Thursday, June 26, 2008

Link-Mad Thursday: Futurebook

Listening to NPR this morning I had a little jolt: they were talking about the intersection of the internet and books, but not from a book industry point of view. As part of an ongoing series on the effects the internet has had on the culture of China, this piece highlights the growth of Chinese online publishing: chapters selling for a few cents each. It's not political writing, but mysteries and romance that are breaking out of the traditional, party-run publishing mold. And it's mostly young writers, as you'd expect. The kicker? All those kids publishing online really just want to get into print.

There is some good news for people who like actual books made of paper. Fu and most other Chinese writers still want to see their books in print. Happily for them, publishers increasingly look to the Internet to find the most popular books.

City of Books, Shanghai's largest book store, takes up six stories, and more and more, books that first showed up on the Internet are turning up on the shelves there. As Fu Tian walks around the store, the books that catch her eye are often by friends.

"The Ghost Blows Out the Light!" she exclaims. "It used to be the biggest hit on the Xidian Web site, and it's being made into a movie."

Of course, Fu hopes that one of her books will get made into a film. She's very excited: This fall, she'll have her own first book on the shelves.

Now there's an interesting take on the whole digitization issue, from the country that looks to be defining a lot of worldwide trends in the future.

And dude, what would you give to get a tour of City of Books?

* * *

While you're at the NPR site, check out their Summer Books page, gathering lots of recent book-related content together. One of the newest great things I've discovered is Book Tour: a series of podcasts recorded primarily in independent bookstores like Politics & Prose. Andrew Sean Greer's The Story of a Marriage and Leif Enger's So Brave, Young and Handsome are among my recent favorites being read here; I haven't heard those authors read for an audience, and now I can, since their one-time live event has been digitally preserved. Perhaps another clue to the future of the book (and the bookstore) in the internet age?

* * *

Finally, the guru of literary sci-fi prognostication, author and Boing Boing creator Cory Doctorow, has a story on "The Future of the Bookstore" commissioned by UK magazine The Bookseller. The story is available online, but in a very annoying, too-small-to-read format, which you can only really see by downloading it page by page (thanks to Bookninja for the tip and the format warning). It's free, but almost as difficult to get your eyeballs on as the underground, passed-around books of the present/future it posits. But Doctorow's speculations are always fun, and some of his character's analysis is right on:

“Back then, bookshops were practically the only place you could get a book. Oh, sure, the newsagents might carry a few titles, but they were the same titles, all around the country. Bookshops are fine if you already love books, but how do you fall in love with books? Where does it start? There have to be books everywhere, in places where you go before you know you’re a reader. That was the secret.”
“So how’d he do it?” ...
“I’ll tell you how,” Arthur said again, clearly enjoying the chance to unfurl one of his old, well-oiled stories. “It was all about connecting kids up with their local neighbourhoods and the tastes there. Kids know what their friends want to read. We had them curate their own anthologies of the best, most suitable material from The Story So Far, put all that local knowledge to work. The right book for the right person in the right place. You’ve got to give them a religious experience before you can lure them into coming to church regular.”
Hmmm.... localism, adaptation, selling books where people want to hang out, recruiting young readers. Sounds like a recipe for a future bookstore to me.

I know I've asked this before, but humor me. What do YOU think is the recipe for the future bookstore -- for success five, ten, fifty years from now?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"One moment you are reading sleepily, the next you wake up with messy hair and a strange taste in your mouth."

My coworker and buddy Dustin has a hilarious post on our new McNally Robinson blog, The Common Reader, about an activity he seems to have invented (or at least named): the Booknap. Check it out for a full explanation of the technicalities of the form, along with illuminating pictures of Dustin in various booknappish poses, and getting his eye poked by William Vollmann. I feel Dustin would hate the word whimsical to describe anything he's written, but it's given me that sort of delight on a random Tuesday afternoon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Link-Mad Monday: New York Bookstores

My buddy David Del Vecchio is rocking it at his brand new bookstore in Chelsea: Idlewild Books! Not only did the store get a shout out in Boing Boing (the pinnacle of blog fame), it's hosting some fantastic events, and recently got a Book Buddies analysis from NAIBA, which proved what I suspected: David's already doing a lot of things right. I haven't gotten a chance to visit the store since it was in the buildout phase -- can't wait to stop in. Go by, say hi to David, and shop!

Also, I heard a rumor that DARE Books in Fort Greene is closing. Their online site doesn't say anything -- anyone know the deal here?

