Sunday, October 04, 2009

Media Week 40: Curating, Larsson, BooksEtc, Disney, Magazines

Interesting article in Sunday's NYTimes about curating content in the retail sense. Some relevance to book retailing and publishing although not specifically noted in the article (NYTimes):
The word “curate,” lofty and once rarely spoken outside exhibition corridors or British parishes, has become a fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting. In more print-centric times, the term of art was “edit” — as in a boutique edits its dress collections carefully. But now, among designers, disc jockeys, club promoters, bloggers and thrift-store owners, curate is code for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”
Or more to the point, “I belong.”
For many who adopt the term, or bestow it on others, “it’s an innocent form of self-inflation,” said John H. McWhorter, a linguist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “You’re implying that there is some similarity between what you do and what someone with an advanced degree who works at a museum does.”
Indeed, these days, serving as a guest curator of a design blog, craft fair or department store is an honor. Last month, Scott Schuman, creator of The Sartorialist, a photo blog about street fashion, was invited to curate a pop-up shop at Barneys New York.
The Girl Who kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson is the final book in Stieg Larsson's posthumously published Millennium trilogy and seals his status as a master storyteller, says Nick Cohen of the Observer. Of course not available in the US until next year. (Observer):
I cannot think of another modern writer who so successfully turns his politics away from a preachy manifesto and into a dynamic narrative device. Larsson's hatred of injustice will drive readers across the world through a three-volume novel and leave them regretting reaching the final page; and regretting, even more, the early death of a master storyteller just as he was entering his prime.
In the UK Borders has announced that it will retire the BooksEtc and Borders Express brands (Independent):
Borders UK has confirmed it plans to remove the Books Etc and Borders Express brands from the high street. The bookseller – which in July completed a management buyout backed by the retail restructuring specialist Hilco – is trying to sell its remaining seven Books Etc shops and two smaller format Borders Express stores.
Books Etc has been a financial millstone around the neck of Borders UK for a number of years. The retailer's spokesman said: "I can confirm that our future strategy is single-brand." Earlier this month, Borders UK said it would close its Books Etc outlet in Staines, Surrey. The company, which has 36 core Borders stores, came close to collapse in July under its previous owner Risk Capital Partners, the private equity vehicle of Luke Johnson, the Channel 4 chairman.
Was Frankenstein too good to have been written by a woman? (HuffPo):
The debate has continued right up until the present day, most recently through the publication of John Lauritsen's The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (Pagan Press, 2007). The logic of the doubters has not shifted noticeably for 200 years: Frankenstein is too good to have been written by a young woman, therefore it must have been written by a man.
Percy Shelley was indisputably present at the birth of the creature, who was born in the Swiss countryside during the unseasonably rainy summer of 1816. Mary and Percy Shelley were part of a group that included Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori, Byron's personal physician. To beguile the hours, the group took to reading German ghost stories and decided to try and write their own. Mary was stuck for inspiration for several days when finally one night her dreams yielded up the image of a depraved scientist bringing to life a ghastly simulacrum of a man.
Disney launch a subscription based web site for children (NYTimes):, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.
“For parents, this isn’t going to replace snuggle time with a storybook,” said Yves Saada, vice president of digital media. “We think you can have different reading formats co-existing together.”
Publishers, of course, have been experimenting with e-books for the children’s market for years. About 1,000 children’s titles are now available digitally from HarperCollins. Scholastic has BookFlix, a subscription service for schools and libraries that pairs a video storybook with a nonfiction e-book on a related topic. “Curious George” is available on the iPhone.
There may be a new service provider in the magazine space that would aggregate magazine content for readers using electronic devices such as the Kindle, Blackberry, and iTouch. (ATD):
The idea: The new company, which will operate independently from the publishers that invest in it, will create a digital storefront where consumers can purchase and manage their subscriptions, which can be delivered to any device. The pitch: Control a direct relationship with consumers while gaining leverage with heavyweights like Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN).
Industry executives briefed on Squires’s plan say it has been well received by Time Inc.’s peers and that several major publishers, including Hearst and Condé Nast, are expected to sign on for the JV, which isn’t scheduled to debut until 2010. No comment from Hearst, Condé Nast or Time Inc., a unit of Time Warner (TWX).
Newsweek looks at the 'controversy' over holding back big books from the eBook store and gets to the nub of the issue (NewsW):
Why isn't livid about this? After all, this technology firm is providing the beleaguered publishing industry a more efficient way to reach readers, and it's being stiffed on some big sellers. It may be that Amazon is losing money on many sales it makes of Kindle-ready books. With the Kindle, Amazon has inverted the old business model of giving away the shaver and selling the blades. Amazon is using the blades (cheap books, in this case) as a loss leader to induce people to pay up for the shaver (the $299 Kindle). As I understand it, Amazon pays the same wholesale price for Kindle books as it does for real books—generally 50 percent of the list price. For a typical hardback that retails for $26—say, E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley—Amazon pays $13 and then sells it for $9.99 on the Kindle, taking a $3 loss on each sale. (The longer-term strategy, publishers fear, is that once the Kindle gains significant market share, Amazon will negotiate lower wholesale prices for digital versions.) In the short term, though, this means that Amazon is likely to lose more money on more expensive books sold on the Kindle. It would have to pay $17.50 per "copy" of the digital version of True Compass, and $14.50 per copy for Going Rogue, but would sell them for significantly less. It may seem perverse, but once Amazon has sold a Kindle to a customer, it doesn't have all that much incentive to sell expensive books to the Kindle owner—unless it's willing to boost the prices of electronic books significantly.
The Kindle goes to Princeton to mixed reviews. However, in the comments students unload on the whiners (DailyP):
But though they acknowledged some benefits of the new technology, many students and faculty in the three courses said they found the Kindles disappointing and difficult to use.
“I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool,” said Aaron Horvath ’10, a student in Civil Society and Public Policy. “It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate.”
Horvath said that using the Kindle has required completely changing the way he completes his coursework.
“Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”

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