Friday, March 30, 2007

Linky Friday: Indie Exclusives

Two cool projects/promotions, coming to your local independent bookstore!

First, you've probably noticed that the final Harry Potter book is coming out this July (on the stroke of Saturday the 21st, to be exact). The American Booksellers Association has announced the "Independent Muggles for Harry Potter" campaign, available to all their member stores. It's a partnership with Harry's publisher, Scholastic, to offer cool giveaways with HP purchases at indie bookstores -- and give American indie bookstore customers a chance to win a trip to Harry Potter's London. Ask your local store about it -- not bad for the little guys, eh?

Next, indie superstar Powell's has announced the Out of the Book project, in which a Powell's-produced documentary on a famous author and his new book will be offered through independent bookstores around the country. The documentary screenings will also feature actors, commentators, refreshments, and any other accoutrements that local indies want to bring to the party. The first doc will feature Ian McEwan and his new book ON CHESIL BEACH, to be released this June; the film will be screened at indies nationwide between June 13 and June 17. I'm proud to announce that my bookstore, McNally Robinson, will be the host for Out of the Book in the New York City area; stay tuned for details of that party as the event approaches.

Okay, go enjoy your weekend. Happy reading!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quick link: Dragging Chains

Oh my friends, there is so much going on at the moment you wouldn't believe it, and not two minutes to rub together for blogging. So today I'll just toss you this story to ponder (thanks to David for the link), and this pull quote:

"...some industry analysts see the book-selling business as ripe for the picking..."

Coupled with my anecdotal observations of the great seasons many indie bookstores of my acquaintance are having, I don't think this sounds very "gloomy" at all.

Enjoy the spring day -- see you when my head stops spinning!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Comment: The Caravan Project

I'm off to an early meeting today, so for your Monday dose of book world goodness I'd like to refer you to today's Shelf Awareness. Here's a permanent link to the story on the Caravan Project, by which bookstores can order (through Ingram, the largest and most commonly used book wholesaler) books for customers in the following formats: traditional book, POD book, large print, e-book, online download, audio CD, or audio download. The practical details of how this works are in the article.

This is something we talked about at the Digital Task Force meeting: a means to involve all the traditional parts of the book industry (including the bookstore) in the profit chain, while offering customers easy and versatile options for buying reading material. The project is in its pilot phase now, available only through certain bookstores and certain publishers (mostly university presses), and time will tell whether bookstore customers will catch on to getting their multi-media fix over the counter. But it seems to me like a smart way to start.

What do you think, book readers? Would you order your audio or e-books from a book retailer? Does it add value to the bookstore experience to have this option? Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday Equinoxical Links

Man, can I just say that I'm getting my butt kicked in the Office Blogger Pool on the Tournament of Books? The Pool was a clever move on the part of The Morning News, since I'm now checking the matches every day, and it makes for a very fun literary diversion. But ever since ECHO MAKER got knocked out in Round 1, your Book Nerd's brackets have been suffering. See, this is why I never got into sports: there are enough sources of emotional drama in the world without getting all invested in who's going to win a darn game. Still, it's making for some very interesting reading, and a kind of book reviewing that's fairly unique. I liked the first round judges better (I almost never agree with Jessa Crispin's often snarky reviews, and my fellow LBC member Mark Sarvas still seems to be under the impression that Firmin talks [HE DOESN'T TALK]), and it's hard to watch my favorites go under. But it is an exciting thing, and now seems like anybody's tournament. If you feel the need of a literary adrenalin rush, check it out. March madness, indeed.

- Speaking of literary matchups, anybody visited the Book and Reading Forums? Seems like potentially a great place to have those conversations Gabriel Zaid emphasizes as the strength and joy of diverse book culture. I haven't spent time there myself, but I'm curious about other's impressions.

- Here's a nice mention in Bookselling This Week of our ELNO-BO, and the upcoming inaugural Emerging Leaders meeting in Boston. Props to Bookdwarf for being the force behind this new urban local EL

- And here's another great feature of Bookselling This Week I've never noticed before: the media guide! It's kind of a version of the Shelf Awareness summaries of books featured on radio and TV, but cumulative for the week. I'm bookmarking it at the bookstore so I can refer to it when a customer asks "Do you have that book they talked about on Fresh Air last week?..."

- I mentioned it obliquely last week, but I have to tell you again about one brilliant YouTube user who has created animations for several poems by Billy Collins. Collins' brand of "serious light verse" is perfect for this sort of thing, and some of the combinations of words and sounds and images make me ache, embarassingly, with beauty. See, I'm even writing like Billy Collins now. Give yourself a treat and watch a few of these.

