About FEN
FEN Elsewhere
Powered by Squarespace
Buy Books
Looking Backward
Shelf Awareness for Readers
Powered by Squarespace

Friday
Jun242016

Independent Bookshop Week in U.K. & Ireland

When the world feels senseless, idiotic and unreasonable... the only answer is to go to a bookshop. --Lauren Laverne

Although they may be nursing a Brexit Vote hangover today, along with some uncertainty regarding how the referendum vote to leave the E.U. will affect business, nearly 400 booksellers in the U.K. and Ireland have been celebrating the 10th annual Independent Bookshop Week (June 18-25). The Booksellers Association noted that IBW2016 is being held at a time of "increased optimism and a more buoyant market for independent bookshops.... [Bookshops] are creating incredible social and cultural spaces on their high streets--offering events, literary lunches, children's storytelling, schools outreach, reading groups, festivals and meeting spaces." Here are a few highlights from #IBW2016:

Favorite bookshop stories: In a video, Jen Campbell, author of The Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and The Bookshop Book, shared anecdotes from her life in bookselling.

Inevitable Brexit vote reference: "Take a break from #EUref and join @TwoRoadsBooks on our #IBW2016 tour." Hodder & Stoughton imprint Two Roads Books is chronicling its Indie Bookshop Tour, "celebrating independent bookshops and their booksellers."

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath: "It's indie bookshop week #IBW2016. Us bookshops have huge independent spirit, but we love being members of the same wider tribe. Just saying."

The Bookshop Kibworth: "Here's one of our @BookshopWindows combining @UEFAEURO, @KibBookFest AND #IBW2016! @booksaremybag @BAbooksellers."

The Gifts of Reading: Robert Macfarlane's specially commissioned essay is being sold by indies, with proceeds going to his nominated charity. He told the Bookseller: "Our bookshops--like our libraries--are simply vital to the reading life of this country. I know from my own meetings up and down the country, and over the years, what passion, knowledge and expertise gets shown and shared in independent bookshops. To write an essay in praise of the book-as-gift, to have the essay published by Penguin and sold in all indie bookshops, and to have all profits going to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station is just a huge privilege and pleasure."

Bookshop Crawl: @booksaremybag: "Saturday 27th June, the annual IndieBound UK Independent Bookshop Week #‎bookshopcrawl. Put it in your diary!"

Making #IBW2016 lists:

Anne Enright: Ireland's fiction laureate and Independent Bookshop Week Award winner for The Green Road said, "It was such an honor to be selected for this award by my favorite people--booksellers. Long may they remain. Four or five years ago, we were all in a panic that the internet would eat booksellers and paper. But they've battled on and they're starting to flourish."

Booksellers as movie action heroes: London Review Bookshop tweeted: "To celebrate #IndependentBookshopWeek, here's our bookselling team matched against Independence Day characters."

Oxford University: "It's #IndependentBookshopWeek! Oxford is bookshop heaven, we especially love @albionbeatnik."

Emily MacKenzie: winner of the IBW Award for children's picture book: "I love visiting independents because each shopping experience feels unique. Cozy and welcoming, I love that independent bookshops give you a glimpse into the personality and passions of the booksellers behind them. I always leave an independent bookshop with an unexpected find, feeling recharged and inspired, which is a wonderful thing."

Chicken & Frog Bookshop, Brentwood, Essex: "Rocking our #IBW2016 t-shirts today! @BAbooksellers."

Shore to Shore Poetry Tour Diary: "Embarking on a nationwide poetry tour, Carol Ann Duffy and her fellow poets Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and John Sampson document what they see as they travel and share poetry around the U.K."

Authors' fave indies: @simonschusterUK: "This week we're asking our authors about their fave independent bookshops. We'd love to know yours, too! #IBW2016."

Finding the perfect book: Canongate: "Looking for your next reading material? Let us find your perfect book, using this simple matchmaking tool. #IBW2016"

A Love Letter to Bookshops: in an IBW essay, Veronica Henry wrote that the title of her latest novel, How to Find Love in a Bookshop, "is not just about finding romantic love. It's about the love of books: something that can sustain you throughout your life, and provide escape, entertainment, education, comfort, wonder. And it's a love you can share. There is nothing more satisfying than recommending something you have read to someone else, knowing they will love it as much as you do.... But if we are to keep bookshops alive, we need to use them, and to encourage the next generation to make them part of their life and view bookshops as a treat, a pleasure, an adventure, a gateway. So they become a necessity. Something we can't live without."

