Readersforum's Blog

June 14, 2013

Rise of the bookshops

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett

| By Ann Patchett

Booksellers do not guard their best secrets: they are a generous tribe and were quick to welcome me into their fold and to give me advice. I was told to hang merchandise from the ceiling whenever possible, because people long to buy whatever requires a ladder to cut it down. The children’s section should always be in a back corner of the store, so that when parents inevitably wandered off and started reading, their offspring could be caught before they busted out of the store. I received advice about bookkeeping, bonuses, staff recommendations and websites.

While I was flying from city to city, Karen [Hayes] was driving around the South in a U-haul, buying up shelving at rock-bottom prices from various Borders stores that were liquidating. I had written one check before I left, for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and I kept asking if she needed more money. No, she didn’t need more money.

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October 19, 2011

In a Battle of the E-Readers, Booksellers Spurn Superheroes

DC Comics Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Entertainment, showcases the graphic novel "Superman: Earth One" on the Kindle Fire.


The tablet wars have begun. Superheroes are the prize — or perhaps the victim.

Amazon, seeking to make its coming Kindle Fire tablet as appealing as possible, negotiated a deal with DC Comics for the exclusive digital rights to a hundred popular graphic novels. Among the series: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Sandman and Watchmen.

Barnes & Noble, with a tablet of its own to nurture, did not like this one bit. Two weeks ago it removed all the copies of the physical volumes from its 1,300 stores, saying it would not carry any book if it were denied the right to sell the digital version.

Books-a-Million, the third-largest bookseller with 231 stores, followed suit last week, making the same argument.

Booksellers of all sorts used to pride themselves on never removing any book from their shelves, but that tradition — born in battles over censorship — is fading as competitive struggles increase. Last year, in a sort of foretaste of the present conflict, Amazon temporarily removed the “buy” buttons for the publisher Macmillan as part of a struggle over e-book pricing.

This time, the stakes are once again high. The two chains are desperate to avoid becoming showrooms for Amazon’s digital warehouse, which would quickly send them to the bookstore graveyard like their former colleague Borders. DC Comics must stay relevant in a world where many of its young male fans read everything on mobile devices — not the most congenial medium for comics. And Amazon must preserve and extend its dominance.

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October 3, 2011

A day in the life of an independent bookshop

One Tree Books, Petersfield, Hampshire Photograph: Tricia de Courcy Ling

How does Hampshire’s One Tree Books thrive while so many independents are struggling?

By Stephen Moss

I could never own a shop. I’d worry too much that no one would come. I’ve been at One Tree Books in Petersfield, Hampshire, since 9am. It’s now close to 10am, and there have been two customers, who wandered in, sniffed around and then left without buying anything. This does not bode well. It’s a Saturday morning in mid-August. Maybe everyone’s away on holiday? Bookselling is in crisis – everyone knows that – with the recession, the rise of Amazon, those wretched Kindles, the replacement of lovable books with unlovable electronica. This is going to be grim.

Tim O’Kelly, who owns One Tree Books, reassures me. “Don’t worry. The first hour is often like this. It gives us a chance to get organised,” he says. We sit in the coffee bar at the rear of his shop and he tells me how he got into bookselling. He had worked as a sales rep for 10 years, including a spell as head of UK sales for Macmillan, and fancied seeing the business from the other side. His colleagues told him he was mad, but he rented an old hardware store in Petersfield in 1994 and took the plunge. He has gradually expanded, bought the freehold, added the coffee bar, and last year was named independent bookseller of the year.

It’s quiet while we talk, but just you wait, he says, explaining his philosophy. “The coffee shop is now a key part of the business, and a driver of getting people in. It creates an ambience. There’s a bit of noise, a bit of buzz and clatter. Bookshops traditionally have been like libraries. Somebody will go, ‘Shhhh, be quiet.’ It’s not a place you want children to be in, but if you’ve got a bit of a buzz, people feel their children can make a noise, and they come and buy children’s books. It feels less intimidating for general punters, too.”

O’Kelly walks me round the shop. It’s on two floors, is bright and airy, and employs 10 staff (half a dozen of whom are in today), most of them part-time and long-serving. The booksellers stick little notes in the books to which they are especially committed. As well as selling books, One Tree has diversified into board games, educational toys, sheet music, classical music, postcards and posh stationery. more

September 22, 2011

Fool for proofs: the advance reading copy trade

How is it that an uncorrected proof of a book can be valued at 50 times a finished version?

  ByDavid Barnett

Book collectors are a funny lot. Unlike readers, who are concerned with what’s inside the book, the true delight of any volume for a collector lies in the nuts and bolts of the book’s production. First editions, signed copies, limited releases … these are valued above rubies by the book collector. But there’s also a shadowy grey market in book collecting – that of dealing in proofs.

Proofs are the roughly-produced versions of upcoming books that are put together by publishers to create a bit of a buzz ahead of the publication of the finished products. Also known as ARCs (advance reading copies), they are traditionally sent out to newspapers and magazines so that reviewers can get their teeth into them in time for the publication date, and booksellers can be tempted into useful orders.

In recent years the group of people in receipt of proofs has widened to include book bloggers who reach, in some cases, thousands of readers, and who have been identified by publishers as having the capability to reach an internet-savvy crowd who might not necessarily buy mainstream media publications.

ARCs will often have plain covers, or covers carrying publication information and quotes from those who have already seen the book. For a reader, the appeal of a proof is almost negligible. True, you may get to read the book a month or so before publication, but proofs are often uncorrected, unedited and sometimes even early drafts. A proof of Grant Morrison’s non-fiction treatise on superheroes, Supergods, which I recently received, had whole sections that were changed in the final product. But proofs are, by their nature, of limited availability – which is why those who like to collect rarities in the book world trade them. But such trade is rife with legal grey areas – and the market is currently convulsed by one of its periodic kerfuffles. more

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