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Archive for the 'Guest Bloggers' Category

The Transition, Luke Kennard

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

When watching shows like Black Mirror, you are often thrust into immediate alienation from the setting. Perhaps this distance, this immediate self-differentiation, makes such shows easier to digest, despite their clear commentary on today’s society. Luke Kennard’s ‘The Transition’, on the other hand, begins quite the opposite. The protagonist Kyle seems relatively normal – relatable even, to a ‘millennial’ audience. But at some, unidentifiable point things begin to shift, reminding us exactly why dystopian fiction can be so powerful.

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Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel ‘Harmless Like You’ is both subtle and striking. It tells the story of a Japanese-born aspiring artist growing up in New York between 1968 and 1983, and that of a newly married art dealer across late 2016. The narrative is set almost entirely in New York State, with a brief though critical exchange taking place in Berlin. We are presented with Yuki’s time in New York between the ages of about 10 and 30, having lived there for all of her re-collectable life after her parents emigrated from Japan, and where she remains long after her family’s return. We also hear the story of Jay, a recently married art dealer who is struggling with the recent death of his father, and his abandonment by his mother – Yuki – as a young child. These accounts are presented in tandem, the narrative alternating between them despite their separation in time. Each faces similar questions of both past – Yuki’s relationship with her Japanese heritage, Jay’s developing response to his abandonment – and future – the idea of parental responsibility, with Jay having recently become a father.

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Academic “Book” Selling: A Misnomer in the Making?

By Helena McNish, on 2 March 2017

With Pearson making headlines earlier this year with their announcement of falling textbook sales, people in the industry are yet again speculating how academic book industry will change. What is not being discussed so thoroughly is how academic publishers are moving away from the traditional idea of ‘book’ selling altogether.

Pearson rebranded early January 2016 to show that “Pearson is 100% focused on global education”. What people got less excited about was, as the The Bookseller noted, how this rebrand was also designed to reflect ‘Pearson’s transition from traditional book publisher to a digitally-minded, services-led learning business’.

Pearson are not alone in this change of model. Elsevier now describes itself as ‘a world-leading provider of information solutions’ before discussing its journal and book offering. While Springer Nature still identifies as a publisher, they say that they offer a ‘range of innovative product and services for the research’ as opposed to books and articles. This digitally-focused, holistic business model continues to be adopted across the industry.

Yet this is more than a case of diversification of business and products; it is a fundamental change in what materials are required for education in today’s world.

One aspect of this is that publishers have realised that they can no longer only sell books as their sole carrier for education. As lessons and lectures are on the way to becoming more dynamic in both content and tool use, so do the materials. The need remain competitive in the field, has led to academic publishers selling a package of education materials, rather than books in isolation. This can include countless extras, such as training, online support, lesson plans, case-studies, all geared towards meeting all the needs of the educator.

The second aspect of this is that, while books are still available separately from publishers, as publishers become more digitally-minded we see that the inherit nature of the book is also open to change. ‘Enhanced eBooks’ are books that are infused with multimedia, something becoming more common in journals publishing. Videos, interactive media, sound, and other customisation are common. With these enhancements, books may move so far beyond the traditional idea of the ‘book’ may be fundamentally different to what we know today.  Jaki Hawker, academic manager of Blackwell’s Edinburgh, notes that the most successful products have been “mixed media creations, available on at least two platforms, containing text which includes a high degree of personalised content [and] structured towards active rather than passive reading”

As evidence points to the benefits of enhanced eBooks, many companies and publishers are looking to expand in this field. One example is Apple’s iBook, who are focused solely on providing enhanced eTextbooks. They have already partnered with publishers such as Pearson and Oxford University Press.

Yet there is resistance to these developments. In 2016 a study found that 92% of students preferred paperback to eBooks, especially for serious reading. A Scholastic study published a few months later showed that the children set to replace these students will follow the same trend, as number of children aged 6-17 who are ‘always wanting to reading books in print’ had increased from 2012 to 2016. This is on top of the commonly accepted fact that budgets for academic institutes are being slashed, leaving less budget for wider and/or enhanced materials.

Ultimately, this means innovation in the academic bookselling industry may not be driven by the potential of the ‘book’ at all.

