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Link Roundup for the Week of September 23

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printing pressHere are just a few articles on publishing, technology, and other geeky things that caught my eye this week. If you follow me on Twitter at @contextual_life you’ll find some of these and many more. Link to your favorite stories of the week in the comments section.

E-books, Readers, and Apps

  • Jeff Bezos talks about the new Kindle Fires. Businessweek
  • Apple now holds a patent for a digital autographing app. TechCrunch
  • Earlier this summer HarperCollins invited app developers to reimagine how we discover books. The submissions are in. LitReactor
  • Best apps for serious readers. Gaget Lab

Tech

  • If you can’t operate your gadget, it might be the designer’s fault. The New York Times
  • What web developers need to know about iOS 7. Nieman Lab
  • Interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Businessweek
  • Tips for making the change to iOS 7. Bits

Social Media

  • Six Word Memoirs held their first Six Word Festival on Twitter. GalleyCat via Six Word’s press release
  • The government is cracking down on deceptive online reviews. Bits
  • A growing number of journalists are using Pinterest. Poynter
  • Apple used Twitter to send out their Kindle Fire press release. All Twitter

Media and Publishing

Writing and Grammar

Lifehack and Business

Podcasts

  • A discussion about John Steinbeck’s life and work. Great Lives
  • Cord Jefferson, West Coast editor at Gawker, talks about journalism. Longform
  • American Icons: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Studio 360

Misc.

  • Syllabus for MIT’s science fiction course. MIT
  • A.J. Jacobs 3-D prints his dinner. NYT Opinion
  • Farhad Manjoo says email will never die. Slate
  • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (dubstep remix) YouTube
  • Follow Little, Brown on Tumblr. Here
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Written by Gabrielle

September 27, 2013 at 6:54 am

Link roundup for the week of September 16

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Carnival BarkerHere’s this week’s roundup of publishing and tech news. Link to your favorite stories in the comments section.

E-books and Readers

  • Trade e-book sales growth continues to slow through first half of 2013. DBW
  • Digital publishing in the developing world differs from that in the US. Publishing Perspectives
  • The future of art e-books. The Guardian

Apps and Tech

  • Laura Miller beta tests Oyster, the forthcoming iOS e-book rental app. Salon
  • So does Ian Crouch. Page-Turner
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of cell phone owners now use their phone to go online. Poynter
  • TV producers are experimenting with second-screen viewing opportunities. DBW

Social Media

Media and Publishing

  • Next year Americans will be allowed to enter the Man Booker prize. Telegraph
  • Netflix looks to pirating sites to see what shows to buy. Telegraph
  • Nick Bilton on online piracy. Bits
  • A House judiciary subcommittee hearing on intellectual property and piracy is set for Wednesday. AdWeek
  • The New Yorker, redesigned. New York Times

Writing and Grammar

  • Is it possible to “transcend genre?” a debate. io9
  • 25 things you should know about worldbuilding. Chuck Wendig
  • Grammar Pop: a word game app. Grammar Girl

Lifehack and Business

  • Wharton puts first-year MBA courses online for free. Businessweek
  • Retailers say Gmail’s new filtering system harms e-mail marketing efforts. New York Times
  • Tim Harford on mastering the technology around you. Financial Times
  • The upside of a messy office. Well

Podcasts

  • Mitch Joel and Michael Hyatt talk about the importance of building a platform. Twist Image
  • The Slate Culture Gabfest answers listener’s questions, one on media consumption. Slate
  • Good e-Reader has a radio show. Good e-Reader

Misc.

  • Clive Thompson talks about the benefits of tech; Joshua Glenn talks about reviving old scifi novels. Gweek
  • Ray Dolby, inventor of the Dolby noise-reduction system and Dolby digital surround sound died. New York Times
  • So did Hiroshi Yamauchi, President of Nintendo since 1949. Wired
  • Brooklyn Book Festival party at Greenlight tonight. Greenlight

Written by Gabrielle

September 20, 2013 at 6:57 am

Wither Physical Space? A Bookstore Mystery

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Cafe-Librería El PénduloThis past week there were a number of articles that addressed the fate of bookstores, mainly announcing their impending demise. While this is nothing new—the topic has become a perennial favorite in the publishing industry now that the Digital Age is in full-scale disruption mode—this latest round struck a chord with me. As someone who spends many of her non-work hours in these shops—browsing, buying, going to readings—I give a lot of thought to the future of the bookstore.

I work for a publishing house, as do many of my friends; many of my other friends are booksellers and still others are authors. Admittedly, I have a stake in the bookstore’s survival beyond mere personal enjoyment.

I’m also aware that by living in New York City, a place teeming with bookstores, I am spoiled and possibly have a skewed view of their place in society. Nearly every one of these stores hosts an author event most nights of the week, giving me and the local community a reason to show up other than to buy a new book. They are a place to congregate, to catch up with friends, and occasionally meet new ones. They’re where you meet your favorite author and listen to poignant conversations among writers.

So, while I praise bookstores for doubling as neighborhood spaces and expound on how wonderful it is to have access to tens of thousands of square feet of books within a 10-mile radius, it would be narrow-minded of me not to acknowledge that there are people outside of my urban area who might not have one bookstore within driving distance. For that reason—among others—I am grateful for online retailers and ebooks.

Many detractors of bookstores often cite the seemingly infinite selection of and ease with which they can buy both print and digital books online as the main reason why bookstores are bound to go belly up. The first article I read was a recent post from Seth Godin. I’m a huge fan of Seth’s and always take what he says seriously, even if it sometimes makes me uneasy, like “The End of Books” did.

The death of the bookstore is being caused by the migration to ebooks (it won’t take all books to become ‘e’, just enough to tip the scale) as well as the superior alternative of purchase and selection of books online. If the function of a bookstore is to stock every book and sell it to you quickly and cheaply, the store has failed.

My argument is that the bookstore is not there to carry every book under the sun; they are there to curate a modest selection based on the demands of the community, the owner’s tastes (more so in independent bookstores than chains), possibly the staff’s tastes, and yes, based on the commercial success of a particular title at any given moment. Many stores, it should be noted, also sell ebooks through their websites and are happy to order a physical book that is not on their shelves.

In a recent episode of the Adventures with Words podcast, co-host Rob Chilver, a senior bookseller at a university branch of Waterstones, a British book retailer with nearly 300 stores in the UK and Europe, shared how he, as a book buyer for the store, decides which titles to stock.

When asked by people how he knows what books to buy he says, “It’s kind of a gut feeling. You get to know your shop. You get to know your customers. You get to know what people buy. … We occasionally get to see reps, these are reps from publishers. They walk you through the catalog, you can ask a few things.” He reads trade publications, pays attention to what’s getting covered in the media, and relies on an internal website where his coworkers discuss books they’ve read and what they’ve enjoyed.

Mike Shatzkin, a publishing theorist who specializes in digital changes in the industry, also discussed the future of the bookstore this past week in his post, “Losing bookstores is a much bigger problem for publishers than it is for readers.” He said:

The obsession with the false dichotomy between printed books and digital ones is beginning to give way to attention for the more important shift taking place between purchasing books online and purchasing books in stores.

… Online book buying — whether print or digital — takes business away from bookstores. So bookstores close or reduce shelf space. That decreases both their attraction and their convenience, which makes online buying increase even more. So bookstores close or reduce shelf space further. (This is called a “vicious cycle”.)

Shatzkin goes on to say that in this new world of online book discoverability—as opposed to the old way where people found books in stores—puts publishers on the defensive where they now have to explain how and why they’re still of value to authors. I can think of many: editors, publicists, sales reps, marketing and art departments, and distribution.

Shakespeare & CompanyHowever, the question of physical vs. digital availability is an important one. The future of the bookstore depends heavily on merging the physical showroom with digital technology. Interactive screens where stores maintain their curatorial nature—giving prominent visual space to select titles—but allowing an additional layer for increased selection is something I would like to see. With those screens would come a delivery service where those with ereaders could download books immediate, purchasing them from the store in which they stand. This latter part would be enforced either by blocking competitors’ sites within the store or by the honor code.

A recent episode of the Twist Image podcast addressed online shopping more broadly. Host Mitch Joel spoke with author and “retail futurist” Doug Stephens about the future of retail in our digital world. Stephens explained the impact of pervasive technology on consumer behavior and, in turn, on retail space. Because people can find what they want online he asks what the role of a physical store is now: “Is the job of a retail store still to distribute products? Or is it about distributing brand impressions? Is it about distributing relationships or connections?”

Just this past weekend, The New York Times took a look at the other side of retail development. Technology reporter Jenna Wortham explored in her article “Hanging Out at the E-Mall” one challenge facing online sellers: how to create a social experience.

The Web has yet to duplicate the real-world feel of a mall, where shoppers can pop in and out of multiple stores, easily browsing racks of clothing, display cases of jewelry and shelves of housewares. And online, friends can’t join you in a dressing room to help you avoid buying fashion faux pas.

