Archive for Industry News

Nashville: A Community Without a Bookstore?

The title of the article is Why it’s important for communities to have bookstores. And I was doing the metaphorical fist pump and going, “YES!” and all the other stuff in support of the idea. Of course all communities should have a bookstore. It enriches the intellectual life of the community, and helps broaden people’s world view. And just plain provides enjoyment. And so on, and so on.

Ann Patchett - State Of Wonder

Ann Pratchet, reading from her book, "State of Wonder" -- in a small bookstore!

And then I started reading the article and realized, Tess Vigeland the interviewer and Ann Pratchett the author aren’t just talking about a “community” — like your local neighbourhood. They’re talking about the entire city of Nashville. Seriously?? In the whole city, there are no bookstores??

I think that has to be an exaggeration. But this does point up the worrisome trend of closing bookstores. Not all people have e-readers, nor will all people get them. (My mom never will, I know that. Most of my relatives never will. They simply can’t afford them.) So what happens to those people, without the chance to nip in and buy a $10 book on the rare occasions they can afford one?

Ann Pratchett wants to improve the situation in Nashville and is actually opening a new independent bookstore with a partner. Bless her for that, and what a fortunate community!

She also has an interesting idea that turns things on their head. So far, the accepted wisdom has been that the big box bookstores or chains were gradually killing smaller, independent stores. And now the big chains are threatened, because of e-books. But Pratchett thinks that the smaller independent bookstores — the actual, physical, bricks-and-mortar bookstores with actual paper books — will in fact be the ones that do survive, after the big chains are gone and ebooks are the big thing with Amazon and big publishers.

The more I think about it, the more I think she could turn out to be right. And I like that idea very much. The smaller stores might just have the wherewithal to go on and thrive, while the bloated chains do not.

What do you think?


Free E-Day

FreeedayI’m very late with this, so my apologies. Some of my Twitter acquaintances are staging Free E-Day tomorrow, December 1st. This is a day to celebrate Indie Culture, featuring plenty of  art that will be given away for free.

So you’ll find free images there, free music, and lots of free writing to download. Also check out the schedule of events, to find web chats, online workshops and other special things that will be going on. It’s a little more formalized in this Bookbuzzr Free E-day brochure.

Here’s where to go if you’re interested in these areas:

  1. free designs
  2. free music
  3. free writing

I have a feeling this isn’t going to be the last we see of this sort of thing, especially from Dan Holloway. He’s the one I wrote about in an earlier post, Can you write a peaceful novel with no conflict at all? He’s got a lot of different ideas about things, and is very busy exploring the concepts of self-publishing, independent writing, free writing, and so many other things.

Anyway, if you’re interested in any of these things, rush over there and partake of all the festivities.

Letters of Early Explorers and other goodies

Bookish logo

Today I’m doing some more browsing through search engines, and this week the search term I’m using is “book information.” And again I’ve been finding some little things that are interesting. [Author’s Note: the one I think is the neatest is #4 below, so if you don’t want to read anything long, skip to that!]

1) For example, I was amused to see a search result that simply said “Internet Book List.” That couldn’t possibly mean what it sounds like — could it? Someone’s trying to make a list of all books??

Well, no, actually. Just all fiction in English.

Isn’t that great?? So far they’ve got 63,000 books from 19,000 authors. You can register on the site and list books, write reviews, and all sorts of other things. I love the ambition of the site. I think even they know they can’t possibly accomplish their originally stated task, but I love that someone wants to do it. This looks like a site with aspirations perhaps similar to or in their beginnings.

New place for me to register and write reviews. Riiiight. ‘Cause I’ve got all this TIME. 🙂

2) Meanwhile, I also found a really interesting site called BookTrust. It’s a U.K. charity that promotes reading for all ages and to all cultures. They review and recommend books, and send books to people who can’t afford them. They give out prizes, and work in partnership with publishers.

BookTrust is also a co-founder of the Free Word Centre, whose mandate is described like this:

the charity Free Word, whose mission is innovation and collaboration, pushing boundaries to promote, protect and democratise the power of the written and spoken word for creative and free expression. It brings together organisations across literature, literacy and free expression to enhance their work and the profile of their sectors.

Isn’t it great to know such organizations exist?

3) Another interesting information site, which isn’t actually a book but is still really valuable, is The World Factbook from the C.I.A. Yes — the CIA. It provides an outline of basic information for most of the countries of the world, so if you’re looking for something like that, for reference purposes, this is where to start. But it’s just some basic info, from a very American point of view.

For example, looking at Canada, I roll my eyes that they list only two “Transnational Issues” for us. The first one is a very limited summary of border issues, touching on perhaps the most important one at the moment, that of the Northwest Passage. But the second “transnational issue” paints us as a haven for druggies and traffickers. *sigh*

So the phrase “grain of salt” does need to be floating in your mind a bit, at some of the interpretations. But for finding out basic geography, flags, type of government, economy, and so on, it’s a good starting place.