- And, in case you missed it, today is officially the first day of spring. Even if it's cold where you are (like here), allow yourself a moment of the delicious anticipation of newness that this time of year implies. Who knows what joys summer will bring?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Crazy Delicious!

I'm a little lightheaded after last night's Emerging Leaders Night Out, Booksellers Only (hosted by the ever-generous Toby at Three Lives - thanks, T!), which turned into a very exciting discussion about potential alliances between New York City bookstores (with quite a few beers downed to refresh during the heated discussion). You'll be hearing more about what we came up with, but in the meantime, I've also collected a lot of links to share with ya this week. You'll just have to forgive my loopiness.

- First, I would like to trumpet the opening of not one, but TWO new bookstores in the borough of Brooklyn! The first I heard about is Pranga Bookstore, a mostly used shop in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. They don't seem to have their own website yet, but the link will take you to a picture on a local Brooklyn blog that's quite delighted by their presence. Hooray!

The second I found out because the owner, Christine Onorati, attended our get-together last night, and I'm thrilled to have her in our NYC bookseller community! Former owner of a small bookstore on Long Island, Christine opened Word Books in Greenpoint last Wednesday -- and it's been a great week for the store so far! Her shop looks so beautiful on the website -- can't wait to get on the G train and visit.

- Folks have been very nice about sending me links this week -- good thing all of you are reading for me! London friend and reader Sue Harris sent me this decisive article from the Observer about the continuing success of venerable London indie bookstore Foyles, even as chains like Borders and Ottokar's are pulling in their stakes. Kudos to the newspaper for reporting another happy story in the ongoing saga of independent bookstores. For more British indie bookstore delights, check out this section in the Observer, which gathered readers' votes for favorite bookstores and organized them by region for permanent reference. What a great idea for highlighting the best bookstores (almost 100% indies, of course) -- could we do that here?...

- Another sharp-eyed reader, commentor Gursky, sent this post from the blog of British writer Jenny Diski, which I mostly enjoyed for the first few paragraphs about eccentric book shelving strategies, since as you know I'm fascinated by the infinite options for how to arrange and categorize books. I used to house-sit for a serious reader (and bookstore customer) who shelved her fiction in the same gender-divided categories -- it led to lots of interesting speculation about men and women writing and thinking about books, though I don't know that I'd consider adopting it in my future bookstore.

- Another great link from Gursky was this piece by scifi author/internet royalty Cory Doctorow, co-host of the fabulous gathering of weirdness Boing Boing. I don't always agree with Doctorow's take on the intersections of print and internet, but this piece makes some great points about the multi-tasking (i.e. not novel-length-concentration) way that readers tend to read online, and what that implies for e-books. Here are the best bits (and I know Cory won't mind me quoting liberally):

"There's a persistent fantasy/nightmare in the publishing world of the advent of very sharp, very portable computer screens. In the fantasy version, this creates an infinite new market for electronic books, and we all get to sell the rights to our work all over again. In the nightmare version, this leads to runaway piracy, and no one ever gets to sell a novel again.

I think they're both wrong... A super-sharp, super-portable screen would be used to read all day long, but most of us won't spend most of our time reading anything recognizable as a book on them....Electronic books are a wonderful adjunct to print books....But the numbers tell their own story — people who read off of screens all day long buy lots of print books and read them primarily on paper."

Agree or disagree, dear readers? Wait, I'm not done. Fellow prospective bookseller David del Vecchio sent me this quote, from Jason Epstein's 2001 (print) book Book Business:

"It is less clear how new technologies will transform retail bookselling as the chains in their oversaturated marketplace face competition from Internet booksellers and the prospect of limitless virtual inventories available on demand in electronic or printed form at random locations. Nonetheless, a civilization without retail booksellers is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader. But to compete with the World Wide Web, bookstores of the future will be different from the mass-oriented superstores that now dominate the retail marketplace. Tomorrow's stores will have to be what the Web cannot be: tangible, intimate, and local; communal shrines, perhaps with coffee bars offering pleasure and wisdom in the company of others who share one's interests, where the book one wants can always be found and surprises and temptations spring from every shelf."

