No Comments »

July 24th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

The DOJ Just Doesn’t Get the Book Biz

Despite an overwhelming preponderance of comments that were critical of the proposed remedy in the agency model case involving ebook pricing, the Dept. of Justice announced a ruling yesterday that was a huge disappointment to me and many people in the book business. The DOJ rejected the arguments of many, including me, who pointed to Amazon.com as the corporation whose conduct warranted scrutiny, not the defendant publishers. Worse, the DOJ dismissed comments critical of the settlement imposed on three of the Big Six publishers as stemming from fiduciary self-interest. Although people are definitely concerned about their livelihoods, they are also concerned about the future of the business and whether publishers and authors are going to be able to carry on at all. The DOJ claimed it was all about consumers paying less, but I think to only look at price is to miss the larger picture. Unfortunately, I think Shelf Awareness got it right when they headed their coverage, “Justice Dept. to Book Industry, ‘Drop Dead'”.

1 Comment »

June 23rd, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

My Letter to the Dept. of Justice in the Agency Model Ebook Case

With Monday June 25 as the last day for public comment in the Agency Model and ebook pricing case now before the DOJ I submitted a comment today. This is what I sent in an email to John Read at the Dept. of Justice:

June 23, 2012

Mr. John Read
United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Dear John Read,

I believe a competitive book market for authors, publishers, and readers is essential to the cultural and commercial well-being of our country. Because of the public good that a competitive marketplace conveys, I urge you to turn away from any course of action in this matter that would have the perverse effect of boosting Amazon.com and permitting them to continue predatory conduct that they have shown a predilection to practice.

While I know that the government’s investigation has been about allegedly improper conduct on the part of some publishers, I hope you can find a remedy here that does not deliver a new competitive advantage for Amazon.com, one that, given current trends, could surely lead to a less healthy, less competitive book and publishing marketplace, one that would over time lead to fewer titles coming from publishers; less income for creators; and less choice for consumers.

I write with respect for the difficulties you and your office must face in dealing with this matter. But as a longtime retail bookseller, editor and publisher, I know that our industry is balanced on a perilous edge where your decision could lead to a more competitive and fairer book marketplace, or when where a very few players dominate the commercial and cultural space. I hope you will not let that occur.

Sincerely, Philip Turner
Philip Turner Book Productions
New York, NY
www.philipsturner.com

2 Comments »

June 1st, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Publishing & Bookselling

Ebook as Gifts?

When I began my career in the book biz as a retail bookseller, among our busiest months were May and June–graduation season–when young people were often gifted with dictionaries, atlases, books of quotations, and other works of popular reference. The gift book buyers at this time of year seemed to want to say by their selections, “I want you to have a useful book, a pragmatic book of practical instruction that will aid you as you embark on your life’s journey.” To me, this was one of the most ennobling duties of being a bookseller–helping a gift purchaser pay an implicit compliment to their recipient, investing them with an expectation that they would soon be going places in their still-young lives. At Undercover Books, when we gift-wrapped and shipped out or hand-delivered a book selected as a result of this process, I felt it was forcefully communicated to the recipient that their benefactor really cared about them, and believed they would amount to something. Here on the first day of June in 2012, thirty-four years after opening that bookstore–and twenty-six after I became an editor and publisher–I find that while my new vocation yielded many new and unexpected satisfactions, the sacred exchange of helping customers choose gift books like this was one of the things I still miss most.

As e-reading has taken hold, with new models of digital publishing emerging every month, I have often wondered how, and whether, booksellers can find some way to lend the presentation of a free download some of the nobility of the process I always relished. Music doesn’t offer much of a model, where say the presentation of an ITunes gift card lacks appeal. It may well be that giving something insubstantial like a download is just not the same as a gift that has some heft.

I thought of all this today after reading an article at geekwire.com which reports as in so many things related to e-commerce, Amazon.com has already spent some time and corporate brainpower thinking about the gift-buying process, even going to the extent of filing for and now receiving “a patent on what has become a common method of giving presents—a system for selecting digital gifts such as movies, music or e-books, sending an electronic notification to a recipient, and allowing them to download the gift.”

Well, Amazon has the patent they sought, but there’s no sign in the article that they’ve discovered any way of imbuing the purchase and presentation of a download with any special significance. For that, we’ll have to wait for another day, if indeed it ever arrives at all.

