Archive for the ‘Book events & festivals’ category

This House Takes Note of the Cultural, Civic and Educational Significance of Libraries, Bookshops and Booksellers in the UK

October 15th, 2016

Weddings are usually associated with speeches, alcohol, dancing and laughter . This Thursday I attend my first House of Lords Debate. What associations does it leave me with? Speeches, symptoms of dehydration , eye-watering discomfort and shuffling disappointment.

While angels grip heraldic shields and black microphones bear witness in grids above, Lord Bird, who was ennobled after having launched and established the Big Issue, that dignifies homeless people, gives the chamber 15 minutes of lively, off-script, impassioned, looping anecdote touching on literacy in his past life.

It is followed by the fully scripted , slightly self congratulatory, cliche stuffed, red leather button-backed, middle of the road oratory, topped off with broken folk-dance defensive whitewash from Lord Ashton of Clyde.

For the first ever time in the UK, young people are now less literate than pensioners. But, having established the  importance of the book and the vulnerability of bookshops and libraries, where are the specific , costed suggestions for protecting them? In the absence of plans to improve the situation, calls for action are hollow and simply ignored. Amazon is rightly slammed, but they still owe UK billions in unpaid taxes.

No doubt the Earl Kinnoull’s Trust of Culture in Perth & Kinross, and the Bishop of St. Alban’s Rural Coalition have merit. Books Beyond Words, Cityread, the British Library, Books Are My Bag and many others are hugely worthwhile. What we are facing,though, is decimation of bookshops and libraries in the UK at a scale never before encountered. Unimaginable only ten years ago. Unacceptable to any UK citizen today.

How about Business Rate Reductions for Bookshops Not Bookies, as an initiative? Reduce Business Rates for all bookshops and increase them for all Pay-Day Loan Companies and Betting shops. Sadiq Khan, Philip Glanville, this is definitely one for you two.
How about new charities to seed-fund opening of new bookshops in the UK? Lord Bird and Baroness Rebuck, this is clearly one for you.

Both these suggestions would be fiscally neutral, and both readily achievable. Both would represent long-term solutions for the future- not populist knee-jerk reactions- but non-partisan frameworks for the benefit of all UK book lovers.

The libraries are already protected by law in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Funding needs ring-fencing- our taxes legally cover this. The government absolutely needs challenging for its inexcusable non-enforcement of the law of this land in respect of public libraries. Lord Collins of Hyde, this is your responsibility.

There are no illuminated green exit signs in the Lords Chamber. But bookshops, booksellers and libraries are being unceremoniously elbowed into obsolescence, unless all the people who could possibly do something to stop books facing a bitterly unfair and disastrously bleak future please step forward.

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In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

Damned Cycle Accident Statistics

July 23rd, 2014

Cycle accident statistics only record incidents of death and of ” serious” accident; and “serious” accidents are only recorded if the victim stays in hospital overnight.

How many cyclists in London like me have been victims of serious accidents but have not stayed in hospital overnight?

I was knocked down on a cycle route by a driver hitting me off my bicycle eleven weeks ago. Since then I have made sixteen visits to hospital on separate occasions, I have had an operation under general anaesthetic, still have my left arm immobile in a sling (I have at least six more weeks more to go in a cast and I am left-handed)- how is such a disruptive accident caused by a driver who has subsequently been sent by the Police onto a course to improve their driving, not serious?

Do you think my accident should be re-classified as serious (at the moment it hasn’t been considered statistically whatsoever)?

Does ignoring the type of accident I had completely skew the picture of the safety of cycling in London?

Please tell me if you had a similar bike accident or know of one?

I think “serious” accidents should reflect people who cannot work properly after so many weeks and who have been left fearful of cycling to work in future.

I’d like to take this moment to thank all my friends and customers at my book shop who showed concern for my recovery and apologise for the length of time it is taking.

