Bucket List

In an hour, I'll be part of a panel at Bouchercon 2012 entitled "Bucket List: Books to read before you kick the bucket." Not exactly sure how this session is going to go, but thought it might be useful and amusing (for folks here in Cleveland and elsewhere) for me to post my list. I'll try to come back to the blog here and talk about this a little more, but for the moment, here are the titles, a highly idiosyncratic list that would probably look a lot different if you ask me again about this next week.

CLASSICS
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

(Look at 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association for lots more classic choices.)

COMMUNITY
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell
Concourse by S.J. Rozan
Briarpatch by Ross Thomas
Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
Still Life by Louise Penny

TAKE ME AWAY
Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross
Death Comes As Epiphany by Sharan Newman
Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill
A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS
(genre is conversation among texts)
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Bloodhounds by Peter Lovesey
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith
Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong by Pierre Bayard

YOU THINK YOU KNOW (PERCEPTION, INSIGHT, ETC.)
Hindsight by Peter Dickinson
Breakheart Hill by Thomas Cook
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
The Ax by Donald Westlake

Happy reading!

The death of print is not inevitable

An edited version of a response to another Sisters in Crime discussion list conversation.  This is a little redundant — you've heard me say much of this before — but it's not like others aren't also saying the same things too, about the inevitable death of the print book and how young people are all about ebooks.  So this is just today's contribution to to the continuing conversation.  (At least I hope it's a conversation!)

Print will survive.  Obviously, it won't be the same, but I have no doubt that committed and creative readers, publishers and booksellers will find ways to sustain a market for books.  The mass market may move away from paper — that's what the Bookscan figures are hinting and what folks at Apple said to the SinC summit team during our visit with them two years ago (members only at http://www.sistersincrime.org/login.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=21).  But that's not the same thing as saying that print is dead.

At my day job, I work among the young folks who've been mentioned here in various messages and who are always citied in a discussion like this.  You can argue that the kids who find their way to Kenyon aren't typical.  As a group, they are more devoted to words than most.  But if you have any doubt about their devotion to books on paper, you need only observe how they browse the shelves of the Kenyon College Bookstore, dip into and out of books that catch their eye, and then take books to the register and spend their money on their new treasures.  It's not just our regular college students, it's also the high school kids who are on campus for summer programs.  You'd be impressed with what they're reading, too.  We sell a lot of Penguin Classics and Dover Thrift Editions, for example.  We also sell Jennifer Weiner and that new Doctor Who book you're seeing everywhere.

That's not to say there aren't challenges.  We can say that there will be a sustainable market for print books, but somebody has to actually do all that sustaining.  Of course it's not just a singular "somebody," it's all of us who care for books — readers, authors, publishers and booksellers.  Publishers have to be smarter and more equitable.  Booksellers have to work harder.  Authors have to inspire us.

And readers?  Readers have to decide what they want the marketplace to look like.  At the end of the day, this business is driven by your dollars.  Whether we're talking about the dollars you spend on books or tax dollars that go to your local library, you have all the power there is to support the market for books.

Books are not so big an industry that a change in the behavior of a relatively small number of customers will go unnoticed.  I guarantee you that for most community booksellers, the decision of even just two or three individuals to buy their books elsewhere (be it the grocery store or online, or as e-books from a site not allied with a local store — whatever) on any given day makes a difference.

This isn't about electronic books versus print books.  This isn't about being a luddite versus embracing technology.  I'm not talking here about the merits of one thing over another thing.  What I'm getting at is the fatalism.  The discussion here (and elsewhere) is largely framed as one inevitability.  The reality is likely to be more complicated and more interesting, with print and electronic text continuing to exist side by side.  So it's really the nature of that co-existence that's at issue, something that I believe is entirely within the power of readers to shape in the context of their communities.

Shaping our worlds

At the end of an intense week of discussing bookselling, marketing and sales on the Sisters in Crime discussion list — a great resource and a great community that you should consider joining if you haven't already — this is a slighted edited version of what I'm posting there this morning:

It may be that a writer can find success online with Amazon.  Or perhaps success can still be found in person in communities and their brick and mortar bookstores, local independents or national independents like Murder by the Book — stores that if you're publishing nationally, I would consider part of your community too.  More likely, success will be found in some combination of virtual and real world marketing and sales efforts.

For writers who've concluded that brick and mortar stores are no longer capable of being a part of their success, all I can say at this point is that I'm disappointed that we won't be working together and that I wish you well.  Your vision, relying as it does on a single mighty online bookseller to sell all books, isn't my vision.  But that doesn't mean I hope you fail.  (For some reason, "one store to rule them all, one store to find them, one store to bring them, and in the darkness guide them" is running through my head right now.  That punchiness is a sure sign that my participation in this discussion has run its course.)

Wherever you are in the discussion, at least you're passionate.  This business, such as it is, has always been driven more by passion than by dollars.  Not to reopen that argument; I'm just saying that we're all here — writers, readers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, all of us — we're here in the first place because we love books, the world of books, and the people we get to hang out with because they love books too.  If dollars were all that motivated us, well, there are more dollars to be found elsewhere — virtually or in the real world.

What we're talking about here isn't anything new.  Take a look at Daniel Pool's DICKENS' FUR COAT AND CHARLOTTE'S UNANSWERED LETTERS for an illuminating examination of these issues more than a century ago.  It's one of those books that leave you with a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" feeling.

That's not to say that this discussion is uninteresting.  I believe that every day we have opportunities to help create the world we want.  As consumers, we have an enormous amount of power to use our dollars to shape our communities, to understand how spending money locally sustains the businesses that make our communities good places to be.  And that's true of businesses as well.  Businesses — including writers as businesses — need to use their resources wisely; a writer's decision to promote Amazon isn't just about the access to books at a discount price, it's about the writer validating Amazon too.  (Mostly, that's why I find Ann Patchett's new venture — http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/16/us/ann-patchett-bucks-bookstore-tide-opening-her-own.html?_r=1&ref=books — so exciting, that it's such a strong, tangible statement in the opposite direction.)

The more we discuss, examine and understand what we're all doing, the better off we are — wherever is it we each decide we want to be. I hope that writers and publishers will continue to want to be a part of what independent bookstores are trying to do.  But if not, I have to respect your decision as I hope you'll respect those of us who continue to do this work.

Measuring the success of an author event

On the Sisters in Crime discussion list, we've been having a conversation about — among other things — how one should measure the success of a book signing. I suggested that a signing is about more than just the number of books sold during the couple of hours a writer is at the venue, while some writers argue the opposite, that this situation is all about selling books. One writer offered an anecdote about a library event where the library engaged a bookseller to handle sales. The bookseller was reluctant to order in books for itself, and instead tried to get the author to bring books to the venue, where the bookseller would sell them for a 40% cut of the transaction. On her blog http://libbyhellmann.com/wp (scroll down to 11/6 – "Bookselling Today: A Cautionary Tale), she expressed her unhappiness.

What follows below is a slightly edited version of the response I posted to the SinC list, a description of how I as a bookseller look at sales at an offsite venue.

I'll repeat something that I quoted on this list earlier: the plural of anecdote is not data. (This quote is from a great article you'll find here: http://tiny.cc/deathofbooks.) I'm sure you know that I could offer counter examples, tales of Heroic Booksellers Who Nobly Went Beyond The Call of Duty — and I know you know I could. But if you're already soured on bookstores, well that probably won't help, and the plural of anecdote is not data so dueling anecdotes aren't the answer here anyway.

So, let's talk about this library situation, and how I look at offsite events.

