Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Barnes and Noble”

Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

images-4

I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

images-3

It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Not My Fault

On Saturday, I made my debut appearance at a Borders bookstore. I was part of a panel of local authors featuring JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, Karin Ireland, and Christine London.

On Monday, Borders filed for bankruptcy. I have been assured that nothing I said on Saturday precipitated the decline of this multinational company despite the content of my books.

Truth is, although I am first and foremost a supporter of the independent bookstores, I have an admiration for Borders and Barnes & Noble. I enjoy spending time in their stores perusing and drinking coffee and writing.

Most importantly however, I feel for the people who work at these stores. Sure, they are there for the money, but they love working around books. They love the excitement of the public when a new Harry Potter comes out. When they hit the job market, they most probably won’t be able to stay in the book industry. Around 200 Borders are slated to close.

This isn’t the time to theorize about the advent of the e-book, or the archaic business principles of the industry. Neither is it the time to explain why, as a not-yet-on-the-A-list of authors, it doesn’t make business sense to expect to sell your book when it sits on a shelf alongside 100,000 other books.

Right now, I am feeling for those who work at Borders, who kept the place clean and orderly, who help you find a book. When Christopher Paolini released the third of his 4-book trilogy, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang in there. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hand and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.


Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him. Two years later, my son and I wrote a 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seed might not have been sown in Borders that night, but I have no doubt it was well-watered and nurtured.

To that lady and others who may well lose their job – Thank you. I hope you find something fast to help you on your way.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Independent Bookstores – Looking for Ways to Survive

Last month, more than 500 independent bookstore owners got together for a conference to discuss creative ways of generating more income. Julie Bosman covered the event in the New York Times.

What was clear was a consensus that just selling books wasn’t going to be enough. Even the giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling. There were optimistic voices:“We know now that in the world of physical book selling, bigness is no longer viewed as an asset,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which has independent stores in South Florida, Westhampton Beach and the Cayman Islands. “It’s about selection and service and ambiance. Now we’re finding a situation where the marketplace is getting back to reality.”

But there were also calls for changing the rules. “We have to figure out how we stay in the game,” said Beth Puffer, the director of the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan. “You have to rethink your whole business model, because the old ways really aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

There was a lot of focus on taking the bookstore to the customer and harnessing websites, social media, and even selling e-books.

Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., led a workshop on creating a store Web site and market both tree and e-books. The chosen host seems to be Google, perhaps seeking a bigger ally to fight Amazon.com. So far, they seem to be struggling to get their names out there on the web.

Naftali Rottenstreich, who is an  owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., said it it would be a huge challenge to accustom customers to the idea of buying books online through the independent bookstores.

“The mindset right now is, that’s Amazon or that’s Barnes and Noble.com,” he said. “There’s a transformation that has to take place, and I think it will happen in time.”

The idea is difficult. Their customers are willing to pay more for the privilege of perusing in an intimate environment, with staff that are familiar or them. The online idea loses all of this.

Other ideas include adding wine bars, cafes, and selling other products such as toys, baked goods or gourmet products.

Last October, I heard a lot of fear at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference. While I am sure there was fear aplenty at this conference, there seems to be a strong desire to adapt and survive.

Do we really want our Main Streets devoid of a bookstore? What does this say about our values and what message is it passing on to our children? Or is Main Street even going to be relevant to the next generation’s buying experiences?

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Author Interview on Audio

I just heard a great interview with Terry Brooks (yes, I’m sinking into the world of fantasy) and then looked up other authors who had previously been interviewed.

Check out Meet The Authors for short and informative interviews that serve both the readers and those interested in writing.

Thank you Barnes & Noble. Your struggle to break out of the books ‘n mortar mentality and take B&N into the 21st Century is tough, but I admire your courage.

So here is a plug: Oilspill dotcom is available on Nook for $3.19 (same price or lower than their competitors).

Good Writing Everyone,

Alon Shalev

http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area — hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Independant Bookstore

A friend went to her local independent bookstore and browsed the shelves intent on purchasing my book, Oilspill dotcom. It wasn’t there. Unperturbed, she went to the counter and asked the employee to order her a copy.

The assistant told her that they are not ordering single copies of books just now and would not be able to order Oilspill dotcom for her. Now I understand that the small bookstore has limited shelf space and there are 2 million books out there. I even understand (begrudgingly) why a bookstore where I haven’t appeared, or am not a local author, would not be sensitive to the legions of grassroots activists and readers who are seeking out my novel.

