(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘book stores

“A good bookshop is like a genteel black hole that knows how to read”*…

Some good news…

Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 28% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to sales of $6.50 billion in pandemic-ravaged 2020.

The rebound was not quite enough to bring 2021 bookstore sales back to 2019 levels, falling 1% below 2019 sales of $9.13 billion… [but] was higher than the 19.3% increase for the entire retail sector…

Book shops are back: “Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021,” from @PublishersWkly

* Terry Pratchett

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As we browse, we might spare a thought for an author whose works are eminently worth picking up on one’s next bookstore run: social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass (Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey); he died on this date in 1895. Born into slavery, he escaped to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

He was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens; indeed, some Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great thinker had once been a slave.

Douglass believed in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, and in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto “No Union with Slaveholders,” criticized Douglass’s willingness to engage in dialogue with slave owners, he replied: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

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“A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read”*…

Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford

FT writers nominate awe-inspiring places to get your literary fix, from Mumbai to Buenos Aires…

El Ateneo is housed in a former theater in Buenos Aires
Pianist Duro Ikujeno in the Jazzhole in Lagos

And so many more: “The most brilliant bookshops in the world.”

* Terry Pratchett

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As we browse, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Mercury Theater broadcast the Halloween episode of their weekly series on the WABC Radio Network, Orson Welle’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  The first two-thirds of the show (which was uninterrupted by ads) was composed of simulated news bulletins… which suggested to many listeners that a real Martian invasion was underway.  (While headlines like the one below suggest that there was widespread panic, research reveals that the fright was more subdued.  Still there was an out-cry against the “phoney-news” format…  and Welles was launched into the notoriety that would characterize his career ever after.)

Coverage of the broadcast

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 30, 2021 at 1:00 am

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”*…

Behold, a behemoth…

Take a look at this graph. The blue is Amazon’s share of book sales in the past six years. The orange is where we are headed if their average growth rate (8%) continues. If nothing slows their momentum, Amazon will control nearly 80% of the consumer book market by the end of 2025. Every single book lover should worry. After we’re done worrying, we must change the way we buy books.

Books are a fundamental social good that have an outsized impact on our development, individually and collectively. They move us forward. They have been fundamental to our moral and social evolution, our inner lives, and our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. What they give us is too precious to trust to a single entity for whom they are ultimately just a product, and whose algorithms value them only by the revenue and customers they bring in.

Popular books are so deeply discounted on Amazon that other bookstores have found it hard to compete. Why does Amazon sell books at prices so low they lose money? Cheap books are a loss-leader that devalue books to drive competitors out of business and help Amazon gain control of the market, leaving them with near-monopoly power.

What is lost if at the end of 2025, Amazon sells 80% of books in the US? If one mega-retailer has unprecedented control over what everyone reads?

For one thing, diversity. The vast majority of people will be reading the same top-selling books, as determined by Amazon. On Amazon, as The New York Times puts it, “Best Sellers Sell the Best Because They’re Best Sellers”. Amazon is algorithm driven; the books promoted by Amazon are the ones that are already selling well. That makes it very difficult for new authors to build audiences. It keeps lesser known, unconventional books from reaching the readers who would appreciate them. It narrows our national conversation down to a very fine point, and sands the edges off of human ideas and creativity. It excludes marginalized voices. It does to our culture what losing biodiversity does to our environment.

Authors and publishers need to worry. Once Amazon dominates 80% of the book market, who are authors working for? Authors will effectively be producing content for Amazon to sell on commission, and Amazon will have control over the terms. Everything we’ve seen from Amazon indicates that when they have leverage, they use it to squeeze the most profit for themselves at the expense of their partners.

Local bookstores are essential to a healthy culture around books. Independent bookshops are crucial for emerging authors, who find passionate advocates in the booksellers who hand-sell their books and can make their careers. They are where authors meet readers, where book clubs form, where children discover a love of reading, and where schools and businesses partner to increase the impact of worthy books. Every bookstore is an activist for the importance of books in our culture; they ar ethe fertile grounds where all kinds of wild narratives are nurtured and grow.

f Amazon succeeds in putting bookstores out of business, readership will decline and the importance of books in our culture will diminish. Books will not thrive without the advocacy, passion, and resourcefulness of our booksellers.

Booksellers are people so taken by the imagination and insights of books that they have dedicated their working lives to them. Only a very special person makes that choice, and independent bookstores are filled with remarkable people. People with enthusiasm and curiosity, who can press a new book into your hands that you would never have discovered otherwise. We need that humanity in the book market, not algorithms.

I created Bookshop.org, a public benefit corporation, to help independent bookstores compete for online sales. Bookshop.org has just hit a major milestone — in the past 16 months we’ve helped bookstores earn $15,000,000 in profit, providing a lifeline for many stores. We’ve made progress, capturing about 1% of Amazon’s book sales. But it’s not enough. We need to shore up the culture around books against the forces of consolidation and big business. We need to make this a movement…

Every Book Lover Should Fear This Graph“; Andy Hunter (@AndyHunter777) reminds us to take our book buying where it matters.

Note that the effect of Amazon’s growing monopoly power on competition isn’t the only concern for readers…

You may own a Kindle full of books, but in reality, the only thing you truly own is the Kindle. Buried in the spaghetti code that is Amazon’s Kindle license agreement is the truth: your eBooks are not yours. You have a license agreement to view those books, and Amazon can revoke it at any time…

Technology Review

And of course, even as we support our local booksellers, we must also support our libraries, both local and global.

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we vote with our dollars, we might send historically-accurate birthday greetings to James MacGregor Burns; he was born on this date in 1918. A historian, political scientist, presidential biographer, and authority on leadership studies, received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in History and Biography for his work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s 32nd president, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 3, 2021 at 1:00 am

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”*…

 

bookstore-slide-2MCD-jumbo source

It was in Athens in the 4th Century BC that a man named Zeno walked into a bookshop. He had been a successful merchant, but suffered a terrible shipwreck on a journey out of Phoenicia, losing a priceless cargo of the world’s finest dye. He was 30 years old and facing financial ruin, but this catastrophe stirred his soul to find something new, though he didn’t quite know what.

One day, immersed in browsing a bookstore collection, many volumes of which have been lost to history forever, Zeno heard the bookseller reading out loud a passage from a book by Xenophon about Socrates. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. With some trepidation, he approached the owner and asked, “Where can I find a man like that?” and in so doing, began a philosophical journey that would literally change the history of the world. That book recommendation led to the founding of Stoicism and then, to the brilliant works of SenecaEpictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — which, not lost to history, are beginning to find a new life on bookshelves today. From those heirs to Zeno’s bookshop conversion, there is a straight line to many of the world’s greatest thinkers, and even to the Founding Fathers of America.

All from a chance encounter in a bookshop.

It would be an understatement to say that great things begin in bookstores, and that countless lives have been changed inside them…

 

Why spend time amongst the shelves? “Good Things Happen in Book Stores.”

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we browse in bliss, we might spare a thought for Benjamin Jonson; he died on this date in 1637.  A poet, actor, literary critic, and playwright (he popularized the comedy of humours), he is best remembered for his satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and for his lyric and epigrammatic poetry.

Eclipsing Christopher Marlowe, Jonson is generally regarded as the second most important English playwright during the reigns of Elizabeth I of James VI and I (after Shakespeare, with whom Jonson had a professional rivalry, but on whose death Jonson wrote “He was not of an age, but for all time”).  Indeed, while Shakespeare’s impact continues apace to this day, Jonson’s impact was arguably even bigger in the relatively-more immediate timeframe: he had broad and deep influence on the playwrights and the poets of the Jacobean era (1603–1625) and of the Caroline era (1625–1642).

220px-Benjamin_Jonson_by_Abraham_van_Blyenberch source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world”*…

 

Having a citizenship means that you have a place in the world, an allegiance to a state. That state is supposed to guarantee you certain rights, like freedom from arrest, imprisonment, torture, or surveillance – depending on which state you belong to. Hannah Arendt famously said that “citizenship is the right to have rights”. To tamper with ones citizenship is to endanger ones most fundamental rights. Without citizenship, we have no rights at all.

Algorithmic Citizenship is a form of citizenship which is not assigned at birth, or through complex legal documents, but through data. Like other computerised processes, it can happen at the speed of light, and it can happen over and over again, constantly revising and recalculating. It can split a single citizenship into an infinite number of sub-citizenships, and count and weight them over time to produce combinations of affiliations to different states.

Citizen Ex calculates your Algorithmic Citizenship based on where you go online. Every site you visit is counted as evidence of your affiliation to a particular place, and added to your constantly revised Algorithmic Citizenship. Because the internet is everywhere, you can go anywhere – but because the internet is real, this also has consequences…

Citizen Ex, co-commissioned by The Space and created for Southbank Centre’s Web We Want festival, allows one to explore what citizenship might mean in an ever more wired world.  Pledge allegiance at “Algorithmic Citizenship.”

* Francis Bacon

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As we hurry home, we might recall that it was on this date in 1801 that the American Company of Booksellers, one of the first trade associations of booksellers in the U.S., was formed.  The ACB lasted only four years, before rattling apart amidst members’ accusations of unfair competition against each other.  Several other such attempts were similarly stillborn over the 19th century– until 1900, when the American Booksellers Association was founded.

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