The Nook and e-Lend Options

One of things that both I and other people seemed to be most interested in on the new B&N Nook was the ability to share titles between readers. Sure, they had a 14-day limit, but there are times when I wish I could impose this on my lent-out printed books, so that's easy to get around. Original Nook announcements claimed that e-books on the Nook claimed that e-books would be lend-able an unlimited number of times, albeit not to more than one person at a time (kind of like a printed book -- are we seeing the parallels?).

But, lo and behold, DRM could not go so smoothly. Instead, publishers - yes, publishers! - are digging in their heels and throwing a bit of a fit about the lending of e-books. I fail to see the problem, really, as printed books are swapped, traded, lent, borrowed, stolen, etc, on a regular basis, and if our claim is that e-books should not replace printed books, than why would we want to establish e-books as "fixing the problem" of borrowed print books?

In response, B&N has limited lending to only 1 time per book. I guess that's kind of like lending a printed book to someone who always forgets to return it...

Moreover, with the ongoing debate about e-book pricing, does it really make sense for publishers to claim that e-books should be priced at the same level as their printed counterparts while simultaneously limiting the uses and capabilities of e-books? I'm big on not undervaluing e-books so as not to undervalue printed books (look at the crazy price wars), but in order to back up this claim, publishers (and e-book retailers) have to start addressing some of the issues of e-books: not compatible from one reader to the next, no lending rights, etc, etc, etc.

In the end, though, I guess it boils down to one question: e-book or p-book, does book lending really threaten publishing, or does it serve to promote books, authors, and the like? Any thoughts?

Book Review: Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano

The latest from bestselling author of French Women Don't Get Fat (which I've never read, but sure did sell a lot of back in my bookstore days), Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire offers advice for women in the workplace. Aptly subtitled "Business Sense and Sensibility," author Mireille Guiliano provides just that: sense, and sensibility, for the woman in the workplace.

Beginning the book with a lamentation regarding the number of mentors available to women in the workplace, it almost feels as though Guiliano is reaching through the book to provide this much needed mentorship to her readers in lieu. Although her advice can seem a tad obvious at times (make eye contact and remember to smile, e.g.), it is enlightening to have such a gentle reminder of the more obvious things and fresh look at the less obvious (how to entertain your boss at a dinner table, for example).

My only true grievance with the text (besides the fact that I finished it without ever being told what "savoir faire" actually means) is the gender bias confronted in each chapter. This happens in two ways: first, although the front flap copy and first chapter suggest that a few men may enjoy the book as well, I found this not to be true. As a woman in a workplace environment, I gleaned many useful lessons, but the majority of these were particularly geared toward women, and only women. No man is going to be told to store a classic, A-line black dress in his business wardrobe, after all.

But slightly more irritating than this are the sweeping stereotypes made of both male and female workers: men are loud, and interrupt more often, and need to feel powerful, whereas women are more emotional, more likely to let others speak over them, etc. Luckily, Guiliano keeps the text from becoming too stereotypical by presenting these stereotypes with a form of apology (although this is something she cautions women never to do; apologizing too much and pointing out mistakes is apparently in our nature).

Perhaps the highlight of the book is Guiliano's mentor-like tendency to remind her readers to consider themselves, to weigh their options, to determine what success means to them, etc. Although we hear this frequently, it is both reassuring and helpful to be reminded of what is good for us from time to time. And, like urging smaller portion sizes, Guiliano is correct in reminding us in the importance of balance. I suppose this is why she feels so much like an author-mentor, and in the end, that is the charm of the book.

Bottom line: Guilano's text is engaging (especially given the potentially dry subject matter) and entertaining, and, as she had hoped, her stories and anecdotes give new meaning to each of her workplace lessons. Well-written (especially as English, we learn, is not her native language), informative, and at times thought-provoking, Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire is an easy read for any woman in the workplace, and would make a valuable gift for any young woman starting her career (or more experienced woman needing a bit of subtle guidance). Gentlemen, though, should probably take a pass (the title pretty much guarantees this though, no?)

