Friday, October 23, 2009

Bookselling in Crisis

Hello loyal Odyssey Bookshop Customers,

I am not generally an alarmist. Yet there have been some happenings as of late that have given me great concern., Wal-Mart (online), Target (online), and Sears (online) have entered into a price war that could shake the very foundation of the book industry, and subsequently, our independent bookstore, The Odyssey Bookshop. These big, primarily non-book retailers have begun offering new hardcover books by popular authors such as John Grisham, Stephen King, Sarah Palin, Barbara Kingsolver and the like, at enormous discounts. It began a few weeks ago with the new Dan Brown book, offered at up to 60% off online.

Let me explain very briefly that a book sold at a 60% discount, especially a new hardcover, is actually being sold at a loss for whatever establishment is selling it as such. In other words, not only did they not make any money on the book, they lost money on the book. Now, as much as the Odyssey loves connecting people with great books, we would not be able to do so if we did not turn some sort of profit. As a result, the Odyssey sold the book at a 20% discount, to thank our loyal customers who bought it from us, but which also allowed us to stay in business.

Back to the big corporates - as if the 60% off nonsense wasn't enough, they have entered into a price war with each other to see who can sell these new hardcovers for less. While you may think a book priced at $25-$30 being sold for $8.98 is a great deal for you, let me tell you why it is NOT:

Remember last winter when the Odyssey, and subsequently you, had the pleasure of being the only store in the country to host Stephen King and Richard Russo for their new novels? Well, say you bought the Stephen King or Richard Russo online. Do you think the publishers would send us these great authors if we had no book sales? Think again. The answer is NO.

That is just ONE of the MANY examples I could give you in concrete terms about how buying a new hardcover book online could affect us.

Now let me explain a more dire possible result - if a new author has slaved away on a magnum opus for years, and it finally gets published as a paperback original for $15.99 - but you bought an established author's new hardcover book for $8.98 last month, so why would you spend $15.99 on a paperback for some new person you've never heard of - everyone's work is devalued AND you may never discover a great new author.

Books are set at a standard industry price. What goes into that price? Besides the years of work an author has put into it, the years of work an editor has put into it, are also the manufacturing costs, the art costs, the printing costs, the shipping costs, the publicity costs, and then of course, the small margin of profit (really not as much as you'd think) so we can all make this capitalist society we live in go 'round.

If major corporations, who, BTW, are not even directly involved in the book selling business - and by this I mean they have no author events, they don't agonize over the quantity and quality of the books on their shelves, they don't recommend books to their customers, they don't give money to local charities, they don't partner with local schools, etc. - if these corporations are allowed to devalue books in this way, then soon the Odyssey Bookshop and other local independent bookstores will cease to exist.

Here is what we (the independent bookselling industry) is trying to do about it:

The Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association today sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that it believes constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.


October 22, 2009
The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530

Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,
We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week,,, and have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs -- acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. -- which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products -- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market -- as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.
It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

"If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

For our members -- locally owned, independent bookstores -- the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.
We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.

ABA Board of Directors:
Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.--San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson's Bookshops--Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople--Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King's English Bookshop--Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop--Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore--Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store--Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore--New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore--San Francisco, CA)

CC: Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

If this price war outrages you as much as it does us, you have several options.

First, and foremost, please PLEASE PLEASE continue to support us and your other local independent bookstores by purchasing your books, hardcover, softcover, new and old, at our humble establishments.

Next, please be advocates for us and inform others in your life that buying their books at our businesses will help everyone.

For the holidays, please encourage everyone in your life that if they would like to honor you with a gift certificate, please do so from our store (or another local independent bookstore).

Politically, use this website to find out who your representative is in the House of Representatives and WRITE to THEM. Please tell this how you feel about this illegal and unjust price war conducted by these giants who do little to give back to their communities but do everything to take from them.

Read more about this by looking up related articles in the New York Times (US) and the Guardian (UK).

Thank you for your time, for your attention, and for shopping locally!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

A New(ish) Face

Hello readers!

Its been almost two months since I joined the honorable ranks of the Odyssey Bookshop Booksellers, and I thought it might finally be time for me make an introduction.

My name is Skye and I'm now the Associate Text Book Manager and First Edition Club Manager.

I’ve been working in bookstores ever since I scored the first job of my dreams at my hometown bookstore in Plymouth New Hampshire. I’m a fan of fantasy, horror, and dark fiction. If it makes you cringe, cry, or swoon I want to read it. I’m also an avid reader and collector of Japanese Manga and Graphic Novels.

I began wetting my toes in the Odyssey during the bustling days of textbook rush. Now that my crash-course I over, I’m grazing over the finer points of the store and learning more every day.