And... words to live by for readers worldwide.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2782

Sunday
Jun192016

Retail Music Redux: What's that Sound?

Among the responses I received to last week's column about piped music in bookshops was this one from a bookseller who wished to remain anonymous: "ASCAP is chasing us for our open mic programs. We have one for poets and one for songwriters; it's hard to fathom their complaint. I'd love to hear from others on that issue."

ASCAP's beef concerns "live music": "They want a general contract for musical venue. Supposedly, this would mean the Beatles would get a couple pennies if someone covered 'Hey Jude,' but in reality they wouldn't even know whose songs might be covered, so I doubt anyone would be paid except ASCAP. Our open mic is a songwriter's forum however, so local no-names are trying out their new compositions. We announce at every monthly session that only original tunes can be played, but ASCAP still worries some songwriter might make an allusion to 'Jude.' We're still working it out, but if we can't, I'll just cancel all live music."

Any other booksellers running into that challenge?

from Dancers Among Us (Workman) by Jordan Matter

On a lighter note, I also heard from legendary book-biz music guru (and PGW Party at BEA icon) Keith Arsenault, director of sales, Canada for Ingram Content Group. He recalled that the highlight of his early bookselling career was "the Christmas mix we played at College Hill Bookstore (RIP), which featured this classic track: Ren and Stimpy--'Fleck The Walls', courtesy of Mike Katz."

Renee Barker of The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Ill., told me: "We have music playing often, but certainly not always. Some of the employees try to keep music going, but some choose quiet. Years ago we had a cassette player, so we played and sold some cassettes of a particular pianist. Now we use an old donated iPod with a limited amount of music on it (that we are all getting tired of), mostly classical and mostly baroque, almost all instrumental only. For fun, we put on the waltzes or ragtime or klezmer playlists. We do play Christmas songs, usually without singers, and some Celtic music in March."

She added that the bookstore is considering changing to Spotify, and she would like to hear from other bookstores about that option. "There are two playlists that I like to use sparingly, but deliberately. One is The Killers Strings (for 25- to 30-year-olds; they nearly always perk up at one point and say out loud 'Wait, is that what I think it is?') and the other is orchestrated versions of the Disney movie theme songs, which the teenagers-to-20s in particular seem to love."

Karen Bakshoian of Letterpress Books, Portland, Maine, noted: "Well, after reading your article about Waterstones (an opinion leader if I ever knew one!), I feel guilty about playing our Celtic music however softly... and we don't even sell CDs. Several customers have remarked that they enjoy the music. When we play the Beatles on Tuesday, our Senior Discount Day, the customers whistle, dance and sing along."

Pageturners Bookstore in Indianola, Iowa, opts for Pandora radio. "I get to choose favorite artists (as many as I like) and Pandora Business plays those and similar artists and takes care of the pesky copyright fees too," said Kathy Magruder. "My store is too small to sell music, so this seemed the best option. Today we've had John Prine, the Oysterband, Yo-Yo Ma and the Nadas. Oh, and Great Big Sea singing 'Never trust a fella with a helmet on his head' (words to live by!)."

Charles Bottomley of the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., recalled that a few years ago, they "switched from the floor manager's iPod to Pandora. We appear to have settled on a baroque playlist which is now played at an almost negligible volume--clarinets are burbling right now as I type this. This arrangement has brought a certain degree of peace to the bookstore. During the iPod years, there would be periodic revolts against the playlist, which usually involved a dose of Leo Kottke that was perhaps too robust for most people--some of the new age pudding that seeped out from the speakers on a daily basis may never leave my ears. The drawback of Pandora is that now when customers ask what CD is playing, we have to explain it's a streaming service--and often even when we identify a track and performer for them, we don't have the music in the store to handsell to them."

