Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Borders anounce plans for expansion

Philip Downer, new CEO of Borders UK confirmed at the company's annual conference on Monday, that the chain is to launch a loyalty card scheme next year. Downer added that following a management buyout last summer, the company aims to expand its number of stores, taking full advantage of the recession, with cheaper rents. This follows the recent announcement that the company is seeking to become a single brand on the High Street through the sale of its Borders Express and Books Etc stores. It also follows a summer of closures and considerable uncertainty for Borders superstores throughout the country.

Non book sales in the form of various novelty items currently account for around a third of the company's business, and Downer hopes in the coming years to increase this to around 50 percent. It is hard to see how this will be achieved without negatively impacting upon the the sale of books. It is however a sad fact of life that since the abolition of the Net Book Price agreement with the resultant erosion in the perceived value of books through ever increasing discounts, novelty items generate considerably more profit while taking up a lot less space. This is particularly important with Christmas approaching, when let's face it, people buy all sorts of junk.

Downer said that a "full space-planning programme" was now under way, backed up by consumer research this autumn, to ascertain whether his plans are what his customers actually want. With no Borders near me, personally I will be sticking to Waterstones.

Words speak for themselves

On the day that Amazon announce the launch of an international version of the Kindle, Richard Curtis has an interesting slant on digitial book technology on his blog E-Reads.

According to Curtis, the day is coming - much sooner than we think - when authors will no longer be able to define themselves as creators of literary works. As electronic technology gets more and more sophisticated (thank goodness I no longer have to sell this stuff and keep up to date with it all), the emerging generation of readers will no longer be content to accept text that is not as Curtis describes it, "interactively married to other media", demanding not just words, but video, music and probably bells and whistles too. The definition of author will be far removed Curtis says, from how we currently define it.

The word that Curtis uses to describe this new form of media is "vook" (video + book = "vook") blending traditional books with audio, video and other digital media as described above. Bear in mind as I write that Simon and Schuster are already working with a multi media partner to release such material that can be read or viewed, online or through electronic devices such as an iPhone or iPod.

Does this though mean the death of the book - of course not. Traditional books will I believe always be around, albeit in more limited form. Will the term author need to be re-defined to make way for the emerging technology? No again. It has always been the case with books that the author writes while others perform the various tasks that are necessary to put the book into paper or electronic form ready for publication - illustrators draw pictures, IT people convert the book to PDF or some other format that can be read via these devices, cover designers well, design the cover. None of this detracts from the fact the author wrote the thing. An author then will always be an author, and nothing can take that away.

E-books may well be here to stay, but whether "vooks" will catch on remains to be seen. Personally I find that when I read I need silence and concentration, and having moving images and music on the screen would distract from the experience. Maybe younger people would like this, I wouldn't know to be honest, as there aren't many young people that I know who read anyway - not unless you count Heat magazine as reading !

Todays young may feel that they need this distraction, as it what they are used to and they feel lost without these so-called "must have" devices, but like everything else, eventually it will swing back the other way. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I just do not see how images and background music will add to the reading experience.

The whole point of reading is after all, to read, to learn and to stretch the mind and the imagination. Viewing a video of a book, or about a book may be entertaining, but it is not reading. The idea of reading is to be immersed in the story and lose yourself almost in another world, video cannot help you do this - the only way to get immersed is quite simply, to read. Vooks may be cool, but they do not communicate ideas and information, they do not capture the imagination in a way that only words can. The words should be allowed to speak for themselves in the way that only words can.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Publishers reluctant to embrace the blogosphere

Blogging continues to be in the news this week, with an article in the Huffington Post claiming that US publishers are reluctant to write blogs for fear of saying the wrong things. The reasons given when pressed range from being overworked, having no talent for blogging, too many other writing projects, and that their bosses had said "no" without giving any specific reason.

The reason is of course fear - and wanting to control, which in a way is understandable. Jason Pinter, a former Random House Editor lost his job in 2007 because of his blog, and I suspect that he is not the only one. Pinter the article claims is now blogging for the Huffington Post and enjoying success as a thriller writer.

Publishers may not have said yes, but authors have - in their droves, as have independent book sellers, publicists and agents. There are one or two Editors who blog, such as Editorial Ass and The Intern, but these are for the most part anonymous. I occasionally read Editorial Ass myself.

These blogs exist for the most part to give advice to aspiring writers and an insight into the world of publishing. When the world wide web was first created all those years ago, no one could have foreseen the way in which it has grown, both in terms of commerce and as a tool for raising awareness of causes and brands. The Internet for authors, especially the self published, remains the best way in which to reach as wide an audience as possible, and also to network with other authors, through blogs, social networking and peer review sites. The publishers do not know what they are missing out on!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dishonesty is sometimes the best policy

There is an interesting discussion going on at the moment over on the Writers Group at BlogCatalogue regarding honesty in writing. The author of the post was alerted to this subject via a blog post that she came across contemplating both sides of this issue, as both a reader and a writer. As a reader, she felt misled, and somewhat betrayed, when she discovered that a writer she admired appeared not to have been telling the whole truth, yet when she examined her own writing she had to admit that she hadn't either. It can be a very fine line, as I discovered myself not that long ago.
When I first began this blog three or more years ago, the aim was to write about my experiences with print on demand publishing, in the hope that this might help others considering the same path. As time went on, more of my personal life began to creep in, which was difficult to avoid, since I had a lot going on with regard to my paid nine to five job at that time. I also saw it as a major obstacle standing in the way of my writing success, which I was very resentful of. In retrospect I was maybe a little too honest, as I made the mistake of writing about my work in too much detail. So much detail that when my then employer discovered what I had written, I was suspended from work, and eventually forced to leave. It was a difficult time and a harsh lesson that I had to learn.
The reason my employer was so upset was not because of veiled references to the company name or the products that they sold (which were admittedly there), but because I wrote in great detail about how I felt with regard to certain actions or rather inaction's that the company took and about how it made me feel. If I had written a blog saying what a wonderful company they were to work for and how happy I was in my job then they would have had no reason to get upset, but because I told the truth they became worried that if the wrong people read this, their reputation would suffer. Honesty then in my case was not the best policy.
On the other hand, I had been putting off leaving for a long time before they discovered what I had done (which came about ironically because of someone else's dishonesty), humming and harring over what I wanted to do next, so maybe this was the universe's way of forcing me out. This seems to have been a pattern in my life, whereby I stay in a job becoming more and more miserable and knowing that I should leave until I am made redundant or something else happens to force me to leave. This is a pattern, which I am pleased to say is now well and truly broken.
I admit that when I look at those posts now (they have since been moved to another blog and heavily edited), they make very compulsive reading, as you can feel the pain and the depth of the emotions leaping off the page. No employer wants to be told in such stark terms how their behaviour affects their employees health, so this must have been painful for them to read. Still, it is all water under the bridge now. I have learnt my lesson and moved on.
It does though go to show that sometimes dishonesty or at best a touch of white wash, is the best policy, as total honesty doesn't pay the bills. Fortunately, my new job does.