Friday, July 17, 2009

13 would be just too much bad luck

What does it say about how much a certain quasi-governmental instrumentality (or should that be ‘externality’) knows about the industry it has spent so much time studying that the print version of its final report has a 10-digit ISBN?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flying out the door ...

Not only do Ms Meyer’s terrifically successful teen-vampire books now have their own ‘account manager’ at Hachette, apparently they have inspired some particularly creative shoplifting. I hear that one central Melbourne bookshop was flummoxed at how their entire stock of a ‘limited-edition’ tie-in tote bag (will merchandising wonders never cease?) was pilfered in one hit … while on top of a very tall display in clear view.

The lawyers always win

That old truism about lawyers being the only winners in lawsuits seems to have come true for poor old thriller writer Clive Cussler. Action-man Clive thought he’d suffered enough after losing a long-running series of court cases against the film studio that made the spectacularly unsuccessful film based on his novel Sahara, paying out US$5 million in damages. But now he has been ordered to pay the winners’ lawyers’ bills as well at $US14 million! Once he pays his own legal team, estimates are that he may be US$27 million out of pocket.

More culture in a pot of yoghurt?

My old friend Horace Bent, who writes a similar column to this one in the UK’s Bookseller magazine, has announced the winners of the annual Diagram Prize for the year’s oddest book title. The 2009 winner is The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Professor Philip M Parker (Icon Group International). The title received 32% of the 5000+ votes cast at the Bookseller’s website. The runner-up, with 22% of the votes, was Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy L Cheney and Robert M Seyfarth (University of Chicago Press). Also in contention were Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D Cash (SLACK Incorporated), Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski (C & T), The Large Sieve and Its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski (Cambridge University Press) and Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Lietai Yang (Woodhead). Dear readers, can you think of any locally published titles that we might want to nominate next year?

Why you can't buy a $20 book

I’m always over the moon to receive correspondence relating to my little tales—it does reassure me that I still have an audience and that I’m not prattling on to an empty room. In reply to an item in the March issue, I received the following illuminating recollection: ‘In answer to your correspondent asking why we don’t price items to the full dollar, there is a very valid reason not to. In a past life I was with a (then) large Australian publishing house who wanted to do just that. At an arranged meeting with a (then) large bookselling department store, we were promptly advised that would not be possible. We were advised: “For a $20 purchase the customer can hand over a $20 note and with no change required, turn and walk away. The canny cash-register attendant could choose not to ring up the sale and pocket the note!” It was because of this integrity issue we did not get retail support and did not proceed with rounding to full-dollar pricing.’

Beyond customer service

My good friend Mary Dalmau at Melbourne’s Readers Feast bookshop is known for many things, among them her love of a good detective story and a ferocious commitment to customer service. Recently, she got to combine the two, after a lost wallet was found in the store late one afternoon. Let’s let Mary tell the story: ‘I checked the wallet and found it belonged to a David D Franks of Richmond, Virginia USA. So began the detective's hunt. I rang the major hotels to see if he was registered as a guest, but no. […] I rang American Express to see if they could give me a contact number but the Australian girl rang through to an American counterpart who was particularly unhelpful by cancelling the poor man's card! I rang the local police station only to be told to come down and fill in a report. […] By this time, it was about 6.15 and I asked James if he had served many American tourists today and he said that he had helped some women who had been on a cruise ship. So, next stop was the Port of Melbourne Authority—all automated! So, I went online and found that a ship had docked today belonging to the same shipping line as the name on the card in Mr. Franks' wallet and that it was leaving tomorrow. Nothing for it, I decided, but to go down to Station Pier adjacent to St. Kilda and see what I could find out. The classic scenario then of security on the gates only letting passengers through to the ship. I explained that I didn't even know if this man was a passenger but I wanted access to the ship to find out, or for them to contact the ship for me. Cut a long story a bit shorter, Dave (my new mate on duty at the Port) sorted it and established that indeed M. Franks was on the ship and word was getting to him to come to the gate to meet me. That alone took twenty minutes, but along came the fellow. Well, we had the best chat. He is Professor David Franks of Virginia who simply could not believe the effort I had gone to.’

Going that extra mile ...

