More on the future of bookstores

A great article in last Friday's Globe and Mail, Will the last bookstore please turn out the lights?

The main thrust of the article is that while there's a lot of doom and gloom in the industry, there's also some hope and, more importantly, some innovation.

One source of Bleumer's optimism is the "ferocious" level of reading she sees going on among young people. Those ferocious readers will be the regular book buyers of the future. What stores need to do, she insists, is not only focus on old-fashioned face-to-face customer service, but also remain flexible enough to adapt to whatever comes along in the years to come.

Christopher Smith, manager of Ottawa's Collected Works, agrees with the notion that independent stores must evolve or die. He sees two streams of bookselling emerging. In one, bookstores will "transform themselves from mere book purveyors to cultural emporiums or meeting places." Each store will be a "place for minds and activity. ... In a way, the bookstore could be become the new 'salon'" - albeit a salon that offers not only books, but art, music, gift items, coffee and maybe even food and wine. In the other stream, he sees a "new breed of small, specialized book retailers. Bookstores selling books and books alone. Stores that focus on the 'classic' notion of what a bookshop is. Bespoke bookselling, so to speak."

Which isn't to say Smith doesn't have an eye on the e-horizon. He says he daydreams "that in the future I will finish a hand-sell by asking my customer, 'And how would you like that - hardcover, paperback, audio or e-book?'"


But how do those same big-box retailers see the future?

Joel Silver, president of Indigo-Chapters as well as a member of board for Kobo, the e-book service and reader that recently partnered with Borders in the U.S., is, like most booksellers, reluctant to predict the shape of things to come. The industry, he says, "is completely dynamic right now." Silver states that, "the threat of the e-book is a very powerful tool to mobilize a lot of parties in the industry to some new and innovative things." All the same, he comes off like an idealistic indie when he talks about the enduring qualities of a bricks-and-mortar store: "There's a certain energy that a bookstore gives off if it's done well."

As long-time readers know, I've often tied the future of bookstores with libraries, which while not a perfect comparison is one I think has some validity. In this article I like the ideas of creating social learning and intellectual discovery spaces and tying that in with the notion of providing content in whatever container the patron find the most appropriate for their work.

It's exciting times in the book business and it'll be interesting to see how the players realign over the next few years. It's kind of like the way it was in the academic library business 10-15 years ago as the first big waves of web-based journals and databases came online.

The Globe has been running a very nice series on the bookstore business. Most of the articles are very interesting and well worth checking out. Once again, I think all same trends affecting bookstores have valuable implications for the library world. Here are links to the first four:

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Spring & summer conference schedule

I have a few conferences coming up and I thought I'd share my schedule just in case any of you out there in sciencelibrarianblogland will also be attending.

I'll list them in order, along with whatever I'll be presenting.

BookCamp Toronto, May 15, Toronto

9:30: eBooks in Education and Academia -- the glacial revolution
John Dupuis (York University)
Evan Leibovitch (York University)

Description: Despite growing public acceptance of eBooks, two areas in which they could offer the most benefit -- education and academia -- are far behind the eBook mainstream. This session will discuss issues directly related to educational (K-12) and academic (post-secondary) use of eBooks from the perspective of authors, readers and libraries. The session will also discuss the current generation of eBook readers -- both hardware and software -- in the context of student and researcher use.

Canadian Engineering Education Association, June 7-9, Kingston, ON

Using a Blog to Engage Students in Literature Search Skills Sessions

One of the main problems for librarians involved in engaging engineering students in literature search skills sessions is creating a list of customized, course-specific online resources that is easy for students to find and use. Such a list can include links to article databases (ie. IEEE Xplore), ebook packages (ie. Books 24x7), web resources, patent search engines and standards series. It can also be used to hold notes from the session, background information and links to useful tools such as citation management software. Given that blogs are becomming an increasingly popular item in the pedagogical toolbox, creating one to host these notes and links is an obvious possibility. Blogging tools such as WordPress are simple and straightforward to use. Blog entries can be easily linked to on a course website or even Googled by students. During the classroom session itself, the blog is used both to engage the students' attention and as an outline of the content. Adding interactivity via Instant Messaging widgets such as Meebo also make the blog a good tool for engaging with students both during the session and after it is over. Analysis tools such as Google Analytics can be used to assess the usage of the blog. A sample web page, created for the Engineering 1000 course at York University, can be found here:

(Note: The technical program schedule isn't set yet. I'll post when I know the date & time.)