Lauren Ferreira is a student with UCL Publishing – you can find her on twitter @LaurenAFerreira

The Wellcome Library, by Sara Zo

By Helena McNish, on 26 January 2017

Editor’s Note: In our first week of the Publishing MA, we visited the Wellcome Library in the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, to explore their curated collection with the guidance of Anna Faherty, the course leader for the MA in Publishing at Kingston University. Members of our course wrote blog posts contemplating the experience, and Anna chose this, written by Sara Zo, as the winner.

‘We shall never reach the bottom of the casket.’

Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had a passion for collecting miniaturised versions of just about everything he encountered: antiques, landscapes, animals, poetry, art work. He curated these objects by commissioning curio boxes, spaces which not only acted as a means of storage, but were also truly exquisite pieces of art in the way they were intricately designed to reveal the curios hidden inside.

Like Emperor Qianlong, the founder of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Henry Wellcome also had an insatiable appetite for acquiring objects. His collection contains a wide array of items relating to the strange meeting point between medicine, art and culture. And like the curio boxes which surpassed functional requirements, theWellcome Collection has become ‘a free destination for the incurably curious’ in housing Sir Henry Wellcome’s curios.

When we think of interior spaces like the bookshop, the library and reading spaces, we tend to only focus on them as locked spaces in how well the design fulfils the practical requirements of us as readers and purchasers of books. Where is the till? Will the books be sorted by author in alphabetical order?

Where are the available seating areas?

However, the interior spaces we enjoy the most are always designed with more in mind, simultaneously opening our mind, and none do this as well in this as the Wellcome Collection. Here, the Wellcome Shop, the Wellcome Library and the Reading Room become intimate spaces that consist of artwork, books and objects; all collectively encouraging us to ‘LOOK. TOUCH. READ. COLLECT. TALK. SHARE.’

The Reading Room especially is an area where boundaries between environment and inhabitant have been skilfully redefined because of the six words above: visitors can cease to be passive spectators and go on to interact with the cultural space given. As well as art, there are medical instruments and artefacts on display for visitors to consider. Books have bookmarks with messages from the previous reader, and plenty more bookmarks around with the explicit Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-esque instruction: ‘LEAVE IN A BOOK/SHARE COMMENT’. Children are not left out; there are books, games and activities for them too. Many copies of Reading Room Companion (an encyclopaedia of items within the space) are also left across tables, chairs, and even on beanbags piled up on the stairs. Comfortable zones for reading and talking.

There is no Dewey Decimal system imposed on the curious visitor fingering through the volumes contained here. Books are categorised by broad themes: alchemy, travel, body, breath, face, pain, mind, faith and lives. Each section contains a diverse collection of books related to the themes, open to interpretation and wonder. For instance, in Breath, someone can find a non-fiction book about smoking next to a novel about a sea voyage.Within the Face area, there is a vanity table where a person is free to possibly either examine their face in the mirror or use the table to carry out work.

Though the room is a finite space, it has been well curated to ensure there is a limitless dimension to the curiosity it inspires.

Having achieved valorization of the contents by valorization of the container, Jean-Pierre Richard makes the following penetrating comment: “We shall never reach the bottom of the casket.” The infinite quality of the intimate dimension could not be better expressed.

The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

Five Waterstones (sort of) Myths Explained… by Isabel Popple

By Sarah L Osborne, on 26 February 2016

I can’t quite believe it, but I’ve worked for Waterstones for over ten years. A decade. Yikes, that makes me feel old. But in that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes, a lot of good things, quite a few bad things, ups and downs. I’m sure you don’t want all the nitty gritty, suffice to say that, the era of James Daunt is most definitely part of the good and very much an ‘up’ on the great retail rollercoaster.

As someone who’s been a bookseller for so long, though, it’s easy for me to forget that much of the inner workings of this part of the publishing industry are often hidden from view. So, sometimes, I get a little alarmed by some of the things that are said about how the system works – a lot of what we’re told in class is true, but occasionally – just occasionally – they’re not entirely true of Waterstones. Waterstones is a company that is trying its absolute hardest to do the best for all its customers: the readers, the publishers, and the writers – and to re-address some of the old industry sticking points.