My friend went home and ordered the book online, I assume from Amazon.com.

I am a big supporter of the independent bookstore. I appreciate the service that Amazon provides, but if I plan to buy a new book, I would rather patronize my local bookstores. I admire Starbucks – they make good coffee, have cheerful staff, and a vibrant and clean store. But providing that they match the standards, I would rather give my business to a local coffee shop.

Times are hard, and the consumer field is becoming even more competitive. If Darwin was a capitalist (I’ve no idea), he would probably suggest that Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon will not need to share the field with the independent bookstore for much longer. Likewise, Starbucks, Peets, and Tully’s should be percolating the death knell of local coffee shops, grinding them into the dust, relegating them to has-beans…I’ll stop. Who said blogging couldn’t be fun?

Whether or not the mom and pop shops’ days are numbered, I would rather see them for a while longer. I feel, maybe irrationally, that they have a place in my ‘community’.

Which is why I don’t understand why the independent bookstore employee didn’t go the extra mile and order Oilspill dotcom for my friend. Perhaps they make less money from the small publisher than from major distributors, but hey, isn’t that ironic? My friend might have been able to buy my book from Amazon for less, and certainly didn’t have to leave her house, park her car and walk into the store. Furthermore, that satisfied customer might have returned to buy the next bestseller she fancies. More likely, she bought it when she purchased Oilspill dotcom and saved on the free shipping for a $25+ order.

There is a fascinating report out on the state of the book industry. What makes it fascinating is that it is cautiously optimistic of a literary future. But it does challenge the future of the independent bookstore, and anticipates a time in the not-too-distant future when e-books will match tree-books for sales. The author is Danny O. Snow, who works for the Society for New Communications Research, and his report can be found at http://www.sncr.org/

So let us end on a positive note. The book industry is not dying, but it is evolving and everyone: authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, need to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing reality. That includes the independent bookstores, if they want to continue to exist. And I hope they do

Good Writing,

Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

Death to the Publishing Industry: Long Live the Publishing Industry!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the pitfalls of an author receiving a large advance. Despite the feedback I received, I am still convinced that the up-and-coming author would be better off rejecting a $20K advance and asking the publisher to invest that money in book promotion. And yes, I am still waiting for a publisher to test my resolve!

But there is another principle, another cornerstone of the publishing industry that I wish to vilify: The Principle of Returns. In any other industry, the shop can return a product to the manufacturer if it proves defective or damaged. A bookstore can return a book if…it doesn’t sell.

Where is the responsibility? Your average big bookstore will stock around 100,000 books in their store, while taking responsibility to promote only a few. Why should they put any effort into selling any but a select number, when they always have the option of returning the books and receiving a full refund? Barnes & Noble, I understand, are taking a lead in responsible book ordering and trying to find a more sustainable model.

This has two major effects. Firstly, there are way too many trees being cut down unnecessarily and energy being wastefully expended on production (I admit that I have not yet felt a desire to purchase a Kindle or other electronic reader, despite being a fervent environmentalist and Star Trek fan – where do you think the idea came from?).

The second issue is that such a policy is blatantly discriminatory to the smaller and independent publisher, who can often receive a book returned a couple of years later. Such business practices are strangling the smaller publishers and creating a fearful environment of huge corporations that base their decisions exclusively on the bottom line.

Last month, I attended a talk by Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing, a small independent company, at the California Writers Club (Berkeley branch). Ms. Cook spoke about how they often receive returns up to four years after ‘selling’ a book.

But what most annoyed me was Ms. Cook’s account of a recent booksellers’ conference to which several workshops focused on teaching booksellers how to improve a returns instead of payment strategy in. Certainly booksellers who hadn’t previously considered returns as a legitimate and productive business tactic, may well have left the conference thinking why not?

Like Ms. Cook, I am left pondering: why did they not offer workshops on, perhaps, how to promote and sell a book?

I have heard rumors that there are a number of well-placed people in the industry who want to abolish the returns policy, and that they are exploring the idea of creating a publishing house that will not work on this premise.

I have no idea where this stands, and have to admire the courage of anyone in this economic climate who would consider leaving a secure job to set up a new business while challenging one of the sacred cows of the industry, even if it is time to put that cow out to pasture.

Good Writing,

Alon

Btw – I am five days away from holding a copy of Oilspill dotcom in my hands.

Also thank you to those who offered feedback about my website (http://www.alonshalev.com). I really appreciate your input.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: