Thursday, October 11, 2012

Maurice Sendak and the Marketing Manager

On some days my job is filled with delights. This is an example. As long as I've been here I've been trying to get John Cech's book on the poetics of Maurice Sendak back into print. It was published in 1996 and quickly went out of print. The road block came when we approached HarperCollins, Sendak's usual publisher, about using the illustrations for a second printing. The fees they asked for really made the economics of a reprint, let alone a new edition, unfeasible.

Then, back in the late oughts, our Humanities acquisitions editor at the time was talking to one of our authors, Jonathan Weinberg, at a dinner party, and Jonathan was telling her about the marvelous weekend he had just spent at the shore with his great friend Maurice Sendak. The editor asked Jonathan if he knew about the book we published about Sendak's work, and he said yes, both he and Maurice loved the book. She then mentioned that we were trying to bring it back into print, but the cost of repermissioning the HarperCollins illustrations was preventing that. Jonathan listened and promised to bring it up with Maurice.

About a week later, our Director got a call from the rights department at HarperCollins informing him that Mr. Sendak had asked that we be allowed to use any of his illustrations from HarperCollins books free of charge, and that was what they were calling to let us know. Because of this, a new edition of the book will be published, for the first time in paperback, in the Spring.

So this morning I found myself going through the old marketing file for the book, and it was there I came across this letter. It was written by one of my predecessors and in the letter she's asking Mr. Sendak about just what we can do with some of the illustrations. Again we find ample evidence of Mr. Sendak's generosity and kindness. But the best part is at the end, where Kate Capps, the marketing manager here at the time, tells Mr. Sendak what his work has meant to her, and there in his own hand, Maurice replies with a "Thank you", and then politely asks to order one of our books on photography. To see his writing in one of my silly little files, caused me to pause.

If the letter were written to me, I can't guarantee that the original letter would still be in the marketing file. Thanks Kate Capps, wherever you are. You just made my day.

To see the letters in their original size click here for page 1 and page 2.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Epilogue: The Future of Print

This is a beautiful student documentary about the vibrant print culture of Toronto, and how those book people see their future in the digital age.

The student is Hannah Ryu Chung of Ryerson University.

EPILOGUE: the future of print from EPILOGUEdoc on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Places in the Digital Age

Book Places in the Digital Age
An Ignite Presentation by Tony Sanfilippo, Penn State Press
AAUP, 6/20/2012

1 I want to talk today about book places. While book places come in a variety of manifestations, the two most popular are libraries and bookstores. And unfortunately, both are in decline. Last year Borders folded, closing 800 stores and removing millions of books from our communities.

2 We now have less than half the number of indie stores than we did just two decades ago. Almost every day we hear about libraries cutting staff, hours, or holdings. And many libraries have chosen to remove books to make room for more computers.

3 Book places are clearly under attack, as any marketing or sales manager in this room can attest. Stacks are being converted to  computer kiosks, or nook demonstration counters. And last year, just before Christmas, Amazon paid their customers to go into stores to check prices against Amazon’s, and then report back.

4The practice coined the term “showrooming” referring to shoppers who use real stores to inspect items before purchasing them online. But this got me thinking; maybe if we can’t beat them, we should join them. I also started to think about other things bookstores and libraries had in common, and if there were ways to combine them.

5 So I started to imagine a model Book Place that was a little bit of both and that treated the book on the shelf as more than only a product. Then I tried to imagine what that might look like structurally. It would need a commitment from the community, which is why a member owned co-op might be best.

6 It would also need access to a catalog the size of Amazon’s, which reminded me of this, the Espresso Book Machine. With over seven million titles in its catalog, the EBM can print and bind any one of those titles in about five minutes. Now, to better understand how this store slash library might work, let’s consider three perspectives.

7 How does the store work from the customer’s perspective, the bookseller’s, and the publisher’s. The customer walks in to what appears to be a normal bookstore, though one with a book-making machine next to the register, but the first significant difference is evident when they pull a book from the shelf...

8 and they see this sticker, offering a new copy, shipped from the publisher (or printed on site, should the title be available from the EBM), or they can buy the used/display copy. They can also borrow the book, free if they’re a member, or they can buy a DRM-free ebook edition, if they’re a member.

9 The bookseller sees this, which is notable for what’s missing—the invoice. This program would need to be a consignment arrangement for a couple of reasons. Both consignment and co-ops are exempt from Robinson-Patman, and because a member-based co-op won’t have start-up capital for inventory.

