Sunday, January 11, 2009

Link-Mad Monday: The Good News

'Cause that's what we do around here.

* In the New York Times, an interesting article on how small-scale and niche manufacturing in Brooklyn is prospering even as larger concerns suffer in the economic downturn:

Many business owners interviewed said they were staying strong in this market by employing few workers and keeping their products specialized.

“They tend to be very nimble, even in the downtimes,” said Mr. Kimball. “They can make it through a difficult stretch easier than the bigger players.”


Manufacturing isn't retail, but I can't be the only one to see a parallel to the indie store which can make adjustments and cater to local clients as corporate sellers can't. We ARE all making those adjustments, right?...


* Also in the Times, an article that evokes the great urbanist Jane Jacobs in discussing how internet forums and social networking, especially in New York City neighborhoods, can strengthen local bonds, not increase isolation:

The Web was first seen as a radical alternative to the bricks-and-mortar world, but the truth, it turns out, can be more complicated.

“The original idea of the Internet was to get away from physical geography,” Steven Johnson, a 40-year-old Brooklynite and the author of several tech-related books, said as he sat in the Dumbo loft that serves as the office to Outside.in, a Web site he helped to found two years ago. “The dream was that everybody would be able to telecommute from Wyoming.”

Yet, the Internet has also had the opposite effect by helping to connect people more closely to their physical and political surroundings. And for New Yorkers, whose surroundings are more complex than most, this effect can be particularly powerful, enabling them to take on the long-anonymous, too-big-to-fight city.

There's also an acknowledgement of the gentrification wars that seem to flare up on every neighborhood blog (whose side are you on?!?) -- but this is a good way to think about how a local bookstore can be a part of their online neighborhood as well as their physical one.


* Sometimes, it takes a Nobel-prize winning author to stem the spread of panic and illogic in a publishing corporation. Thanks to a letter from Gunter Grass, Umberto Eco, Amos Oz, Wislawa Szymborska, Jose Saramago and others, beloved and competent editor Drenka Willen has been re-hired at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, after being fired last month. Score one for literature over the suits. (Thanks to Levi for the link.)


* I'm still thinking about the question inherent in Jason Lutes' Berlin graphic novels about how and whether artists and writers should be engaged with politics. Pankaj Mishra has one answer: if writers are there in the shit and they write about it, listen to them. Arundhati Roy and David Grossman are certainly examples of writers whose political ideas and expressions we would be mistaken to ignore.

* The good news about the following kerfuffle is that the backlash happened so fast. To quote Sarah Retger at the ABA Omnibus:

Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse wrote a stunningly dumb article for the WSJ in which she argued that the only way for publishers to survive is by throwing lots of advance money at projects they hope will be bestsellers. Happily, people more eloquent than me have done the necessary debunking, criticizing, and introducing of logic.
My own two cents: there's nothing wrong with hoping for a blockbuster. But shelling out multi-million dollar advances (at the expense of publicity efforts for the rest of the list) ain't gonna get you one. One of the strengths of books as a medium is that they're viable on such a small scale; we're lucky for the books with print runs of 500 as well as those with 50,000, and it would be great to see publishers begin to think critically about how to work those strengths for a diverse, vibrant, long-lived list.

* Ooh, here's a nice one: the National Endowment for the Arts survey, usually a staple of doom and gloom about the state of American literacy, this year shows a substantial increase in the numbers and percentages of readers. I have yet to read through the complete findings, and it will be interesting to hear theories on why the shift occurred, but it does strike a bright note.

* This kind of counts as good news: I'll be speaking at the Brooklyn Business Library's PowerUp! awards ceremony on Wednesday night, in my capacity as past winner. An interesting opportunity to review the past year in the bookstore process. Free eats, also.


What have YOU got going on that's good?