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout Knocked Down

June 6th, 2014

A month ago a car from a side road smacked into my bicycle at 8am without looking and knocked me down. I didn’t open my bookshop. I couldn’t work at  my own business premises for the entire first week. The aftermath took hold.  Five hospital visits later, my situation remains unresolved.

At the time of impact, the right hand cycle handlebar gored me. My stomach muscles ripped aside and my liver and colon were bruised. A scan on the day showed spots on my liver and the pain was intense. 4 weeks later the pain remains but has diminished. I phoned my GP 3 days running but now have to anxiously sit out the weekend to wait for a comment on the latest CT triple scan.

A  hospital physio diagnosed my left wrist as possibly fractured.  I am left-handed. It’d been in severe pain for 3 weeks. Two visits later, my wrist was in plaster and my scaphoid can finally begin to heal over the forthcoming 6 weeks.

Exhaustion is usually a temporary state; but, since my road accident, it grips me from when I wake until I sleep at night. My sleep is fitful now whereas I was regularly the soundest sleeper you could imagine.

I cannot drive a car or ride a bike; can only write or perform any fine motor skills with my left hand with severe discomfort.  Lifting is painful for my wrist and my abdomen.  My social life revolved around sport- now my football, squash, badminton and tennis kit are unused.

The fact is that I am not a physical or emotional wreck, but I feel like one; other people’s worse circumstances & suffering  to one side, the aftermath of my bike accident has been profound for me. It does help for me to write feelings down when I feel particularly low.

I hope my conscientious, light-hearted,  relaxed, well-exercised,  old Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout returns in the next month or so.

Jason’s Road trip

May 12th, 2014

I am Jason and I run a bookshop. On Thursday 8-5-2014 at about 07:56 I was bicycling to work on a route I have taken for the last 12 years. I live in Stoke Newington. I was travelling south on Whitmore Road where it becomes Pitfield Street. The light was normal but there was a slight drizzle or very light rain. As I passed the junction with Hoxton Street on my left, I noticed a car proceeding towards me very quickly. I was wearing high visibility, cycling waterproof top , black waterproof bottoms with reflective strips and a cycling helmet. It was clearly my right of way. Before I registered any danger I felt myself flying and landing on the road in excruciating pain. I howled loudly. I was spread-eagled on my front. I do not recollect losing consciousness. Opening my eyes, I saw that I had landed on a part of the pedestrian zebra crossing. I summoned all my energy to crawl or slither off the road in case another car struck me. As I was curling into the recovery position I heard someone asking if I was alright. I said “no”. I heard a voice saying “Call an ambulance”. I repeated the words “Call an ambulance”. I heard someone else saying “I am so sorry. I was rushing to take my daughter to school”. My eyes were closed. I was in agony. Minutes later someone in a green uniform said they were a passing paramedic and instructed me not to move. They went through some questions to assess my condition, which I was able to answer. Following that, the ambulance personnel took over. There was a process of maybe 15 minutes whereby I was supported into an ambulance. That was followed by a lengthy delay where a policeman asked me questions and finally supplied me with a small blue book of information about the accident. I was admitted to the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital. I spent about six or so hours undergoing constant checks and tests. I received an ultra sound and a CT scan on my abdomen. I was administered painkillers. I was advised to remain in hospital under observation for a further period of about 5 hours. I discharged myself and was taken home. I have been in constant pain since then. 48 hours later I have taken photos of my injuries. I am still in a state of shock. I have been told by the hospital consultant that my stomach muscles have been severely torn. My internal organs have been bruised and apart from that, I have suffered several skin abrasions on my face legs and hands and also further bruising. I cannot sleep without waking with pain. My lower intestines contort me in pain. I am using a walking stick, a sling, ice packs and have had a session of cranial osteopathy.

But I am now on the mend & hope to be back at work soon.