Hope to see you soon!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Once again, she was right!

I picked up a copy of Gail Carriger's new book Soulless at work the other day, and thinking that I had discovered the new best thing I told my co-worker Rebecca; exclaiming that she had to read it. But, once again, she has "beat me to the punch" so to speak.
Rebecca blogged all about it a couple of months ago when it first walked into the store in Advanced Readers Copy form.
Read the original review below.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger
Paperback, 9780316056632, $7.99 - Published October 2009, order from the Odyssey today!
The subtitle says it all, really: A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Parasols. I thought, No, not really, this can't possibly be as witty and engaging as I want it to be. But then I began reading, and to my great surprise and eternal delight, it was!
Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster and a lady, drinking tea and chaperoning balls in London during the time of Queen Victoria's reign. She also happens to be a preternatural, or soulless being, one of the very few lucky individuals who can take away the power of a supernatural being (such as a vampire or werewolf) simply by her touch. When she accidentally kills a vampire (well, he was trying to drink her blood at the time), she is forced to contend with Lord Maccon, the werewolf leader of both the local pack and the local national office of supernatural investigations. Alexia and Lord Maccon find each other argumentative, frustrating, irritating, and secretly appealing as they are forced to work together to uncover who has been making rove werewolves and vampires disappear. Fans of Jane Austen-ish writing and fantasy forces will love this wicked, and wickedly funny, romp through London, supernatural-style.


Simply read the first few pages and you'll be convinced it is one really awesome read. Or as one would say in the pioneer valley it's a book where the coffee tea is strong and so are the women is Alexia Tarabotti!


Now I Know My ABCs...

This really should be subtitled "ode to the ABC book". I've been into Odes lately. Please excuse me.

I'm probably not the ONLY person in the world who has a fascination with ABC books
, judging by the number of them a) available, and b) recently published, but I'm finding that the ones I find absolutely, stunningly, drop-dead, a full 10, gorgeous (!), are not ones that fly off my shelves. So, I keep ordering them in and sending them back out, and sighing over them, and spending too much money adding them to my collection, and now, I'm going to bombard you with them too. Enjoy!

The book that inspired today's blog post:

Bembo's Zoo by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
(who I think also wins the coole
st name award)
The illustrations are comprised of the letters it takes to spell that animal. For instance: MONKEY.

To see them all, go here.

To continue on the "type is amazingly cool" theme, check out Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. In this one, the animals are formed by the first letter of their name in different type fonts. Swoon.

Now, not to be too confusing, but after Alphabeasties comes Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards, featuring
intricately drawn illustrations of an animal whose name begins with whatever letter s/he's posing for, which is not to be confused with Graeme Base's tongue-twister Animalia, the illustrations of which are possibly even more intricate than Edwards's, but with the caveat that there's more than one 'letter' thing in each illustration.

For something really different, look for really retro design by Charley Harper. In both a chunky and a skinny ABC book version.

nd last, but not least,
the most recently released
(so sorry that rhymed):

(but I've run out of time)
Ah, I can't stop!
I'm a poet and didn't know it!

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman
(which, incidentally, also comes in a really vibrant floor puzzle version that I would have loved as a kid)

P.S. I get props for not mentioning a single B is for Baseball type of book in here. Cause you know I wanted to. But I'm in baseball mourning at the moment. I'm sure you understand. Next year in the holy land.

- Rebecca

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I love bookselling...

Yesterday (Columbus Day) was the release of Jeff Kinney's latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, the Dog Days.

Also the town of South Hadley had their annual Columbus Day Bazaar on the town commons, just outside the store, so as you can imagine it was a pretty exciting day in book selling.

It was also a day where I was reminded of why it is I love my job.

Every gasp of enthusiasm once a child/parent would walk in and see the Dog Days display and accompanying book was a welcome sound!

In fact the sound of a person gasping in delight when they spot a favorite book or just the title they were looking for has become one of the highlights of my day.

Or when someone is looking for a book, but they are not sure who wrote it or the exact title, but they heard the author interview on NPR maybe two weeks ago/ know it has a blue cover/ is about a horse farm in Montana/ will be made into a movie/... etc., etc., etc., I LOVE being that person who helps you find the book and solve that mystery.

Or when you need help finding that special something for that reluctant reader/ 8 year-old-tomboy/ expecting college roommate/ tween who loved Twilight/ suggestion for your book group/ yada yada yada, I love being the person who you come to.

I may not be able to find it for you but I work with such a great cast of characters that I know some one who will be able to recommend a perfect something for that special someone.

Yesterday was a great day in book selling!

