Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Citizen Mom

Within our communities are those who serve, without whom, our lives and communities would be significantly different. Usually their names aren’t on plaques, and their service doesn’t receive recognition, but incrementally their work makes all of our lives better, whether we notice their work or not.

When my mom was a young mother in the late Sixties, my father was a salesman for several tech companies, and one of his jobs required a move to Florida. It seemed to my mother to be a great opportunity, at least for my dad, but as both my younger and older brother had Down syndrome, and the educational system in Fort Lauderdale in the early Sixties was primitive to say the least (my sister and older brother actually attended a one room schoolhouse), my mother insisted that my father find another job back in their home town of Chicago. He didn’t find one there, but he did find one in the suburbs of Chicago, so we moved back to Illinois .

We moved to Streamwood, Illinois where yet another sprawling farm had recently been turned into a cookie cutter subdivision. The developer at the time enticed a lot of young families by promising to build a library in the center of the subdivision, right on the end of our street, Library Lane. But that promise wasn’t exactly in writing, other than the brochures they used to sell the lots which aren't exactly legally binding. So after the last house sold, the developer moved on, and the end of my block instead had small field of Queen Anne’s lace where a library was supposed to be. But my mother and several other of the moms in the area didn’t accept that broken promise. Instead they organized to put a petition on the ballot to sell bonds and create a library district along with several other adjoining communities. And it failed. But they also didn’t accept the defeat and re-wrote the referendum, and campaigned harder the second time, going door to door to extol the obvious benefits a library system could provide to the community’s families. And the second time it was on the ballot, it passed. So the Poplar Creek Library District was born. That library that grew out of that field of weeds was where I spent a good portion of my childhood and adolescence, and it is probably one of the primary reasons I’ve spent my entire life devoted to books.

My mother’s service wasn’t limited to the creation of the Poplar Creek Library District. She also worked with the school district to help set-up some of the first special education programs in our local schools. And for over twenty-five years she served on the Hanover Township Youth Commission which created programs for troubled and at-risk youth in our community. Sure, a lot of what she did she hoped would ensure that my brothers would receive the services that their disabilities required, but she was also influential in bringing mainstreaming to the school district, so that kids with disabilities weren’t segregated from the rest of the kids, and both populations could learn from each other. The kids with disabilities learned important social skills, and the rest of the students learned tolerance and acceptance of those with disabilities.

Having two brothers with Down syndrome taught me that every kid with a disability, like the rest of us, is different, and their potential shouldn’t be defined by their disability. But my brothers broke a lot of stereotypes about people with disabilities, and I think that’s as much a testament to my mom as it is to them. My brothers both held full time jobs, lived together independently,  and my younger brother has been both married and divorced. They have lived on their own since graduating high school. They both even have drivers licenses, though rarely drive. That they have built this life for themselves is probably related to their living together and taking care of each other, but it’s also in no small measure related to my mother’s insistence from the very beginning that they would learn the basic life skills necessary to be independent. Yes, they received support from the ARC and Easter Seals in the form of weekly visits and some job coaches, but those ended decades ago. It was my mother’s insistence that they learn to shop, pay their bills, cook, clean their house, and keep a job, that they have achieved what by most standards is an extraordinarily independent life for people with Down syndrome. My younger brother still lives on his own, and if it weren’t for Alzheimer's and stroke, I suspect my older brother would be too. They, and a lot of people back in our home town benefited greatly from a strong and independent woman who didn’t listen to doctors who recommended institutionalization, who pushed school boards to accept and serve all of our citizens, who volunteered to run boring bi-weekly meetings about setting-up budgets for services for the most vulnerable among us.

