Some Recent Book News.
January 16th 2020
The Guardian & The Times Newspapers
No doubt many of you will have read this Heart Warming Story
.A Petersfield Bookshop had no customers for first time in 100-year history – until a sad tweet attracted 1,100 new followers!An independent bookshop that failed to sell a single book on a rainy day this week has been inundated with customers after publishing pictures of its empty aisles on social media.
Well done Robert Sansom & John Westwood..!
Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, says the US has relatively few bookstores compared to Europe and the UK, suggesting there is room for Barnes & Noble to succeed - especially given the growth local shops have seen in recent years.
October 8th 2019
Can UK bookseller James Daunt revive Barnes & Noble?
Still, the company remains awkwardly wedged between Amazon and the "indies". In the UK, Waterstones has opened unbranded shops which look like small independent bookshops - so-called "stealth" outlets that drew outcry.
"It's hard to take a 30,000-square-foot superstore out in a strip mall and convert that into a neighbourhood store," Mr Teicher says. "There's got to be authenticity."
We wish James Daunt every success.
"The Guardian on Saturday". Aug. 10th. Page 16.
Five Waterstones booksellers who delivered a petition to Head Office calling for a living wage in April have all since resigned, citing low pay and pressure as reasons for their departure.
The news comes in the week that Waterstones’ owner, investment firm Elliott Advisors, completes its acquisition of US book chain Barnes & Noble in a $683m (£566m) deal. James Daunt, Waterstones’ so called chief executive and managing director (above center), will become chief executive of the 627-branch Barnes & Noble chain as well as heading up 293 Waterstones shops.
"Departing booksellers were not “prevalent”. “We’d be in trouble were that to be the case."” he said.
"The Times". page 53. Saturday June 8th.
"Waterstones chief starts new chapter in America".
James Daunt will move to New York to assume his dual role of Chief Executive of Barnes & Noble & Waterstones. Elliot Management the New York Hedge Fund that acquired Waterstones last year, has agreed to purchase Barnes & Noble for $683 million.
Barnes & Noble has 630 stores across the US. Waterstones 283 in the UK, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
To quote Mr. Daunt: books are "Complex Products". Indeed.
(See the New York Times entry below for May 6th 2018 and our Page "Book Chats on Book Chains").
Dr Gerard Cheshire, a linguist at The University of Bristol, has reported in The Journal of Romance Studies, a (now controversial) decypherment of the long mysterious "Voynich Manuscript". Carbon dated to the early 15th century, the interpretation of the text on the 240 vellum sheets has long been a mystery.
It was first acquired in 1912 by Polish bookdealer Wilfrid Voynich (1865 - 1930).
In the scene below, two women can be seen bathing five children, with a single word of text beneath each. For example, below the second figure from the left, one can just make out "orla la", interpreted here as "on the edge/losing patience", and possibly the root of the French (and subsequently English) "Ooh la la". Dr Cheshire sees the text as coming from a now extinct "proto-Romance" language of Italian origin, and following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
For an interesting report by David Wilkes, see the article in The Mail on Friday May 17th, and reproduced below.
Note added May 18th. Bristol University has now distanced itself from these reports. noting the claims were "...entirely the author's own work".
NEW YORK (AP) — The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on April 11th, has made a book of interviews with Gore Vidal an unexpected best-seller.
Assange was carrying a copy of "Gore Vidal: History of the National Security State & Vidal on America" when he was arrested Thursday at the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
By Friday afternoon (April 12th), the 2014 publication was No. 35 on Amazon.com. "Gore Vidal" features conservations between the author-playwright and Paul Jay, founder of The Real News Network, a nonprofit with a stated mission of "independent, verifiable, fact-based journalism."
A selection of rare books dating back to the early 16th century (image above) has gone on display at the University of Dundee, alongside work by artists, designers and writers inspired by them.
Exhibits at ‘Bodies, Botanicals & Bindings: Reimagining Rare Books’ in the Lamb Gallery, Tower Building, include jewellery, etchings, drawings, textiles and ceramics as well as a range of anatomical, medical, literary and religious texts held by the University Archives' rare book collections.
January 16th 2019. The Times.
"Shelley First Edition has Monster Price Tag".
A triple decker 1818 first edition of Frankenstein is on sale at Peter Harrington Rare Books. This ex-libris copy (Stoke Newington Circulating Library) is one of only five survivers containing controversial early content that the author, Mary Shelley, subsequently changed. The asking price is £275,000. These great rarities command very high prices, for example in 2013, a similar 1818 copy with the dedication "To Lord Byron from the Author" sold for £350,000.
January 7th 2019. The Mail.
"Bookshops buck Amazon threat". The Daily Mail.
