Thursday, January 29, 2009
In a letter sent out this afternoon, Gayle Shanks, owner of Changing Hands Bookstore and president of the ABA, informed the membership that ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz will leave the association in July. Domnitz’s contract expires this month, but Shanks told PW that the association asked him to stay on to give them a chance to find a replacement “in a conscientious and timely way.” Domnitz has led ABA since 1997 when he succeeded Bernie Rath.
In her letter and comments to PW, Shanks said she believes Domnitz’s most important accomplishment during his tenure has been improving the communication between the ABA staff and the membership. By facilitating interaction among all types of booksellers, Domnitz helped “ABA become a cohesive group looking to continue independent bookselling in this country,” Shanks said.
Under Domnitz, ABA placed more emphasis on its educational programs, made the transition from its Book Sense marketing campaign to the new IndieBound and filed an antitrust lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and Borders that was settled in 2001. The association also sold its headquarters and property in Tarrytown, N.Y. and moved to smaller offices. Domnitz’s legacy, Shanks said, “will be strong booksellers who are well educated and have a desire to maintain their bookstores in their community on into the future.”
The ABA has formed a CEO Search Committee to find a successor to Domnitz. Shanks will chair the committee, and other members will include Michael Tucker from Books Inc. (San Francisco, CA), Steve Bercu from BookPeople (Austin, TX), Linda Ramsdell from The Galaxy Bookshop (Hardwick, VT), Lilla Weinberger from Readers' Books (Sonoma, CA), and Betsy Burton from The King's English (Salt Lake City, UT). ABA legal counsel, Deanne Ottaviano of Arent Fox LLP, will assist in the search. The first meeting of the committee will take place in Salt Lake City during the upcoming Winter Institute.
When the Atlanta History Center, parent organization that runs the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, let go of 15 of their 74 staff, including 7 of the 8 staff of the Mitchell House, it effectively ended the institution’s creative writing programs, among the most prominent in the city, and put in doubt the future of its popular author reading series. But all was not lost: within three days the writing programs were reinstituted, this time under the auspices of Agnes Scott College. Dubbed Agnes Writes, classes begin in February and will be taught by novelist David Fulmer and memoirist Hollis Gillespie, among others. Summer writing camps for children and young adults are also on the schedule, with Julie Bookman, former director of the writing programs at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, planned to direct.
Darren Wang, executive director, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival, organized the transition. “With everything that’s been happening with the writing community in Atlanta, there’s a real need to make this happen,” Wang told PW. “We were in a position to make this happen, so we did.”
"Agnes Scott College has a tremendous literary history," said Wang. "The college's annual Writers' Festival is nationally admired and has brought the likes of Julia Alvarez, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates to speak to metropolitan Atlanta's writers. I also knew, through working with Agnes Scott as a partner to the Decatur Book Festival, that the college moved nimbly and was quick to embrace new opportunities."
On December 23 ScrollMotion released the first batch of its widely anticipated e-book apps for the iPhone, starting with titles such as Twilight and Eragon. Within 24 hours the company had pulled them from the iTunes store due to security issues.
“A flaw in the encryption came to our attention almost immediately,” said Calvin Baker, director of ScrollMotion’s e-book program. “Since security and DRM are among our highest priorities, we thought it important to take immediate action.”
Unfortunately, that means ScrollMotion and its partner companies, Hachette Book Group and Random House among them, lost out on the post-Christmas rush of iPhone and iTunes owners fillling their new gizmos with data. The apps reappeared this past weekend. As of Monday afternoon, the 14 titles are again for sale.
Matt Shatz, v-p of digital at Random House, told PW that the delay had no bearing on the publisher's plans to release some 20 books that will soon be available through iTunes via ScrollMotion (search under “Iceberg Reader”). Maja Thomas, v-p, Hachette Digital Media, confirmed that Hachette had a similar number of titles forthcoming on ScrollMotion.
“It’s very, very unlikely that anything would have happened,” said Baker about the experience, “but we thought it better to be overly cautious.” Better, as they say, to be safe than sorry.
After nearly three years in business, Intellectual Property, a stand-alone trade bookstore operated by Follett in Austin, Texas, will close in March. The 6,000, sq-ft. bookstore opened in 2006 across from the campus of the University of Texas and exclusively sold trade books, academic titles, and sidelines, but no textbooks.
Initially, Follett discussed the possibility of using Intellectual Property and its branding as a prototype for future trade stores, though no subsequent locations were opened.
Follett was recruited by the University to open the store after a Barnes & Noble on the same street closed the previous year. The University paid Intellectual Property an annual subsidy of $75,000 for it to host events for UT professors and sell books on campus. The decision to close comes as the store’s lease comes up for renewal.“Unfortunately, foot traffic wasn’t what we expected it to be and we were never able to sell enough volume in that location,” said Follett spokesperson Elio DiStaola. “We struggled to make our sales goals.”
DiStaola admitted that the off-campus location may have been a factor – the University of Texas is some 40 acres in size. “As a company that manages 800 or so college stores, I can tell you there’s a big difference between being at the center of campus and not” He added, “There are so many place for people to buy books now and in this financial environment, it made no sense to keep this one open.”
The store currently employs eight people; manager, Chris Murray, is transferring across Austin to manage the Follett bookstore at Huston-Tillotson University.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Tim Schaffner's hobby, jazz drumming, put him on a roundabout path to independent publishing. “I got involved with Artt Frank. He played with Chet Baker and has been my teacher and mentor,” said Schaffner. “We put together a book for jazz drummers—Essentials for the Be Bop Drummer [by Artt Frank and Pete Swan, 2005]. That led to a memoir by a jazz musician in L.A. who had been a convict at Folsom Prison for 10 years—Hope to Die [by Verdi Woodward, 2006]—and that led to The Snow Angel [by Michael Graham, 2006]; that was my first hardcover.”
Publishing is in Schaffner's blood. The son of a literary agent—whose clients included Ray Bradbury, Maxine Hong Kingston and James Beard—Tim took over his father's agency when his father died in 1983 and ran it until 1995, first in New York City and then in Tucson, Ariz., where he moved in 1990. After closing the agency, Schaffner taught high school English and English as a second language, and drummed.
Initially, Schaffner, now 48, founded his eponymous press to revive out-of-print titles. “That had always been my dream,” Schaffner said. Among his first books were Sisters on the Bridge of Fire (2002) by Debra Denker, a Central Asia travelogue that was originally published in 1993 by Burning Gate Press; Barbara Guest's 1994 Doubleday biography Herself Defined: H.D. and Her World, which Schaffner republished in 2003; and Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness by Edward Butscher, a Seabury Press hardcover in 1976 and a Schaffner Press paperback in 2004.
Schaffner signed on with IPG in 2005 for distribution. This, along with keeping print runs low—typically a few thousand copies—has enabled him to continue publishing while slowly building a higher profile. There have even been some critical and sales successes: the Plath bio and The Lost Childhood by Yehuda Nir, a memoir of life in Warsaw during WWII that Schaffner reprinted in 2007, have gone into second printings. Father Michael's Lottery by Johan Steyn, a fictional account of doctors battling AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa that Schaffner bought from KwaZulu Natal University Press, was blurbed by Ian McEwan and Margaret Drabble, and was a Book Sense notable book in January 2008.
The year 2009 will be the biggest year yet for the press, which has a handful of new titles scheduled for publication, including the just-released Dancing at the River's Edge by Alida Brill and Michael D. Lockshin, a dual memoir by a doctor and his patient documenting a chronic illness, and Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed, a hip-hop–inspired mystery by Marc Blatte due in March. The book, slated for a 3,000-copy first printing in hardcover, is picking up buzz; the author—a Grammy Award–nominated songwriter—is already scheduled to appear at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
The press's highest-profile book this year is likely to be One Ring Circus, an anthology of 25 years' of boxing journalism written by Katherine Dunn, author of the acclaimed novel Geek Love. The book, coming in April, is likely to attract some of Dunn's cultish fan base.
Serendipity again played a role in this acquisition: Dunn was introduced to Schaffner through a friend, the film critic D.K. Holm, who is working on a book about filmmaker Richard Linklater for Schaffner.
“I had the idea for a collection in the back of my mind, but hadn't put any work into it until I was introduced to Tim,” Dunn said. Her agent, Richard Pine at Inkwell Management, negotiated a modest contract for the book.
“He was understanding of the situation,” said Schaffner, “and in fact seemed quite pleased that someone had taken note of this side of her.”
So far, Dunn said, she is delighted to be working with a small press: “Tim is both editor and publisher, so there's no disconnect there like there can be with a larger house.” She added, “It's been educational and revealing to me about what's taken place in American publishing. Here's an example of an indie press taking up slack from the conglomerate publishers. Working with Tim has been wonderful.”
Other forthcoming Schaffner Press books include the aforementioned look at Richard Linklater, as well as bios of Ken Kesey and John D. MacDonald. And while the list is eclectic, it isn't quite as improvised as it appears: “If you look at my list, the underlying theme is social issues and the concerns of our society,” said Schaffner. “I'm interested in books that come from a person immersed in a world that don't necessarily tell a story in a chronological order, and also address something larger than the subject itself. I have several books under contract that reflect that.”
This summer, the Great American Bargain Book Show (GABBS) will relocate from Atlanta to Boston, where it will be held in the Hynes Convention Center, August 21-22. It will be the first large-scale official remainder show in the Northeast.
The show originated in Nashville, Tenn. as the Onboard Remainder Christmas Show and lasted for five years before L.B. May and Associates, owners of the Spring Book Show, purchased the show in 1997, moved it to Atlanta, and gave it a new name. The show has traditionally positioned itself as an early opportunity for booksellers to stock up on remainders prior to the holidays and CIROBE.
“I think the timing is right for the move,” said co-owner Larry May in a statement. “Boston is the right city, too. We looked at a lot of different cities and several were suitable, but, for a number of reasons, Boston made the most sense. First, the Northeast region is full of independent bookstores and they are geographically concentrated in a much smaller area than those in the Southeast. Secondly, because of Boston’s proximity to metro New York, the show will be easily accessible to the big buyers and the internationals.”
The Boston-area is already home to two major remainder vendors: Strictly By-The-Book in Fall River, Mass. and World Publications, in Bridgewater, Mass.John Strymish, buyer at the New England Mobil Book Fair in Newton Highlands, Mass., said although he believes he can negotiate a better deal by going direct to vendors than at shows, he was happy GABBS was traveling to Boston. “I would probably go to it because it was in town—depending on how much money I had and how scared I was to spend it.” He added, “Remainders are a huge part of our business and they are doing better right now than anything else in the store.”
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
When Kevin Hegarty, v-p and CFO of the University of Texas at Austin, went looking for a publisher to supply e-textbooks for classes at the school, he was surprised by lack of enthusiasm. “We visited with publishers and they all said they were willing to pioneer on this, but the only one that came to the table with a serious deal was Wiley,” Hegarty said. “Of course, now, since the deal was announced, Pearson is chomping at the bit. McGraw-Hill is chomping at the bit.”
When classes start January 20, about 1,300 students for six different classes will be given Wiley e-textbooks—what Hegarty called “essentially enhanced PDFs.” UT has licensed the books to test how functional e-textbooks are for faculty and students. “The real question in my mind is whether the tools of digitization have progressed far enough that faculty will find it useful,” said Hegarty. He added, “As you might guess, the professors in math, engineering and accounting were the most interested.” A team of learning psychologists has been hired to track the experiment and assess its result.
Hegarty said Texas is paying $25 to $45 per book and negotiated roughly a 50% discount on full price of the textbooks. (The school also has the right to print any textbook at a cost of 1.5 cents per page for students who request a physical copy.) “There was just too much work going into this for a 10% discount,” he said. While he appreciates the cost savings, he thinks they could and should be reduced by as much as 70%–80% of current levels. If the e-book test is embraced, said Hegarty, the university might wrap the cost of the books into the class itself.
One critic of the plan is Michael Granof, chairman of the University Co-op, the University of Texas's textbook store, and a professor of accounting at the UT graduate schools of business and public policy. “There's no reason for a university to get involved with licensing,” he said. “If a publisher has an e-book available, the instructor can put the link to the book on the course Web site and the student can click the link and buy the book from the Co-op, just as they would for any other book they bought.”
He predicted that if the university takes over responsibility for supplying textbooks in digital form to students, it will undermine the viability of the bookstore. “The Co-op is a not-for-profit—meaning 100% of our profits go to the university,” said Granof.
Based on the Co-op's firsthand experience selling e-books, Granof believes he can predict the outcome of UT's experiment: in the 2008 fall semester, the Co-op sold a total of 55 e-books, though they were available for 198 courses taken by a total of 15,000 students.“E-books are definitely coming, but when they are going to get here, I'm not sure,” said Granof.
Monday, January 12, 2009
By Edward Nawotka
SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Ryan D'Agostino's mother probably never told him that it was impolite to ask strangers about their money. A former writer for Money magazine and now an editor at Esquire, D'Agostino visited 20 of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the United States to canvas homeowners for their success stories. The resulting book, "Rich Like Them," is a grab bag of "how I made millions" and "save your pennies" stories from tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley's (94027 — the richest ZIP), country clubbers in Las Vegas (89109), Manhattanites (10021) and our own local moguls.
The Austin ZIP he visits is 78730 — which is roughly bounded by Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360), RM 2222 and the Colorado River — and was, surprisingly, the only Texas entry on the list of the 100 wealthiest. (D'Agostino used 2005 stats. 78730 fell off the list in 2007.)
In all, D'Agostino visited 19 towns in 11 states, walked 60 miles, knocked on about 500 doors and conducted 50 interviews.
Sure, he could have simply phoned, like any other reporter. But, D'Agostino argues, "Walking a few miles through a town on a regular day tells you a lot about its rhythms, the cadence of its goings-on, its values, even its history. Knocking on strangers' doors reveals a town's fiber, its small glories, its rust and dents, its quiet spots."
Rust and dents? Not in these neighborhoods.
Anyone who has done any canvassing knows it has its challenges. Big houses tend to be on big lots, with plenty of security and homeowners who work hard and therefore often aren't home. (During my college years, while canvassing for a group that advocated turning weapons factories into manufacturers of domestic appliances, I spotted an enormous house with a BMW in the drive, meaning someone was home. It turned out to be the residence of the CEO of Raytheon. His wife gave me $5 and told me to "go to McDonalds and get a real job.") D'Agostino encounters grumpy housekeepers, a threatening dog in Westport, Conn. (06880), and daunting gates in Beverly Hills (90210, natch), which he circumvents by tailing a UPS man and slipping onto properties after him.
Those people that do talk, he reasons, are likely to be worthy of reading about, "Because close-minded, unadventurous, uninteresting people wouldn't invite a stranger into their homes and share their life stories with him." (No, but someone lonely might. Ask anyone who's ever delivered pizza.)
D'Agostino organizes the book thematically, into a half dozen sections, with titles ranging from "Open Your Eyes" and "Luck Doesn't Exist" to "The Economics of Obsession" and "The Myth of Risk." He even defines different character "types" — The Visionary, The "Lucky" One, The Worker Bee, The Connector and The Renegade — an echo of Malcolm Gladwell's triumvirate of The Salesman, The Connector and The Maven in "The Tipping Point." This suggests, at least to the casual browser, that D'Agostino possesses a serious business intelligence.
But compared with Gladwell, whose new book, "Outliers," also tries to distill a formula for success, D'Agostino sounds a bit too much like an overeager junior executive.
Maybe it's his willingness to trust in complete strangers, or the way he labels cars and houses with price tags or the simple fact that so much of the advice he echoes is clichéd, along the lines of "be driven by more than money," "work for yourself" and "learn from failure." It's all timeless, if a bit pedestrian. D'Agostino admits as much when he writes: "Not everyone who makes $1.6 million a year is Lao-tzu."
When D'Agostino talks to a fortysomething Dellionaire, a woman he dubs "The Dell Lady," who was one of the first 900 employees of the company, she credits being in the right place at the right time but doesn't call it a lucky break.
"Luck?" says The Dell Lady, "Luck is when you're at your desk until 4 a.m. every night, chasing deals and trying to come up with the next big thing, and a few years later you look up and your broker tells you you're worth a few million dollars."
Perhaps, but for every Dell there are tens of thousands of other companies staffed by dedicated workaholics that never turn their employees into early retirees.