Today, I visited the book shop for an hour. It has been as if I had stepped into an alternative reality for four days and I’m now being allowed brief visits back to my old life…

A Man With a Button

February 10th, 2014

The tall man’s goatee beard that was tied in knots reminding me of boyhood images of Blackbeard. He was in his later middle-age and wore a hipster tweed suit that struck me as somewhat incongruous. His softly spoken brogue and complimentary good manners together with his broad range of highly literate book purchases piqued my interest and respect.

When this customer gave me his cue, I was ready to engage with him. Though I really couldn’t have guessed where this was going…

He asked me to direct him to the nearby Google campus and I gave him directions; but I’d been slow to realize that he was teeing me up for a revelation.

“I am the inventor” of the button that will bring the smell of books to all future e-readers,  he explained; and,  when my mouth dropped open, he went on,  ”I am a perfumer”.

He proceeded to sing the praises of the smell of the books in Trinity College Library, Dublin; “an olfactory delight”, was his measured appraisal.

I was part spellbound by his enthusiasm, part amazed by his eccentricity, but wholly amazed that he truly foresaw a future for his book smell button.

It’s true that I had once come across an antiquarian bookseller who regularly put his beaky nose deep into the pages of any antiquarian book he was considering buying to inhale the book’s past and to inform his appraisal.

But I was finding it  almost impossible to separate the crazy notion of book sniffing from the real craze of sniffing glue, conflating  them in my mind into people buying e-readers for their addictive fix of the smell of old books.

On innumerable occasions customers have complimented me on the smell of the bookshop – it had somehow reinforced the authenticity of the place to them.  This man’s smell button was purporting to somehow reinforce the authenticity of an e-reader.

Whereas our bookshop smell genuinely arises from the mixture of new and antiquarian books, the book smell button is as artificial as is the quest to copy all the various aspects of the book using digital, electronic or mechanical means.

They are two separate artifacts. Is there any point conflating them?

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Inauguration Stations

February 5th, 2014

Hello Hello Hello! Hello. We are the Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout and we would like to welcome you to our new-look blog.

We’ve been selling books in Old Street Roundabout for thirteen years and we figured, with the arrival of this most auspicious of anniversaries, that it was time to create a place to talk about it. So here we have it: a soapbox for a material girl in a digital world.

At the beginning of last week the Standard broke the news that the area around Old Street Roundabout (or ‘Tech City’, as it is snazzily styled) has become the place for tech start-ups to locate themselves. One interviewee said: “There’s a great energy in London’s start-up scene. It’s still proving itself.”

I mean, isn’t this just a really astonishing piece of news? Tech companies in Silicon Roundabout? It’s dynamite!

This story could have been written on any year for the last decade so, apparently, nothing has changed. Old Street is still the up and coming place for the up and coming. But then, they do keep coming – and this high turnover of businesses and the people that work in them has put the shop in contact with an ever shifting population of workers. It’s given us a window onto these different people’s changing book-buying habits.

First off, we’ve seen the decline of technical books. Since the beginning it’s been our policy not to stock software how-to manuals and such the like as they grow obsolete so quickly, but we have always offered a service ordering specific books that our customers need. As the years have gone on the number of these requests has steadily declined, to the point that now we can go weeks on end without any enquires about technical books at all.

On the flip side of this decline, we have seen a steady increase in sales of science fiction. What is interesting is that our past experience has shown that technical books and science fiction have often gone together – customers with an interest in one would frequently have an interest in the other.

What this suggests to me is that, whilst our customers are looking less and less to print to learn how to do specific things, they are turning to books more often as a form of escape. Several customers who spend their workdays sat at computers have told me that when they get home they want a way to relax which doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

It has always been the job of speculative fiction to look forwards: to imagine, for better or for worse, what will come next. For most of us, the future will mean more time spent at a computer. And as the amount of time that we’re plugged-in steadily increases, the existence of books as a means of respite – as an access to the thrilling sensation of  complete immersion in one’s own imagination – will become more important than ever.

But then, we would say that.

What do you think?

