto the devices. How wonderful.

And there were Borders and Barnes & Noble, still basking in their past glories and expanding their physical footprint without looking at economic downturns until it was too late.

We lost Borders some time ago. Now it looks like B&N is teetering on the bring and, once again, Amazon is getting the blame from some quarters. Why? Because Jeff Bezos anticipated the market and did what any good businessman does, he adapted as times and customer demands changed. He also gives his customers what they want. He is also smart enough to note on product pages when high prices are mandated by a publisher and not by him. Is he a saint? No. But he is a savvy businessman who recognized a market that wasn’t being served and took steps to serve it. The others stood back and waited and now they find themselves behind the eight ball because they didn’t step up and take a risk when they should have.

But there is something else that people are forgetting when they start arguing that Amazon is killing B&N as our local bookstore. I don’t know about your B&N but mine hasn’t been what I’d call a “bookstore” for a long time. It started slowly. The small display of journals and reading related knick-knacks moved from one small corner of the store closer to the front. Games and puzzles started showing up, at first in one back corner and then showcased up front with the knick knacks. The chairs that had been scattered around the store, letting you browse and even sit and read for a bit, started disappearing until they were gone. The shelves for the best sellers were pushed back, first for “gifts” and other non-book items and then, later, for displays selling the Nook and its various accessories. You had to walk much deeper into the store to find a book — a sad thing for a so-called bookstore.

Now we have an article from the New York Times telling us that B&N wants to “be more” than a bookstore.  This is the brainchild of Ron Boire, the new CEO of B&N. Boire is, according to the article, the former CEO of Sears Canada and has worked with Brookstone, Best Buy and Toyrs R Us. His goal is to lead “a push to rebrand Barnes & Noble as more than just a bookstore by expanding its offerings of toys, games, gadgets and other gifts and reshaping the nation’s largest bookstore chain into a ‘lifestyle brand.'”

That’s not a surprising goal coming from someone with his background but it is a far cry from being a bookstore. Part of me hopes he succeeds. I hate seeing any company go under but part of me wonders if, yet again, it is too little too late, especially when the name of the company is so tied in people’s minds with books. Think about it. When someone mentions B&N to you, you have this image of a store that is known as a bookstore. Sure, it sells other things but it is primarily associated with books. But now go back and look at the description of what he wants to do. Isn’t B&N already selling toys and games and gadgets and other gifts? So what sort of changes is he really suggesting?

For me, I want a bookstore. It doesn’t have to be a mega store. I miss the intimacy of the smaller stores where the employees knew their stock and felt confident to make recommendations. The early B&N and Borders were larger than the mom and pop stores they eventually ran out of the market. B&N and Borders were successful in those early days because they could order more of a book due to the chain nature of the business. That meant they could offer books for less. They could also offer more titles because their stores were larger. But there was something else. There wasn’t a B&N or Borders at every mall or shopping center back then. You had to drive more than a few miles to get to one. It was an adventure, a fun one, to go to B&N or Borders. It wasn’t something you did every day and, because of that, you spent more because those stores had books your local didn’t.

Then these new chain stores basically pushed the locally owned stores out of business. Riding flush on their success, they started expanding even more. With that came the superstores. They started appearing at every shopping center. Some even had both B&N and Borders within yards, not miles, of one another. At one point, I could drive 30 minutes in any direction from my home and come across several of each store. There were at least a dozen of the stores within that half an hour of my home. That is called not only market saturation but over-saturation. Add in the economic downfall and, well, things went south because the companies did not adapt to the changing times.

We lost Borders. It is good to see B&N fighting to survive but I’m not sure it can. I’m not sure becoming a “lifestyle brand” is going to do it. I wish them well but I’m not going to hold my breath.