- In that vein, consider one thing that the brick-and-mortar bookstore will always have over electronic "equivalents": the space itself. On April 15, McNally Robinson will be host to a NAIBAhood Gathering discussion on the subject of store design, and its growing importance in the contemporary retail environment. And we'll be joined by author and "brand image creator" Marc Gobe, who was quoted in Shelf Awareness as wondering why bookstores don't do more to emphasis the strengths and joys of books in their design. The indefatigable NAIBA secretary Eileen Dengler invited Gobe to come to a store that has put a lot of thought into design, and join the conversation with booksellers about what we're doing right and what we could do better. If you're a bookseller and you can possibly be in New York on Tax Day, don't miss this one; it promises to be a seriously compelling discussion. You don't have to be a NAIBA member to attend; find out more and contact Eileen to RSVP by clicking here.

More book reviews later this week. Happy traveling, happy thinking and typing, and happy reading!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reviews: DeNiro, Bertozzi

Well, if you're in New York today you know exactly why a four-hour drive to the NAIBAhood gathering in Rehoboth is out of the question... "wintry mix" being some of the scariest weather imaginable, especially on the roads. Disappointed as I am to miss Steve Crane's workshop on buying non-book inventory, there's something to be said for hunkering down in our own hometown on such a day. Before I meet up with some bookselling buddies for an impromptu brainstorming session, here are some book reviews for this wintry day.

Working through my backlog of read books, in order of reading...

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead: Stories
By Alan DeNiro
(Small Beer Press, 2006)

This is one of the Litblog Co-Op nominees for spring, and it's one of those happy coincidences where I find myself obliged to read a book I'd been meaning to read anyway. Small Beer Press, the brainchild of indie fantasist Kelly Link and company, is one of the best of the new small presses, in my opinion, and I'd been hearing very good things about this short story collection from my more avant garde reading friends.

And darn right they were, as it turns out. Alan DeNiro is another one of those genre-straddling writers who tackles big emotional/psychological/political issues through stranger and larger than life scenarios. The collection opens with an invasion of a small college town by, apparently, the soldiers of the ancient Byzantine empire, but it's really about the narrator's absent not-quite-lover, and the harsh aesthetics of the Byzantines seep into the attraction of unrequited longing. "Cuttlefish" and "Salting the Map" are standouts, strange worlds that keep tilting just when you think you've got your bearings. The title story is perhaps the best, set in a just-barely-futuristic world where teenagers have more or less seceded into their own towns and regional tribalism rules the day, but FedEx and MasterCard are the sponsors of the insta-bands and scenes that are popping up. The arc of the story is kind of indescribable, and the Lake of the Dead is not what you'd expect, but it rings true with the vibe of adolescent honesty and growing up and all that stuff.

And that's my only sometime problem (or not even problem: observation) with DeNiro's stories: some of them shouldn't really be called by that name. There comes a point where avant garde literature (still, undeniably literature) moves away from narrative into collections of details, impressions, ideas, characters, but no real sense of "and then" that to me defines a story. I don't mean it really as a criticism, but sometimes DeNiro's "stories" (like "A Keeper" or "The Friendly Giants") veered so far into the bizarre and abstract that I couldn't wrap my head around them, much less describe or recount them, which to me is one of the hallmarks of a story (i.e., that it can be retold.) By this definition, perhaps Proust isn't telling a story; that doesn't mean it's not literature.

All in all, I guess it just shows that there's not much avant garde in my readerly makeup; I am a nerd, after all. Nevertheless, my respect for DeNiro grew throughout my reading of this collection, if my enjoyment was perhaps concentrated in one or two of the more comprehensibly strange stories.

The Salon
by Nick Bertozzi
(St. Martin's Griffin, 2007)

This was another "oughta read" -- the author, graphic novelist Nick Bertozzi, is doing an event at our store later this month, and I thought perhaps I should take a look at the book in question. I was delighted that I did: this, too, is a work of fantasy, set in the milieu of the Lost Generation in Paris, but with all the joys of an ensemble murder mystery, with supernatural villains. Someone -- or something! -- is ripping the heads off of minor players in the modernist art scene, and a salon-cum-detective committee chaired by Gertrude and Leo Stein aims to find out who, (or what) is doing it.

The moral center of the book is the painter Braque, recruited by the Steins early on, who speaks most of the book's musings on the project of modernist art. But the show is totally stolen by Picasso, in this tale a young Spaniard full of braggadoccio (and often naked), who pisses off and charms everybody in turn. Bertozzi infuses his tale with a healthy dose of ribald humor (my favorite panel, weirdly, is one where Picasso jerks off into a chicken carcass at a dinner party, and Gertrude Stein leans her head on the table, cracking up and saying "Pablo, gross!" -- it shows the sort of amused, interested tolerance that drew these odd birds together and made them work.)

