Sometimes You Just Get A Feeling

Colm & The Lazarus Key
Some time ago, while I was still working at Mercier Press, probably back in early 2008 in fact, I read a submission. It was for a book by a young man called Kieran Mark Crowley. The pitch was great, the text was zingy and the whole thing just read exceptionally well.

I met Mark, liked, him, pitched the book at the new title meeting and before we knew what was happening, Colm & The Lazarus Key was published and on bookshelves (complete with a rocking cover by the wonderful Snowbooks folks).

Last week the shortlist for the 20th Bisto Children’s Book of the Year Awards was announced and Kieran’s wonderful book was one of the ten books chosen for that shortlist. I’m delighted because I honestly believe that Kieran has many more fine books in him and that Colm & The Lazarus Key is one of the finest Irish children’s debut novels for some time.

Check out Kieran’s website or read an interview with him over at Mercier’s site. And buy and read the book!

Having a decent evening, but thinking about Great Aunts and Apple Tarts.
Eoin Launches

Irish Publishing News Screenshot
Irish Publishing News

Last month I announced that I had rolled out an experimental service aggregating news links for Irish Publishing. Today, after much meddling and experimenting, I finally pushed Irish Publishing News to its own site:

I liked the experimenting and I’ve figured out a few things while I was at it:

1) There are less blogs about books and publishing in Ireland than you’d think. If I’m missing someone or some organisation you think should be included, let me know I’m very keen to improve the quality and sources for Irish books and publishing.

2) One widget is better than six widgets when it comes to WordPress. By that I mean, pruning widgets that operate at cross purposes is a sensible move.

3) Design is important but function is nicer. I’m still unhappy with the look, but the site generally does what I had hoped it would and that is a pretty good place to be.

4) Most things can be built-in WordPress and for free! It really is a tool for champions. Yes it requires some basic knowledge, especially when digging deep into the back-end, but it pays off.

Still, I’m sure this iteration will be an experiment much like the others. This new version of the site offers numerous advantages over the old add-on site:

    1) It allows me to build an archive of links day by day
    2) It allows me to build up the news and features categories more effectively
    3) It brings the power of RSS to the blog section properly rather than by proxy
    4) It is just neater

I hope you like the change. Remember to update your RSS feed too.

Bookshops Are Dead: And I Killed Them

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=bookshop&iid=7119995″ src=”b/f/4/1/Victims_Survey_The_2bd3.jpg?adImageId=8791690&imageId=7119995″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]
2009 was a weak year for me in book reading terms. I read perhaps 26 or so (with some extra I’m fairly sure I have forgotten):

    1) Europe Between The Oceans
    2) A Fire Upon The Deep
    3) The Ascent of Money
    4) Blood of the Mantis
    5) The Training Ground
    6) Dragonfly Falling
    7) The Blade itself
    8) Millennium
    9) Before They Are Hanged
    10) Ireland in 2050
    11) Gutenberg Revolution
    12) Empire in Black & Gold
    13) Empire of the Sea
    14) Edward I: A Great & Terrible Kind
    15) The Last Argument of Kings
    16) The Steel Remains
    17) The Dreaming Void
    18) The Adamantine Palace
    19) Defying Empire
    20) The Darkness That Comes Before
    21) A Shadow in Summer
    22) A Betrayal in Winter
    23) An Autumn War
    24) Young Miles
    25) The Stars My Destination
    26) Earthman, Come Home

On the other hand I bought quite a few more than that, perhaps something like 50 or 60 books. I’m hoping to push the read figure up towards 45 or so and if I’m really lucky, I might even average one a week.

Serious thoughts
I was thinking while calculating this poor reading effort of the changes that Seth Godin pointed to in a recent post:

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

He drew a comparison with books and Amazon’s recent somewhat questionable Kindle news, that they sold more books via Kindle than in paper on Christmas day:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I think Seth is right and yet wrong. He is right, bookstores as we’ve known them are dead. But Amazon killed them long before they released the Kindle. Cheap books delivered through the mail are the way forward for those of is who buy in large numbers (I’m probably a medium rank buyer of books).

The Book Depository sucks up a good 60% of my book buying at the moment and accounts for almost all my new book purchases with 10% or less spent in chain stores or supermarkets. The rest is spread very unevenly as follows: 25% in second-hand and car-boot sale locations (Ravenbooks features here and I suspect in 2010 will feature even more) which is made up almost exclusively of out of print and pre-2000 books, the last 5% or so gets spent fairly randomly everywhere from good independents, to local shops with self published titles and random online direct purchases and ebooks (I’m still primary print and suspect I will always be so, despite a belief and passion for digital text).

He is wrong, however, when he says that the top rank of book buyers are gone for ever from print, because many of those buying books on Kindle will buy some, get some free and eventually return to print books, many more of the top buyers will simply ignore digital books in favour of print because they like it.

This is not a defence of print against digital (like this op-ed from Jonathan Galassi president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux) as, ultimately, I believe the bulk of books will be read digitally before the end of the teens, but it is not as simple a case as music when whether or not you had a cd or an mp3 makes little difference to the listener, the quality was just the same and the process of using it fairly similar too. Books on the other hand are usable on their own without input from a device of any kind and with the proviso that there is light. Those readers who, like me, still enjoy the experience of reading in print will still buy in print even as the price of print books rises.

So there will be demand for print books but at a much reduced level (because many others will shift to digital as will casual readers and new readers) and the economics of bookshops will become completely skewed favouring the online Emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant as Ravenbooks has (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in) and no doubt this will mean concentrating on older books, out-of-print books and second-hand books, books that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand books printed directly on site (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it though, by not buying in chain stores, and rarely enough in independents, I killed the chain bookshop and I got away with it!

More to come today!

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.