And at McNally Robinson tonight, I get the rare treat of hosting an author whose book I read and loved: Toby Barlow with Sharp Teeth. As I've mentioned, it's one of the few books the ALP and I both enjoyed (too bad he has to miss the reading tonight, but a Deacon's work is never done). The reading is at 7 -- join me if you can for all bloody sexy fiction-in-verse your heart desires.

See you in the bookstores!

Monday, June 16, 2008

BEA Recap #3: Green Education (and a new project)

It's one of those crazy days for me today (as opposed to all of the totally sane days that happen at other times, to other people... who am I kidding?) But as promised, I want to recap the ABA Day of Education, particularly the Green portions. It will be short, though.

There was so much on offer at the DOE this year, and I wish I'd gotten to more. During one session I was serving on my own Graphic Novels Panel. I started out at the "Managing Blockbuster Events" panel, but was made unable to take it in by a migraine-grade headache (brought on by too much coffee, too little water, and too much hotel air conditioning, I think). I came back for the Loss Control panel, which was useful, but mostly stuff we've figured out (if not implemented) at my store already.

Which leaves the Green Retailing panel. Luckily, intrepid reporter Karen Schechner has written up the whole thing for Bookselling This Week - so you can read her capable recap instead of mine. But there are a couple of things I took from this.

1) The Green Press Initiative is going strong, it's having an effect, and it's something I need to investigate more. Over 160 publishers have already signed on, and we booksellers can encourage others to do so.

2) Letting publishers know we want recycled paper books can be powerful. One great idea: a featured display table with only books on recycled or sustainable foresting paper. There's enough out there that you could keep it rotating. And display features are a good reason for publishers to give you more of that kind of books to display.

3) What we don't yet do in our store:
- recycling everything, on the floor AND in the back offices. (This is tough with NYC's slightly bizarre trash pickup and recycling rules, but we're getting there.)

4) What we do in our store that works:
- turn off every possible computer at night
- turn every possible bit of paper - obsolete reports, special order printouts, etc. - into scrap paper. It gets used for notating damaged or returnable books, writing down directions or titles for customers, and everything else you can think of -- and keeps us from having to use more paper.
- re-using all of our event posters by printing on the back side.
- asking every customer "Do you need [not want] a bag?", rather than just bagging automatically -- it's saved us a lot of bags!
- featuring displays of books about going green.

That's what I've got, today. What is your bookstore (or other stores you visit) doing to get green?

* * *

And now, that other project. Today's craziness, and a weekend conversation with the ALP, have prompted me to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time: start a blog about my bookstore startup process. I felt I needed something separate from The Written Nerd -- this place is for general industry and book-related stuff, and there's way too much bookstore stuff to include here. So I've started A Bookstore In Brooklyn just for that purpose. There's lots to report already -- today's just an intro. Check it out, spread it around, and I'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 13, 2008

BEA Recap #3: Emerging Leaders

Okay, I'm totally cheating with today's post on Emerging Leaders activities at BEA. But since Jenn Northington already gathered our copious notes into a coherent email update, why reinvent the wheel? The eight of us (minus Caroline, whose participation fell victim to some phone call incompetence on our part) sat around a table on Wednesday for about four hours, hashing out where we want to take this organization that's done so much so far. I was totally inspired by the energy and creativity of my fellow council members, and we did everything we set out to do: revisit our goals, make concrete plans, and assign tasks. Here's the email we just sent to our the EL mailing list with the recap (italics are my additions)

* * *

After a rousing Council meeting (not to mention a killer party - see pics at the bottom!) at BEA, Emerging Leaders is back on track! With a revamped Mission and some new Council Members, we couldn't wait to share our plans with you.

Introducing our EL Council Members and their Regions:
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, New Atlantic,
Sweet Pea Flaherty, Pacific Northwest,
Caroline Green, Southern,
Jennifer Laughran, Northern California,
Jennifer Northington, Mountains & Plains,
Emily Pullen, Southern California,
Megan Sullivan, New England,
and Lisa Winn, our ABA Liaison,
Our goal is to have each region represented by an under-40, non-owner bookseller. Know someone (or are someone) from the Midwest and/or Great Lakes regions who might be interested in joining the Emerging Leaders Council? Drop us an email!