It's great fun to read Bertozzi's versions of these uber-famous characters -- Alice B. Toklas, Appolinaire, Paul Gaugin -- rendered in well-defined outlines with sketchy details and panels reminiscent of silent movie color screens (i.e. one set of panels will be all in blues, the next page all in reds, depending on the mood of the scene). The discussions of art between Picasso and Braque are almost as much fun as the mystery investigation, especially as Picasso expresses a cheeky preference for the comic strips of the Yellow Kid as an inspiration for a new modern art (much to the dismay of the high-minded Braque). It's my favorite kind of story: the story that both delights and provokes, that provides material for laughter as well as food for thought. Highly recommended for every reader of comics (except the squeamish) -- come to think of it, it would make a great book club pick for those who wanted to discuss depictions of art in literature.

Off to make something to warm up the hands -- stay warm today, and happy reading!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reviews: Daly, Zaid

Hey, remember when we used to talk about books around here? Appearances notwithstanding, I have actually been reading the darn things this year, though not at the pace to which I have been accustomed. There are some great ones in the "done" pile, so I'd like to dish on 'em before they go the way of Billy Collins' quadratic equation.

In approximate order of reading, since the last installment:

The House Without the Door
by Elizabeth Daly
(Felony & Mayhem, 2006)

The publishing arm of mystery bookstore extraordinaire Partners & Crime turns out another winner with this reissue from 1942. The ALP, recalling my fascination with the trippy Christie-meets-colonialism Devil in the Bush, picked this one up for me, and I proceeded to once again sink into the strange alternate universe of pre-War America. The oddest and most interesting thing about this book, aside from the genuinely unexpected revelation of the villain at the end, is realizing how much people in our own city in the 1940s spoke a foreign language, or at least a highly inflected dialogue. When is the last time you heard someone refer to "nerves", aside from getting on them? What could the description "he hasn't a nerve in his body" possibly mean? -- is he insensitive? cowardly? fearless? paralyzed? Not to mention the fact that the plot hinges on a lady acquitted of a notorious murder, but so paralyzed by societal approbation that she daren't leave the house -- hard to imagine in our no-publicity-is-bad-publicity world.

The most enjoyable aspect of the book, however, may be the amateur detective, Henry Gamadge (whose earlier adventures I'll have to look up), and his happy marriage and unusual acquaintances. It reminds me a little of my beloved Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy, but with a little less slapstick and a little more of the disturbing and exhausting side of sleuthing. A good absorbing read for the cold winter evenings we had earlier this year, and a highly recommended addition to the Felony and Mayhem stable.

So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance
by Gabriel Zaid
(Paul Dry Books, 2003)

I picked this up because it was a staff pick at my hometown Brooklyn store BookCourt, and I'm so grateful to those fine booksellers for bringing it to my attention. I took this book with me to Winter Institute, and talked about it to everyone I met (I still owe Bookseller Chick a copy -- one of these days, I promise!) It's a series of short essays by a Mexican writer who is apparently "widely published throughout the Spanish-speaking world," but whom I had never heard of. And it turns out that his insights on the world of books, reading, publishing, and bookselling are some of the most original and vital I have read in years.

Here's the first passage I marked in the book, the first one that set me aflame with book nerdy excitement:

"Book people (authors and readers, publishers and booksellers, librarians and teachers) have a habit of feeling sorry for themselves, a tendency to complain even when all is well. This makes them see as a failure something that is actually a blessing: The book business, unlike newspapers, films, or television, is viable on a small scale. In the case of books, the economic threshold, or the minimum investment required to gain access to the market, is very low, which encourages the proliferation of titles and publishing houses, the flourishing of various and disparate initiatives, and an abundance of cultural richness. If the threshold of viability were as high as it is for the mass media, there would be less diversity, as is true of mass media. Let us suppose that only one of every hundred titles were published, but for readerships the size of film audiences. What advantage would that scenario offer? None at all, because those titles are already being published today: they're our bestsellers. On the other hand, the ninety-nine books not of interest to a huge public would be lost. The film business requires the elimination of 99 percent of all possible films. The book business doesn't. If the book is appropriate for a broader public, it can reach a broader public. If it isn't, it may still be viable, as long as it is of interest to a few thousand readers."

Holy cow! A different way of thinking about small book sales, eh? It's the "long tail" without the jargon: an intellectual thinking about the market in language that make it seem actually worth our time as readers.

