Musings on books and the book business by an opinionated, somewhat cynical, yet optimistic bookseller.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Do Publishers need Bookstores?
Penguin is making an end run around bookstores: their website now offers discounts directly to customers. It makes me feel like a dupe for sitting in all those sales meetings, poring over catalogs and creating marketing plans for their titles, only to see them undercut bookstores with their own website. It's one thing to compete with another bookseller, even one as big as Amazon, but to have to fight with one of your main publishers for sales is asinine.
Does it make sense for Penguin to compete with bookstores for sales? I don't think so. Most bookstores carry a vast array of Penguin books and will special order any book that their customers ask for. Many customers discover new Penguin titles from browsing bookstore shelves or looking at staff recommended sections. In fact, our next store reading group title, Beneath a Marble Sky, by John Shor, is a Penguin title. I have to wonder -- will the customers just sit at home and order directly from Penguin, now that we've brought their attention to this novel?
It seems that the main thing Penguin can offer on its website is all of its branded material. Look at that cute Penguin logo! Wouldn't you want a mug, a T-shirt, or even a baby onesy with that adorable character on it? I would. Penguin should go crazy selling those items which would help brand the company and let the booksellers do what they do best. Does Penguin really want to sell one book at a time? Do they want to deal with disgruntled customers trying to return books? Why incur the wrath of booksellers around the country for a few sales? It doesn't seem like a winning formula.
On the other hand, HarperCollins, who often encourages thinking as part of its corporate culture, directs customers from its website to the sites of other booksellers. HarperCollins is an equal opportunity linker. If you hit the buy now button on one of their titles, it will give you the choice of going to the purchasing page of 21 different booksellers. These sellers include giants like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles as well as smaller stores like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. Since we (The Boulder Book Store) are one of the pages that HarperCollins links to, I can honestly say that any store with a website can pretty easily join this party. That's also why I'll proudly promote http://www.harpercollins.com/.
Of course, publishing being what it is, this could all change tomorrow. But with a new buying season approaching, it's good to know who you're teammates are and just who has joined the competition.
Top 10 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 2000. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 2000. Atonement by Ian McEwan. 2002. Any Human Heart by William Boyd. 2003. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. 2003. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. 2004. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. 2005. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 2006. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. 2007. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. 2007.
Other Favorites The Inventory by Gila Lustiger. 2000. The Human Stain by Philip Roth. 2000. Erasure by Percival Everett. 2001. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. 2001. Spies by Michael Frayn. 2002. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. 2002. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon. 2002. Roscoe by William Kennedy. 2002. American Woman by Susan Choi. 2003 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. 2003. Sabbath Creek by Judson Mitcham. 2004. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. 2004. The In Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji. 2004. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. 2006. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 2006. After This by Alice McDermott. 2006. Echo Maker by Richard Powers. 2006. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 2007. Peace by Richard Bausch. 2008. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. 2008. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. 2009. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. 2009. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. 2009. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. 2009. All Other Nights by Dara Horn. 2009.
My Favorite New Books
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A girl and her father live off the land in Portland's Forest Park in this novel that is based on a true story. Told through the eyes of the young girl, it's a poetic work revealing our connection to the natural world. True Confections by Katharine Weber. Zip's Candy is the setting for this outstanding satire. Alice, who turns out to be an unreliable narrator, details the company's history and her own place in its scandalous past. New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro. The death of a boar, a pervert trying to perfect his craft, and the unearthing of the bones of a murder victim are just a few of the plot elements in this comic debut.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. Shortly after World War II, a young Irish girl is forced by her family to emigrate to Brooklyn. Cut off from all that she knows she finds love at Dodgers games and Coney Island in this subtle but suspenseful novel.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Phillippe Petit's remarkable 1974 tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center towers is the jumping off point (pun intended) of this novel of love, loss and beautiful convergences in a gritty New York City.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. Nothing is as it seems in this brilliant bizarre novel set in an almost recognizable New York City. The revelations at the end left me reeling although I knew that surprises were lurking. Another novel with shades of Saul Bellow. Border Songs by Jim Lynch. Hilarious novel about a strange border agent on the Canadian border. Lynch effortlessly tells the story from several points of view including the criminal, the cops and everyone in between.
The Signal by Ron Carlson. An adventure and a love story set in the pristine mountains of Wyoming. A sense of both hope and foreboding hangs over the sparse narrative.
Wanting by Richard Flanagan. This historical novel featuring both Charles Dickens and the explorer John Franklin is really a meditation on desire and what was thought to separate the civilized from the barbarians.
Woodsburner by John Pipkin. Henry David Thoreau burned down the Concord Woods before he wrote Walden. This novel explores that incident from several different perspectives, including a bookseller who is forced to sell porn to stay in business.
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. A British Bellow with a West Indian cricket fiend cast as a Chicago University Professor. Humboldt plays cricket. Chicagoby Alaa Al Aswany. Egyptian students and their professors try to navigate America in this magnificent novel set in the heart of contemporary Chicago.
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont. A haunting novel about the seductive power of friendship.
Wifeshoppingby Steven Wingate. Thirteen great short stories of men sabotaging their relationships.