Monday, November 30, 2009

Borders UK under administration

Going, going, gone. The drama has been unfolding for months, and finally it has been confirmed: Borders UK has gone belly-up; even that, not without more drama though. After acquiring it in a management buyout four month ago, Valco Capital has been trying to hawk Borders, to the extent of advertising its sale. But when deals with WH Smith and HMV didn't come through, administration remained the only option.

Borders is the first major chain to go under in UK after Woolworths, and the first bookshop chain. With 45 stores at prime locations on high streets and as anchor tenants in malls closing down, besides leaving plenty of empty retail space like Woolworths, there is a real fear of the domino effect with several publishers, wholesalers and distributors in UK being put under immense pressure. (Malaysia will not be exempt either: imagine only a tiny portion of the books from 45 mega-stores, being remaindered and sold off cheap at the next big warehouse sale in Klang Valley, and the resulting strain on the local industry.) The first store of Borders UK was opened in 1998 and now the chain has been shuttered, after being directly or indirectly responsible for the demise of hundreds of independents over the last decade. (The French must really be having a good laugh -- no remaindered sales there and, remember, they treat their independents like wine!)

Still, Mr Robert Clark, the senior partner at Retail Knowledge Bank, "...firmly believes that if a bookseller has knowledgeable staff and tailors its services to the local community ... there is still a place in Britain's high streets for physical booksellers." Even chains.

BTW, according to the BBC website, the 45 stores under Borders have started closing down sales.

The Independent

Salman Rushdie to write sequel to 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'

According to, Salman Rushdie is writing a sequel to his 1990s children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Luka and the Fire of Life is expected to be published by Jonathan Cape in late 2010, according to the website.

Salman Rushdie wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories in 1990 for his oldest son Zafar. It was Rushdie's first book afer The Satanic Verses, the first book after Ayatollah Khomeini called for his execution. The book tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who goes on a quest to help his father recover his lost gift of storytelling. It is probably the most readable of Rushdie's books, for those who find his other works a little intimidating.

Rushdie is writing Luka and the Fire of Life for his youngest son, Milan, who was born in 1999. Luka is the younger brother of Haroun, who must also help his ailing father in a quest to find the fire of life.

I remember the time when Silverfish first opened in Desa Seri Hartamas. Walking into the Times warehouse (they were distributing Penguin books then), I saw a stack of hardbound Harouns with full colour illustrations priced at RM56.00. I asked them what they were doing there, and they told me that nobody wanted them. Shocked, I told them that I'd take the lot (although they refused to give me a better discount). I knew my customers would love the book and I sold them all out in a month. Then I ordered 60 more, which too sold out. I couldn't even save a copy for myself. (I later bought a copy from India.)

It was a beautiful book. Let's hope some brain-dead pen-pusher does not decide to ban it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In France, indie bookshops are like fine wine

Olivia Snaije writes in Publishing Perspectives. France will soon be a warding labels to indie bookshops in the country, like it does for wine. The former culture minister Christine Albanel launched the Librairie Independante de Reference (Recommended Independent Bookshop) label in 2007. As of September 2009, 406 of France's 3,000 independent bookstores have qualified for the designation -- denoting high quality.

Olivia Snaije reports: "In order to qualify for the LIR label, which is valid for three years, bookshops must fulfill six conditions, among which are that the bookshop play an important cultural role in the community, organizing readings and cultural events; that it have employees who contribute to the quality of the service and that the bookstore's owner be responsible for buying stock; that the store maintain a large selection of books -- typically at least 6,000 titles, the majority of which have been in print for a year or more."

"Bookshops that win LIR designation receive tax breaks from the government and special subsidies administered by the Centre National du Livre (CNL), including interest-free loans for store improvements and money to support readings and events. Some 500,000 euros are designated for the LIR-related projects, while the government estimates the tax breaks offered will exceed 3 million euros in value."

In 1981 the Lang law, which was initially criticised for obstructing free competition, established fixed book prices in France. It limited discounts to 5%. Now, 28 years later, it is considered a success, and a boost to the industry. Today, France has a network of 3,500 independent bookshops and some 6,000 publishers.

Talk of taking culture seriously.

Publishing Perspectives

An agent for agents

From Publishers Weekly: First there were writers and publishers, then there were agents inbetween the writers and the publishers; now there is an agent inbetween the writer and the agent!

WEbook was launched 18 months ago as a site for writers. It has now added a new service, AgentInbox, that links authors and agents. With a link on the WEbook home page. According to their site, they will pre-screen submissions from authors before sending them on to appropriate agents. "AgentInbox will focus in particular on query letters while also ensuring the manuscripts adhere to basic editorial standards and readiness," says Ardy Khazaei, president of WEbook.

Publishers Weekly says, "WEbook's team of in-house and freelance publishing professionals will review pitch letters, make sure that the letters match the actual manuscript and that the manuscript is properly formatted, but the company will not make any recommendations about the quality of the content."

"We think we've created a fast and easy way for agents to manage the slush pile," says Khazaei.

The report says that, to date, about eight literary agencies have signed on and, in the short term AgentInbox is free to authors. But there could be a fee in future. There will be no charge to agents and WEbook will take no cut of any future deals.

Somehow it doesn't quite add up, does it? Maybe, I am too cynical.


So who says reading is dead?

For the whole of the first year, from August 2008 to August 2009, games were the number one category of downloads on the iPhone every month according to analytics firm, Flurry. But in September, games apps were overtaken by book apps for the first time. And, in the last four months, book apps have exceeded the popularity of games apps. In October one in five apps produced for the iPhone have been books.

Flurry predicts that Apple could take over the market from the Amazon Kindle, as more and more book publishers continue to produce books for the AppStore, even though the iPhone display is two inch smaller than the Kindle's. It could be even more worrying for Amazon if rumours of the Apple tablet turn out to be true.

Flurry's research, entitled the Pulse Report, also found that iPhone 'addicts' utilised their apps more than three times a day and in excess of 100 times a month,over ten times more than the average. Flurry's sample size was over 2,500 applications and 40 million consumers. The survey looked at usage patterns across Apple (iPhone and iPod Touch), Blackberry, JavaME and Google Android.