Noting that music "is a common subject of discussion for us, in part because my mother, who works occasionally in the store, has a limited tolerance of many genres," Harriett Logan of Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, Ohio, observed: "In general, we have a wide collection to choose from, including classical, early music, jazz, world, folk, singer-songwriter, and a speck of pop. We give albums or songs a color code for emotional power (yellow is sunny, red is spirited or even angry, blue is, well, blue), a star-rating, and notes like Staff Picks or Mom-fail, so we can create closely curated playlists. Sometimes we'll spend a whole day on Celtic music, another day we might flit widely from Dvorak to didgeridoo to dulcimer. I like mixing it up (the color coding helps avoid really jarring transitions, but they still might be surprising). And it doesn't always work for my mother, who calls Mary Chapin Carpenter rap, and who can get angry at Mozart quartets if they play in the energy-lull of late afternoon. So it's a work in progress, and requires attention.

"I never tune out the background music, and I'm the first to complain if it stops. I don't like the empty silence, the way it makes people whisper like they're in a library, and the lack of energy pulse that good music provides. Of course people have different tastes, just like in books and bookstores. But we create an environment uniquely our own."

As I write this on Wednesday night in my office, I'm working without a soundtrack. No... wait, I do hear distant music after all. Not piped music. Live. Just over the hill from my house, Mumford & Sons are playing to a sold-out crowd at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I stare at my computer screen, wondering if that muted sound is "White Blank Page."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2777

Friday
Jun102016

Retail Music: Do You Hear What I Hear? 

Piped water, piped electricity, piped gas--but never piped music! --Stephen Fry

I'm taking a quick international poll: If you are reading this column in a bookstore, tell me what kind of music is playing on the shop's sound system? 

Generally speaking, what do you think of "piped music" in bookstores? I only ask because music seems to be on my mind this week, thanks to the impending Tony Awards Sunday (even though the only Broadway musical I've seen in recent years is Fun Home) and Neil Gaiman's The View from the Cheap Seats playlist, showcased recently on the Powell's Books blog.

More to the point, I also read that Waterstones "has been quietly pressing the mute button in its shops to give their customers some peace as they browse its shelves." The U.K. bookstore chain, which "joined the growing backlash against piped music," said more than three quarters of its almost 300 shops have imposed a ban on music in recent years, with CEO James Daunt noting that most customers want peace and quiet while visiting a bookshop, the Daily Mail reported.

The movement against piped music also gained momentum recently when British mega-retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) announced its decision to "switch off background music in stores in response to feedback from customers and staff."

Tumbling down this virtual rabbit hole, I learned that an organization called Pipedown, which was founded two decades ago by Nigel Rodgers, counts Philip Pullman, Joanna Lumley and the aforementioned Stephen Fry among its supporters. Recently, Rodgers visited the M&S flagship Marble Arch store in London, where he told the Guardian he heard "nothing. When noise is succeeded by silence, there is a sense of release."

Last December, when Waterstones CEO James Daunt first announced that the company would begin turning down the in-store volume, Rodgers advised Pipedown members "to persist with their quiet policy, congratulate the staff in each quiet branch and hand over a blue card saying 'Thank you for not having music.' (Available free to members for an SAE.) Better still, write to James Daunt himself to urge him to continue his no-muzac policy and to congratulate him on revitalizing Waterstones."

And yet...

More than half my work life was spent in music-infused retail environments, beginning with a supermarket job in the 1970s. To this day, I retain a distinct, spine-tingling memory of the butcher's band saw whining in counterpoint to Muzak. This is perhaps one reason why '60s flower children like myself remain a little bewildered. How could we psychologically process a catatonic string arrangement of "The Age of Aquarius," accompanied by steel cutting through flesh and bone?

Time moved on. By the 1990s, when I became a bookseller, there were logical retail grounds for inflicting piped music on bookstore customers in the form of increased CD sales. Playing a select rotation of CDs--soft jazz or classical or folk, minimal words--not only fostered a certain aural calm, it also consistently sparked patron's interest, despite moments of confusion:

Customer: "What's that playing? Do you have the CD in stock?"
Me (listening closely for the first time in hours, having instinctively learned how to not hear the endless music loop): "That? It's... Let me check. (quick glance at CD cases by stereo) It's George Winston's Forest."
Customer: "I think it's beautiful. Don't you?"
Me: "Um, sure... Let me show you where to find it."
(Customer follows, whistling an unrecognizable tune in the spirit of George Winston.)

Holiday season piped music. I guess I have to mention that. We sold buckets of those CDs, thanks to a lush wave of piped Yuletide tunes, ranging from solemn to jolly, punctuated at regular intervals by our PA system's semi-desperate calls for assistance at the customer service stations. Now that was an odd bit of accompaniment to carols: "Oh, Holy night, the... 'We need help at the front service desk, please!' ...of our dear Savior's birth."

