Thursday, December 29, 2011

Codex Flotsum

A librarian at Reddit recently posted this picture of the stuff they've found in books donated to the library.

It reminds me of this book I once acquired at a Goodwill.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just push the brand new, one-push solution button...

I'm Jeff Bezos, for all you know.

Burning Books and Other Lost Knowledge

The Hindustan Times has more on the Institute d’Egypte fire in Cairo and some of what has been lost in that fire.

And back here in the U.S., it's fitting to read on the day that the country's second largest bookstore chain officially shuts things down that some people, namely Scott Timberg at Salon, think that we're losing something important with all the clerks who have lost their jobs thanks to the Internet.

From the article:

“I think of bookstore jobs as my university,” says Jonathan Lethem. (His new nonfiction collection, The Ecstasy of Influence, emphasizes the catholic nature of his taste and his provocative way of discussing work he loves – both qualities embodied by the best store clerks.) “The physical trade of books was a hallowed way to become a writer in the pre-MFA era. It was the only work I wanted to do, and the only work I was qualified to do.”

Lethem, of course, is not alone: Writer Mary Gaitskill and Decemberists singer Colin Meloy – now an author himself — started out in bookstores; punk heroine Patti Smith worked at New York’s sprawling the Strand. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck clerked at record stores in Louisville, Ky., and Athens, Ga., respectively. Quentin Tarantino – who could almost be a character from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” – developed his distinctive blend of junk culture, Asian film and cinephile obsession while laboring at a video store in Manhattan Beach: Video Archives was his film school.

These places speak to people outside urban bohemians. Poet and critic Dana Gioia, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, grew up in the ’50s, in the rough Southern California town of Hawthorne, with parents who lacked college degrees. “When I was a little kid, there was a used bookstore every 10 blocks,” he recalls. “There would be some grumpy old man running it: If you came in a couple of times he’d comment on your books — not in a charming way that you’d put in a movie. But it showed you that other people read and had opinions; it was a socialization. So much of culture is chance encounters between human beings.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Give a book, get a free Christmas album.

GIve a book...

Get a Christmas Album

Egypt’s Richest Library Set on Fire

Perhaps the worst thing I've heard all day concerns this fire at the Egyptian Scientific Institute that happened on Saturday in Cairo. Established in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte, it included in its catalog over 200,000 rare books. It reminds me of the looting of Baghdad at the beginning of the second Iraq War.

11 reasons why books make great gifts...

Writer Jennifer Hubbard has a great post on why you should be giving books this holiday season. My personal favorite is the last, "They require no assembly or batteries, and they don't beep or squawk or whistle."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"He micro-manages every single pixel of Amazon's retail site."

A fascinating comparison of Google and Amazon purportedly written by someone who has worked for both companies. Stevey's Google Platforms Rant

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

“Akin to editing ... a critical part of our culture out of American life.”

"I wondered what my writer friends made of all this, so I dashed off an e-mail to Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild, and cc’ed Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Andre Dubus III, Anita Shreve, Tom Perrotta and Ann Patchett." —Richard Russo surveys his writer pals about their take on Amazon's Price Check app and promotion in a New York Times op-ed. Short answer? While they were grateful to Amazon for moving some of their units, they found this promotion to be "Scorched-earth capitalism", “invasive and unfair” and possibly illegal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How should a publisher assign ISBNs to their ebooks?

So last week the BISG issued recommendations on how publishers should handle the assignment of ISBNs to their ebooks. This prompted an interesting discussion on the American Association of University Presses listserv about how the various UPs were approaching this issue. I was quite surprised to discover that many of our colleagues were assigning one ISBN per title, and that it was used for all platforms. The other most popular practice was assigning one per format, so PDFs have their own, as did AZW, ePub, etc.

Neither of those approaches makes much sense to me. Here’s my thinking on this. That third part of the BISG study, Usage Rights, that sort of gets to where we approach this. We assign ISBNs by platform, primarily for three reasons.

First, we’re a medium/smallish press doing about 50-70 titles a year, active backlist of about 1,200, but a good chunk of those are art books so not quite ready for ebooks. Let's say for 600 ISBNs in the backlist for any given platform. But we have a three-digit ISBN publisher prefix. You know, like Chicago, MIT and California. We have 100,000 ISBNs, so far we’ve used around 6,000. So the BISG-Bowker industrial complex isn’t really my issue.

Second, I’m taking a cue from physical books, though maybe I mean physical things. If the object in question is different, it should get its own identifier. A DVD has never been assigned the same UPC identifier as a VHS tape, and shouldn’t. Why would a file usable only on a Kindle device or app have the same identifier as one usable only on the iBook app? Paperbacks and hardcovers of the same edition have significantly more in common than those two consumer facing files. Some platforms allow borrowing, some don’t. Is that different enough? Borrowing sure is a premium of a feature.

Finally, if any of a publisher's platform agreements do not have a most favored nation clause on price, and you’d like to price a title differently for say a library platform with short term loans versus a direct-to-consumer platform, then you may be increasing your risk of running afoul of Robinson-Patman if those two files had the same ISBN but different prices. Probably. But I’m not a lawyer, and more importantly, I’m not your lawyer and that wasn’t legal advice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is the Kindle Fire a lot of Smoke and Mirrors?

The New York Times is running a story about the consumer reaction to the device. So far it's all pretty negative. They even tapped usability expert Jakob Nielsen for his opinion on the new device: “I feel the Fire is going to be a failure”... “I can’t recommend buying it.”

Ouch! Reminds me of the first reviews of the nook.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Happy Price Check Day!

Today only, head into a brick and mortar retail store with Amazon’s new Price Check App on your smart phone, and scan a barcode with the location settings active, and then report back to Amazon on the price of that product. For using the app, Amazon will deduct up to $5 from your online purchase of that product. Amazon claims it’s trying to keep prices low for consumers, but others attribute the move to a less innocuous agenda.

While the promotion doesn’t actually cover books, the independent bookseller community has been the most vocal about the promotion with several bookseller blogs suggesting alternatives, and an "Occupy Amazon" facebook event being scheduled to protest Amazon's promotion. Bookstores have begun complaining about being used as mere “showrooms” for books, with the actual purchase of the book occurring online. A recent study seems to indicate that they have a point, finding 24% of people who bought books online saying they had looked at the book in a bookstore first, and 39% of people who bought books from Amazon specifically saying they had looked at the book in brick and mortar bookstore prior to purchase.

Eight years ago, Tim O'Reilly had this to say about where you should buy, and then he kind of repeated it when blogging about a similar app.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simon Pierro Finds New Uses for Torn Paper and an iPad

When is a warehouse not a warehouse?

The PA Department of Revenue has issued a bulletin on how they are defining "nexus" in terms of the collection of sales tax. They're looking at you here, Amazon. Forbes has a story on the potential repercussions of this bulletin, which include "taking enforcement action and could pursue merchants for back taxes." Since the law the bulletin cites as relavent here goes back to 1971, the amount Amazon would be responsible for could be quite significant. Amazon has four warehouses here in the Keystone State.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Free Speech Matters

The folks at Penguin have put together a great video about book censorship.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sendak's Velveteen Rabbit

In 1960, for the anthology Best in Children's Books, Maurice Sendak created five illustrations for Margery Williams' melancholy story, The Velveteen Rabbit. Brain Pickings has posted those two color images.

Are Amazon's special state deals pertaining to sales tax constitutional?

According to the journal State Tax Notes, University of Georgia Law Professor Walter Hellerstein and University of Arizona Law Professor John A. Swain think that the special deals Amazon has carved out in states where they run warehouses run afoul of the constitution's commerce clause. Forbes has a story on the issue.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Book Seer...

Just found this odd little site that recommends books using Amazon and Librarythings' API.

