Guest Post: Louisa From Raven Books

I think it would be fair to say that Raven Books comes close to being my favourite bookstores in Ireland:

It is our intention to provide an engaging and inclusive environment where the lives of individuals and the life of the community is enriched through learning, entertainment and imagination.

Louisa has succeeded in using Twitter and a lively blog to expand the impact of the store well beyond its fairly tiny size. Read the Raven Ramblings blog here, follow Raven books here on twitter and go into the shop and spend some money.

I asked her to submit a guest post for my blog and I think you’ll agree, she has done a fine job!


Storytelling @ Thurdays (Flickr user kodomut & cc)

I never learned from a man who agreed with me ~ Robert A Heinlein

Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse ~ Chris Hedges

I could easily be persuaded that fire was discovered so that our ancestors had a focal point to gather around to share stories. Warmth and toasted mammoth flesh have their place in life, sure, but what made those long Neanderthal evenings magical was the re-telling of the hunt, dramatised for full effect in the flame-flickering light. We are by our nature a social species, one which has drawn together in tribes big and small across the globe and across the millennia to tell our tales.  Common culture binds families, communities, societies, and the telling and re-telling of stories is of crucial importance to the health of the tribal unit at any fractal level. From the time we are infants we learn through stories the customs and mores of those we live with (dependence); we explore our boundaries through the imagination of others to better discover who we are (independence); and through fiction we are able to process difficult truths on personal and societal levels (interdependence).

What has changed dramatically since the discovery of fire is the way we experience storytelling – writing, printing, recording, radio, cinema, television, the internet – all have had their impact in altering how we
tell, absorb, and share stories. Generally in 21st century western culture we absorb a story on our own, or possibly in the predominantly silent company of others gathered around a large or small screen. For most, an essential part of processing that story is in talking about it afterwards with others – dissecting a book, film, TV show, still exploring our boundaries in adulthood as we did in childhood, adjusting (or not) as taboos are broken, traditions questioned, prejudices challenged.

For those who find themselves marginalised in their geographic community, the internet has provided an easy way for many to share and process stories with like minds, regardless of physical location.  These online connections can be of tremendous comfort and affirmation to those who might otherwise feel isolated by their interests; however with the ease of these connections, the danger can arise of solipsistic virtual societies fragmenting the cohesion of the geographic community that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, depend on.  Rather than the post-hunt discussion ’round the fire that strengthened the shared experience of the tribe, stories are now discussed online by anyone with little more than a language and an interest in common.

An added dimension of this shift to the virtual is the evolution of eReaders which has caused the boundaries of the book world to rapidly shift.  As with any upheaval, there are those who unquestioningly embrace the change, the more cautious who may or may not be swayed by what may or may not be progress, and the stalwart who believe the only valid definition of a book includes paper and ink. For all three categories, the internet has provided readers with the means to share why they have taken the stance they have, fundamentally discussing the importance of stories in their lives – is it just about the tale, regardless of the form it is presented in? Is the enjoyment of reading linked to the tactile experience? Does accessibility affect the value of a story? How has the idea of ownership changed from the time the hunter stood before his tribe, seeking immortality through his story being retold by others, to gargantuan intellectual copyright legal documents, to Google pushing publishing boundaries into an unwritten future of who can read what and where and when?

Me, I’m still drawn to the fire, curled up with a secondhand paperback. If I’m lucky, it might even contain treasures from its previous reader – train tickets, shopping lists, a pressed flower, postcards, photographs, a scribbled maths formula; I’ve even found a love letter though, judging by the date, both the writer and recipient were long gone from this earth. Or was the letter never sent and put in the book for safekeeping? This is one of the many reasons why I love secondhand books because right there, before I’ve even read a word of it, I have the whispers of a story waiting to be told.


Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 12/12/2009

Colm & The LaZarus Key

I like the structure of that date, it has a good look to it.

Here is a link to JA Konrath’s rather interesting list of ebook predicitions from the start of the month. I missed it then and only read it today.

A brace of great posts from Booksquare; here & here.

Great post about what gamers can teach publishers, really fascinating:

the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions. They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.

By the way is anyone getting the feeling that Seth Godin was SO far ahead of the curve with Small is the New Big? Coz I am!

Last but by far not least, the Irish Times has a list of fabulous books for kids this Christmas, including one of an un-mentioned (on this list) favourites (I thought another self commissioned title was pushing it!): Colm & The Lazarus Key by Kieran Mark Crowley who will be one of Ireland’s best known writers for children soon, of that I am certain. The smartly excellent cover is the work of the wonderful Emma over @ Snowbooks, if you need cover work, she’s your girl.

Reading like a demon, but only just keeping up!

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Publishing Success in Ireland, Part Five, Summing Up

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This series has been an exciting and interesting one for me to write and research. The first four parts are the real meat. You can read them one by one:

Publishing Success In Ireland, Part One
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Two
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Four

So what have we learned with this series?

    1) Success is a lot more mundane than most people think.
    2) 1500-2000 units will put your book in the top 1000 books of that year.
    3) The industry is dominated by the forces of UK publishing
    4) That Fiction outperforms but is heavily driven by hits (making this Fintan O’Toole article nonsense*)
    5) That Average Selling Price makes a real difference

Have I anything new to share?
I’ve three new facts to share today.
– Up to the last Nielsen figures (28/11/2009) the Irish Consumer Market was down approximately 4.52% in Value
– Volume was up 5.42% though
– ASP was down 9.43%

These three facts indicate a number of unsettling features of the Irish book market.

Firstly, price is driving higher volume, but that is at the cost of driving down the ASP. This is surely putting everyone in the chain under extreme pressure.

Secondly, while there are some startling figures for individual books (70K+ for Secret Scripture for instance) as a whole, the Average Sale per Title is down somewhat (if this figure means anything).

Thirdly, Irish publishers are doing A LOT worse than the market as a whole. Not having full data makes this analysis superficial only so treat it with caution, but I estimate that nearly every Irish publisher has suffered a fall in sales much larger than the market fall. This has been driven by the heavy push booksellers are sensibly putting into bestselling titles, making the space tougher for smaller titles.

In short, success however modest, will be even more precarious going forward!

* Also Dan Brown (who O’Toole picks on) has sold, 57193 copies of The Lost Symbol in Ireland so far this year.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 03/12/2009

I’ve been a bit lazy with the linking here, because I’ve become so addicted to linking through Twitter. But I shall try and change.

A very nice exploration of what Google brings to the party for newspaper publisher (1 & 2). Extra credit, the Guardian’s interview/article with Google’s Josh Cohen.

I’ve never met John Blake, but I hope to some day. He’s a smart-smart publisher and this column in the Times goes to the heart of why in very simple language, a pretty impressive achievement:

The way the big publishers work is like spread-betting. About 80 per cent of books break even, 10 per cent lose a lot of money and 10 per cent make a lot of money. It doesn’t matter to them that some books don’t make money, because in the short term you have to keep the wheels turning and the staff employed until the next big thing comes along.

The New York Times has a holiday guide to the ereader. Worth digging into if only for the section where they explore the REAL future of content:

While not technically an e-reader, an online e-book portal for children is offered by Disney. A subscription provides access to more than 500 titles from Disney, including classics like “Bambi.” A family membership with accounts for up to three children is $8.95 a month; an annual membership is $79.95. Gift subscriptions, by the month or year, are also available.

Disney Digital Books is compatible with both PCs and Macs. Since it’s browser-based, you can log into your account on any computer. Young readers can select books based on individual reading levels, including picture and chapter books.

Promising more blog linking!