As a general matter, I've used 40% for consignment situations. At the same time, I would normally not expect to need to go the consignment route for an author whose books are available on standard terms through the usual channels. My feeling is that the bookseller behaved badly in asking you to bring books when they're normally available, so I'll give you that point.

But 40%? I know that sounds like a lot, but 40% of what? If we're going to create a profit and loss statement for the event, we need more information. How many books were sold? What's the dollar value of those sales? Expenses? Did the bookseller take credit cards? Electronically or by hand? Who bore the risk of bounced checks or card transactions that could not be processed? (The risk of either bad checks or bad manual card transactions is not big, but it's not zero.)

How much time did the bookseller put into the event? Mileage or gas money?

Did the library ask the bookseller for a commission on sales? (Or for one of those "suggested" donations to the friends group?)

Libraries often pay authors honorariums for an appearance. They don't pay honorariums to booksellers who support author appearances by selling books. I'm not quarreling with the money that a library pays to an author for the event. But I would hope that others would join me in not quarreling with the money that a bookseller gets out of sales at an event. If that comes at a cost of a 40% margin on book sales, I'm okay with it.

In my experience, even at a 40% margin, offsite events are rarely profitable — the few at which you can sell lots of books are more than offset by the ones where sales are minimal. I'll give you a detailed example. I sold books at a poetry reading 11 days ago. For about two hours in the room, I grossed $118 in sales. (I'm home now, so I'm doing these numbers off the top of my head — forgive me if I'm off a little.) I think that the title I sold most came in at a 35% margin, and the other came in at 40%. Call it a 37% margin overall — probably close enough. That's a gross profit of $43.66. I know that we paid freight on one of the shipments — probably about $6 or so. We're at $37.66. No credit cards at this event — which is unusual, but good because we don't have to figure a percentage for that, and no risk of messing up the transaction. No checks, so no risk of bouncing and no fee for depositing a check. (Hard to believe, but commercial accounts are often charged for depositing a check.)

What else? The trade book buyer and I put in about two hours' time between us to locate books from this poet's small presses, evaluate available titles and make decisions about appeal and quantities, discuss terms, place those orders and receive them. Working out logistics for this offsite event (arrangements, needs on site, packing books and putting together a cash bag to make change, finding and packing the receipt book, bookstands, etc) was relatively simple in this case — call it 45 minutes. Event was in another building on campus, so travel time there and back was only 15 minutes. Post-event, I had to input the sales into the system, return the books to the display, return the leftover cash to the safe — all easy in this case, call it 15 minutes. We've already returned some unsold stock to one vendor — probably 15 minutes of processing and packing plus $6 or so for shipping. That $6 gets us to $31.66 or so. If you've been adding up all the time, the pre- and post-event time was about 3.25 hours. I was at the event for 2 hours, for a total of 5.25 hours. $31.66 divided by 5.25 nets out to $6.03 per hour. I'm salaried so the extra time — I worked a full day came home then went back to campus to do this event — is just extra time. But the store pays for the trade books buyer's time, and shouldn't have to count on extra time from salaried personnel to cover events. I just remembered that I haven't put in anything for mailing checks to three companies from which we purchased books — another $1.52 in expenses for postage, not counting time for our accounting dept. to issue checks.

I type that all out not because I'm intending to offer an anecdote — I said I wouldn't do that. I'm typing this out in full detail so that you can see that there are a lot of details involved in being a bookseller at an offsite event. In this particular case, I haven't yet even touched on the issue of in-store display that supports the event, and how much that front of store space ought to be worth. (We sold I think 6 more copies of the poet's books from the in-store display, but if the measure of an event's success is what happens in the room, then these sales don't count.)  I also haven't touched on any other aspect of publicity, something Libby's bookseller promised and failed to deliver — but something that booksellers do indeed deliver on occasion.