1 Comment »

February 1st, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; Media, Blogging, Internet; Music, Bands & Radio; Publishing & Bookselling; Technology, Science & Computers

Putting Printed Books and Ebooks on Equal Footing

With indie record labels now routinely making downloads of music available to buyers of vinyl LPs, I’m heartened to see a similar strategy taking hold among indie publishers too, with regard to ebooks and printed books. Today, the good people of Toronto’s Coach House Books made this smart offer on the press’s website:

Coach House Offers Free Digital Downloads with Print Purchase!
Coach House will, as of February 14, offer free digital downloads with the purchase of any print edition (provided, of course, the book currently exists in e-format). You buy one of our print books, the electronic book is yours for the taking. Sounds great, but how does it work? One of two ways:
1) When you order a book from the Coach House online store, you’ll automatically be sent a link for a secure download of the epub edition. This automated process will begin later in February, so until then, one of the friendly Coach House staff members will send you an email following your order with further directions.
2) If you buy our books in a bookstore (an activity we highly recommend), you can also obtain a digital download. Starting this spring, all new books or printings will feature a unique code and instructions (on the copyright page) on how to claim your free digital download. For previously printed books, please email us atsales@chbooks.com with (a) the title, (b) the store name, (c) your transaction number and (d) your preference of ebook format: PDF or epub.
That’s all there is to it.

I admire the Coach House list which mixes fiction, poetry, drama, film, urban studies, and architecture. Uniquely, as they explain on their website, they’ve “always maintained a dual role in Canadian letters by both publishing and printing books.” That is to say, they print their own titles, while also doing job printing for universities, individuals, and other publishers. Last June while visiting Toronto for NxNE, the music festival aka North by Northeast, I visited my friend Alana Wilcox, Coach House editorial director. She gave me a tour of their office, which really is located in a red brick coach house on a shady lane in the leafy city. This is no musty or antique enterprise, despite it’s commitment to a technology that one associates with Ben Franklin and huge machines. I think it’s particularly apt, that since 1997–when Coach House Books was revived from a brief dormant interlude by current owner Stan Bevington, they “boldly ventured online, publishing electronic editions, and luscious print versions.”

Now, with the print book and ebook initiative announced today, Coach House has demonstrated their continuing relevance, if it were needed–and that of publishers like them– in the burgeoning digital age that publishing has entered. I wonder how long it will be before big, commercial houses are also routinely making ebooks available, or some digital product, available with purchase of a new book. Meantime, congratulations to Coach House Books for leading the way.

When I visited Alana, I took pictures of the presses and machinery as she walked me around, and had the pleasure of meeting Stan Bevington in their break room. Later, outside the coach house, she showed me where a poem by bpNichol, a practitioner of ‘concrete poetry,’ is chiseled/etched/incised in to the Toronto street named fittingly, bpNichol Lane. The verse:  A lane/A lane/A lone/A line

1 Comment »

December 20th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling; Technology, Science & Computers

Chabon’s Hyperbole Undermines his Fair Critique

I’m glad for Michael Chabon that he’s going to have most of his backlist come out as ebooks with Open Road Integrated Media. And in this interview with AP publishing reporter Hillel Italie he makes a reasonable criticism of major publishers’ stance on ebook royalties vs. traditional print book royalties. But why did he have to push the rhetorical pedal to the metal with hyperbole by earlier stating that current royalties are “criminally low”? Chabon rightly criticizes publishers’ unwillingness thus far to escalate from 25% of net proceeds to 50% on ebooks–a royalty that Open Road and others including Amazon’s publishing division do already offer–but then degrades the discussion with inflamed language.

And why indulge in this overstatement, given to Italie: “It’s not fair for them to take a roughly identical royalty for an e-book [as a print book] that costs them nothing to produce.” This is a logical fallacy–that ebook edition of a print book would never exist but for the investment the publisher made in the print edition–the acquisition; line-editing; copyediting; design; manufacture; sale; distribution; marketing. While I agree with Chabon that these royalties should surely not be identical, and 50% may be the right share for most books, it’s just not true that the ebook is cost-free.

I suggest that the book industry view the cost savings from the diminishment of print as a kind of “peace dividend” for authors and publishers and other stakeholders like retail booksellers. That one the U.S. government had a shot at in the 1990s after the Cold War didn’t work out so well, but this time things could still turn out differently. All parties should share fairly in whatever windfall there is to come. I would accuse the major publishers of being shortsighted and dumb and in thrall to old ways, but I fear that hyperbole like Chabon’s will only further degrade the debate and discussion that must proceed between publishers and authors, lest Amazon eventually become the monopoly publisher and bookseller many bookpeople nowadays fear is looming in our collective future.