So here are five things about how Waterstones works that I hope will surprise you. And if you have any other questions you’d like to ask, tweet me @bookythought

1. Publishers pay for their books to go in the chart and the windows

False. This used to be true. It isn’t any more. Each shop’s booksellers choose which books go in their windows, and their chart is based purely on that store’s sales.

There are guidelines, of course, but nothing is dictated – for instance, we’d be expected to have a really bright children’s display for half term holidays that emphasises a ‘buy one get one half price’ offer, and almost always to have a display that promotes one of our books of the month. But it’s up to us which of these books we want to shout about. Why? Because each shop is different, and each community it serves is different. And that’s how, in my old stomping ground of Truro, Cornish writers frequently make it into the chart – because we champion and support them and because our community wants books written by its own.

2. Discounting…

True. Yes, discounting is expected. Of course it is. Waterstones would never be able to pay my wage otherwise. And they’d never be able to pass those discounts on to customers through ‘money off’ or ‘multibuy’ offers.

When James Daunt became Managing Director he renegotiated discounting terms with many, many publishers. It caused a bit of a furore at the time, because he essentially asked everyone to provide a flat rate discount. On top of this, he told them they could no longer pay for their books to feature prominently at the front of store or in our windows. So why would the publishers acquiesce? Well, that’s partly between them and him, but as I understand it, it is because (a) Waterstones is the last surviving highstreet bookshop chain and we’re important and necessary to publishers, and (b) because he offered them a compromise. The compromise? Returns (more on this below).

And when the books hit the stores, again it’s up to the booksellers in each shop which books will be put on offer. There is an exception to this: our half price offers. The discounting for these is negotiated on a case-by-case basis with publishers, so it’s important to be consistent across the company. Often, the extra terms are agreed on the basis of promising the publisher that we’ll sell a certain number of copies, a number that might only be fulfilled by selling the title at half price.

3. Books are bought on a sale or return basis

True. But it’s not as bad it’s been made out to be, not in Waterstones today, anyway. We call this process ‘returns’; it’s where bookshops don’t pay for the books they buy from publishers until three or more months down the line. It enables us to send back excess unsold stock.

At one point, my main role in the shop was picking and processing returns, they were such a big part of the business. These were the ‘pile ‘em high’ days of bookselling. Not any more. When those discounting contracts were renegotiated, so were the returns procedures. We still send books back, absolutely we do, but we send back far, far fewer than we did pre-Daunt. This is because stock is managed far more carefully today: (a) less copies of each book are sent to each store (therefore, we’re more likely to sell all the copies we have), and (b) our warehouse (the ‘hub’) enables stock to be recycled around the company (if Shop A isn’t selling Book 1, but Shop B can’t keep it on their shelves, Shop A can send Shop B their unwanted stock. Bingo). Better for Waterstones, better for publishers.

Books do still get returned. We can’t always get it right! But they’re more likely to be old editions, or one or two copies of books we’ve had on the shelf for an age and nobody’s bought, rather than fifty copies of something that was overbought.

4. Signed copies of books are bad

False. This is the most bizarre bookselling myth I’ve ever come across. Any shop that rejects an author request to sign copies of their book would have to be out of their mind. And never, in my ten years, have I heard of a publisher rejecting to the return of signed copies on the basis that they are damaged goods. The publisher will want to support their author, and a book is almost always more likely to sell if it has been signed. It’s just such a nice extra that almost everyone will always appreciate. Who can say no to that?

5. Layout…

So Mal Peachey, Editor-in-chief at Rocket 88, suggested that the typical layout of a bookshop was back-to-front; that the biggest titles should be at the back of the shop to make customers walk past all the other stuff to get there. It’s an interesting idea.

But: people are inherently lazy. Bookish people will go to the other sections naturally – brilliant. But those people are probably going to come in and browse and buy anyway. One key to increasing sales (other than getting bookish people to buy more than they might have been planning to) is to get those non-bookish people through the door. This is most likely to happen if they spy something interesting in the window. And if they spy something interesting in the window, they’re going to want to find it quickly and easily because they’re not used to bookshops. That’s one reason why we have ‘front of store’ – that space right by the doors where the biggest offers go, the new books, the books everyone is talking about, or that we want everyone start talking about. If they can’t find what they want straight away, they’re going to go and buy it online instead. And we definitely don’t want that.

By Isabel Popple – @bookythought