Some events go better. Some go worse. But this one is in most respects utterly typical, esp. in the steps that we had to go through. Rarely is an event easier to arrange than this one — it's not unusual to spend more time having to figure out details, esp. for the first time in a venue (which this was, but we had good support from the event's host). Rarely is an event closer than this one — 15 minutes of travel time is hard to beat. Sometimes, it doesn't take 2 hours to locate, order and receive books. But it's always a noticeable amount of time for these steps.

Anyway … more than you want to know. Or is it? From a bookseller's standpoint, this is the process, and all this is what we have to think about when we're measuring the success of an off-site event. Does this make 40% any more understandable?

It happens that I enjoy author events — talks, readings, Q&As — even when it's poetry. I enjoyed the reading that I described above; I was happy to be in the room for it. But as a business proposition? Well, you tell me. Did I make a good decision to commit my store to supporting the event by selling books there? Is there a business reason beyond dollars that justifies this effort? I'll be interested in your answers.

That’s what I posted to the list. Let me add two final notes. First, I love libraries – I was on the Friends board in my previous community, I’m speaking today at my current library (no honorarium or book sales) – and I’m delighted that libraries are hosting events, and that they’re trying to find a way to do book sales at their events. But if the current compensation system for bookstore is somehow objectionable, we're going to need to find an alternative. Secondly, if you shop at an online bookseller, I would ask you to think about whether that online bookseller would ever support an event at your local library.  This is another example of the way in which you spend your money having an effect on your community.

Mysteries and Thrillers

On the Sisters in Crime discussion list, a writer is asking for a simple way to distinguish mysteries and thrillers, and also asks whether mysteries "always have less suspense than thrillers."  Here's my reply:

A young Dane dons an antic disposition to investigate his father's murder.  That retrospective look at something that's already happened makes Hamlet a mystery, though at the time, of course, Shakespeare didn't know he was writing a mystery.  (Which accounts for the play's many frustrating failures to observe genre conventions!)

Driven by his ambitious wife, a Scotsman plots to kill the king and steal the throne, and then has to live with the consequences, as others plot to stop him.  That contemporaneous narrative focused on events as they happen or as they are about to happen makes Macbeth a thriller.

The question about the suspensefulness of mysteries versus thrillers is an interesting one.  My feeling is that the answer depends less on the elements of the narrative and more on the preferences of the reader, i.e. where you get your kicks.  If you prefer the ticking time bomb, chases and explosions, then thrillers are for you.  If you dig the intellectual challenge of puzzling out whodunit, howdunit and whydunit, then you probably prefer mysteries.

The main thing to remember, though, is that the two forms borrow shamelessly from each other.  Many great mysteries employ thriller tropes.  So, for example, the cat and mouse games that protagonists and antagonists play are present in both thrillers and mysteries.  Great thriller characters employ ratiocination to investigate and figure out what's going on.

The elements of mysteries and thrillers work well together and are intimately interwoven in our greatest stories and iconic figures.  That's why it makes sense to view both as sides of a single genre rather than two distinct forms of literature.  Sherlock Holmes is as likely to be involved in stopping a train wreck as he is to investigate why two trains collided.  As long as the game's afoot, we happily follow, regardless of which game we're playing.

“Minor” characters

On DorothyL yesterday, a writer posted this comment:

The woman who came across as "flat, stale" is a side character.  Yes, one of the more important side characters, but still only that.  How much time should an author spend developing the minor characters in a story?

Here's my reply:

At the beginning, what struck me about Crais' work was his ability to make the clients real.  Sure, Elvis and Joe were good, engaging characters.  But what I remember most about THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT is Ellen Lang, and Crais' portrait of a woman who's so dependent on her husband that she doesn't even know how to write a check.  This was the focus of my short essay on this book that's in 100 FAVORITE MYSTERIES OF THE CENTURY, but you could also say the same about Karen Shipley in LULLABY TOWN or the kids in INDIGO SLAM.