4) Another very cool site that makes me extremely excited is the Hakluyt Society. I’m cheating, because I found this one earlier this week, though I did do it via search engine, so it counts. This society, that’s been around since 1846, publishes the writings of early explorers.

I first discovered this book series at the University of Calgary library. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The first book I checked out had personal accounts written by some of the people who had sailed with Ferdinand Magellan. I mean, this was serious history!

I read a few, but then moved quite a distance from the library and didn’t get back for a while, and then moved to Toronto. And discovered, to my horror, that the University of Toronto library didn’t have the series. So I’ve been checking off and on over the years to see if any of the books have ever been put online instead.

And! On Thursday I discovered that several of them have. I am over the moon!

For example:

a) Select Letters of Christopher Columbus

b) The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake

c) India in the Fifteenth Century: Being a Collection of Narratives of Voyages

And that’s just a small sample. I am so happy, I can’t describe it! If you’re interested in history, there may be stuff in here that will be really interesting or useful to you. After all, nothing like getting it from the people who were there, right?

And that’s my browsing for now. I hope you found something interesting here too. Happy reading this week!

Book Review – The Case for Books, by Robert Darnton

Case for BooksA few weeks ago, I was involved in an extensive Twitter chat with several authors and editors, and discovered that a great many of them were all for taking every book digital and doing away with physical books altogether.

I have a feeling that Robert Darnton would say to these people, “How admirably enthusiastic you are! But how very naïve.”

This is a man with one foot in each world, the physical and the digital. He founded the Gutenberg-e program that ran from 2000 to 2006, an attempt to turn selected PhD dissertations into digital books with multiple layers. He has aspirations to write his own multi-layered digital history ebook. And as Director of the Harvard University Library, he’s been instrumental in creating the program to digitize Harvard’s vast scholarly collections and make them accessible to everyone, rather than limit their availability just to that university’s closed community.

So the guy is no Luddite. He likes ebooks. Yet in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (**), he argues that we should neither be in such a rush to eliminate physical paper books, nor should bookish people look down their noses at digitized books and e-readers. We are not confronted with an either-or situation, says Darnton, despite what people on both sides of the divide believe.

Darnton, a scholar as well as library director, advances arguments that will make each side both smile and weep. He was probably farther ahead in the late 1990s, with his ideas on where ebooks should go, than most people who are pushing ebooks so strongly today. Yet at the same time, he describes just how much published material there really is, and will be in the future, so that the complete digitization of all books and printed matter simply will never happen. He also argues that modern libraries, rather than doing away with physical books and going entirely digital, should stock even more books than ever before.

Darnton’s primary concern, through each essay in this book, is the wider public good. In this regard, while he admires Google’s goal of digitizing all books and making them accessible to everyone, he believes this should be done by a public non-profit consortium of libraries rather than a private corporation. The recent class action settlement with Google essentially gives it a monopoly, and while the current owners of the company appear to have only benevolent motives for what they’re doing, that guarantees nothing about what future owners will choose. In the end, the company’s main goal is not the public good, but the greatest monetary value for its own shareholders. So while Darnton loves the idea of everyone in the world having access to all books, he is convinced that handing ultimate ownership of every book ever published to Google is a very bad way of achieving this.

The Case for Books is a collection of essays about ebooks and the value of physical books, published by Darnton over the last decade. The essays are grouped into a Future, Present, and Past configuration, looking at where we might be going, where we are now, and what the previous history of books has been. It’s the last section that might give readers a bit of difficulty, depending on who Darnton’s audience is supposed to be. Those who aren’t used to scholarly analysis may find the final essay (“What is the History of Books?”) rather hard slogging, fascinating though it is. It’s a great demonstration of how books make history rather than just describe it, but as the end of this book, it concludes things rather quietly.

Indeed, the entire “Past” section is academic enough that it may bring some readers down with a bit of a thud, after the excitement and, occasionally, strong emotions of the first two sections. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them Present-Past-Future, or perhaps to take the first essay (“Google and the Future of Books”) and make it the last one instead, to end this volume on a more powerful note.

However, on the whole, Darnton makes a very strong case for the crucial importance of physical books continuing to exist and be promoted alongside ebooks. Some of his views will make people on both sides gnash their teeth, but his suggested solutions may be the only way the two views can ever be reconciled, and books of any type be preserved.

(**Note: The Case for Books is published by PublicAffairs, whose goal is to publish “good books about things that matter.” My copy was an advanced reading copy, and there may be changes when the final version is published on October 27, 2009.)

(**Further Note: for Darnton’s own summary of his thoughts about the future of the book, you may be interested in an article he published on September 14, 2009, in Publishers Weekly: On the Ropes? Robert Darnton’s Case for Books.)

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