10 Finally, here’s what we publishers see. Income, not just from sales of the books in that box, but from five different sources: The used/display copy sales, new copies, POD copies, rental income, and ebooks. Now, I’m one of you, so I already know your concerns. And I can address them all with one simple word.

11 You might ask, why should I trust this new-fangled account type? How many Kindle editions did you sell last year? How do you know that? You are already trusting a bookseller, an online bookseller, and one that is openly hostile toward you.

12 The other instance where you would need to trust is that DRM-free eBook. Even in these incredibly tight times I would ask you all to consider our mission. We should be in the lead on this. If you hate channel-lock as much as I do, don’t be afraid to experiment.

13 The structure of this new kind of book place might also be a reason to go DRM-free. The people you would be selling those files to have a stake in the store. If they mis-use the files, they are hurting their own store, compromising their own investment, injuring their community.

14 When I ask people this related question, it is always answered the exact same way: If your library sold books to support itself, and offered almost everything available at Amazon, where would you buy your books? What I’m proposing is likely to engender the same kind of loyalty.

15 So if the line between bookstores and libraries began to fade, and Lookstores started lending books, how might that impact revenues? Well, first you could be making money when your book was lent, and unless you’re a Australian publisher, this would be new revenue for you.

16 And yes, you did provide that lending copy on consignment, but has a library ever paid you for anything after that first sale? This one will. Every time that copy prompts a transaction. And you get to choose which books go into this particular library.

17 There’s one more reason we ought to consider this model. It could potentially end the practice of returns.  Since nothing is purchased on speculation, returns may not be necessary. A book stays in a Lookstore until it sells, at which point the publisher can then choose if they want to send another copy, or a new title.

18 But perhaps my favorite feature of this model is how green it is. Few returns, if any. Books printed where the customer is, so little or no shipping. And e-books. Think of the trees and miles that could be saved. And all those smirking boxes that might be avoided.

19 So, if we want to avoid this, we as publishers need to experiment. We have to take risks. We need to work with stores and libraries that want to experiment. And we need to be proactive in determining our own future. As long as there are readers neither bookstores nor libraries need to close.

20 By combining the best of both worlds, it is possible to create an institution that both promotes book ownership, while providing access to content in what ever form that the customer—member—patron—reader desires. Thank you.

This presentation is based on a blog post I wrote for the AAUP's Digital Digest Blog.

The images were either from my personal collection, Reddit's BookPorn subreddit: or Flickr's Creative Commons collection (including the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums), The first of the two videos I used (showrooming) came from the Public Domain Prelinger Archives, The second came from University of Michigan's Main Library YouTube video,

Thursday, February 9, 2012

All The Books In The World... Except One

I found this briliant little comic about a bookseller who carried all the books in the world, except....

Below is the first page, to find out which book he doesn't have, read the rest here...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Books Shape You

The New Zealand Book Council created this magnificent PSA about the power of books to shape young minds.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Shelf Awareness reports today that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has entered into an agreement with Amazon to handle the distribution of the books published by Amazon's east coast publishing operation. This is surprising and somewhat bucking a current trend among publishers questioning Amazon's dominance in the book world.

Frankly, it's kind of reminiscent of the partnership between Borders and Amazon for Borders'Web site. That probably wasn't a great idea for Borders and one has to wonder about just what HMH is thinking are the advantages of this partnership.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I hear that one is a real page turner...

Libraries and Wild Carrots

I’ve been meaning to write a few posts about my own personal history with books. I post a bit about the book trade, libraries, and the impact of e-books on physical books, but I haven’t much discussed my own involvement in books. I’m going to start first in a field.

When I was little, I was lucky enough to live in a home with three generations. My father’s mother and father, Mary and Sam, lived with us in the Chicago suburb of Streamwood. The farmhouse for the farm that used to exist where the subdivision we lived in sprouted was right behind our house, and we could walk to it from our backyard. They still had chickens, and a cow. At the end of our block sat an empty meadow. I remember going to that field often, usually in the morning, with Mary, my grandmother. One day she said to me, “Tony, you’re very smart, a really clever boy. But you have to know more than you can only know from books, you know this, right?”

I nodded.

“Come here. Do you see this plant? What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is called Queen Anne’s Lace or Bishop’s Lace. Now come over here.” She pulled the plant from the ground and held the roots under my nose. “ Smell this.” I inhaled the smell of the damp earth, and what smelled like carrot. “Looks and smells like carrots, no?”