She was an extraordinary woman, who did amazing things. And now she’s gone. My mom passed a couple of weeks ago, and while it has broken my heart, I think more of the thousands of people whose lives she improved with her quiet, boring, determined, bureaucratic, patient insistence that we all deserve a better life. That we all deserve a fair shake. Her work clearly made my brother’s lives better, but I’ve written this for the others who even today benefit from her work. Those who use the Poplar Creek Library, and the shelters for runaways her budgets created, and the special education programs she helped develop. Her anonymous, voluntary legacy that made the place I grew up a better place for everyone. Thanks, Mom. I miss you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


After twenty-five years of living in the same community, I’m finally leaving. Yeah, I know. It’s a little weird, to say the least. Community has always been important to me and I’ve invested a lot in this one. I’ve lived in only two different houses while I’ve been here; one an old one room schoolhouse where I lived for thirteen years, and this larger, more traditional house where we live now with our two kids. And I've had only two jobs, working at the Press and running the bookstore. Because of the transitory nature of the population, living in a university community has made it hard to say I still have friends who I met in those first few years who I will miss. I don’t really. Almost all of my closest friends over the years have already moved away themselves. It seems it’s just part of the DNA of a university community, especially a rural one. And everything’s changed about the place, though not everything looks different.

I was at a party recently and something happened there to me that happens a lot. Someone there recognized me but couldn’t remember from where. I said two words and it all came back to them: Svoboda’s Books. Less than a year after I arrived in the area I went to work for Svoboda’s Scholarly Books and I would end up working there for the next ten years. It was one of the most formative experiences of my life and is probably at the root of some of my most vehement opinions. I would end up becoming a co-owner of the store, and eventually, the decision as to whether to close the community’s only independent bookstore, and an academic bookstore to boot, fell on me, and I closed it. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the only rational one I could make. When that happened I have to admit I was a little mad at the community. How could they have let that happen? What kind of people choose price and convenience over the health and welfare of their intellectual community? Looking back at it, of course I blamed them, the only other explanation was that it was my fault. I think I better understand now that it was a result of what’s commonly referred to as “disruption” and it probably wasn’t either of our faults, but it still hurts. And you can still kind of see the bruise it left.

The other strange part of this is related to the shame a lot of us now feel about the horrors that happened here right under our noses. Horrors that seem to have been going on for a long period of time, yet almost all of us hadn’t a clue. I’ve seen a lot of good people leave since November, 2011, and while I don’t think this exodus from the university is directly a result of the scandal, I suspect it’s a factor. The place has a shadow over it that is going to be here for a while. Maybe forever. This is one of the most bucolic settings I’ve ever seen in my life, the very definition of a pastoral paradise, and yet now, when the words “Happy Valley” are mentioned anywhere in the country, only the most horrific thoughts come to mind. I do not think I will regret walking out from under this dark cloud, but I am clearly not as strong and loyal as those I leave behind.

That said, I will very much miss this place. I actually do love this university, in spite of its catastrophic failings. We do very good work here, and I really believe we make the rest of the world a better place. And this place is just drop-dead gorgeous. I’ll really miss the redtail hawks and the blue herons, the morels that come up in the spring and the miyataki that come up in the fall, the colts and calves, the fresh eggs and milk with cream on top, the old church on the corner with gravestones older than the university, the black walnuts and sumac lemonade, the mantids, cecropia and saturniid moths, Spring Creek which cuts through our little town, and the stone walls covered in moss that define its boundaries—the fertile though rocky land here that gives rise to all of the beauty at the center of this black-soiled soul of the earth. It’s tearing out a part of me to leave.

On the other hand, the place we’re moving to is also really pretty wonderful. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I expect there to be a few bumps in the transition. We’ve been dedicated to a rural lifestyle for quite a while, and we’re moving to a city, an actual city, a metropolis of 2 million. Columbus, Ohio is the 15th largest city in the country, larger than Seattle, Denver, and even Boston.  And we’ll be right in the heart of the city. We’ll have to start locking our doors, and think a bit more about safety, and we’ll have to get used to being among crowds and stuck in traffic. But as cities go, Columbus seems exceptional. I think we’ll get along. Its downtown has experienced an extraordinary renaissance, and as the largest city in Ohio (yes, it’s bigger than Cleveland and Cincinnati) it’s remarkably well-planned, other than needing some light rail and a few more bike lanes, but I think they’re on it. Being the home of both the capital and one of the largest public universities in the world, the city is filled with incredible cultural resources. We’ll be living within walking distance of the Columbus Art Museum, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will be around the corner, and I’ll be working on a campus that hosts one of the most amazing art laboratories in the world: The Wexner Center for the Arts. And you might have heard, they have a zoo. I’m also very excited to be working for Ohio State and the Press. I’ve been really impressed by the press’ staff, and I'm greatly encouraged by the administration's interest in investing in the Press, and growing its program. It’s kind of small in comparison to similar state or CIC presses, considering the size of the parent institution. I think they’re interested in changing that. I also think I'm the right guy for this opportunity. I’ve been doing this publishing thing for a while and I’m rather eager to put some of my knowledge and experience to work in a more direct way. With what I’ve learned about the Press, the University, and the city so far, I really can’t wait to get there and get started as the new director.