Thanks for letting me be your bookseller!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

As you might have guessed by the title of this blog post - Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it - I am not always such a fan of the oft-publisher-pushed addition to an established series, author, or beloved character.

The Toot & Puddle, Holly Hobbie, syndicated television show with accompanying merchandise? Awful. The originals - delightful!
Curious George
- same.
Fire, the "prequel/companion" book to Graceling by Kristen Cashore? Co
uld have stood on its own two feet (and does - who needs the extra bits about Leck?).
Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry? In my humble opinion, she's a Time Traveler's Wife one-hi

And now, wonder-of-wonders for some, horror-of-horrors for others, after 80 years of treasured reading, Winnie-the-Pooh, formerly only by A.A. Milne, has been upstaged by an OTTER! Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus is an authorized addition to the series that, before now, consisted of Winnie-the-Pooh, House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six.

I confess that I am ranting without having actually picked up a copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood sitting on my shelves, but then, the fact that customers have been more excited about new editions of the original four than the newest fifth, make me believe we have similar feelings about this imposter in our midst.
The re-release of the hardcover original classics? Great!

The new audio editions of Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner read by Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry (among others)? Incredible!
This new otter? Who the heck is he, and what right does he ha
ve to inflitrate the Hundred Acre Wood?

It's not really the otter that I object to. I'm sure he's a very nice otter, and probably makes great friends with everyone in that "I've moved to a new high school in my junior year where everyone else has known each other since they played together in the bath as babies" sort-of-way. It's the principle of the thing - what was wrong with the original four? NOTHING! So, to repeat myself: if it ain't broke, why are we trying to fix it?

Now, to be fair, not all sequels, prequels, additions, and companions are terrible ideas, or even bad reads. My number one, desert island, top favorite, if I could only read one book for the rest of my life book is a *gasp* sequel, AND furthermore, it's *drumroll please* written by a different author than the original! I know! HUGE HYPOCRITE, you're probably thinking to yourself, and yes, I may be. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, is my absolute favoritest book.

There are others that fit this category that aren't so bad either. Peter Pan in Scarlet, for one, by Geraldine McCaughrean, is a great rompy Peter Pan addition. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was written in part by the original author, Betty MacDonald's, daughter Anne MacDonald Canham, who took half-written stories of her mother's and finished them after her mother's death; maybe that's what it holds up so well. Kenny and the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi's brilliant tribute to Wind in the Willows is one of my 2008 favorites. I'm also eagerly anticipating the release of Eoin Colfer's (author of the series Artemis Fowl) attempt at a sixth book, And Another Thing..., in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxey series by Douglas Adams.

So, hypocrite though I may be, I'm still just not thrilled over this otter situation. What do you think? Sequels, prequels, additions, and companion books, whether written by the original author or not, do you have favorites, or are there times you want to point out "when bad books happen to good authors/characters/series"?


(For more reading on this topic, check out the
NYTimes post on Winnie-the-Pooh's addition, and the AOL Living section.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Great Collision...

No I'm not talking about the big bang theory, or the latest dance club move but rather
compiled by R. Sikoryak for Drawn and Quarterly
Where classics and cartoons collide!

It's a great collection of abridged classics novels reformatted into cool classic comic strips. Imagine Albert Camus' The Stranger as Superman, or Voltaire's Candide as a Ziggy strip.
Great for the literature lover or the reluctant classics reader in your life!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yeah! Another Post Secrets book...

It's not so secret that I love the Post Secret books. Frank Warren's latest compilation is called Post Secret Confessions on Life, Death and God. These postcards delve into the inner psyche and hidden pains and pleasures of the human condition all the while philosophizing about all of the above.

Post Secrets has truly become more of a community where the people sharing the secrets may not necessarily be as embarrassed or anonymous as they once would have been prior to the start of this project. This book also includes stories of how people have connected at post secret events. One person who found a loose postcard in a book brought the card and the book with him to a post secret conference and met the author of the post card!

I personally hope that when people come into the store and see that we carry the post secret book they will be inspired to share their secret whether it's profound, profane or not so private.

Hope you enjoy as much as I do!


Monday, October 5, 2009

As a Bookseller, I give myself an F!

I've discovered a new form of bookseller guilt, or "new to me" at least.

Usually my colleagues and I feel terrible when we read backlist books for pleasure when we should be reading those that are soon-to-be released.

What could be worse? Um...NOT READING!!!! Unfortunately, for the last 13 weeks I've read all of maybe 400 pages, total. That's about a book and a half, folks. A book and a half in 13 weeks (3+ months). As a person employed in the book industry, that's unbelievably pathetic, and I feel like I should be shunned from the bookselling community. I should retreat to my little apartment in Amherst and not come out until I've read at least 15 of the big fall books. I should be made to write readers' reports and give a book talk to my bosses.