 

No Comments »

November 29th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Publishing & Bookselling; Technology, Science & Computers

Why Vinyl is Today’s Most Dynamic Music Medium

Paste Magazine asked twenty record store owners to give them feedback on LPs and whether vinyl is making a comeback in their stores. The stores were all over the US–Nashville, Portland (ME and Oregon), LA, SF, Chicago, Ann Arbor and Dearborn (MI), Boston, Fayetteville (AR), Denver, Tempe (AZ), Wilmington (DE), Decatur (GA). By my count, nineteen of them observed more or less emphatically that vinyl has made a big comeback, and that it is the area of their business with the most growth over the past several years.

Consider this remark from Dave W. of Wax Tracks Records in Denver:

“I have noticed that at least two or three times a week some father or mother comes in saying that their kid asked for a turntable for their birthday or Christmas present. So it’s not a case of the older generation just giving their turntables to their kids and saying ‘Here’s what we used to play music on,’ but rather the kids saying ‘This is what’s cool and happening right now and I want in on it.'”

Or this from John Conrad of Johnny’s Records in Darien, CT:

“It was probably around 2005 when requests became so numerous that I began bringing vinyl back to the store. By the Christmas of 2006, a large number of high school kids began showing up in the store and perusing the record racks. When I asked them what was up, to a one they’d turn with a big smile and say, ‘I’m getting a turntable for Christmas.’  Since that time we’ve doubled the amount of vinyl we carry every few months. I mean, music lovers, and that includes me, we’re kind of a geeky lot and as such we like to collect real physical items.”

And, finally, this from Tony Grandischnig of Jackpot Records in Portland, OR:

“It has been interesting to watch the compact disc rise up and nearly destroy vinyl, but with the rise in vinyl sales and production, along with the oft included download code, it now seems that vinyl is having it’s sweet revenge on the compact disc.”

Notice that all three use the word “Records” in their store name. Still other commenters in the Paste feature spoke of the fact that superior liner notes and packaging were driving many more customers than ever to choose LPs when they had a choose of vinyl or CD. Most revealing to me is that lots of young people are actively choosing to buy and listen to LPs, for what they consider to be superior sound quality, and the enjoyable rituals of handling and owning a full-size LP.

I bet if they’d polled any Canadian record store owners, the responses would have been equally emphatic. For a recent CBC Radio 3 podcast titled “Will Vinyl Save Music?,” host Lisa Christiansen asks, “What factors have led to the return of vinyl? Has it become just a part of a growing hipster cottage industry? Is it purely nostalgia that has made people care again?” To explore these questions she interviews Daniel Fazio, of the Tiki Bar in Vancouver, B.C.’s Waldorf Hotel, who has designed and programmed the bar to cater to musiclovers’ hunger for a tactile listening experience. They power a massive set of JBL speakers manufactured in 1948 with an analog tube amp purpose-built for them. Fazio insisted the recent embrace of vinyl isn’t nostalgia, and observes that with so much music being driven up into the cloud, and with listeners really owning nothing when they buy an MP3 file, actually owning an LP is an antidote to the merely virtual.  At the bar, they hold a regular “sellers night,” where owners and collectors of vinyl come to spin, sell, and swap their albums. Later, on the podcast, she visits Jack White’s Third Man Records, an all-in-one recording studio and vinyl pressing plant, where they are doing more business every year. Third Man also houses The Vault, the music site.

Speaking personally, I reconditioned an old turntable this year and have recently bought LPs by bands Wintersleep, Wilderness of ManitobaCuff the DukeElliot Brood, and Hey Rosetta!.

Working in the book business, I urge wags in my industry to not be too hasty in dismissing printed books as a desirable object for purchase. Yes, surely ebooks and digital downloading are going to continue gaining an increasing share of the market, but just as vinyl still has its place among music fans, so will printed books continue to have a role for booklovers. I believe there’s a lot the book biz that we can and should learn from the music industry, particularly about the world of digital downloading which music insiders have been dealing with for close to a decade, while bookpeople can also learn from the sturdy persistence, and reemergence, of vinyl.

No Comments »

October 31st, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Richard Nash Tells All–Or At Least Quite A Lot

Richard Nash is a very smart publishing person, and plenty smart enough to know when an experimental direction he’s taken isn’t working out. As a result, he gave a talk this week at the Books into Browsers conference in San Francisco conceding that Cursor, the enterprise he announced with great anticipation in 2010, hasn’t really taken off in the way he’d hoped. He’s learned some valuable lessons about why, and he shares them in this candid talk.