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Battle of the Book Prizes

September 23rd, 2013

It was announced this week that, as of 2014, American authors will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize. Up until now the prize has been open only to authors holding a British, Irish, Commonwealth or Zimbabwean passport; it will now be open to any author writing in English and published in the UK.

The submission rules have also been amended, allowing more entries to publishers that have previously had books longlisted.

The decision had been met with a mixed reaction. Previous winner Howard Jacobson spoke out against it, as did one of this year’s nominees, Jim Crace, who commented in the Telegraph that “There’s something in there you would lose if you opened it up to American authors.”

It has been argued that opposition to the decision presented by authors comes from a place of fear, and that by allowing some American authors into the mix will shine a light on those complacent English novelists whose writing is diminishing in quality but are still managing to find their way onto the list. There certainly have been those who have bemoaned a decline in the Booker winners in recent years, and perhaps not without cause. Julian Barnes’ brevity in The Sense of an Ending, for which he won the prize in 2011 felt like a false economy. He is a great writer, but it’s not a great book.

But this seems to beg the question as to who these changes will actually benefit. Is the pressure from across the pond going to make our authors write better books? It seems an unlikely source of inspiration. Is it going to help readers in the U.K. pick the best new American fiction? We already have the Pulitzer to tell us that.

One party that it will certainly benefit is the Booker Prize itself. Jonathon Taylor, chairman of trustees, said: “By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world.”

Well bully for them. This comment shows that something greater is at stake. It seems that the competition is not to find the best book, but the best prize. And the Booker is determined to win.

SF

New English Bookselling Idea

October 12th, 2011

What I’d like to see getting going is a celebration in England on every St George’s Day that involves all the women buying books as gifts for their menfolk, and all the men buying roses for their womenfolk. This is how the day (known as La Diada de Sant Jordi http://tinyurl.com/yvxbp4) is celebrated in Barcelona where St. George is the Catalonian patron saint. It makes for a huge injection of adult interest in books in that region of Spain.
Does anyone agree that it sounds like a great celebration to adopt and introduce in England? Valentine’s Day is a single day marketing device that provides card & gift shops with an enormous financial uplift every year. I think bookshops and publishers could benefit from something similar.
If you like this idea & can promote it then please spread the word. If you know anyone else you think may like it please let them know.

Future of Bookselling -loosely told in threee acts

June 3rd, 2011

[This article was written by Todd Sattersten]

1. “There are two kinds of companies–those that work to raise prices and those that work to lower them.”–Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com

On February 15, 2011, few were surprised by the news Borders had filed for bankruptcy. Bookstores around the country have been suffering from the same fate. A few days earlier, indie stalwart Powell’s Books, Portland, Ore., announced it was laying off 7% of its workforce. The regional bookseller Joseph-Beth Booksellers entered bankruptcy with nine stores and emerged with five stores, one of which is closing. In a search through retail obituaries, we’d find 18 bookstores closed, went bankrupt or were in search of a new owner since Borders entered bankruptcy in February.

Given the grim news, how can retail booksellers continue to stay in business? Empty bromides like “Work Harder!” and “Do Something Different!” fray the nerves of those working at bookstores around the country. Maybe things would be different if we could clearly see how to be different.

2. “CSV-5 has better throughput, but Cal-12 has better pavement. That is typical–Fairlanes roads emphasize getting you there, for Type A drivers, and Cruiseways emphasize the enjoyment of the ride for Type B drivers.”–Neal Stephenson in Snowcrash

Kevin Maney, the longtime technology writer for USA Today, has a theory that businesses have one of two options when they compete. The first option is to compete on convenience–make a simple-to-use product, make it widely available and charge the lowest possible price. Oreo cookies and Netflix come to mind.

The second option is to pursue fidelity: produce a high-resolution experience which the customer values for its uniqueness. My mother’s homemade Grand Champion chocolate chip cookies and Avatar in IMAX 3-D contrast well to convenient alternatives.