Added points to the design team on this one for the mono-color images at the heading of each chapter and the overall paper and feel of the book: it is classy, sophisticated, and perfectly matches both the author and the tone of the book.


Thank you to Atria Books, part of Simon & Schuster, for the review copy of this title, via Goodreads.

B&N Nook - A Round-up

Oh, this week I am a failed book-blogger. How can I claim to be interested in the book world and not write anything about Barnes & Noble's big announcement of the week: the release of the Nook? Information first appeared on the BN website on Oct 20th, and the Nook has been no small subject among the world of e-books (and p-books!) this week.

In short, the Nook is BN's response to the so-far widely successful Amazon Kindle. The $259 Nook has WiFi and 3G capabilities, allows readers to share books (oh, DRM, how we love you) across devices (although as far as I can tell, not the Kindle or Sony reader). The WiFi will only be in stores for now, but there are talks of opening it up later.

From what I can tell, it seems that BN has addressed many of the complaints that users have had with the Kindle and the Sony e-reader. It allows the sharing of books (which the Kindle does not), has WiFi access (available in stores, which is creating a brick-and-digital bundle many have been hoping for; this will also be seen in hardcover/e-book bundled sales), has a large, easy-to-read screen, can be used as a USB device... the list goes on.

Teleread, devoted to e-book developments, has more information on all of this -- here's a round-up of their coverage from the week.

As a side note, there are still theories that Apple will outdo the lot of the book retailers (look at the success of the book apps on iPhones and iPods...). Check out more details in Newsweek.

E-Book vs P-Book

Just noticing a new trend in the talks surrounding e-books -- it seems the alternative, printed matter book as now been dubbed a "p-book" (presumably the "p" is for "printed").

I feel that it's less cumbersome than "printed book" or "bound book," etc, making the discussions of printed vs electronic books slightly easier (and ensuring that the p-book stays a part of the e-book discussion).

Other thoughts?

Call for a National Digital Library

I've talked what feels like endlessly about the downsides of e-books: their threats to the publishing industry, the loss of the value of the printed book, etc. But there is a plus, one that both the publishing and library markets seem to be glossing over (myself included) -- a digital library can house thousands of resources for areas that would otherwise be deprived of such materials due to budget constraints.

In this line, journalist David Rothman calls for a National Digital Library in yesterday's Huffington Post. Happy Friday reading!

Price Wars

Most of you have probably caught some wind of the recent price wars going on between Amazon, Walmart, Sears, etc -- if you haven't, here's the bottom line: these super-chains are competing with one another to slash the prices of the newest big hardcover releases. Something so simple, yet so completely out of hand; prices are falling lower and lower, with Walmart now seemingly settled on $8.99, Amazon at $9.

For more details on the price wars itself, The Book Case summed it up quite well in a post on Monday, and the Wall Street Journal also gave coverage.

There are a host of problems with the price slashing, some obvious, some not so much. First, these retailers are now selling the books well below cost. Whether they worked out the world's best discount with publishers or are selling the books at a loss, I'm not sure, but I know that the average retailer - hell, even wholesaler - does not get a 74% discount (which is the discount on Steven King's latest release, priced at $35 and selling for $9 at Amazon and Walmart). How selling anything at a loss is a reasonable long-term business model is beyond me.

Furthermore, this only increases the already numerous problems for independents. They couldn't compete with the 30% discount on Amazon - how can they compete with a $9 hardcover? Actually, there is one way: they can buy the book from Amazon or Walmart (both of which are offering free shipping), then mark it up a few bucks and still sell new books at a higher discount than they could have afforded had they gone through a distributor. What a great way to rejuvenate the publishing industry - put the distributors out of business.

But even more concerning than the immediate effect on sales at indies, or the long-term success of super-chains with a negative-profit business model is the impact of this on the consumer's valuation of a book. We've struggled enough with pricing for e-books, with the consumer arguing for $10 and cheaper, and the publishers arguing that books are worth more than that, even when they aren't printed. There was concern that $10 e-books would necessarily bring down the value of a printed book, making printed matter obsolete and unprofitable, thereby leading to the decline of printed books. But this was all theoretical, what-ifs, we'll-sees.