Mary’s efforts are possibly surpassed by American academic Daniel Fleisch, who flew more than 900km on Christmas Day from Ohio to Ottowa in Canada to hand-deliver a copy of his book on an obscure set of physics formulae to a customer who had posted a negative review on Amazon complaining that he’d been sold a flawed copy. At first Fleisch offered to send a copy of the book via overnight delivery, but the date—it was 24 December—meant the book, intended as a Christmas present, wouldn’t arrive in time. He thought about driving to Canada from Ohio, but the weather was too snowy. ‘I felt pretty lousy,’ Fleisch told the Dayton Daily News. Then he found a flight leaving at six am on Christmas morning, hired a rental car, and arrived at the disgruntled customer’s house. Fleisch apologised for the flaw in the original copy, handed over the book and headed back to Ohio, arriving home after midnight. ‘Just seeing the look on his face ... it was worth it,’ he said. The customer has now updated his Amazon review, saying the book is ‘excellent for a new aspiring electrical engineer, physics student or even a practising engineer.’

A sad sign of the times

It’s a sad sign of the times, but the daily email bulletin from our friends at Publishers Weekly has recently added a ‘Comings and Goings’ column for all those in the US book trade who have been laid off to post their private email addresses so people can stay in touch. There is a growing list every day of those who have lost their jobs.

Innovative retailing solutions?

With Dymocks recently buying into a sandwich-bar chain, one has to wonder what ‘innovative acquisition’ will be next: ARW (sorry I mean ‘RedGROUP Retail’) buying up failed ABC childcare centres? Collins/Book City selling you a book while servicing your car?

Monday, February 02, 2009

How to save a fortune by doing absolutely nothing (and ignoring your accountant)

Among all the economic doom-and-gloom talk, it was nice to hear of a good-news story, albeit somewhat accidental. During last year, a number of long-established book distribution businesses merged and were then sold on to a third party. The upshot was that the original owners of the businesses each received a substantial cheque once all the dust had settled. One of these book-trade veterans decided to take a well-earned, extended holiday, and simply deposited his cheque in the bank before jetting off. His accountant kept urging by email and text message for him to move his windfall from the ‘low-yielding’ bank account to the ‘lucrative’ stock market, but to no avail: the holiday was not to be interrupted; business matters could be dealt with later on. And just as well our chap stuck to his guns: by the time his holiday was over, the stock market had crashed and he saved himself a fortune by doing precisely nothing!

A bookish sort of PM

Our new(-ish) Prime Minister has always seemed to me like the bookish sort, and indeed he was spotted in a well-known Melbourne bookshop (you know, that one on Lygon St) just before Christmas. According to the Age’s John Elder he even went so far as to praise bookshops as ‘temples of the soul’. After shaking many hands with other browsers, posing for photos and coo-cooing at babies, what books did the PM actually buy? Apparently his stash included Nuns Having Fun, copies of Harpers and the New Yorker, Tom Holland’s Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom and Simon Schama’s The American Future. ‘In fact, there were a couple of other items he’d earlier selected being kept discreetly under the counter,’ the Age revealed, somewhat breathlessly, ‘notably The Chaser Annual 2008.’

The occasional anonymous gripe

I always like to receive correspondence, and while I prefer it to be invitations to glamorous parties, the occasional anonymous gripe also has its place in my in-box. Thus, ‘an anonymous bookseller’ writes: ‘I’d like to point out an irritation I have with the publishers now pricing their books with “$x.99 cents”. Do they think customers don't realise that we cannot give one-cent change or that the book is actually cheaper than pricing it up to the full dollar? I feel quite stupid telling customers a book is $19.99 (a bit like a used car salesman). We all know they upped it from 95 cents to gain that extra four cents, but really why not show a bit of integrity and price it to the full dollar? I am interested to see if I am the only one that feels this way.’ Correspondence in reply to the usual address, please …

An unhappy Christmas tale

I’m afraid I have share a distinctly unhappy Christmas story. West Australian bookseller Eric Ladhams had a shocking end to his 2008 after vandals broke into his store, Boab Books. The shop lost around $50,000 worth of stock when local children with whom Ladhams had clashed earlier in the week pulled the books off the shelves and poured milkshake syrup over them, before destroying the store’s computers, cool room and cafe. ‘Nothing was stolen,’ Ladhams told the Weekly Book Newsletter, ‘they just came in purely to smash and destroy.’ ‘Even if I could have afforded new stock, it would have taken three or four weeks to get there, so our Christmas trade was basically nil’. Two 14-year-olds have been charged, while four nine-year-olds have received juvenile cautions. Boab Books is now for sale.