Our New & Improved Mission Statement:

Emerging Leaders aims to develop, retain, and support the independent book industry's future innovators and leaders, through peer support, networking, mentoring, and education. Emerging Leaders is tailored, but not restricted, to booksellers age forty and under, who are determind to work in the industry and who demonstrate a passion for bookselling.

Yes, the Emerging Leaders: Owners track has been jettisoned - we felt we couldn't serve both constituencies well, and we'd do best to focus on the young, frontline folks, as there's lots of programming out there for owners. We're sad to lose Susan Weis on the Council, but she'll still be contributing her amazing ideas as part of our Emerging Leaders Alumni Advisors!

Taking Action
We're excited about the EL program and all of the possibilities it represents. In order to make it a thriving, successful program and realize those possibilites, we're working on the following projects:

1) A revamped Website: This will have all the info you could ever need about EL, plus updates to keep you informed, not to mention forums, resources, photo albums, and more!

2) Gathering Guidelines: Emerging Leaders is more than just meetings and parties at tradeshows; many regions have already started to have gatherings in various cities, to bring together EL booksellers in their areas, and some have been great successes. To keep these local events moving and to provide more places with the opportunity to have one, we are putting together guidelines with all the info you need to make a great gathering: do's and don'ts, how to get free stuff, who to contact about authors, etc.

3) Programming: We believe that EL booksellers have a specific set of educational interests, and need more programming to suit them! So we're working with the ABA to provide programs at regionals, trade shows, and Winter Institute, targeted towards our issues.

4) Scholarships: We'd love to see more EL booksellers at trade shows, regionals, and conferences. To that end, we'll be working to expand the Emerging Leaders Scholarships to BEA and Winter Institute.

There's more in the pipeline, so keep an eye on your inbox for updates. If you have any questions, suggestions, feedback, notes from past EL gatherings and parties, feel free to email your regional Council member. Also, we're on the lookout for pictures from this year's party, shots of EL booksellers at BEA -- anything EL related, really -- for our photo album!

Emerging Leaders Council

* * *

And here are some such pics, courtesy of Lisa. Hooray for parties sponsored by BEA -- thanks so much to Lance, Beth, and everyone who helped make this happen!

The sly and sexy EL Council members Megan and Sweet Pea...

My made - of - awesome coworkers Dustin and Steve, flanking someone whose name I don't know (help?)

A picture containing the combined greatness of John Mutter (Shelf Awareness), Jenn Northington (King's English, EL Council), Lance Fensterman (BEA), AND Susan Weis (breathe books)...

Council members Megan, Emily, and Sweet Pea, in a goofier mood...

And there are tons more, but most of them are people I don't know (which means this thing is expanding, hooray!), or they feature MY boozy mug, which you don't get this year. Be sure to email us if you've got pictures from the party or other EL-ish activities. And keep your ears open for more from us!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Attention, please

Some good ideas only work if people are aware of them. Two examples, wildly differing in importance:

1) Stimulating Reading is still in effect - click here for my explanation of the project, by which you translate the controversial "stimulus payments" into real economic impact by helping me to create a local independent bookstore. I know lots of us haven't gotten our stimulus checks yet -- and in this economic climate we may be needing them for necessities. But if you've got some to spare -- or, if you've got time and link love to spare in spreading the word -- well, support! You'll be rewarded with good swag, and the irreplaceable feeling of doing something good in the world.

2) Indra Sinha, the author of the well-reviewed novel Animal's People about a chemical disaster in Bhopal, is putting his money where his mouth is. Dow Chemical, which owns the pesticide plant where a toxic gas leak killed thousands and continues to contaminate water and kill more by disease, is on the verge of being exonerated by the Indian government, and little to nothing is being done to address the continuing disaster in Bhopal. Sinha and many others have gone on a hunger strike in protest. I read about this in the Guardian this morning thanks to BookNinja (though his take on it is a little funnier). Let's get lots of other people reading about it too. I'm inspired by authors whose commitment to social justice goes beyond the page; I hope lovers of literature can help give this campaign the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wait, don't go away!

I have to run to an appointment this morning, but I promise more about Emerging Leaders and greening the book industry at BEA on Friday. If you're on our EL mailing list (you can sign up here), you should be receiving a recap of our activities from the illustrious Jenn Northington any minute now, so I'll let you read that first.

In the meantime, hooray for last night's rainstorm bringing the temperature in NYC down a few notches. I watched the rain from a second-floor restaurant dining room, where my fellow booksellers and I were enjoying one of the great perks of our job: a publisher dinner. Random House author Michael Greenberg, whose memoir Hurry Down Sunshine pubs this September, was the guest of honor, and the evening was a delight. Watching sheets of rain push across the stones of Crosby Street, I suddenly thought about how much I love living in the city.