So on December 4th, we’ll get in the car and drive out of Happy Valley and into Ohio Country. While I doubt I will forget the many people and places I’ve experienced and learned from here in Pennsylvania, I’m very excited about the place I’m going to, and the people I’m about to learn more about. As the great Columbus writer, James Thurber, once said, “Love is what you've been through with somebody” to which I might add, or with some place.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ode to a lost bookstore

What I miss most is of course the books, and the people, and conversations,
and drama, and beer, and more books, and returns, and coffee, and homeless Ed,
and fish on paper plates, and wine, and more books, and textbooks, and dogs,
and office hours, and learning, and poetry, and jokes, and laughs, and kids,
and cigarettes, and cigars, and whiskey and mint, and more books, and ideas,
and scholars, and plants in the window, and greeting cards, and rock stars,
and arguments, and magazines, and students, and more books, and discovery,
and authors, and community, and champagne, and receipts, and computers,

and then the Internet, and returns, and discounts, and final sales... and then the books were gone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Mild Case of Bibliomania

The publisher R.B. Russell discusses his collection, and his illness.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pretend Fights

Dueling Duo

Dueling Duo by peapodsquadmom

There's been a lot of consternation of late over a controversial policy statement put out by the American Historical Association recommending a 6 year embargo for dissertations of history grads. The rationalization for this recommendation, according to the statement, was the practice of university presses refusing to accept revised dissertations. And it's a very hot controversy indeed, including a call for the shaming of university presses who do this.

Now, that's kind of the barebones of the controversy. Professional organization seeks to protect its most vulnerable members from the consequences of a perceived publishing practice. But let's tear this controversy apart, maybe we could learn something from its pieces. Let's first look at the AHA's concern. Do university presses avoid publishing revised dissertations? On the surface it might appear they do, but I'm not sure that's actually true. Instead because university presses think that libraries won't buy books they can determine to be revised dissertations, when most university presses find one they want to publish, they scrub all signs of it being a revised dissertation from the manuscript. Remove the thanks to their committee and advisors in the acknowledgements, change the title, pull the anecdotes about grad school from the foreword, that sort of thing, but they still publish it—if it's a great piece of scholarship. Is the fact that it's in an electronic repository a factor? I don't think so, as long as it can be distanced from that original work. If the association with the dissertation will clearly impact sales I think it would be a factor, but if that impact can be mitigated through omission, as it typically is, I don't think it does impact sales. Either way, the upshot of this is university presses pretend they don't publish revised dissertations, but actually they do.

But that brings us to the next part to consider. Do libraries avoid the purchase of revised dissertations? I think they do, but if you ask them they will frequently tell you they do not. What I do know is that their largest supplier would like us to tell them if a book is a revised dissertation because it would appear that supplier thinks they do avoid revised dissertations. So perhaps libraries pretend they buy dissertations or their supplier pretends they don't, I'm not quite sure on that one, but it's not a risk that seems worth taking.

So, because those two parties—the university presses and their customer libraries—aren't really sure what the other is doing, the AHA has, frankly pragmatically, advised their junior faculty members to hide the fact that they have written a dissertation. I think the problem with the AHA's policy is that it assumes university presses are doing something that most are only pretending to do, and that libraries are doing something they may or may not actually be doing, and it encourages their junior faculty members, by limiting access to their graduate work, to also pretend they haven't written a dissertation.