They do make a nod to bookstores and libraries so I suppose it isn't entirely sneer-worthy.

I like how they use a bearded guy to establish authority. That's why I grew mine.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

UK libraries change their minds...

JISC, the UK consortium of libraries that had announced they would drop a large number of subscriptions from two of the major commercial journal publishers, Wiley and Elsevier, have apparently been dissuaded from doing so. But unfortunately, they can't tell us why.

Pennsylvania Issues Sales Tax Fairness Bulletin | Bookselling This Week

Well this very controversial issue has finally come to my state. If this shakes out the right way, I may actually consider opening a bookstore here again.

Pennsylvania Issues Sales Tax Fairness Bulletin | Bookselling This Week

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A very interesting model for a bookstore. Publishers pay attention.

This little shop is on to something with books on consignment, 40%, and FOB. If all publishers agreed to this I might consider opening a store again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Maybe publishers aren't so worthless...

Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?

Cory writes an interesting essay on the value of publishers and the very real challenges of self-publishing. Summary: Publishers actually do add value.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Cherene was the managing editor of the press I worked at for about the first 7 of the 11 years I’ve worked there. She was a fascinating person and had a eyebrow-raising history. But when I met her she was in her sixties and frankly something of a cat lady. It was through her I was introduced to Bill.

“Tony, do you need a cat? You live in the country, don’t you? Do you ever have problems with mice?”

I said she was a cat lady and I want to clarify that I don’t really mean crazy lady with 100 cats living with her. I suppose it’s more accurate to say she was a cat advocate, who sometimes lived with more than ten cats at a time. She didn’t collect them neurotically; it was more out of compassion. The neighborhood she lived in had a lot of students. Oddly enough, areas where lots of young adults are living together, neglected or abandoned, or lost kittens create colonies of feral cats. Bill was from one such colony. And from what Cherene told me, he kind of ruled it.

So Cherene caught him in a humane trap, and took him to a vet. She had him checked for everything, and got him his first set of shots She kept him inside for a while, but then realized he liked domesticity, so she began to let him out. He immediately began to fight with any other cat he could find outside, and was sometimes harassed by the occasional drunken student. So Cherene asked me if I might take him, what with my house next to a cornfield.

The cat we had at the time, and who we still have, is named Purple. When the girls introduce Purple to people they always mention, “She’s skiddish.” Because she is. She’s a pretty cat, but kind of flakey, and likely to run in fear from a mouse. But if you live in the country, and your house is literally forty feet from 300 acres of corn, you need some sort of pest control. I have long preferred cats over almost any other brand.

So I told Cherene yes, and Bill moved in. We instantly hit it off. He was a machine. Garden yields improved, the micro raison in the corner problem started to subside. Yeah, he took out the occasional beneficial, like birds, but he also carried more than his weight in keeping the pests in our house in check.

He was a big cat, stocky frame and arrogance. But he really seemed to like me. I don’t know why. Among other cats he was a bully, but around me he turned to pudding. He took a long time to warm up, but when he did it was like he got religion. And I loved him too.

He was a handsome cat. With classic gold tabby looks, so admired by lesser cats. But he was a bully. It was hard to reconcile with how sweet and loving he was to me, but I saw it. I witnessed him just slap the crap out of another cat for no good reason. Yeah, I get the territories thing, but his apparently included the tri-county area. And even polite neighbors raised an eyebrow at his gruffness.

Bill died today.

I have no idea how old he was, Cherene figured he was 5 to 10 when she gave him to me. I’ve had him for about 7 more years. A few months ago we locked him in the house with Purple when we took a long weekend to go camping. Bill preferred the outdoors, but while grumpy about being inside (he always gave me a dirty look when it snowed, as if I should do something about it) but survived being in the house for trips we’ve taken even as long as five days. But I could tell when we got home from this last trip that something wasn’t right with Bill. A big patch of fur on his rear flank was missing. He looked like he’d been getting chemo.