What's your recent moment of secret delight?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Joan Silber's The Size of the World

I've been thinking for a long time I'd like to do more talking about books around here, as well as talking about the book industry. I have the perfect place to start this week, as my buddy Steve at W. W. Norton asked if I would write about one of the best novels I've read recently. Below is what I sent to him -- perhaps less a review than a love letter for one of my very favorite contemporary authors. The Size of the World goes on sale today, and you can see Joan Silber reading at McNally Robinson on June 17.

* * *

By Joan Silber

(W. W. Norton, June 2008, $23.95 hardcover)

I honestly think Joan Silber is one of the most under-rated writers in America (even after her National Book Award finalist nod). Perhaps her voice is both too calm and too ambitious for critics accustomed to histrionic Great (Male) Novelists… but don’t quote me on that. To tell not just one life story, but over half a dozen, in first-person voices both precisely distinct and universally reflective on their own intense feelings and experiences after the fact – that’s an amazingly ambitious project. And then to call each story into question through the others, while leaving no doubt as to their essential truth, and to open up big, scary vistas onto a global landscape through these small lives – that’s almost cocky.

The Size of the World, like Silber’s previous work Ideas of Heaven, is created in the genre that seems most like life to me, and yet the most artful: a set of stories that link into each other through character and incident, as interconnected as our inescapably global world. The narrators often don’t know one another, but they are connected through a dozen chains of commerce, romance, family blood, or war, from Florida to Vietnam to Thailand to Mexico to New Jersey.

But this doesn’t get at why this book is so compelling. When Joan Silber tells a story, it proceeds with the pace and logic of life. One might notice a lizard on the wall, be introduced to a friend of a friend, sit down for dinner in the middle of a rainstorm – and then realize that in one of those moments one has fallen in love and life has totally changed. You read on breathlessly to find out which of these moments will change the flow of the story and catapult you into some entirely new life – a move across continents, a new passion – and it takes some doing to realize that our own lives are exactly this dramatic and tender, in the long view – and even more, to realize that our lives are connected so fiercely to each other, and to this broken and tangled world.

This is one of those books that stays with you like a sweet taste in the mouth, like a new idea you keep turning over to inspect its angles. The title’s allusion to our newly small, newly vast world is teased out through specifics: emails to Thai Muslims affecting an Italian in New Jersey because of the actions of Arabs in New York, and further back because of ties of family cemented in the last days of Fascist Italy, and a conscience discovered in an American engineering lab in Vietnam, and a legacy from the days of colonialist tin mining in Thailand. It’s mind-boggling, and as familiar as the shape of our own days.

Joan Silber is my hero, because she dares to see – and is able to so quietly, powerfully express – how big an ordinary life is, and to imagine therefore the vastness of all our lives touching each other. And because at the end of reading a story or a book or hers I always have to just sit, quietly, and let all of those moments wash over me, and trace the organic connections and patterns as they crystallize into beauty and truth.

Monday, June 09, 2008

BEA Recap Part II: The Graphic Novel Scene

Like birthdays, I think BEA should just go on and on... so my coverage will continue throughout this week.

Graphic novels were a bigger deal at BEA 2008 than they've ever, ever been before. There's been buzz about this crazy new category for several years, but this year comics really came into their own; they didn't need to apologize, they owned the show. It started for me at our Emerging Leaders party on Wednesday night, when I met comics icon/guru Scott McCloud, who opened all our eyes with Understanding Comics and has continued to expound upon the format with humor and erudition. He signed my copy of Making Comics provided by HarperCollins, and by the time I wandered away to continue mingling he and Diamond rep John Shableski (who blogs as The Graphic Novels Guy on Buzz, Balls, and Hype) were both talking a mile a minute about their mutual passion.

(Diamond, if you don't know them yet, is the biggest distributor of comics to comic shops and bookstores -- they sell Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Oni, and tons of the other great small comics publishers. They're kind of the thousand-pound gorilla of the comics industry, but they've been making strides to better serve their bookstore customers as the need becomes apparent -- hiring John as a liaison to bookstores and libraries was one such stride.)