When Elvis is focused on his clients and their problems, I'd rank him among the great fictional private eyes of all time — right at the apex of the "private eye as social worker" movement.  (I'm often asked which among the mystery booksellers associations 100 favorites are my personal favorites.  My answer is look at the book; I was assigning the essays, so there's a clue in which titles I wrote up myself.)

When Elvis is dealing with his own issues (girlfriend, etc.), he's a bore.

Minor characters?  No such thing!  Great fiction only works when every single character is a vividly portrayed individual.  One other example: take a look at S.J. Rozan, if you haven't already.  She's an extraordinarily talented writer who does everything right — intricate plots, great wisecracks, pitch-perfect portrayal of the uneasy relationship between her two principle characters.  But what single things do I remember most about CONCOURSE?  It's Ida Goldstein at the piano and, late in the book, the girl and the kitten.  Small moments with characters most would describe as incidental, but these small moments make big impacts.  CONCOURSE is another one of my 100 favorites essays.

Not familiar with IMBA's 100 favorites list?  Visit your local IMBA store (find one at http://www.mysterybooksellers.com/), or you can order the book online at http://crumcreekpress.com/titles/100-favorite-mysteries-century.htm.

Taxing online purchases

There's a conversation on the Sisters in Crime discussion list about Amazon and sales taxes.  One poster wrote:

the great question is why some, many think the state is entitled to these 'extra' revenues.  The company who ships the product to you is not taking advantage of any of the services of your state.

I've just posted this reply:

Lawyers on this list should answer this question, because they'd do a better job than I will.  But the word here is "nexus" — an outpost, a facility, a brick & mortar element within a state.  That's what entitles the state to ask a merchant to collect sales tax.

So the issue here is not a matter of "extra" revenue or "new" taxes.  It's whether existing, well-established law applies to Amazon and other online merchants.  If Amazon has warehouses in your state, that seems like a pretty obvious nexus.  If Amazon has affiliates in your state, is that a nexus?  It's a debatable question, but Amazon seems to be taking the position that affiliates count as nexus because it withdraws its affiliate program from states that ask for taxes.  More interestingly in this internet era, does the hosting a website or a blog within a state count as nexus?  (How many of us could say for sure where our websites are housed?)

The California settlement isn't a capitulation — by either side.  It's going to be interesting in this anti-federal moment to see whether the federal government will step up the way that Amazon is asking it to.  At the debate last week, a GOP candidate proposed a national sales tax system.  Anyone think that either Amazon or Herman Cain will get what they want?

I will add just one thing: the notion that an out of state merchant is not taking advantage of "any of the services of your state" seems to me to be to be an extreme position.  For example, state and local government pay for most of the cost of the roads that those products travel on.  State and local government respond if the vehicles that transport your purchases are involved in accidents.  (And there sure are more delivery vehicles out on the roads these days!)  If you shop over a cable modem, your local government was involved in the provision of that service (through regulation of the lines).  In some areas — not where I am now, but in other places I have lived — local government might take care of all the trash and/or recycling that results from all the extra packing used in shipping a product to you.  (No bringing your own tote when you're shopping online!)  If you have problems with your purchase, your state government offers consumer protections that the merchant probably hopes you don't take advantage of.

You can argue that state and local governments that are supported by sales taxes should not do any of these things.  But taking the position that Amazon does not benefit in any way from the existence of state and local governments seems a little over the top, no matter how fashionable that position is today.

Panel discussion this weekend

This Saturday, April 23 at noon, I'll be back in Indiana to moderate a panel discussion on The Future of the Mystery Novel.

 

In a sea of change, there isn't anything that we knew about books yesterday that we can be confident will remain true tomorrow.  We'll tackle a wide range of questions about how readers, writers, publishers and booksellers are adapting. We'll look at technology, of course, but especially at how technology might change the nature of the fiction itself.  We'll talk about the preferences of today's readers — including young readers — and we'll look at the ways in which change is serving or failing book lovers.