Jenna highlights the problem of online discoverability and shows how a new crop of entrepreneurs are attempting to remedy it:

as more companies and shops migrated to the Web, it became harder to find cool, stylish and quirky items, giving entrepreneurs an opening. … The [new] shopping sites do not sell one type of item or good — instead, they mimic a bazaar where people can browse through bins at their leisure. … In addition, most social shopping sites let their users find and follow their friends and favorite brands or shops, which creates a feed akin to those on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The feed is filled with new items that they might like to buy.

It’s often said that with disruption comes innovation. Do I think bookstores need to get creative if they’re going to survive, let alone thrive, as we become increasingly digitized? Absolutely. Are they doomed? I’m not ready to concede that just yet. I like to believe I live in a world that values in-person interaction and that readers, although a group known for its introversion, sees the benefit in moving these spaces into the future.

**Disclaimer: I work in publishing but am not a spokesperson for my company.

Written by Gabrielle

August 20, 2013 at 6:51 am

Forty Stories, a Gift to Readers

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At a time when publishers are concerned about ebook pricing, many believing that going below a certain dollar amount devalues both the book and the author (a theory I am sympathetic to), an intriguing project from a major publisher is taking place. Forty Stories, a labor of love spearheaded by Cal Morgan, publisher and editorial director at HarperCollins, is available today as a free ebook through all major retailers.

In January of 2009, Morgan started an online community for short story writers called Fifty-Two Stories. As the name suggests, each week a new story would be posted for free on the website. For all you trivia junkies, Simon Van Booy’s “The Missing Statues” was first. From 2009 until the first half of 2011 the output was consistent. Then, in August of last year, something happened and only one story was posted that month. Someone would have to be a complete jerk not to forgive Morgan and his crew for the lapse, given that no one involved is paid. (According to an excellent profile on the ebook collection from The Atlantic Wire, Morgan spends his Sundays reading through and selecting from hundreds of submissions that come pouring through the site’s open call for works.)

You’d think the people behind Fifty-Two Stories would pick up where they left off without a word, as if nothing happened, but no, they actually thanked readers for their patience and decided to make good on the stories they “owed”—all forty of them. These stories were first made available a few weeks ago as a downloadable PDF—a rough layout for anyone who’s experienced one on their ereader—but today, the official release date, a fully formatted edition is here.

Included in the collection are innovative up-and-comers—a subset of fiction writers that Cal Morgan has become known for publishing—as well as a few who have made a name for themselves over the years. There are also a handful of unknowns, some of whom will see their work published for the first time.

The book opens with Ben Greenman’s “Ambivalence” and, as would be expected of Greenman’s ever-engaging prose, the first few lines are bound to hook the reader:

When a girl is skinny, and calls you late at night, and you glance at the calendar, and it is four days before you are scheduled to get married, and the girl you are marrying is not the skinny girl but another girl, a girl who has already departed for the city where your wedding is to be held, it is your job, most probably, to hang up the phone. When you do not hang up the phone, you have not done your job. When you invite that skinny girl to your apartment, and then you jump into the shower so that you will be clean, taking special trouble to wash the parts that matter, and then you mess up your hair so that you will look as though you haven’t gone to any special trouble, then you are doing another job entirely.

Another contributor who I was excited to see involved with the book is essayist, editor, and short fiction writer Roxane Gay. “In the Manner of Water or Light” tells the story of a multigenerational family in Haiti as told by a granddaughter far removed from the atrocities her grandmother suffered as a young woman. As Gay is known to do, she makes the reader consider the political and social situations of those beyond the borders of American and European patriarchies.

Other writers in the collection whose names might resonate with readers of this blog are Blake Butler, Adam Wilson, Shane Jones, Jess Walter, and Elizabeth Crane—many of whom are published by HarperCollins. While I dug into the stories written by those known to me, I was equally eager to discover the unfamiliar. Among those I hadn’t yet heard of, two stood out: Lindsay Hunter, with her chilling abduction story “A Girl,” and Alexander Lumans, whose “Eighty-six Ways to Cross One Desert” is comprised solely of odd questions.

In a time, as mentioned in my introduction, when the publishing industry is questioning the future of the printed book and the health of the market as a whole, I couldn’t help but wonder, will people, after reading this collection, go out and buy the work of the authors who are published or will they seek out the next free ebook? Putting aside my financial curiosity, it’s obvious that anyone who cares about books will find this project heartwarming. Forty Stories proves that just because something is free, doesn’t mean it’s cheap. This collection is priceless.

::[Links]::
Fifty-Two Stories website
Forty Stories PDF
Profile in The Atlantic Wire

Contributors interviewed on the Other People podcast with Brad Listi
Roxane Gay
Blake Butler
Adam Wilson
Elizabeth Crane
Scott McClanahan
Jess Walter talks with Ed Champion on The Bat Segundo Show

Written by Gabrielle

July 17, 2012 at 6:56 am

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