Music is still in the air at most bookstores I visit now, but I like the fact that not every shop feels compelled to play only quiet stuff, the piped music equivalent of library shushing. While few bookstores would get away with cranking the volume to 11, the range of music played in-store expanded admirably, even as CD sales were losing their bookstore lives. Or maybe because they were.

What does the future hold? Would you believe Muzak for online shopping in the form of services like Feed.fm, which "is betting that music will be a default feature on retailers' mobile apps. And unlike Muzak, which used instrumental, rerecorded versions of songs, Feed is providing real tunes from real artists with playlists curated by the brands." Sci-fi authors will be hard-pressed to compete with that dystopian vision.

So, what's playing in your bookstore? I'd really like to know. Do you hear what I hear?

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2772

Friday
May272016

Happy Birthday to the 'Professor of Books' 

If you would know what nobody knows, read what everybody reads, just one year afterwards... --Ralph Waldo Emerson, who turned a spry 213 years old on Wednesday

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a reader, I don't think I'm that hard to please, despite the fact that so many of the ARCs I pick up can easily be put down again. Of course, there's never been a chronic shortage of putdownable books. Consider Henry David Thoreau at his caustic best in 1854:

They read the nine thousandth tale about Zebulon and Sephronia, and how they loved as none had ever loved before, and neither did the course of their true love run smooth--at any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get up again and go on!... All this they read with saucer eyes, and erect and primitive curiosity, and with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations even yet need no sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher his two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella.

 

Or that other legendary reader of Concord, Emerson. He estimated that in 1858, the number of printed books in the world might easily exceed a million volumes. Seems a manageable number now, doesn't it? He also wrote of the challenges inherent in tracking down a great new read:

It is easy to accuse books, and bad ones are easily found; and the best are but records, and not the things recorded; and certainly there is dilettantism enough, and books that are merely neutral and do nothing for us.... The bookseller might certainly know that his customers are in no respect better for the purchase and consumption of his wares. The volume is dear at a dollar, and after reading to weariness the lettered backs, we leave the shop with a sigh, and learn, as I did without surprise of a surly bank director, that in bank parlors they estimate all stocks of this kind as rubbish.

 

I work in the book trade, where titles of every description and quality are the key to survival for publishers and booksellers and writers. Too many of the ARCs I sample, "buffet reading" 50 pages or so, just don't connect. ("It's not you; it's me." Sometimes that's the reason. Not always.) When someone asks me to recommend a new book that "you really loved," and I haven't read anything recently that genuinely qualifies, I can't lie about it. Is the art of reading too sacramental for deceit? Probably not, though it does often feel that way. As a bookseller, I was no literary shaman, but I tried not to be a hinky used car salesman either. If a book really got through to me, my longtime patrons could hear the enthusiasm in my voice, just as they picked up on the slightest inflection when a recommendation was hesitant.

Emerson's study at his home in Concord, Mass.

Once upon a time, I thought I could find everything I needed in Emerson's works, turning to them as other people leaned on astrology or the I Ching, seeking counsel, solace or wisdom, whatever was needed. I even fantasized about living in 19th-century Concord, accepting invitations to dinner with Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, maybe a surprise visit from Margaret Fuller. Gradually, however, I realized that given my working-class heritage, I would probably have been serving them soup.

Emerson did, however, create my ideal job description:

Meantime the colleges, whilst they provide us with libraries, furnish no professor of books; and, I think, no chair is so much wanted. In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us--some of them--and are eager to give us a sign, and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination--and not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets all alike. But it happens in our experience that in this lottery there are at least fifty or a hundred blanks to a prize. It seems then, as if some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books, and alighting upon a few true ones which have made him happy and wise, would do a right act in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.

 

Professor of Books. Maybe that's what I became after all--in a sense... nontenured. Thanks, R.W.E. And happy birthday.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2763

Friday
May202016

'The New Localism Challenge' at #BEA16

This year's BookExpo America opened with "Meeting the New Localism Challenge: Protecting and Promoting Communities and Local Economies," a plenary talk by Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a leading expert on small business and healthy local economies. After the presentation, booksellers were divided into breakout sessions by region to discuss the issue further.