 

Our panel features:

 

Kate Stine, editor of Mystery Scene magazine, the premier guide to the genre.  www.mysteryscenemag.com 

 

Jeff Stone, author of the very successful Five Ancestors series of historical suspense novels for younger readers — over 500,000 copies sold. readjeffstone.com 

 

Larry D. Sweazy, a 2010 Best Books of Indiana nominee whose third Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger novel, The Badger's Revenge, was published earlier this month. www.larrydsweazy.com

 

The conversation will begin at noon on Saturday at Barnes & Noble at 3748 E. 82nd St, Indianapolis.  (Store map page.)

 

The program is sponsored jointly by The Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and the Indiana Chapter of Sisters in Crime.  The program is free and open to the public. 

 

Hope you'll join us!

True believers

This week, SJ Rozan reported from Digital Book World on the Sisters in Crime blog (http://tiny.cc/SJatDBW and two other parts).  Her posts are fabulous, important and thought-provoking reading for all.

I was especially struck by one of SJ's editorial notes, on session eight, the future of independent bookstores.  She writes: "this session had a true-believer quality that made it hard to judge the realistic nature, or lack thereof, of what the speakers were saying."

I would turn this around.  It's only because readers, writers, publishers and store owners all together shared that "true-believer quality" that we ever had a strong independent bookselling community in the first place.  The book business has always been a challenging one, and independent stores survived only because all involved — customers, shopkeepers and suppliers alike — had an unwavering faith in the importance of what these stores were doing.

Interlopers have tested that faith, seducing both customers and suppliers with economies (real, sometimes, but more often false).  But the future clearly depends on the true-believers who will continue to count on independents' knowledge, erudition, curation and passion, and on independent booksellers' connections to their communities.  As the book business escapes its chains and, indeed, the entire industry becomes unbound (or is it unglued?), it's good to see the tide turning back towards independents, be it out of fear or necessity among those who have wavered or out of hope among those who've kept the faith.

Either way, it looks right now as though the future will be bright.  Independents certainly face challenges and it's going to be a bumpy ride.  But I do not doubt either the power or the number of true believers who sustained this industry in the past and will see it into the future.

Inside ball and corporate cultures

On the Sisters in Crime discussion list, there's been some chatter about a spreadsheet that Publishers Weekly made available on its website.  This spreadsheet appears to describe details of Amazon's levels of service for publishers.  You can find this spreadsheet on the PW website using this link http://tiny.cc/AMZcharges — then look for "Click here to download a spreadsheet detailing Amazon.com's new levels of service."  What follows are slightly edited versions of two messages that I posted on this subject to the SinC list, messages that I wrote while I was on the West Coast on SinC's 2010 summit visits to Amazon, Google, Apple and Smashwords.

I started by recalling something I learned during SinC's 2009 summit: writers write, publishers publish, distributors distribute, booksellers sell — you have to let folks do their jobs.  One writer replied:

"Ah, Jim, you make me think of an old-fashioned husband, patting little wifey's hand and say, 'Now, dear, you don't need to understand all these complicated money matters. Be a good girl and go cook dinner.' Writers want — need — to understand these things because we're affected by them."

In another context on the list, the same writer wrote:

"Selling screen rights to your book is like selling a car. When the new owner drives off in the car, all you can do is wave; you have no control over what happens to it after that. When you sell screen rights to your book, the movie is
out of your control. Take the check, wave, and let it go."

There are part of the business that writer must take charge of, where you need to roll up your sleeves and get involved.  There are other parts of the business that writers just don't participate in, that are a lot more like waving and letting it go.  I think it's really important to make some distinctions, and focus energies where authors can make a difference, otherwise you'll go crazy.

