Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Librairies sans frontieres

So Borders is placing its knitting back in the box and putting its Australian stores up for sale, just as WHSmith did before them. While local publishers are no doubt very concerned that the 20-store chain is maintained in some form, I'm sure there are plenty of booksellers adjacent to Borders outlets who must be feeling like the inhabitants of the Earth at the end of H G Wells' War of the Worlds. There is some suggestion that a management buyout of the US chain's Australian stores may be a possibility, but perhaps just as likely Pacific Equity Partners (owners of Angus & Robertson) may jump in or perhaps Dymocks, given Borders has expressed an interest in franchising. One thing appears likely - for the moment, anyway. We can wave goodbye to that phenomenon so beloved by sales managers - the Borders' new store opening order.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Grid guys

A number of industry identities were spotted at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend, including distributor Dennis Jones, Phil Walshe of Bolinda Audio and Pearson Australia's technology guru Peter Dart, who enjoyed the hospitality of Hewlett Packard. (I wonder if Dart has kept this quiet back at Penguin HQ. His colleague Bob Sessions was an early and vocal marcher against the race.) Phil Walshe seems to have got closest to the action. Visitors to his apartment overlooking the racetrack were surprised to discover a Channel Nine film crew using his balcony as a vantage point. That's one way of ensuring you appear on the evening news.

Friday, March 16, 2007

You Only Live Twice?

When my nephew asked if I had discovered the Second Life yet, I almost clocked him with my handbag. But it turns out he wasn’t being rude about my advanced age after all. Second Life is apparently the name of an alternative online world where people can live, make money, build houses and even attend concerts, not as themselves, but as self-created characters, or ‘avatars.’ Such is the popularity of this virtual world (four million people belong to it, with as many as 200,000 strolling its virtual streets at any one time), that businesses are starting to get involved. The main reason for this is that any intellectual property you create in this online world remains yours, and it’s an interesting way of market testing and even promoting your brands. Thus, Penguin UK already has a resident Second Life publisher, while a ‘live’ reading from a virtual Dean Koontz heralded the opening of a Second Life Bantam Dell bookshop last month (selling only Bantam Dell books, of course). I hear we may have our own Australian inhabitants in Second Life before too long. The (surely not cash-strapped) University of Queensland has apparently purchased (with real money!) some real estate in Second Life. I shall therefore look forward to greeting the avatar of a virtual Greg Bain on a virtual Second Life golf course before too long. Those of us who don’t have enough time to live our First Life can only marvel. Or despair.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Tale of Two Chains

No doubt we will have another round of insane discounting when we all go Harry Potty in July. It reminds me of a tale of two bookselling chains (whom I cannot name, of course) that I learned about recently. Like many good stories, it is set around Christmas time, and involved a bestelling book (which I also cannot name). You will be dumbstruck, dear reader, to discover that one chain was selling this book for substantially less than cost. The price was so good, in fact, that the head office of its competitor sent out a command to all its stores to go directly to branches of the first chain's stores and buy up all available stock of the title without delay. This was duly done. Then, the second chain's existing stock of the books was taken off the shelves, replaced with cheaper books and (and this is the really nice bit, I think), returned to the publisher. One can only imagine what all this skullduggery did to the BookScan figures. There's an even more interesting story about the creation of the book itself, which I would love to share with you but, alas, it may have to wait until the annals of this age are writ.

Books They Should Read

Booksellers' catalogues can tend to look the same, so it's nice to see someone trying something a little bit different. Steve Jones and his team at Kinokuniya in Sydney have produced a celebrity-driven Books They Should Read catalogue, which amusingly and somewhat wickedly exploits the nation's obsession with celebrities. They picked some well-known names, including John Howard, George Bush, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton (I can thank my occasional trips to the hairdresser for my acquaintance with the latter two) and creatively put together recommended reading lists for them. As good booksellers are so skilled at doing. Thus, among several recommendations, Bush was helpfully recommended Where's Bin Laden? and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Iraq, Howard got Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, Spears was directed to Idiots in Love: Chronicles of Romantic Stupidity and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, while The Triumph of the Airheads was suggested for Hilton. My own favourites from the catalogue: Kinokuniya's suggestion that Victoria 'I've never read a book' Beckham might like to read her own Learning to Fly, and Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Hostesses for, you've guessed it, Ralph Fiennes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Putdownable books

Readers don't finish almost half of all books they buy, according to a Teletext survey of 4000 readers in the UK. This follows the revelation in my December 2005 column that a third of Brits bought books 'solely to look intelligent.' Now we know which books they are not finishing. Top of the unread fiction list was D B C Pierre's Booker winner, Vernon God Little, followed by what is probably the most famous unedited book of all time, J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and James Joyce's Ulysses (for which library binding has proved largely unnecessary). Big unfinished nonfiction titles included Bill Clinton's autobiography (a book, I was gratified to discover, I too have not finished), Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves and, tellingly, Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It made me wonder what 'putdownable' Australian and New Zealand titles might appear on a list done in this part of the world. I'd be glad to receive your nominations, dear readers. Just jot me a line to gladysbembo@yahoo.com or, if that's too low-tech for you, place a comment on my blog.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An un-conference?!

I hope you’ve booked your seat at the forthcoming ABA conference, which is not to be missed this year (I’m a bit past it now, but I’ve attended plenty of them in my time.) I was intrigued recently, however, to hear of a new concept – the unconference. The Yarra Plenty Regional Library has apparently just completed one. The idea (and it does seem rather attractive) is to embrace those parts of conferences that people actually enjoy, i.e. the drinkies, chatter and networking, and do away with dull presentations and keynote addresses. ‘An unconference is just that—a whole Powerpoint-free zone,’ library CEO Christine Mackenzie proudly told Australian Library News. ‘You don’t get talked at—you are part of the conversation … It took just 12 minutes to compile the program.’ Sounds like my kind of event. Now, could someone please invent an un-awards ceremony?