It's possible that I've fallen in love with Zaid's book because he reflects my kooky optimism about the future of books, but his is an intelligent and tempered optimism. He has plenty of negative things to say, too: about the problems with publisher returns, about the difficulty of getting the right book to the right readers (and booksellers' sometime failure to do so, as so much of the responsibility rests with them). But what sticks in my mind are the inspiring ideas and images that thread through all of the essays: that books are part of a great cultural conversation, enhanced by the rich diversity of all those small audiences; that the books in our lives are like constellations that we build for ourselves, star by star, link upon link.

If you happen to visit McNally Robinson this month, you'll see So Many Books on our own staff picks display. It has passed from one reader to another, and will pass on to others: one way of getting the right book to the right reader. This is one I'll be evangelizing about for years to come; though it's a brainy little nonfiction paperback, it's truly one of those books that could make you fall in love with books all over again.

Out of time for this morning, and since I'm headed off to a NAIBAhood gathering on Friday, you may not see me again this week. In the meantime, tell me what book or conversation or phrase made you think about books, reading, or publishing in a new way.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Link-Mad Monday

Link time, kids!

- The fabulous online periodical The Morning News is well underway with its annual Tournament of Books, the most exciting of all of the literary awards, at least in terms of process. Imagine Celebrity Death Match between Gary Shteyngart and Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie! Or Richard Powers vs. Claire Messud! Or, in possibly the weirdest matchup, Brian K. Vaughan vs. Thomas Pynchon! All the excitement is there as prominent critics, bloggers and authors judge two books head-to-head, making for a March Madness of the book world. In a way, the results are as arbitrary as they are for any book award, but rather more transparent, and a lot more fun. (Incidentally, it was Dale Peck's behavior in last year's ToB that inspired my series of posts about Snarks; Mr. Peck has not been included in this year's judging pool, though I can't claim to have anything to do with that.)

I was honored this year to be asked to participate in the Bloggers' Office Pool; despite my total lack of experience in picking Oscar winners, football point spreads, or anything of the kind, I picked my favorite of the matchups in hopes of winning the grand prize: a copy of every book in the tournament. I'm already doing pretty badly (hello, who could predict that ECHO MAKER would be knocked out already?!?), but I'm curious to see whose read on the books and, more importantly, the opinions of these critics is the most right-on. Follow all the action of the ToB, and pipe up with your opinions too!

- The author events for Book Expo America have been announced, and the best way to read about them is right here on BEA director Lance Fensterman's blog. I was on the nominating committee, and while it looks like these picks aren't 100% those we requested, I greatly admire Lance and the Reed folks as well as the publishers for getting as many fabulous folks together as they have. Can you imagine any other time you'll see Paulo Coehlo, Alice Sebold, and Ian McEwan, and Rosie O’Donnell in the same room?? Y'all better make your plans for coming to Brooklyn...

- Dan of the ABA sent this fascinating article from CNN about the unexpected success of the Apple retail model. (I can personally attest to that, since the SoHo store is down the street from us, and directions to Apple are probably the single most common staff-customer interaction in our bookstore!) The reasons?: interactivity, beauty, service, smart people... you know the drill. Sounds like the best bookstores... if only we had that kind of design money. =) Seriously, I think the Apple model is one indie bookstores in particular can learn a lot from, less in terms of technology than in terms of their service-and-beauty oriented stores and flexible "pod"-style organization.

- Speaking of innovation in retail, the New York Emerging Leaders are hosting the first-ever ELNO-BO -- that's Emerging Leaders Night Out, Booksellers Only. If you're a forward-looking NYC area bookseller, join us this Sunday night at 7 at Three Lives Bookstore (154 West 10th Street) for pizza, beer, and a discussion about the future of the industry and how we can create community among our stores. RSVP to me or if you're interested. Hope to see you there!

That's all for this Monday -- I've got a backlog of book reviews that I'm hoping to get up later in the week. Happy reading!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday: Excuses, excuses

It's the season of Lent, that exciting time of sacrifice and self-examination...I'm using it to put in some extra hours at the bookstore and catch up with the backlog that seems to still be there from Christmas or Winter Institute or something. Hopefully our webpage, our events series, our sales floor, and our overcrowded back office will be the better for it.

Then there's wedding planning -- an all-too-delicious distraction, which does take up a certain amount of a girl's time.