What we see on the Amazon spreadsheet that so many are finding so objectionable and mysterious is all about the agreements between a publisher and a retailer, agreements that cover the publisher's body of work.  Is it a surprise that some publishers are going to be treated differently from others? In broad strokes, a writer should certainly understand a few things about her or his publisher's arrangement with retailers — esp. whether a publisher conforms generally to standard retail marketplace practices — and know what kind of clout a publisher has with retailers.   But beyond these broad strokes, I think writers need to let publishers and retailers do their jobs.

I don't disagree that knowledge is self-defense, but it's a matter of knowing what you need to know, understanding exactly how you can be helpful to your publisher and to retailers, and knowing when to back off.  I don't need to understand the chemistry of gasoline and oxygen and combustion to drive my car, but I know that I need to maintain proper tire pressure.

Yes, there are some inner workings of the business that every writer should understand.  (Right now, belatedly, I've become more interested in the issue of copyright, and the meaning of Google's scanning project.)  But "author pages foil banner"?  As an author, I'm not worried.  I'm not even worried as a publisher.

One aside: Amazon takes money from publishers for this stuff.  Apple does not take money for this stuff.  We'll report more on this in the 2010 Summit Report.  But I will mention this now, because the era that we're living in right now is, most of all, an opportunity to think about what you'd like this business to look like.  Co-op or no co-op?  Both models have merits, but I know which I prefer.  And I'll tip my hand by saying again that Amazon is not a monopoly — they only have power because you all are enabling them.  There are alternatives, and not just my beloved brick and mortar independent bookstores (that many seem so eager to abandon), but online alternatives too.

What we're learning out here on these summit visits is, truly, eye-opening, and will offer writers lots of actionable ideas, ways that writers at all stages of careers can get involved.  Almost all of these ideas are free, even on Amazon.  Stay tuned for our report.

On Jul 17, 2010, at 7:13 AM, sistersincrime@yahoogroups.com wrote:

Are Amazon's practices significantly different from those of other retailers?

The short answer is no, Amazon's practices are no different than those of any other big retailer dealing with any other big publisher.  Small independent stores and small independent publishers generally work differently.  Normally, none of this stuff is made public by either side, big or small.

The summit team asked Amazon about the spreadsheet.  The folks we met with said they were not familiar with this document — which you may or may not choose to believe.  But they did say immediately that Amazon accepts co-op, just like others do.

As I mentioned on this list a couple of days ago, we learned that Apple does not take co-op for placement in iBookstore.  And I'll repeat this point too: the era that we're living in right now is, most of all, an opportunity to think about what you'd like this business to look like.

On my way back home, I stopped on Friday in the Chicago area, where I had a meeting with a vendor who supplies technology (among other things) to the bookstore that I manage.  The guy I met with was obviously earnest, smart, committed to his work and to his customers.  He's the kind of trading partner whom I'd be inclined to trust.  The problem is that he's working for a company that was founded in 1873, and the company is acting its age.  At Google, we were told, time is measured in milliseconds.  At this company,  the problems that I was there to talk with him about have plagued this system for 10 years, and the solution is not likely to be ready until next year.

During our travels, the four of us representing SinC talked a lot among ourselves about corporate cultures, the differences among the companies we visited, and the differences between these firms and all of the New York publishing industry.  We're going to be reporting to the Sisters in Crime membership on lots of specific details, details that matter and that you as authors will be able to act on right away.

But to me the larger questions are about corporate culture, and about who's steering the word business and their methods and motivations.  New York publishers aren't so incompetent because the individuals involved are stupid — most everyone you meet from the NY companies is smart and serious about the work.  But there's no question that they're hamstrung by legacy practices — a point that was made to us over and over by the new economy firms we visited.

To me, the most interesting thing about Amazon is that it's a new economy firm, but it's still trying to use old economy business practices — such as co-op.  What does that mean?  Are they right?  It's not just the 64 billion dollar question.  It's the question about the future of words themselves.

p.s.  If you're not already a member of Sisters in Crime, I hope you'll consider joining, not just so you can see our report but for all the benefits of SinC membership. Visit www.sistersincrime.org for details.