Now, a $9 hardcover suggests that this is what a book's value is - and practical cost analysis will show that no publisher could stay afloat by pricing all books at $9 and under. It's an impossible competition, completely short-sighted, and dangerous for all involved, even the competitors themselves.

Phew, rant over. For more, check out a PW blog response here, and recent Shelf Awareness discussions: yesterday and Monday.

Agatha Christie - Welcome to Fall

I picked up two Agatha Christie books at the Strand in an all-around rage: I was 60 pages into Larry McMurtry's Books and it was so incredibly bad that I needed something else to read just to get me through the subway ride from Union Square to Queens. (Yes, it was that bad) Luckily for Christie, she was everything that McMurtry was not: clear, fluid, well-written, entertaining, engaging, and, on top of all that, became the perfect read for the just-starting-to-cool-down weather of October.

A Pocket Full of Rye bases its actions, quite sneakily, on the age-old children's rhyme: Four-and-twenty blackbirds / baked in a pie... I will confess that I did not see the way that the murders fit into the rhyme until Miss Marple herself pointed it out to the detective. A Murder is Announced works backwards, declaring the upcoming murder in a local newspaper and leaving the survivors to work out what happened versus what they think happened.

Both mysteries Miss Marple mysteries, starring the classy - and classic - Miss Jane Marple, subtle old-lady detective. Both require a bit of suspension of disbelief, or perhaps a new-found belief in coincidence, but I do not consider this a flaw. No, the genius of Christie's work lies right in these coincidences, cleverly tying together a number of seemingly un-related strings to solve an as-yet seemingly impossible puzzle.

It is tempting to declare Christie's work trite, or cliche, or overdone, but this is like calling Jane Austen too typically romantic: to do so is to forget that these were pioneers of their fields. Agatha Christie, author of over 70 books in her lifetime, was the first serial murder mystery writer to create a truly successful "brand" around both herself and her characters (namely, Miss Marple and Poirot, of later A&E fame).

Bottom line: If you are looking for a solid mystery read, but aren't willing to stoop to the level of Patterson and his kind, I would unhesitatingly recommend going back a few decades to discover, or perhaps re-discover, Agatha Christie's work. Plus, in addition to a page-turner mystery, she serves up a healthy portion of British heritage and quirky culture from the post-war years, something the Osprey/Shire nerd in me thoroughly enjoyed.

Sarah Palin... again.

Palin seems to crop up all over the place on here, doesn't she? But then, she seems to pop up all over the place period, so maybe it's not so surprising. Today it's back to Palin's book, but not as you might expect (although yes, the pre-orders for her book are still on the bestsellers list(s), and yes, she is once again currently out-selling The Lost Symbol). No, this one is from today's Medio Bistro blog, GalleyCat, focusing on the cover image and a tie-in publication.

What it all boils down to is that Palin's book has such a cookie-cutter political figure book cover, it is just asking for parodies. And a parody is exactly what is coming. After all, why should Palin be the only one to reap in the cash? No, that would hardly be fair. Stay tuned for Going Rouge: Sarah Palin: An American Nightmare, coming from OR Books this fall.

To see the covers, check out the original GalleyCat post.

As a side note to Palin's autobiography: her book shares a subtitle with at least 20 other biographies and memoirs, including those of Benjamin Franklin, Ronald Reagan, Martha Washington, Condoleeza Rice and my personal favorite, guitars. How rogue can it be if it's already been done?

National Day on Writing

Today, October 20th, is not only Anna's birthday (Happy Birthday darling!), it's also the first ever National Day on Writing! The day was designed by the US Senate to honor those who write and to encourage people to start writing; more specifically, to do the following:
  • highlight the remarkable variety of writing we engage in today;
  • provide a collection for research on whether writing today has risen to new highs or sunk to new lows; and
  • help us help others to write better.
And for those of you thinking, "Well, but me? I'm not a writer," I can assure you, you most likely are. The Senate carefully included all forms of writing:

"Whereas the National Day on Writing honors the use of the full range of media for composing, from traditional tools like print, audio, and video, to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts..."