Which leaves blogging time scarce, again. So check out my posting from Friday and weigh in on what Max from the Millions calls the "Widget Wars": Amazon Look Inside!, Google Book Search, HarperCollins Browse Inside, and Random House's Insight (the last two partnering with BookSense), in an effort to... make shopping online more like browsing a bookstore? Compete for demanding digital customers? Just make sure we've got what everyone else has got? The goals of the various projects are as debatable as their success, and the jury is still out on which will emerge as part of our new online lives. I'm curious to hear what you think.

P.S. If you've emailed me about having your blog or bookstore listed in my links, thanks! The spirit is willing, but the scheduling is weak. I'll add some new links as soon as I have a minute to wrestle with the Blogger back end. Keep sending them along!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Comment: Brave New Searchable World

Here's some food for thought for the weekend. This falls under the category of "I'm still figuring this out, so you look at it with me and tell me what you think."

I recieved this press release from the good folks at Random House the other day. I'm pasting it here 'cause that's what press releases are for.


(New York, February 27, 2007)—In a giant stride forward in the emerging world of digital book search, Random House, Inc., the U.S. division of the world’s largest trade book publisher, has announced the launch of its own online book content search and browsing service, named Insight. Through Insight, Random House will make the text searchable for more than 5,000 of its new and backlist titles from across the company’s U.S. publishing divisions. Random House expects to add several thousand more of its books to Insight this spring.

Insight is live today at

An engine for online discovery of book content, the Insight service makes available to all users a fixed number of pages of an archived book’s content, which readers can view by either directly accessing the sample pages or entering a search term. It has been developed to serve both retailers and individuals in ways largely new for trade book publishing.

The Insight service will offer any retailer with a web presence the opportunity to offer to their consumers, with minimal effort and resources on their part, a customized search and browsing experience for the available Random House titles. The great prospective benefit for booksellers and Random House and its authors will be the broader availability of the sample book material for prospective purchasers.

Random House has also created an original application, a “widget,” now available on for all titles in the Insight service. Each widget offers the sample material from one of the titles and easily allows anyone to add this material to a blog, personal or retail website, or social network profile by using basic copy and paste functionality. The opportunity to pass along widgets, increasingly known as “syndicatable distribution,” will significantly increase awareness and potential readership for these books.

Further information for Random House business partners, as well as detailed technical documentation, is available online at

No more than two days after that, I got THIS press release from the good folks at the American Booksellers Association: Offers Benefits of Digitization
Consumers Can Now Browse Sample Pages for Random House, Inc. and HarperCollins Titles

Tarrytown, NY - March 1, 2007 The American Booksellers Association announced today that, ABA's turn-key e-commerce product for member bookstores, has launched functionality to allow consumers to view book content from two leading publishers. Content from HarperCollins’ “Browse Inside” program, and content from Random House, Inc’s “Insight” program, is available to consumers via the “Browse Sample Pages” link now found on websites. By clicking the link, consumers can browse the first few pages of titles from both publishers, and, with Random House titles, consumers can also search inside the book for keywords.

By offering sample book material for more than 7,500 Random House, Inc. and HarperCollins new and backlist titles, independent booksellers have the opportunity to significantly grow on and offline sales for those titles.

“We believe strongly that this kind of added content will help consumers make better informed buying decisions,” said Len Vlahos, ABA’s Director of “We’re very pleased that our partners at both HarperCollins and Random House reached out to the independent bookstores to be early adopters of the technology.” began in 2000 as a feature-rich web option for independent bookstores. Its tools allows ABA members to create customized websites accessing Ingram’s three million title iPage database, a state-of-the-art keyword search, professional commerce tools, and flexible fulfillment methods, including an “on our shelves now” feature.

I'm poking around on the Random House site now, trying to figure out what can be done with this new tool, and imagining how it will affect indie store website, particularly those with BookSense. Perhaps it will be a tool for litbloggers, too. Perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg -- more publishers will follow, along with more integration... or perhaps they've blown their stash. Perhaps customers will find this a useful alternative to Amazon's Look Inside! or Google Book Search... or perhaps not.

In any case, I suspect this is one of the things those sneaky ABA guys had up their sleeves when they convened us for the Digital Task Force. One of the things we stressed as important was keeping indie bookstores at the table when decisions about digitization were being made. This looks like they've secured a spot at that table.

What do you think? What kind of impact will Insight have on readers, on bloggers, on publishers, on booksellers? Is it a usable tool? Do you care about this, or does it not affect your experience of reading? Is it too little, too late, or a big step in the right direction? I'd love to hear what any and all of you have to say about what this means, for now and for the future. Sound off while I figure out whether I agree with you.