I nodded my head.

“Okay, now follow me.” She walked a little and found another big, white, papery, flat flower head. “Is this the same?” She held the two flowers next to each other. They looked the same. The flowers more than the leaves, but they looked like they were probably related.

“Maybe?” I tentatively offered.

She sighed. “To really answer the question you must look at the roots. But if you’re only looking for carrots, look here.” And she pointed to the center of the flowerhead of the Queen Anne’s Lace. “Do you see that tiny spec of blood” She was referring to a minuscule cluster of black-red petals in the center, easy to miss, like a spec of dirt. “That tells you it is wild carrot. If you are starving, you must know the difference. Because the other one, the one without the tiny drop of blood, that one is hemlock. This too, you must learn. Not only from books. My father taught me how to identify a wild carrot, and more importantly, how it’s different from poison. Someday, finding a carrot, and knowing it’s a carrot, could save your life. It once saved mine back in the old country.”

The small field at the end of our block where this lesson took place didn’t stay empty for long. The street we lived on was Library Lane. The field on the end of it was supposed to eventually hold a library. But the promises of the developer never really materialized so in the mid-Seventies, my mom and several other members of the community organized a referendum to create a taxing body and a library district. The referendum passed, and a beautiful, though almost Brutalist, library building was built. I spent a good part of my childhood there. I learned about current events from Doonesbury and human dynamics from Jules Feiffer. Vonnegut taught me to laugh through tragedy, and those old Bob and Ray albums taught me about timing. I spent a good deal of time in the children’s area, though mostly volunteering, but I really preferred the adult sections. I suppose it’s like Mitch Headberg used to say: Any book is a children’s book if the kid can read. I loved that library, and I think spending so much time there had an impact on what I would eventually do with my life, but I also miss that field. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if they hadn’t built a library on Grandma’s classroom. What might I have been instead?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Scholar's Resource

The publisher I work for is a part of the library at Penn State and the folks at the library just launched a Web site that provides a variety of resources to scholars looking to disseminate their work. They did a really great job on this resource and I can see it becoming a really valuable tool to the scholars here. Hats off to my colleagues at the library for putting together such a useful and informative resource.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rioting for the Right

Heard on the radio this morning that there were “scuffles” in line among folks waiting for the release of the iPhone 4S at some Beijing Apple stores, which got worse apparently when Apple decided not to open the stores over concerns about violence. Some are blaming Apple for the problems as there’s talk among their potential customers that the real reason they wouldn’t open the stores was because Apple had sold all available phones to corrupt officials and their families.

And Apple’s response, there are plenty available online.

This got me thinking. Did those customers not know they could simply get it online, or did they want one immediately. Or, is this a chicken and egg problem—Do some of those customers need an iPhone to get online? Or is it something else. Is this about being able to get it at a brick and mortar? Is it about the process of going to the store, looking at the product, trying the product, and taking home the product? I ask this because as we watch Borders fade into the sunset, and Indies close at a rate of one or two a day, I wonder if what those people in Beijing were rioting over was as much about the experience of buying the product as it was the product itself. I have always adored the experience of shopping in a bookstore. What happened in China makes me wonder if I should be somehow actively protesting to protect it.

On another note, the director of the publisher I work for just went publically against H.R. 3699, also known as the Research Works Act, which ostensibly protects commercial publishers from the “threat” of Open Access by putting limitations on the use of Open Access systems for some research. I’m really pleased that we took this stand and that we’re doing the right thing on this issue.

This is from the act itself, and it demonstrates how the act prohibits the use of Open Access without the commercial publisher's permission, and then goes on to prohibit Federal agencies from requiring the public to be allowed to read the research it paid for:


    No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that--
      (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
      (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.
It's enough to make a citizen want to riot.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Michael Humphrey at Forbe's Asks: Should Google buy the Nook platform?

Well, actually, he gives five reasons why they should. It's a fascinating proposition and there is certainly a logic to it. It makes yesterday's odd announcement by B&N that they're considering splitting off their Nook division suddenly look a little smarter.

Best Selling Item

These days, when the differences between readers, authors, and publishers are blurring like never before, it's unusual to be surprised by anything occurring in the retail book environment. But there's a fascinating detail on the bottom of this list of the year's bestsellers on the tumblr blog of New York booksellers McNally Jackson. Sure they list the books, but note the detail in the paragraph below that. Their number one selling "item" was the set-up fee for folks printing self-published books on their Espresso Book Machine.