The Booksellers Association reports that the total number of Independent bookshops that are members of their association rose from 868 to 883 in 2018. It further reports that 73% of outlets reported sales up on 2017. This good news follows twenty years of decline.
Feature article by Sean Poulter.
To read the full story Click Here...
" A Marginal Difference"
"The Times". Monday October 29th 2018.The revelation that Bram Stoker defaced library books as he was writing Dracula is less shocking than it at first sounds. It is true that the playwright Joe Orton served six months in prison for scribbling obscenities in the margins but not all such notes are so puerile.
Biblical manuscripts actually come with liturgical notes in the margin. A professor at Cornell has traced the history of evolution through the marginal notes of scientists in their journals. Copernicus’s impact on astronomy has been traced through the handwriting in hundreds of copies of his De revolutionibus. Read back years later, notes in the margin can be a prompt to memory and a conversation with the young person you once were. It can also be fun. CS Lewis once described the joy: “Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand.” Clive James has constructed a whole world view out of such scribbles. His epic Cultural Amnesia is sub-titled Notes in the Margin of my Time.
There are many authors noted for their effective use of the margin. Herman Melville’s annotated copy of Milton’s poetry is a collector’s item and five volumes of Coleridge’s marginalia have been published. While he was in prison Voltaire wrote in the margins of books and, just before he was executed, Sir Walter Raleigh composed a personal statement in somebody else’s book.
However, if you are frightened of writing something that will later be an embarrassment, take a tip from the master. In the margin of his copy of Diophantus’s Arithmetica, Pierre de Fermat wrote a complex theorem and added: “Of this thing I have found a truly marvellous proof. The smallness of the margin will not contain it.” The theorem puzzled the world for a further 350 years and all because Fermat ran out of space.
In an unprecedented incident in 2017, a group of unknown thieves rappelled down into a specially secured warehouse in Feltham, Middlesex in the early hours of January 30 th and made off with 160 rare texts that were being guarded at the facility.
According to reports, the thieves bore a hole through three reinforced-fiberglass skylights then rappelled down through the opening. Somehow, they avoided setting off the advanced motion detection security systems protecting the inside of the facility during this process and during the hours they spent inside.
CCTV footage shows the thieves walking past expensive electronic merchandise and making their way directly to six sealed metallic trunks. Four of the trunks were pried open, and the thieves could then be seen throwing aside various texts inside as they hunted down their specific targets. It was noted that they examined a list as they looked for the books they were after. Once found, the texts were loaded into holdalls and carried back up and out the way that the men came in then lowered down the side of the building and placed inside a waiting van.
To read the full story by Winston Hall, click here...
July 20th 2018.
Book sales in the UK broke records last year, as consumers favoured the classic paper medium over its digital counterpart.
According to new data from The Publishers Association, physical book sales jumped five per cent last year, while digital book sales dropped two per cent.
Publishing income overall was up four per cent to £5.7 billion, including physical, digital and audio books, alongside licensing film and TV rights.
This was driven by a 31 per cent rise in hardback fiction, alongside a 25 per cent increase in revenues from audiobooks.
Book Sales set new record.
May 17th 2018
"...the left hand sometimes doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” James Daunt. Managing Director, Waterstones.
The Guardian Newspaper.
[True to form (see link just below), they seem quite skilled at messing up. How curious their Chief Executive seems to have recently discovered that book chains should be run like "quirky little bookshops", and now wants to muscle in. One wonders how much he gets paid for such wisdom? Here is someone who, in The Times newspaper no less, tells us books are "Complex Products" (sic). Well done Stockbridge].
The Guardian. Page 3. Thursday 17th May 2018.
Waterstones has backtracked on plans to open one of its new unbranded stores in a district of Edinburgh that is already home to an independent bookshop, following an outcry from figures including the Scottish novelist Val McDermid.
A shop will be opened in the Stockbridge area of the city, but it will be clearly branded as Waterstones, according to the company’s managing director, James Daunt, who admitted: “We messed up.”
Golden Hare Books, which has been in Stockbridge for four years,had accused Waterstones on Monday of breaking a pledge not to site unbranded stores in areas that are already home to independents after plans emerged for the opening next spring.
“In our insular way we forgot about them. Literally, I forgot entirely that they existed, which is one of the perils of a big chain … the left hand sometimes doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Daunt said.
“We will also need to work with them to ensure that we do not do anything predatory or anything that imperils them at all.”
The U-turn was hailed as a “small victory” by Julie Danskin, the manager of Golden Hare Books, who said it was clear that the community had not responded well to the news.
“We are very glad that James Daunt and Waterstones have done the decent thing. In future, though, one other thing that Waterstones can do is really dial down the discount offers on books because it does hit us in a way that does not need to happen.”