We let him out and it cheered him greatly. At first I chalked it up to stress and the fur grew back, but about a week later I noticed he seemed thinner.

“Something’s wrong with Bill, can you make an appointment?”


She took him in and she was lectured about a couple of his vaccinations that had expired. The vet took some blood and ran a few tests but nothing came up odd except a bit of anemia. They gave us some vitamins and sent us home, told us to come back in a week. Bill continued to get thin, so they took more blood and ran more tests, but still found nothing, this time they gave us a topical for parasites, and more vitamins. But Bill continued to get worse. When we brought him in next, we were told that they didn’t know what Bill had, but it was probably some form of Cancer. They suggested that if we take him down to Pittsburgh, they could run more sophisticated tests and figure out where it probably is. But considering how quickly Bill got sick, it began to seem that treatment might not be effective.

Two weeks later Bill was so weak that he stopped coming to his name or a fresh can of Salmon Delight. Two days ago, when he hadn’t eaten the cans I left out, or even come home, I knew something was wrong. When I got home from work I grabbed a spoon and a can of wet cat food and headed out on the porch. I cracked open the can and repeatedly clicked the aluminum lid like a cricket trying to call for him. For a while, I tried it every hour. But he didn’t come home. The next morning I started again, but to no avail.

By this morning I really noticed his absence. I get up pretty early, and when I go downstairs at 4 or 5, I can usually expect to see Bill at the door, looking in, eager for a snack and a leg to charm. But he wasn’t there again. Still.

I figured he must have died and I was very blue all day at work.

When I came home, it began to rain. A fast soaking rain one might expect at the end of July. After I pulled in I again circled the perimeter of the property calling for Bill. But again, nothing.

I went inside and figured it was probably what he preferred. Dying out in the corn,

But two hours later, as the storm raged on, I was in the kitchen making bread when Kate came by to give
sympathetic hug. And as she held me she said, “He’s on porch.”

I turned around to see what she was looking at and sure enough, though the kitchen window, there he was lying on the porch, looking still thinner and very sick.

“Call the hospital.”

I took him in but there was nothing to be done. The doctor told me the drug would need to go into a vein so they were going to try his leg. They shot his leg with a few squirts from a water bottle to matt down the fur to find a vein, and then they gave him the injection.

He went to sleep, but I know he hated that water. I held him, and stroked him, and apologized for the violation. And then he died.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I’ve been reading this blog and it’s killing me. It’s killing me because in spite of the fact that for at least the last ten years I’ve been hoping and dreaming that Borders would go out of business—now it is, but reading this blog… I forgot that it would mean that at least 10,000 booksellers would lose their job. No good can come of this.

I sold my first book at 16 for a regional Chicago chain called Kroch’s and Brentano’s. The first book I sold was probably a Garfield treasury or maybe a Richard Bach allegory, but I loved selling books, because it was like missionary work for the world of ideas. And it seemed there was room in that world even for a cat with a lasagna issue.

I eventually worked for Borders, B&N, and a couple of indies, and then I inherited a bookstore, sort of. A wonderful store here where I currently live needed help, so I went to work for them not long after I came here to PA. And soon that store was offered to me, so I took it over. But this was only a few years before modems really came down in price. And once they did, my vocation changed, or perhaps appeared redundant.

Through that process, I’ve watched this world of bound paper metamorphosize and maybe metastasize. And now I wonder if it’s still something that needs people to quite the extent it used to. And if it doesn’t, what have we lost.

This blog is the story of one man, who is losing his job. But there is a bigger story behind this and you can hear it if you listen carefully. This is about the death of a community. And the perhaps ill-informed choice that community is making about its resources. And it is one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a while.

Bookride: The Joy of Dullness 1

There must be a reason.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fstoppers Original: The Stolen Scream

An interesting film about the fine line between the use and /or the exploitation of the work of others.

Permission. Not all of the uses in this film required or needed it, but it seems most of them did. Why don't we ask?