Maney says when Amazon launched the Kindle, it pursued the fidelity side of the continuum. In interviews at the time, Jeff Bezos talked about the importance of emulating the experience of reading a book–the size of the screen, the weight of the object. Bezos even mentioned that the product team studied the book’s vanilla-like scent and considered how to include that in the device. The entire approach left the market confused. Amazon was a company that for its entire existence had pursued one goal: using low prices, infinite shelf space and quick delivery to make buying things as convenient as possible.

With the introduction of Kindle 2 in 2009, Amazon reverted to its old message. “Books in 60 seconds” was the new tagline. Everything in Amazon’s marketing and PR since then has been about convenience. Each chance it gets, the retailer announces that e-book sales are overtaking some form of print book (using subjective statistics). Every week in the New York Times Book Review, its full-page ad opposite the week’s bestseller lists tells readers how easily they can download any of those titles from Amazon. Convenience has come in the form of lower and lower prices, most recent being the addition of an ad-supported Kindle that costs $114.

E-books and the myriad of devices people will use to read books play directly to the market of convenience, a market that retail storefronts selling “p-books” will never be able to properly satisfy.

3. “Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of a challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.”–A. David Schwartz (1938-2004)

The passing of Seattle bookseller Kim Ricketts caused me to reflect on what she accomplished and what it means to the retail segment of book publishing. Anyone in bookselling knows the story of Kim’s migration from the University of Washington bookstore to her own business creating events that sold books. I was fortunate to be a beneficiary of her efforts firsthand during the launch of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time in 2009. At corporate events, like the one I spoke at, as well as her other events, Kim brought together wonderful groups of people who shared curiosities and passions. And while it is important for me to pay tribute Kim and the business she built, it is even more important for all of us to understand what Kim Ricketts Book Events exemplifies for the future of bookselling.

Too few booksellers understand that the only strategic play for this entire retail segment is on the fidelity side of the continuum. Kim understood this in spades. Her popular Cooks & Books events attracted the country’s top chefs to share a meal and tell stories to those gathered from the foodie community of Seattle. Each attendee went home with latest cookbook from that celebrity and wonderful memories. For that privilege, attendees paid two to four times the cover price of the book.

800-CEO-READ, the book retailer in Milwaukee where I spent six years, is a niche player with its specialty in business books, but that fails to explain fully its different approach to fidelity. While the book retail distribution system is designed to get a single book into the hands of an individual, selling one book at a time, 800-CEO-READ sells tens or hundreds of books at a time to organizations that use books for meetings, training or large industry events. While the revenue and the margins are markedly better, these orders generate a different set of costs–including a call center to manage the requirements of corporate sales to a shipping department that understands global logistics. It is hard to call this bookselling by standards we are all familiar with.

In its flagship City of Books location, Powell’s Books has created a Disneyland-like destination–I don’t mean in the costumed characters sense (though you can get a green-screened photo of yourself in front of the store printed on a T-shirt). The store stocks more than a million new and used copies of books, more than in any Barnes & Noble. Like Ameoba Records in Hollywood, Calif., Powell’s has created a high definition experience that makes the store a destination for any book lover.

Epilogue

Kevin Maney offers a final caution. Trying to offer both convenience and fidelity is a strategic mirage and will lead customers to wonder why they need your products. Starbucks doesn’t want to admit that as a 17,000 store global chain it is a convenience play (and the reason VIA “Ready Brew” is successful is because of that). The U.S. Postal Service, which lost $2.6 billion in the first quarter, lives in the dying space between the next-day fidelity of FedEx and the convenience of text messages. Do we need to talk about 35mm film?

Booksellers need to realize that Amazon is not their competition; convenience is. Retail booksellers need to provide higher fidelity experiences for their customers and answer the question: “What can I do better?” Or put another way: the book is the start, and not the end to the experience customers want to have.

Todd Sattersten is the founder of BizBookLab, a company that identifies, develops, and launches business books around the world. He lives in Portland, Ore.