Daunt said the rollout of the unbranded stores – which began in 2014 with the opening of Southwold Books – would continue, although there would always be a clear role for its larger branches.
The idea was to put “good people” in charge and encourage them to foster unbranded branches with a view to them evolving into “idiosyncratic, quirky little shops of the best sort”.
“The key – and one of the things I have continued to struggle with at Waterstones – is how, within the context of a chain, you get the individual booksellers to create a distinctive shop,” said Daunt, who was brought in to rescue the chain in 2011 after a buyout by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut.
“That is difficult and it’s about breaking a culture that has been trying for years to do something different.”
The company made its first profit in years last year – an achievement linked to a strategy of trying to run branches like local bookshops.
N Y Times. May 6th. 2018.
Barnes & Noble is in trouble. You hear that, in worried tones, when you talk to people in the book business. You feel it when you walk into one of the chain’s stores, a cluttered mix of gifts, games, DVDs (DVDs?) and books. And you really see the problems if you dig into the company’s financial statements.
Revenue from Nook, the company’s e-book device, has fallen more than 85 percent since 2012. Online sales of physical books have also plummeted. At the stores, where business was once holding up, it’s down about 10 percent over the past two years. Several stores — like my local one, in the Washington suburbs — have closed, and many have reduced staff.
The company’s leaders claim that they have a turnaround plan, based on smaller, more appealing stores focused on books, and I hope the plan works. It’s depressing to imagine that more than 600 Barnes & Noble stores might simply disappear — as already happened with Borders, in 2011. But the death of Barnes & Noble is now plausible.
At first glance, this seems like a classic story of business disruption. Barnes & Noble and Borders were once so imposing that they served as the model for the evil corporation trying to crush independent bookstores in the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail.” Then the world changed. The old leaders couldn’t keep up. Such is capitalism.
Except that’s not anywhere near the full story.
The full story revolves around government policy — in particular, Washington’s leniency, under both parties, toward technology giants that have come to resemble monopolies. These giants are popular, because they provide good products and service. But they have also become mighty enough to vanquish their competitors and create problems for society.
For most of American history, the government viewed giant corporations of any kind as inherently problematic. Their size gave them too much power — to eliminate competition, raise prices, hold down wages and influence politics. So the government passed laws to restrain businesses and occasionally broke up the largest, like Standard Oil and AT&T.
In the 1970s, however, a new idea took hold: Size was not a problem so long as prices remained low. Bigness could even be good, because it promoted efficiency and thus lower prices. The legal scholar Robert Bork was the most influential advocate for this view, and it soon guided the Supreme Court, the Reagan administration and pretty much every administration since.
But the theory has two huge flaws, as a new generation of scholars, like Lina Khan, is emphasizing. One, prices are not a broad enough measure of well-being. Wages, innovation and political power matter as well. If prices stay low but wages don’t grow — which is, roughly, what’s happened in recent decades — consumers aren’t better off. Two, regulators have focused on short-term prices, sometimes ignoring what can happen after a company drives out its rivals.
The book business is looking like a case study. Amazon is taking over, yet has never run into antitrust scrutiny. It has reduced prices, after all. It sells many e-books for $9.99 and hardcover best sellers at a big discount. So what’s the problem?
Plenty. Amazon has been happy to lose money on books to build a loyal customer base, to which it can then sell everything else. “Amazon isn’t primarily concerned about books these days,” Oren Teicher, who runs an association of independent bookstores, told me. “They are far more focused on getting consumers into their ecosystem so they can sell them every other product under the sun.”
But the artificially low prices have created a raft of problems. Fewer books are commercially viable. Publishers are focusing on big-name writers. The number of professional authors has declined. The disappearance of Borders deprived dozens of communities of their only physical bookstore and led to a drop in book sales that looks permanent.
All the while, many writers and publishers are afraid to criticize Amazon. They’re not being completely paranoid, either. When publishers have fought Amazon, it has sometimes punished them by disrupting sales. Internally, Amazon executives have described small publishers as a “gazelle” — and itself as a cheetah.
Oh, and now prices may be rising. Last month, Amazon increased the annual cost of its membership program, Prime, by 20 percent, to $119.
Like many people, I am a frequent and usually satisfied Amazon customer. But I am also starting to wake up to the deep problems created by corporate behemoths. They have the power to hold down wages, avoid taxes, squash competition and produce a less vigorous economy.
Once the country emerges from the Trump presidency, I hope we will have a government that takes monopolies seriously. Until then, I’ll be rooting for Barnes & Noble. So, it turns out, are some people who once viewed it as the enemy. “It’s in the interest of the book business,” Teicher says, “for Barnes & Noble not just to survive but to thrive.”
David Leonhardt. Opinion Columnist.