So, what's at the core of this problem? Perceptions? Yeah, that's a big factor. But the biggest problem is the market. I think most university presses would love to not have to care about the market for the serious scholarship they publish, but as long as their home and administrative institutions (which in some cases is ironically their university library) require that they pay for the majority of what they do with sales revenue, then we will all continue to have to live with this charade and simply because of the market for the content, not because of the quality or origin of the content. We all need to stop pretending. And we need to stop allowing the market to have such a large voice in both the accessibility of the content, and even what gets published, and by extension, who gets tenure and why. Until university presses and the scholarship they produce aren't dependent on capricious market forces, this kind of response to uncertainty will continue. And frankly this pretending is child's play compared to the market impact that Demand Driven Acquisitions is about to have on university press editorial decisions. Then we'll limit what we publish to what's predictably popular at libraries, and no amount of pretending can change that impact on History.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 AAUP Presentation, Print in a Digital World

Slide Notes:

title I’d like to talk today about leveraging print in a digital world and while yes, we’re not talking about ebooks—we’re talking about real physical books—we can’t really leave the electronic realm because while these are paper books, they’re digitally printed and distributed.

While the difference between offset and digital printing is getting harder to detect in the physical product, the way it changes manufacturing is worth taking a look at, and specifically, worth exploiting.

So just what are these differences and how might we exploit them, well let’s have a look:

Digital/Inkjet Printing

First, there are no plates, which means I don’t have to guess how much I need, I don’t have to print how much I guessed, and I don’t have to further guess if it’s going to be really big in Japan. Books can instead be printed as needed, and almost more  importantly, they can be printed where they are needed. So rather than shipping to the customer, they’re printed closer to the customer, typically in the same UPS zone.

When I talk to people about how we use POD people often get confused about the various players and the particular type of platform we’re talking about so as a quick review, I’d like to go over some basics.

Kinds of POD
How they Print
  • SRDP (really just humble digital printing)
  • One-offs (True POD, both with toner and inkjet)

How they Distribute
  • Direct Channel Partners (Lightning Source)
  • Drop shipping
  • Print in warehouse
  • Distributed Printing (or Freelance/Contract Printing)
At this point, this might be the best way to think about these two players.

Direct Channel Partners (Lightning Source)
Distributed Printing (Amazon/CreateSpace)

5 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: US (partial list)
•Baker & Taylor
•Barnes and Noble
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

6 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: UK (partial list)
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

7 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: Australia (partial list)
•James Bennett
•University Co-op
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

8 LS prints typically in their own warehouses, here in Pennsylvania, La Vergne, of course, they have a new facility in California, then over the pond to Milton Keynes, and now with Global Connect, they have partners in Brazil and Australia. It’s useful to note that those last two LS foot prints aren’t their own (distributed printing), but instead use established players in those territories, and then forging new partnerships like their Direct Channel partners in the English speaking territories.

Amazon, on the other hand, probably doesn’t have a lot of print capacity in most,  or maybe in any of their warehouses, (maybe in the spate of new ones?) instead the original BookSurge Model relied on large scale regional printers and negotiating long and short term partnerships created when and where capacity is needed. This doesn’t always work as is occasionally evident when parts of a season are particularly busy, like textbook season, or the holidays. This last couple of years, however, seem to indicate that they have worked many of those problems out.

You could think of Amazon as fairly large Web properties across the globe, who have super-secret printing and distribution capacity everywhere—and they know where we live, and have almost everyone’s credit card information. So, a really great ROI is possible for their CreateSpace partners, vs. say, their Advantage partners.

9 So after thinking about how these platforms worked, and the territories they covered, we decided to try something unusual, particularly to address the issue of libraries choosing paperbacks over hardcovers when simultaneously released. We started releasing hardcovers only in the US market, but putting both the paperback and hardcover in Lightning Source for the UK, and Australia, and in POD as a paperback in CreateSpace for Amazon's UK, German, and Japanese sites. While Lightning Source offers both hardcover and paperback editions from its platform, CreateSpace only offers paperbacks. So in essence, when a non-illustrated book is released, it is only available as a hardcover in the US, but it's available in both formats for a good portion of the rest of the world.

10 Any book that isn't an art book has been handled this way since 2010.

11 Using this strategy were were able to increase international sales by 22.5% in units, and 23.55% in net dollars.

It’s worth noting that this analysis not only evaluates our POD strategy, it also evaluates another unusual strategy we tried. Since our art books couldn’t be included in the POD program, we also moved those to a separate international distributor in 2009.