Science Foo Camp
, July 30 - August 1, Mountain View, CA

Science Foo Camp is an unconference, so the program is self-organized by the participants at the conference itself. We're all expected to contribute by participating in creating and running the program.

So far my main idea for a session to propose is about Building Campus Open Science Collaborations. From the point of view of Open Access, Open Data, Open Notebook and all the rest, there are a lot of campus constituencies that can work together build the commitment, infrastructure and policies to make Open Science work. Who are there people and how can they all be brought together to make Open Science a reality on your cmapus.

Obviously this is in super embryonic format. I would really appreciate any input on my idea, especially how to make it speak to researchers that may be considering Open Science initiatives but might not know where to get started.

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Books I'd Like to Read

It's been quite a long while since I've done one of these. Here are some recently noticed books that look interesting from either a collection development or a professional development point of view.

Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career In The Digital Age by Scott Kirsner

An essential guide for filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, and other creative types. "Fans, Friends & Followers" explores the strategies for cultivating an online fan base that can support your creative career, enabling you to do the work you want to do and make a living at it. Based on dozens of interviews with the artists pioneering new approaches to production, marketing, promotion, collaboration, and distribution, it presents strategies that work - in a straightforward, jargon-free way. Featured artists include YouTube star Michael Buckley; the animators behind JibJab, Homestar Runner, and Red vs. Blue; video artist Ze Frank ("theshow"); comedian Eugene Mirman; singer-songwriters Jill Sobule and Jonathan Coulton; OK Go frontman Damian Kulash; filmmakers M dot Strange ("We Are the Strange") and Curt Ellis ("King Corn"); writers Brunonia Barry ("The Lace Reader") and Lisa Genova ("Still Alice"); and artists Tracy White, Natasha Wescoat, and Dave Kellett.

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff.

Since the Renaissance, the corporation--the operating system of the market--has formed and controlled people, and Rushkoff describes how it has infiltrated all aspects of American life. In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. The author bemoans extreme networking (called buzz marketing), which makes our personal, social interactions become promotional opportunities and the lines between fiction and reality and friends and market become blurred. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family. Rushkoff recommends that we fight back by "de-corporatizing" ourselves. His suggestions include thinking locally by participating directly with our neighbors in community activities and using various Internet sites that provide opportunities to contribute directly to a particular school or to extend a "micro loan" to a specific entrepreneur in the Third World. This is an excellent, thought-provoking book.

Fun Inc.: Why Play is the 21st Century's Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield

Fun Inc. is a guide book to the gaming industry, written by one of the industry's leading analysts.

In the United States in 2007, the gaming industry was worth over $18 billion, while the second-biggest consumer of computer games -- Japan -- added $7 billion to a global total of almost $50 billion. It's the fastest growing media business in the world, and one of the very few industries that seem destined to resist the credit crunch. It's a powerful and dynamic industry and, in commercial terms, one worth understanding given that the gaming industry's innovations present a great opportunity for businesses to better understand both their workers and their clients.

A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would "destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949 by Jim Baggott

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI 6's FarmHall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archives. Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of 'Joe-1,' August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test. Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler's physicists fail? Could the Soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the Allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.

Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology by Tom Green

Everything has a beginning. None was more profound and quite unexpected than Information Technology. Here for the first time is the untold story of how our new age came to be and the bright boys who made it happen. What began on the bare floor of an old laundry building eventually grew to rival the Manhattan Project in size. The unexpected consequence of that journey was huge what we now know as Information Technology. And even more unexpected: trying to convince someone, anyone, that information was the key to most everything else. For sixty years the bright boys have been virtually anonymous while their achievements have become a way of life for all of us. Bright Boys brings them home. By 1950 they'd built the world's first real-time computer. Three years later they one-upped themselves when they switched on the world s first digital network. In 1953 their work was met with incredulity and completely overlooked. By 1968 their work was gospel. Today, it's the way of the world.

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Friday Fun: The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories

Apr 16 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

If you love sword & sorcery books and stories (and who doesn't!), SF Signal has one of their Mind Meld features in which they ask a bunch of writers and editors to name their favourites of the genre.