Unfortunately, every time I pick up a book, the words leap off the page in a way that makes my head spin and my sense of balance collapse.

Yup...I'm pregnant.

My husband and I couldn't be happier that we're expecting, but I never thought I'd have to temporarily give up my favorite thing even before the child was born! (I'm thinking of adequate punishment for when the kid comes. Tickle monster seems appropriate.)

Luckily, I'm nearly at the end of my first trimester and I am anxiously awaiting my second trimester burst of energy when I can do more than sleep, work, and attempt to keep down food.

So, what is the ONE book I read in full during these last few months you ask? It was Awista Ayub's HOWEVER TALL THE MOUNTAIN: A DREAM, EIGHT GIRLS AND A JOURNEY HOME. In 2004, less than 10 years after the Taliban took over Afghanistan and three years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Awista Ayub (a native of Afghanistan who moved to the States when she was two-years-old) brought 8 young girls from her home country to the United Stated to learn how to play soccer.

While I felt the writing could have used a little bit of work, the stories of these eight girls and of the author herself are so moving that a few imperfect sentences don't take away from its overlying message. Many of these young girls grew up in one-room huts, weren't allowed to go to school for long periods of time under the Taliban's rule, and had to walk through streets/fields that still had unexploded bombs buried underground.

Yet, despite these their everyday struggles and terrors, these eight girls and their family members (many of them women) have such strength and wisdom in them that you're left in complete awe and amazement of their ability to simply keep moving forward. For anyone interested in sports, women's issues, and the state of Afghanistan today, this book is well worth a look.

Emily Russo Murtagh

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ode to the Coffee Table Book

Dear Coffee Table Book,

It's been some time now since I've admired your glossy photo pages and larger format. Since I first cracked your spine, you've enchanted me with your miscellaneous in-depth information about a subject on which I will never be tested, but which deeply enriches some part of my soul. I drool on your full-page pictures and snippets of accompanying text, giving me tantalizing glimpses into worlds I'll probably only ever read about. You allow me to travel far beyond my resources, hampered only by the confines of my imagination; as I turn each page for further glances at sumptuous displays of color and life, I fancy myself able to jump right into that place and time, like Mary Poppins, Jane, and Michael popped into Burt's sidewalk sketches. One day, I hope to be able to offer you a place in my permanent collection; when I'm curled up in bed on an early morning, during a rainy afternoon, or at the end of a long day, I can comfort myself with lavish daydreams fueled by your bright renderings of unfamiliar landscapes, settings, and situations. Thank you for the countless hours of eye candy you've offered me.

Forever yours,

Rebecca E. Fabian

Nieves recommends these to put on your coffee table:

The Black Book is empty, perfect for guests to sketch, color, write, or otherwise decorate with a message for you.

How to Be an Explorer of the World is great for those awkward silences with people you don't really know, but your good friend has brought along anyway.

Skye suggests Dissection, to make all guests feel warm and at home in your space. (Okay, I added that part as a bit of snarky fun, but really, she says it's fascinating and highly recommends it.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spooky reading ahead...

So it is the time of year when I love to pick up a spooky book, sit back with a mug of hot cider and let the good frights roll...

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won the Newberry Medal last year and I can only agree that it was well deserved! This book about a boy named Nobody or "Bod" for short, it tells the tale of an unlikely childhood spent in a graveyard not unlike London's famed Highgate Cemetery.

John Connolly writes mostly mystery but he returns to a similar format which fans of his The Book of Lost Things will be happy to read about. The Gates takes place in a small English neighborhood where a young boy, Samuel Johnson, witnesses the creation of pure evil. Evil in the form of four bored neighbors who become possessed by demons intent solely on opening up the gates of hell before Halloween night has ended. With the unlikely help of his dachshund, young Samuel Johnson will try to put an end to evil's reign over his small village.

Lastly I have not yet picked up Audrey Niffenegger's new novel Her Fearful Symmetry but I have been told that it is not at all similar to her wildly popular Time Traveler's Wife. It is a fantastical plot about a ghost, two sets of twins, and one befuddled bachelor who becomes entangled in his own love triangle between the living and the dead. I've read an excerpt posted on the New York Times website and while it bears no real relation to her popular first novel I think it is more closely related to the macabre Niffenegger that I first discovered in her illustrated story The Three Incestuous Sisters.

I hope that the new chill in the air will inspire you too to sit back with a warm blanket and maybe get some chills unrelated to the weather!