Another Austinite, Mark Banta, who founded a successful medical services company in his 20s, tells D'Agostino that he worked 15- to 20-hour days to make himself a success.
Work hard. That's timeless, if a bit dull, as far as advice goes.
The Austinites depicted in the book come across as relatively modest about their success, something Banta confirms when he tells D'Agostino that the city has "a lot of seven-figure folks, and you also have a lot of eight-figure folks, too. You just wouldn't know it. They wear blue jeans and golf shirts." They are also welcoming. D'Agostino remarks in passing that Austin was where he had his highest degree of success getting good interviews — about 40 percent compared with an average of 10 percent elsewhere.
As one would expect of a book based on the premise of knocking on doors in expensive neighborhoods, much of the advice D'Agostino gets concerns success in the real estate market. Austinite Steve Wolford, whose occupation isn't disclosed but who seems to be some sort of real estate investor — it's a signal weakness of this book that D'Agostino doesn't always make such things clear — greets D'Agostino while barefoot and wearing "khaki shorts and a faded lavender T-shirt." He then invites D'Agostino into his 4,300-square-foot custom built house to take in the view from his back deck.
"This view — this is my insurance," Wolford says of the vista, which encompasses the downtown Austin skyline and Lake Austin and guarantees that the house will always be sellable.
"Insurance is a good thing, and Wolford was right: Someone would always want that view," writes D'Agostino in agreement — putting Wolford's statement in the same category of seemingly unimpeachable wisdom as statements from earlier in the book that people "will always want to live on the water" and "forever want to live in Westport, Connecticut."
Such pronouncements underscore the glaring, fatal flaw in "Rich Like Them": A fancy house is no barometer of wealth. Since the recent mortgage meltdown, it's even among the most suspicious assets: "jumbo" and "Alt-A" mortgages blew a lot of hot air into the housing bubble and look to be among the largest categories of defaults in 2009. People who claim to have made their money in real estate cannot necessarily be trusted.
Even so, there are a number of heartening cases in the book that illustrate how diligence, intuition and, yes, a bit of luck can pay off handsomely. As it turns out, D'Agostino's "general philosophy of success—oversimplified," arrived at after so many interviews, boils down to little more than common sense: "never slack[ing] off and periodically socking away untold piles of cash into your bank account."
Tenacity + compound interest = wealth. Now that's advice you can bank on
Monday, January 05, 2009
First, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary with a lunch on December 5—unfortunately timed for Black Wednesday; guest of honor Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent his regrets. Eleven days later, it hosted its second “buzz panel” to promote new German-language titles to potential editors. The biannual event, which was inaugurated in May, drew 40 people to listen as translators and scouts pitched books at Deutsches Haus on the New York University campus. Finally, the GBO began serving as the official, rather than de facto, New York office for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Hannah Johnson is the new liaison assisting U.S. publishers with their arrangements for the annual fair.
The GBO, which is a public/private partnership supported by the German Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut and the Frankfurt Book Fair, has been “instrumental in bringing hundreds of book titles to the attention of American publishers,” said Riky Stock, GBO New York's director since 2002. A recent example of a book published with the help of the GBO, Stock noted, is Fred Wander's novel The Seventh Well, released by W.W. Norton. Stock emphasized that the GBO does not sell rights, but assists with logistics and bringing attention to German authors who haven't hit the bestsellers list. “A popular writer like Cornelia Funke might not need our help, but there are plenty more who do,” Stock said. Over a calendar year, the GBO promotes as many as 40 fiction titles, 40 children's books and 80 nonfiction titles, which are divided into spring and fall lists and published as catalogues.
Looking forward, Stock said that GBO's attention is turning increasingly toward working with university presses, which have been especially receptive to publishing German nonfiction, and she cited recent sales to Stanford and Princeton University presses; Stanford has signed Violence as Worship by Hans G. Kippenberg, while Princeton has acquired Trust in Violence by Jan Philipp Reemtsma. In 2009 the GBO's 10th annual “editor's trip,” which takes a group of overseas editors to visit German publishers and editors, will focus on nonfiction books.
“People always say that Americans aren't interested in translated literature or books from foreign countries,” said Stock. “Our experience at the German Book Office has proven that not to be true. We wouldn't be here after 10 years if they weren't.”