Here's a taste:

Lou Anders

"Ill met in Lankhmar" tops any list. How could it not? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser defined sword & sorcery for me as a child, and I'm thrilled that, having just started rereading their adventures they are thus far holding up. Michael Moorcock's "Stormbringer" is tied or a close second. I haven't read that since I was 15 but the Moorcock I have read hasn't dated. Basically, you don't know s&s without Leiber and Moorcock.

Howard's "The Frost Giant's Daughter" reads like ancient myth, and is my favorite of the Conan tales. Finally CL Moore's "Black God's Kiss", which I only discovered as an adult, mesmerized me with its imagery, an amazing hybrid of Howard's action with Lovecraft's imagery that reminded me that s&s got its start in Weird Tales and made me want more Old Weird in contemporary S&S (and more s&s in contemporary Weird Tales!).

And speaking of contemporary, I love James Enge and Scott Lynch for the way they evoke emotions in me now the way Leiber did when I was just beginning to explore the subgenre. Of course, I edit one of them, but I highly recommend both. I also edit Mark Chadbourn's Swords of Albion in the US, chronicling the adventures of an Elizabethan James Bond in a Cold War struggle with the Fae. It's quintessential S&S that should take its place in the canon in time.

Nor can I let the opportunity to shamelessly plug Swords & Dark Magic go by. Co-edited with Jonathan Strahan, it's our forthcoming S&S anthology of all original tales from writers like Steven Erikson, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Gene Wolf, Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, CJ Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Greg Keyes...

Okay, I'll stop but obviously S&S has been on the brain here lately. Glad it's making a resurgence.

There are also lots of great lists in the comments.

Personally, my favourite in the genre is Karl Edward Wagner's Kane books -- dark, violent and compelling, they make for a great read. They are very much sword and sorcery for adults tastes and preoccupations.

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Authorial control

Horror author Cherie Priest has a very nice post from a couple of days ago called Control. It's basically about what mass market fiction authors do and don't have control over in the book production process. Now, the mass market fiction publishing niche is hardly the main concern on this blog, but I also think it's interesting to see what she comes up with and compare it with the list of things academic authors both do and don't have control over.

On some points it's strangely the same but mostly starkly different.

It's also worth contemplating how this list would be affected by an evolution towards a radically decentralized ebook model of publishing which would largely disintermediate traditional publishers. Another interesting way to slice and dice Priests points is to consider more precisely how digital distribution and the Napsterization of the book industry could play out.

In any case, let's see what she has to say. It's definitely worth going to her blog and reading the whole post to see her explanations of the points:

Things Authors Mostly Control

  • The words.
  • How we present ourselves to the audience.

Things Authors May Influence in Some Measure

  • The book's title.
  • Who gets review copies of books.
  • Visibility: Part One. A savvy writer can -- if he or she has enough free time and/or disposable cash -- attend conferences and conventions, manage websites regarding his/her books, and network with other authors, readers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers. It is also up to the writer whether or not to accept interview requests and the like.
  • Visibility: Part Two. BUT. The vast bulk of the writers I know do not have the free time or disposable cash to pick up and jaunt to every convention in every city, much less send themselves on tour. Obviously authors who have reached a certain level of profitability will be invited around (expenses paid), but more often than not these things are paid for out of the author's pocket.* And keep in mind that most of us have day jobs and/or families to juggle.

Things Over Which Authors Have Virtually No Say

  • The cover.
  • The book's cost.
  • Size and format.
  • Distribution.
  • Quality control.
  • Digital availability.
  • Schedule.
  • Foreign availability.
  • Foreign availability in other same-language countries.
  • Turning the book into a movie.

Is Cherie Priest's business model about to be disrupted?

In any case, she also talks a bit about sharing and lending books at the start of the post and I really like what she has to say about the relationship between (mostly public) libraries and mass market publishing.

Libraries are very good markets for books, and we writers love them to bits. You see, if enough people line up to borrow a book, the library will purchase more copies of that book in order to reduce the wait. Therefore, the more people who want to borrow books from the library, the better. Also, libraries tend to be very supportive of writers from a promotional standpoint. They invite us to read, host our events, and often let local booksellers come in to sell copies at these events. To sum up: Libraries are good for authors.

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