Now, I'm not sure that podcasts would be officially considered "writing," but I like where they are going with that.

Thanks to The Book Case for sharing the link to this event.

For more information check out the day's official website. And then go write something!

Another Cool Idea of the Day...

In (yet another) follow up to the 24 Hour Book Project that I posted about recently, here's another cool idea of the day: a Twitter book project. Neil Gaiman of fantasy writing fame has paired up with the Twittersphere to write an audiobook - or record one, at any rate. It all started at noon today, and was capped at the first 1,000 tweets. You can read the whole story here.

Now, I'm not much of a Twitter fan (I just don't get it, although if you do, you can follow me @ofabookworm... did I do the @ right?), but I do think this is an impressive use of new technologies to create a new work of fiction.

The final product will be available for download on the project's website for free; I will keep you posted if I hear it's completed!

Another Bit of Optimism

A bit of a speech likening the dawn of digital books to the dawn of mass market paperbacks, way back when. Not something I was alive for, but an interesting argument...

Check out the GalleyCat excerpt for the important bits of the speech.

Bookshelf Reviews in Brief

I am only one blogger on this humble little lit blog, and so in order to keep book reviews coming (I realize not everyone is as fascinated by industry news as myself), I will henceforth (word of the day, anyone?) start to review, in brief, books from my recent past reading adventures.

Two (and by a married couple, no less) to start: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, and A History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer's second novel is one of the few of September 11th that I have read that succeeds in being tragic without being didactic, heartbreaking without really having to try, and beautiful without describing anything beautiful. Innovative, creative and unique, Foer's writing style - combined with the overall design and layout of the book - make the book hard to put down, harder still to forget.

A History of Love
Kraus' writing style closely mirrors that of Foer's, but it is hard to say if one is necessarily copying the other, or if they have just grown together as writers. Regardless, it works, and Kraus is able to use her impressive grasp of the clipped sentence to convey great things in few words. The story of a man missing both his true love and his novel, and now left to grow old and uncertain of his own existence, meets that of a troubled teenager trying to piece together the meaning of pretty much everything.

Both authors write novels that verge on poetry, and both stories are haunting, impressive (in every sense of the word) and full of beauty and tender care for the quirky characters involved. Neither should be missed - although I'm not sure I would recommend reading the two back-to-back, as I did.

FTC Regulations

To clarify the comment at the bottom of yesterday's review regarding "FTC disclosure," here's a brief catch-up on recent FTC regulations on book blogging:

Basically, the FTC requires that any product review or endorsement for which compensation is provided must include a full disclosure of said compensation. So, for example, if a publishing company paid me $50 to write a review of their book, I would have to disclose that information within my review. Or as a footnote/sidenote/more info note. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.

This is a) not new (the laws regulating this were passed in 1980) and b) perfectly logical. Where it starts to get hairy is in recent FTC regulations declaring that receiving a book counts as payment for a blogger - so if a publishing company pays me no cash, but sends me a review copy of a book, that must be disclosed. If it isn't, a blogger can face up to $11,000 in fines.

Needless to say, there's been a bit of an uproar about this. I'm not very good at brief summaries, so read for yourself some of the varying opinions, objections, etc:

Teleread's Objections
Another Open Letter to the FTC on Media Bistro
The First Open Letter to the FTC on Media Bistro

Her Fearful Symmetry

From the bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife comes a second novel that promises not to disappoint any fan of ghost stories, romances, or well-written literary fiction. With Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger presents the story of two twin sisters who inherit their aunt's flat in London upon her death. Bordering the walls of Highgate Cemetery, one of the most famous Victorian cemeteries in London, they know that something is strange about the place as soon as they arrive... but no, it's not that much of a cookie-cutter ghost story.

Instead, this is a story of love, romance, siblings, family, secrets an betrayal. With her haunting prose - no pun intended - Niffenegger weaves together a cast of truly unique characters, from the OCD agoraphobic crossword writer upstairs, to the lonely bachelor downstairs, from the ancient keeper of the cemetery to those typical Victorian figures buried within it, and, perhaps most importantly, from one twin to the next, and from one set of twins to the next.