Thursday morning at the ABA Day of Education, I found myself next to Scott and John once again as panelists for "Buying, Merchandising, and Selling Graphic Novels, 101". Lisa Winn at the ABA (who's also our trusty Emerging Leaders admin) pulled the whole thing together, and created an outstanding educational comic-about-comics for bookstores that you can see right here on BookWeb (you'll need an ABA login, though). Lisa did a ton of research and roped a couple of us comics geeks into appearing in her creation, and the results are both hilarious and enlightening -- I definitely learned some stuff. (Actually, that was the theme of the weekend: whenever I found myself supposedly leading or teaching, I ended up taking more notes and learning more than I had to convey. Which is how it should be, I guess.)

Jennifer Brown's writeup in today's Shelf Awareness is a great summary of the panel itself -- she remembers more than I do! What I do remember is that Scott McCloud recommended Scott Pilgrim, which I bought as quickly as I could (but that's at the end of the post). I was psyched by the energy and enthusiasm in the room, and by the intelligence of the questions even from those with concerns -- for example, about manga that's clearly for adults, though it looks kid-level. The questions were the best part of the session, and I hope we provided some useful answers -- I definitely got lots of kudos on the panel throughout the rest of the show. I'm so proud of my fellow booksellers for embracing this format, and I hope we see dozens or hundreds of graphic novel sections popping up (or expanding!) in bookstores across the country.

Friday was my one full day on the BEA show floor, and it was also all about graphic novels. As a New York bookstore that sees lots of sales reps, and as a litblogger, I already get tons of galleys and ARCs of traditional books, and can email my rep for almost anything else I'd like. Graphic novels, though, don't often show up in those freebies.* So while I took very few books home from BEA (not even the hotness that is 2666 - though I am sorry I missed the Octavian Nothing sequel -- I'll have to write for that), I jumped at the chance to snag lots of free graphic novels -- for industry educational purposes, of course. I grabbed a couple from the nice guy at the Boom Studios booth (Left On Mission and The Stardust Kid) -- I'd already admired their work with Mike Mignola's Jenny Finn and the one about the two Southern zombie-killing brothers whose names I've forgotten. I headed over to my favorite First Second Books -- I am on their mailing list, so I already had most of the ones I wanted (including the fantastic Life Sucks, Monsieur Leotard, and Prince of Persia).

In the remaining minutes on Saturday, I made my way over to the Other show floor (clicking across the gargantuan L.A. convention center in my sort-of-comfy professional-grown-up heels), to where the rest of the graphic novel action was stashed. Some publishers were cleverly giving away their leftover Free Comic Book Day issues -- from Devil's Due Publishing I picked up Hack/Slash (a favorite of the horror-film-loving ALP) and Drafted, a clever take on the alien invasion story. Fantagraphics had "Unseen Peanuts," with never-before-published strips from Schulz's 1950s and 60s archives. And DC's Vertigo imprint had stacks of Volume 1 of Brian K. Vaughan's contemporary classic Y: The Last Man -- seemingly odd as the 10th and final volume comes out this month, but I suppose the strategy was to get book folks hooked from the beginning. Heck, it worked on me!

Before that on Saturday morning, though, was the Graphic Novel Breakfast -- a first for BEA. Jeff Smith (Bone), Art Spiegelman (Maus) Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Jeph Loeb (Heroes, Smallville, etc.) -- how could one possibly miss it?? If they were worried no one would ever come to such a thing, boy were they wrong -- the line stretched out along a hall and around corners like I don't know, the line for the pearly gates in a Far Side comic. (You can read incredulous and giddy accounts here and here, and I know there have to be pictures of that line someplace... anyone?)

John Shableski was line monitor (Diamond was sponsoring the breakfast, natch), so when I saw him I slyly suggested "Press?" and he waved me through. I wandered up to the front of the room and spotted Francoise Mouly: art editor for the New Yorker, publisher of the fabulous TOON Books, and Art Spiegelman's wife. We'd worked together on my TONY Kids writeup of TOON and an event at the bookstore, so she recognized me, gave me French-style cheek kisses, and invited me to sit at her table, along with her (forgive me, but adorable) high school aged son (we had a nice chat about NYU vs. Pomona, where he's thinking of going next year). "He doesn't care at all about graphic novels," she said, almost proudly.