American Booksellers Association president Betsy Burton, owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, introduced Mitchell, noting that with her "passion and singleminded devotion" to the cause, "she's the Joan of Arc of Localism.... She's knowledgeable, she's impassioned, she's brilliant."

Stacy Mitchell (photo: Bookweb.org)

"Local is really on people's minds in a way it wasn't 10 years ago. People are not only buying locally; they're investing locally," Mitchell said, adding that there are currently more than 150 local first organizations in the U.S., and increasingly "what's wonderful is the neighbors and local businesses actually own their buildings." Noting that "cities are also getting in on this," she cited programs like local purchasing preferred in Cleveland, local business leasing preferences in Seattle, the adaptive reuse program in Phoenix and a formula business restriction in San Francisco.

What has driven the movement? Mitchell mentioned several factors, including campaigns to improve people's knowledge of the Localism trend, some broader cultural movements ("Millennials shopping as a cultural experience."), as well as local businesses just "getting better at what they do."

Having come this far in a decade, Mitchell posed the next logical question: "How do we make Localism central to the conversation about the future of the economy?"

Noting that there is still enormous corporate consolidation going on in many industries, she said this could be "an opportune moment for going to the next level" with Localism. Mitchell suggested a number of options for doing so, including leveraging "this amazing body of scholarship" that has been collected; creating a well-defined localist policy agenda ("This is what we need to do..."); reviving anti-trust policy ("There seems to be this shift that's beginning to happen... I think there's an opening."); eliminating tax breaks and subsidies to large companies; expanding access to credit; making more investment funds available from states and cities; rewriting local zoning codes to favor independent businesses (more walking friendly streets, for example); and maintaining affordable spaces.

"We need to reinvest in a new generation of entrepreneurs," Mitchell said. "We need to cultivate stronger networks and initiatives among elected officials. We need to engage with our customers not just in their role as customers, but as citizens... engage with them as advocates.... We need to do a better job of telling this story."

After Mitchell's speech, booksellers were divided into regional groups for breakout sessions to discuss Localism. One of the facilitators was ABA board member John Evans, co-owner of DIESEL, A Bookstore, with locations in Oakland, Larkspur and Brentwood, Calif. I asked him to share highlights of his session:

"There was obviously much that could be discussed after Stacy Mitchell's talk," he recalled. "Since the breakout sessions were divided geographically, our California group met and immediately diverted from the discussion group structure graciously provided by the ABA. The initial topics and discussion points revolved around the Localism presentation and Amazon studies, with talk of how Amazon leverages their power over the whole ecosystem, for example price devaluation of the book and negotiating radically cheaper freight costs. Attempts to solve those inequalities led to inquiries about whether group rates for freight could/should approach some kind of equity with their rates. Also, more abstract notions such as no prices on books or MSRP pricing of books, common in other industries.

"We also discussed how to increase the awareness of the importance of Localism: the stories of local stores' places in our communities; customer stories; and other local businesses with similar stories. Spreading this news--economic and cultural--to local and state officials, was discussed as another aspect of informative storytelling we all should engage in. Energizing the whole community from customers to other business leaders, elected officials to media, about the relevance and importance of the new Localism and how it has to impact zoning, city contracts and council giveaways Stacy discussed and the economic studies show.

"The conversation then moved from the more general to specific tactics for effectuating change including: marketing to Airbnb, realtors, Yelp, Google, other local businesses; broadcasting the notion of bookstores and other businesses as advocates and good citizens with regard to real life, where we all live, and the things that only can happen in real places like bookstores; working with schools and merchant crawls to tie different aspects of our communities together better. We ended with a discussion of the challenges of financing for new stores and established stores, including the benefits of local credit unions; educating banks; SBA; and reducing credit card fees and reviewing them annually.

"It was a very satisfying breakout with wide-ranging contributions by the dozen or so people attending, organically moving from the more global to the more granular issues, concerns, and actions to be taken. It made me proud to be a bookseller, and also a California bookseller, surrounded by other local, engaged book people. I think it was beneficial in various ways to everyone attending. Plus, we all got to know each other better. Thanks to Pete Mulvihill (Green Apple Books) for co-hosting with me, and Steve Salardino (Skylight Books), who took excellent notes. A fine time was had by all."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2758

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 102 Next 5 Entries »