Sadly, Niffenegger's character development is a bit uneven, with some sudden and unexpected actions scattered throughout otherwise rather linear characters. Rather than seeming intentional, it feels to the reader as though the author knew her characters almost too well; I'm sure in her head, there was an explanation for every action at every given time, but this reasoning does not always carry through to the reader, causing a few confusing pages here and there.

Overall, though, the plot and writing carry the story through this flaw, and the series of unexpected events promises to keep any reader turning the page to the very end, and wishing for more when you get there.

Bottom line: A haunting novel of love, family and betrayal, Her Fearful Symmetry is worth the time it will take to read it - and trust me, that won't be long, as you won't be able to put it down.

[I received an advance copy of Her Fearful Symmetry in the mail - not sure what mailing list I got on for that, but no complaints here! But, in the interest of full FTC-disclosure, I did get a free copy of this one.]

Banned Books Week: A Quick Follow-up

Sorry, guys, I know I'm due for some more original thinking here - it will come, I promise. Reviews of Her Fearful Symmetry and two Agatha Christie novels are in the works, and I'm reading my way through The Secret History. But in the meantime, a quick note on Banned Books Week, which took place Sept 25-Oct 3:

The Guardian, reporting on collected Amazon reports, noted that sales of And Tango Makes Three, the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 (according to the ALA), peaked during Banned Books Week and the days immediately after. The book is challenged frequently on grounds of "homosexual undertones," which critics claim are thinly veiled under cute penguin cartoons. The story, based on true events, tell the tale of two male penguins raising an orphan penguin in the zoo. Clearly, this is threatening the morality of our nation's children.

But, as I predicted, challenging the book has only increased its popularity. I'd call that books 1, censors 0, if we were keeping track.

Huffington Post Books Section

In a time when newspapers everywhere are cutting their book reviews section as eagerly as teenagers desperately try to rid their faces of acne, the Huffington Post is going against the current: they are starting a books section, known as HuffBooks.

The editor, Amy Hertz, seems to have a good grasp of the publishing world, and, what is more, will stand by the book to the very end. Her introduction article is an insightful and interesting read. Just a taste:

Because there's never been a better time or place. People who think books are dying don't understand the power of ideas to inspire. And people who think books will die at the hands of the Internet, don't understand the power of what happens when an engaged reader -- of both web and print content -- discovers new ideas, new thoughts, new thinkers, or remembers the impact of a classic. Word spreads faster than ever, and the ensuing debate helps refine ideas for the future.

The comments section of the article is although worth a browse.

Dan Brown vs Sarah Palin

Now there's a match-up I'd like to see in person. In actuality, though, the only contest we are likely to see is between their books: both bestsellers, both "on sale" now (I use hyphens because Palin's book is only in pre-orders). Yes, folks, Sarah Palin's autobiography, now publishing in November, is currently beating out The Lost Symbol for the #1 bestseller spot on Amazon. What this says about our reading habits as a country, or worse, our political tendencies, I choose to ignore at this particular moment.

No, instead of the usual doom-and-gloom that comes with my posts on readers' choices or ebooks, I am today going to focus on the positive outcomes of Dan Brown's books. As predicted, sales of related titles have started to trickle in - see today's PW article for more details. Personally, I have had enough of hating Dan Brown and what his books have done to our impression of reading (see previous post). Let's look on the bright side this Tuesday: a) people are reading and b) people are, we can see, interested in learning more about Brown's subjects. Isn't that what books are all about?

24-Hour Book, Continued

Following up on a comment left on the post regarding the 24-hour book project:

Despite incredible Googling skills, I haven't been able to dig up much more on the outcome of the project other than the fact that it was completed within the allotted time frame, and the launch party for the book was this evening in London. Hopefully there will be more information on the book post-launch (some publishers like to keep things hush-hush until after the release, even if that is only for a period of 12 hours or so...).