Everyone else there, however, totally did -- enough to transcend the one-danish-apiece "breakfast" and have a fabulous time. Jeff Smith was MC -- he looks about 25, though I think he said he was closer to 48?? -- promising not to be as foul-mouthed as the children's breakfast with Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman (but dropping "ass-crack of dawn" whenever possible). He introduced Spiegelman, who had a slide show presentation that was basically graphic novels 101 from the inside out, from Superman to RAW to the watershed year of 1986 (Maus I, Watchmen, and Dark Knight Returns) and beyond. It took another 20 years for graphic novels to come into their own as a category, partly, as Spiegelman noted, "because these things take a long damn time to make."

Mike Mignola, notoriously quiet, spoke briefly about the experience of having Hellboy turned into a blockbuster movie: fun, was the gist, but he'd rather be back at the drawing board. Jeph Loeb talked about making the movie Teen Wolf, which was really a comic book movie in disguise, then working on Batman and others before his current incarnation as smart-TV-superheroes guy. Smith talked about having art from Bone displayed in a gallery, and how he found himself using cinematic language to describe the art, and the parallels between comics and film. Spiegelman, however, declared himself "agitated" at this notion, declaring that comics are a distinct art form and not just movies on paper.

When they opened up the floor for questions, I heard a familiar voice declare that she, too, was agitated -- Lucy Kogler from Talking Leaves in Buffalo. She pointed out that all the participants had mentioned Amazon and Barnes and Noble in their remarks, but not the independent bookstores that were taking the chance on graphic novels. Spiegelman heartily agreed, noting that RAW would never have gotten off the ground without indie bookstores, and Smith also gave a shout-out to the librarians, who are really on the forefront of the graphic novel revolution. Applause all around!

After that star-studded love-fest, our little panel on “What's Hot, What's Good, What's Next in Graphic Novels” seemed almost anti-climatic -- but there was still more learning to be done, and the room was full yet again. My fellow panelists -- a content guy from the comics website/newsletter ICV2, an old pro librarian from Southern California, and the exhaustively knowledgeable Atom! (with the exclamation point), owner of Brave New World Comics, were outstanding. The format was unusual: the moderator displayed the lists from the ICv2 Guide, showing top-selling graphic novels in different categories, and asked for our comments. I had little to say about the manga category, which has never been a good seller in our store, but even that, I hope, was illuminating for the bookstore types in the audience. We all had lots to say about our favorites and upcoming hot titles -- the panel wasn't quite long enough to include everything we all wanted to get in, which was also typical of the weekend. I've got to email Atom! to ask for his list -- he totally prepared in advance -- but I jotted down some of his recommendations and I'll be judiciously adding to our section with these good notes.

I spent Saturday afternoon to Tuesday morning with my family, who all live in Southern California and whom I see rarely, so that's the end of the show news. But as an epilogue: on Monday I visited my hometown indie bookstore, Russo's Books in Bakersfield, California, which had never especially impressed me before -- they sell a lot of baseball and Magic cards, and the literature section isn't as massive as I'd like. But for the first time I asked if they had a graphic novel section, and was directed to the back, where those cards and figurines are -- and there's like a WHOLE COMICS SHOP back there!!! Complete with knowledgeable staff, who found me Scott Pilgrim Volume 1 (recommended by Scott McCloud) and Starman (recommended by Atom!), and if I'd had more time to browse they had tons of single issue comics, too. It's actually a brilliant way to set up a store in a suburban part of town with a large population of kids and teens, and I came away with a newfound respect for the store (lots of the staff had just come back from BEA too), and about $60 worth of comics -- to the eye-rolling of my mom, who knows the state of my bookshelves at home.

All in all, an action-packed triple-whammy BEA on the graphic novels front -- hope you all had as much fun as I did, and I'd love to hear about any cool stuff I missed!

* As I looked through my tottering book stacks for the comics I picked up at BEA, I realized that I was somewhat wrong about this, as I've gotten several very exciting graphic novels mailed to me since I've returned: Dark Horse's Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Vertigo's Fables: The Good Prince, First Second's Alan's War, and a Twilight Zone adaptation from Walker. So maybe things are changing, or maybe I'm just finally on the right lists...

Friday, June 06, 2008

BEA Recap Part 1: IndieBound!

I got back from California on Tuesday night, and haven't had a moment to blog since then -- you know how it is. But I'm overflowing with stuff to tell you from Book Expo, so it'll have to take several posts. Part I today will be about the new ABA initiative, which is already getting talked about so much I want to put in my two cents ASAP. Part II will be about the graphic novel scene at BEA; Part III about the Emerging Leaders Project (and other party-related topics), and Part IV about green retailing (and other education-related topics). I hope you'll hold me to that, so I don't let these ride until I've forgotten what I wanted to say...