The drop between 2011 and 2012 is probably more likely related to a hopefully temporary 20% drop in new titles for that year.

12 Now, this isn't really a fair comparison because it doesn't actually take into account some factors that might actually show the benefits are actually greater than just the net revenue we're receiving from our partners. They don't include some of the benefits we see when selling a POD edition outside of the United States, like avoiding a wholesaler or distributor cut when selling a CreateSpace edition, avoiding the so-called "Amazon Advantage" program and instead selling the CreateSpace edition at a true short discount, and avoiding a lot of shipping charges. Also, net dollars in the case of Amazon is net after the printing charge. If we were to include the printing costs of the pre-2010 editions the increase would be significantly higher.

13 We also realized that since these titles were already in POD, we could offer another option for adoptions in the US beyond just the hardcover edition available in that market. We rolled out a program called the Early Adopter Program and what we do with this program is offer a low cost POD paperback edition, in the US dropped shipped from LS US, to the campus bookstore. They are sold non-returnable, and without a barcode.

To market the Early Adopter program we did two things:

First, we started notifying our authors about the program in the email sent to all new authors upon publication, which contains marketing tools for their book, and gives them a brief introduction to our marketing services. But some authors are already aware of the program having heard about it from their acquiring editor.

We also created a postcard which we distribute at conferences, especially to faculty members complaining about the price of hardcovers, and expressing a desire for a paperback for classroom use. This program has been very popular with authors and other faculty, and has been a useful acquisitions tool.

14 The production process for the Early Adopter editions involves removal of the barcode from the paperback file, and uploading that new cover file to LS. We then take the order from the bookstore and drop ship desired quantity to the store.

15 There are some problems associated with this approach, the first of which is Market Leakage,  and that refers to books from the UK crossing the ocean, so pricing must discourage this. This usually manifests itself in the form of an EU/UK bookseller listing it on Amazon's US site through Marketplace. Amazon will not remove 3rd party territorial violations from the Marketplace section of their site but the most frequent violator of this restriction is Book Depository and they will remove it when asked.

Your territorial distributor must be willing to go non-exclusive, or at the very least, allow sales through POD

CreateSpace, née BookSurge, has created a kludgee interface with publishers. Currently territories are indicated through marking a Y or N on a spreadsheet. But even that doesn’t always work. They have no idea why. *Surprised Face*

Also, you risk Amazon getting confused about the record, and even if CreateSpace takes the POD edition off the market, Amazon could  list the POD as Temporarily Out of Stock, at least until you turn it on in that market. This, obviously, does not benefit individual consumer hardcover sales. But if your hardcover is very expensive (for the library market) that may not really matter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And a Bookseller Shall Lead Them...

It is with pure delight that I pass on the news that Eric Papenfuse, bookseller, historian, publisher, and community activist, has won the Democratic Primary for Mayor of Harrisburg. Harrisburg has had it pretty rough of late, declaring bankruptcy in 2011, and even recently having its fiscal fiasco featured on a Planet Money segment on Morning Edition. I had coffee with Eric a couple of months ago and I asked him why? Why would he even want to become mayor of a city in such dire straights? He told me, "Because I live and work here. Look, all I wanted to do was make things better for the block where my bookstore is, but I began to realize that to fix my block, I had to start with the city." And I completely believe him. It's the kind of guy Eric is. We recently published a book on the little known Pennsylvanian, Mira Lloyd Dock, and Eric was so thrilled that this greatly under-appreciated figure was finally getting her due that he chose the book for for his monthly public radio sponsorship, then proceeded to sell it at or below cost in his store. There are other booksellers who sell below cost, but typically it's to destroy competition and grab marketshare. Here's a bookseller doing it to be able to teach his community about a neglected yet incredibly important figure in their own history.

He is a man of great intelligence and principle. And while he's only won the primary so far, he's got an excellent chance of winning in November. Congratulations, Eric. Harrisburg is really fortunate to have you, and the city has finally shown some real wisdom in this primary election.