As to seeing a project like this on our side of the pond, thanks for the reminder! There was actually something similar conducted during Book Expo this year: Book: The Sequel. This was slightly different as it was not actually a novel, as in the 24-hour book, but it was created in the same vein. Perseus dedicated part of their booth at BEA to Book: The Sequel, with a workstation equipped for editing, design and layout, and promotion. Members of the book world were polled at BEA (what better place to pick the brains of book nerds galore?), and submissions were taken online as well. The whole process began Friday morning, and the book had a launch party on Saturday afternoon. You can see some samples of sequels on the book's webpage, and the schedule of publication is available here.

Here's to creative thinkers!

Borders Joins B&N

Just a heads up to the internet obsessed (such as myself): Borders has now joined Barnes & Noble in offering free WiFi in their stores. Go shopping! Enjoy!

Brilliant Idea of the Day: The 24-Hour Book

I can't stress enough my belief that the book industry has to adapt to the age of 21st-century technology in order to survive. We can't keep doing things the way they have always been done, because this is a new age (read: ebooks) in a new market (read: broke) with new challenges (read: Amazon). In this vein, the brilliant idea of the day comes from England: the 24-hour book.

if:Book, the Society of Young Publishers and have teamed up with Spread the Word to challenge writers to create a book about London in just 24 hours. Not just write, but create: print, publish, etc. The writing will take place this Saturday, with publishers and editors swooping in on Sunday to prepare the book for its Monday launch. Technically you could argue that that time frame is longer than 24 hours, but it's still impressive.

The project goes beyond the interesting timeline to engage readers by inviting anyone interested in actually participating in the process. Through the glorious Google Docs, parts of the book will be written by anyone interested in logging in and writing (with monitoring by the lead author, for cohesion's sake). The group has put out a call for editors on Sunday, and is even looking for someone with a really loud voice to stand on top of buildings in London and start a shout-campaign (which I think may or may not be legal).

This is the kind of project we need to see more of - the kind that is not only interesting in its own right, but the kind that goes one step further to really get people interested in books and the book-making process. Without that interest, what we are left with is raw type -- glorious in and of itself, but just as accessible digitally as physically. And that is the end of publishing. Ha, I keep ending these posts with doomsday announcements; really, I do think there's hope, I promise.

Super Thursday!

Well, guys, today is the day. It's the first day of October. It's also a Thursday. But not just any Thursday - today is the day that the publishing world has started to refer to as "Super Thursday," referring to the unofficially declared launch of all the titles us publisher have been stockpiling for better holiday placement.

Today is the day that 800 new - yes, NEW - titles go on sale. Eight. Hundred.

According to the Guardian article, this is three times the number of titles usually published for the beginning of the holiday season. Does this strike anyone else as a bit desperate? I can almost picture the editors and sales people getting together and saying, "Ok, if book sales are down by 50% percent (that's a made-up number, for the record), we just have to double the number of titles on sale to make our budget for the holiday season." Right?

Well, maybe not. My concern is that with so many new titles, too many will be glossed over and eventually forgotten. If you see ads/reviews/displays of 4 books you want to buy for yourself and for holiday gifts, for example, I would argue that there is a pretty decent chance that you would by at least 3, if not all 4, of these titles. If you see ads/reviews/displays of 12 books you want, well, now we're looking at a lot more money in a much more uncertain time. Even if the 8 unpurchased books go on the "to-read-later" list, well... we all know how quickly that grows and how stubbornly it refuses to shrink.

What is more, there is a significantly lower chance of any consumer actually seeing any publisher's advertising and publicity efforts, because the whole holiday market has suddenly become so overrun with titles that unless you are Dan Brown, JK Rowling, or Mackenzie Phillips (hey, she had a 10-year affair with her dad, and sadly, that's what sells), you don't have much of a chance of making a splash.

I certainly hope that this is overly doom-and-gloom on my part, and that this mad rush of books brings in so many people to bookstores that sales are up and everyone is in the black and books are booming. Only time will tell. In the meantime, prove me wrong and buy everyone on your Christmas list a book this year. Everyone.