As promised, Thursday night at the Celebration of Bookselling the ABA unveiled the initiative that they've been hinting about for months. After a swanky canape/cocktail reception and some awards and accolades for booksellers and publishers, the big Oscar-style screens at our Hollywood hotel ballroom played a short film with the members of the ABA board reading this declaration:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for individuals to denounce the corporate bands which threaten to homogenize our cities and our souls, we must celebrate the powers that make us unique and declare the causes which compel us to remain independent.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all stores are not created equal, that some are endowed by their owners, their staff, and their communities with certain incomparable heights, that among these are Personality, Purpose and Passion. The history of the present indies is a history of experiences and excitement, which we will continue to establish as we set our sights on a more unconstrained state. To prove this, let’s bring each other along and submit our own experiences to an unchained world.

We, therefore, the Kindred Spirits of IndieBound, in the name of our convictions, do publish and declare that these united minds are, and darn well ought to be, Free Thinkers and Independent Souls. That we are linked by the passions that differentiate us. That we seek out soul mates to share our excitement. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the strength of our identities, we respectively and mutually pledge to lead the way as we all declare that we are IndieBound!

When I first saw this video at the Publisher Forums back in January, I cried. When I saw it again at our NAIBA board meeting in April, I cried again. And as Joe Drabyak of Chester County can attest, I got goosebumps again hearing it at BEA. There were all of these people I most respected, talking about some of the ideas I hold most dear, and the things I care most about in the world. As Avin describes the "aha!" moment when a consulting company brought this idea to the ABA: "This isn't a marketing campaign. It's a revolution."

It can sound a little vague if you're not sure what they're talking about, if you haven't heard Avin Domnitz' passionate introduction of the project and you don't know what IndieBound actually is. I could wish that the ABA had seen fit to explain more of IndieBound at the celebration, though they have been expounding it in various meetings and sessions before and after. But here's my take on what this is, and why it's great, and why it's going to work. I'll do it in three major points, and some rhapsodizing.

1) IndieBound renames/recreates BookSense to be more consumer-oriented.
BookSense is (was) a suite of things, implemented by the ABA about 10 years ago, designed to gather the power of indie bookstores: a BookSense Bestseller list based on our combined sales, a BookSense Picks list of our favorites, and a website template and gift card module usable at all of our stores. Publishers have long understood and embraced BookSense: they proudly trumpet BookSense Picks and BookSense Bestsellers, emblazon it on their books, and market to indies accordingly. (One important idea I picked up over the course of the week: the power of indies isn't their market share, it's their cultural influence; more on that later.) But if you mentioned BookSense to most folks outside the book industry, more often than not you'd be met with blank looks. Without the budget to stage a multi-million-dollar nationwide ad campaign, the ABA was never able to create BookSense as a brand that consumers recognized. They hoped this would happen on the store level, but for various reasons it never did.

Now, instead of the BookSense Bestseller List, we'll have the Indie Bestseller List. Instead of the BookSense Picks, we have the Indie Next List. (Nothing about BookSense is changing or disappearing: stores will still have access to the lists, the picks, and the website hosting and gift card programs -- they'll be switched over automatically.) It's transparent labeling, and instantly describes why these lists are important. Without us having to explain to customers "BookSense represents a group of indie bookstores nationwide, blah blah blah" -- it's there in the name. And it emphasizes the coolness of these lists: they're the indies, not the mainstream, not the corporate, not the mass. Which leads me to Component 2:

2) IndieBound builds on the growing awareness of the value of local independent businesses.
I've been predicting it, haven't I? In my Pollyanna-ish way, I've insisted that the tide is turning away from the online behemoths and big box stores; that along with figuring out that they want organic, local produce, educated consumers are figuring out that they want independent local businesses; that Buy Local movements are growing stronger as more consumers figure out what's really good for their local economy and culture. IndieBound articulates that, and gives bookstores tools for marketing, education, and dare I say, recruitment to the cause of buying local. (not .com!) is, like was, a place where you can find the nearest indie bookstore by zip code. But it's also a place where you find information about buying local, buy t-shirts with "localist propaganda" (i.e. slogans about books and independence), and even set up social networking with like-minded revolutionaries. (Some of the tools are still in the works, so check back.) The website looks a little like (and here I reveal my political affiliation) the website -- and I feel taps into a similar groundswell of hope and idealism and community-mindedness, of cock-eyed optimism and big plans. And it goes beyond just bookstores:

3) IndieBound can serve as a springboard for Buy Local inititatives.
One of the best parts about IndieBound is that it needn't apply only to bookstores. Lots of the language of this project could apply to any independent locally owned business: the hardware store, the bar, the ice cream parlor, the coffee shop, the pharmacy. The ABA is encouraging bookstores to share these things with other businesses, and build awareness of buying local throughout our communities. Some lucky communities already have strong Buy Local movements; they may not need this component, or they may tailor it to work together with what they already have. But for those who don't, this is an efficient and effective way to work together with other businesses to get across the message we all know so well: you have to shop at your local businesses if you want them to continue to exist.

It's a funny revolution -- as I pointed out the first time I heard about it, it's a capitalist revolution, and on a basic level we booksellers are hoping it will help us make money. But the very fact that we're independent booksellers reveals the embarrassing truth that we're not in it just for the money. We're in it because we believe in something: the power of the written word, the joys of a day spent among paper and ideas and people with questions, the people themselves -- regulars and kids and tourists and neighbors, hungry for something that we can provide. Books. Culture. Community. I think IndieBound gives us ways to express that passion that customers will understand.

All of us bookstores will be getting a big box soon full of more information about IndieBound and how we can use it. Part of the strength of this revolution is that it's got good propaganda: posters, shelftalkers, flyers, banners, clothing we can wear or sell. I've got a t-shirt that I've been wearing a lot already, that's only available for booksellers. In white letters on a red background, it says "THIS IS THE PART WHERE I SAVE THE DAY." Yeah, it makes me feel like a superhero (perhaps a slightly ironic superhero, which just makes it all the more hip.) And yeah, I really believe indie booksellers can save the day, just by making a place where people can come together over books.

The IndieBound graphics and rhetoric tap into a 1960s idealism -- my hero Lucy Kogler of Talking Leaves in Buffalo said they remind her of Woodie Guthrie -- but I love them because they're also contemporary, and young. It's no secret that I'm an advocate for the younger generation in bookselling, and for younger readers. And I think it's important that IndieBound conveys that indie bookstores are not a quaint relic of the past that we should try to delicately preserve in amber if possible -- they're a live thing, a powerful force in the contemporary world, and they're growing.

But you don't have to take my word for all this. I'm just one kid who's gets choked up about some pretty geeky stuff. There's a lot of enthusiasm out there, as well as some confusion and criticism. As an early adopter or "IndieBounder," I just got an email from the ABA with links to lots of other places where people are talking about the project. Click on any of the below to see what other folks are saying. And PLEASE, if you have thoughts, I'd love to see your comments. This is something we're going to be talking about for a long time.

Publishers Weekly article "IndieBound or Bust"

Shelf Awareness article covers the reveal and the specifics of the program, and interviews the ABA's Meg Smith about the reasons behind the change.

Book Browse likens IndieBound to Boston Tea Partiers with our "Independent Revolution."

One of the members of the consulting company Brains on Fire, which developed IndieBound, finally got to spill the beans in her blog.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now (who gave a great lunchtime address at the Day of Education) interviewed outgoing Board President Russ Lawrence about IndieBound. You can watch a video of the interview or read a transcript.

Locus Books calls IndieBound a “fantastic initiative.”

Bookavore Stephanie Anderson gives some pretty glowing praise.

Kristin of Wild Rumpus gives a pretty good overview--and a peek into her psyche.

Michael Leiberman of Book Patrol has some criticism for the program.

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance gets some reactions from bookselling and publishing names.

Indie publisher Deb Robson of Nomad Press gives her thoughts on IndieBound. As a bonus, there's a great reader comment about the carbon footprint difference in buying local versus online.

Live from BEA -- PW covered the ABA Town Hall and Membership meetings, where there was much discussion of what IndieBound really is.

Paul Constant of The Stranger's Constant Reader doesn't seem too thrilled with the new campaign .

Gwen Dawson of Lit License is a little confused by the message.

Patrick at The Millions thinks the movement has promise--and be sure to check out the comments, they’re pretty interesting.

HeyNowYeah saw us on Democracy Now and thinks the message and focus are good, and serve as a reminder of "personal economic ethics."

The AP covers the launch--not as important as the Kindle, eh?--and has as interesting look at Penguin's CEO David Shanks' skepticism about the future of indies. Hopefully IndieBound is an answer to that!