Search This Site
What's New?

Follow me on Twitter @jamieford and on Instagram jamiefordofficial


Why bookstores matter. A biased report

There’s been an ongoing showdown between Hachette Books (the 5th largest US book publisher) and Amazon (who controls 50-70% of the ebook market). What they’re fighting about is up for speculation.

But what’s not up for debate is that Amazon has removed the buy buttons from the books of Hachette authors, like JK Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) and Michael Connelly, just to name a few. (The Everything Store did this once before, in 2010, during a spat with Macmillan Books).

The knee-jerk reaction from mainstream authors is that Amazon is the one doing the bullying. While those indie-authors who publish with Amazon are naturally claiming that Hachette is the real thug in this first world, corporate knife-fight.

Regardless of which side you’re on, or just an innocent, curious bystander, it’s important to note that Amazon has a valuation of an estimated $58 billion, so this isn’t exactly a donnybrook of two goliaths. This is like an NBA journeyman doing battle with the richest owner in the league. Sure, they’re both wealthy, but one could literally buy out the other 500x over.

Those who know me can guess where I stand on this whole thing. Despite selling a ton of books on Amazon, I do see them as the bigger bully on the playground. But that’s not what bothers me. What worries me is that they’re in a position to deforest the literary landscape. Yes, Borders and Barnes & Noble wreaked havoc on indie bookstores, but at least they replaced them with other bookstores.

The vibe from Amazon, like many corporations beholden to the expectations of shareholders, is that for them to succeed, everyone else must fail. And I don’t think that’s true—furthermore, I don’t think that’s even wise.

Here’s why:

Amazon will always need a showroom. They can do all the database marketing they want but their major attempts to sell their own traditional books have been dismal failures because their books weren’t showcased in physical bookstores. Your average Kindle user might think, who cares, physical bookstores are dinosaurs. They’re not. Bookstores are cultural showrooms and Amazon should find a way to compliment that business model rather than trying to eradicate it.

I’m Batmaaaan. Hear me out on this one (with or without a Batman voice). Comics used to be available at newsstands, grocery stores, 7-11s, basically everywhere. Now they’re primarily available at specialty stores. But when comics were everywhere, Batman’s circulation averaged 900,000 copies each month. Now, even with recent movies, the Caped Crusader is lucky to hit one tenth of that. Physical presence = top of mind awareness = sales.

Boxing used to be the greatest. If you’re old enough to remember watching ABC's Wild World of Sports (for free) then you remember them showcasing Muhammad Ali and boxing as a sport with national interest. Now it’s a niche sport. Not because of Don King’s hair or corruption, but because the pay-per-view model made a ton of money in the short term and shrunk the fan-base in the long-term. Boxing fans gladly paid to watch Mike Tyson, but a generation of potential fans was lost because they were never exposed to the sport.

Still not convinced about the showroom effect? Let’s talk about Apple, which had a superior computer product, a dedicated cultish following, and were widely available on the Internet, but their products didn’t soar into the cultural mainstream until 2010. What happened around that time? Apple Stores.

Bookstores matter because they are a vital part of the publishing ecosystem. Amazon needs them. I just hope they don't grow up and learn that lesson the hard way.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Douche

A brilliant and thoughtful response to the Chipotle debacle.Not to keep beating the diversity drum but a few of us wrung our hands in worry when we heard about this and thought, no, they can't possibly be so culturally illiterate (like BookCon). Well, guess what kids, we were wrong.

Johanthan Safran Foerwhatever had a really cool idea. He said, "Hey, let's put literary stuff on Chipotle cups and bags!" And it's a brilliant publicity/marketing concept. The problem is, JSF (abbreviating because I can never pronounce his last name) has blinders on and he doesn't...even...know it.

He helped create the Cultivating Thought campaign featuring ten writers, including Malcom Gladwell and Toni Morrison. But none of them are Latinos. Granted, this is Chipotle, which is to Mexican food what Panda Express is to haute Chinese cuisine. Still. Junot Diaz? Luis Alberto Urrea? Borges? I'd actually eat at Chipotle for a Jorge Luis Borges cup!

Okay. Gotta run. I'm working on my Literary Fortune Cookie campaign for P.F. Chang's and I promised my friend, Jeff Yang, that I'd include at least one token Asian.

Peace, y'all.


Calling out the gobshites 

There was a beautifully written, if barely readable diatribe on the DEATH OF THE NOVEL in The Guardian last week, penned by (insert frustrated novelist name here).* This particular yarn eulogizing “the serious literary novel” was an edited, 4,490-word version of a lecture given at Oxford where I’m guessing many of those in attendance are just now waking up from their tedium-induced comas.

So to spare you the hazard to your health, here’s a brief summary: “The novel is dead because no one is reading my books.”

The problem isn’t this writer’s work (which I’m sure is deserving of its literary acclaim), or the state of the book-buying masses. The problem is this gentleman’s complete, Justin Bieber-like lack of self-awareness. Because this poor fellow, like most serious literary writers, are what I call performance writers—they’re actually writing to impress other writers, or critics, who are often authors themselves (or stillborn writers). They get so caught up in linguistic navel-gazing, this literary jujitsu, and the fawning self-satisfaction that comes from writing Bob’s rapacity knew no satiety (when writing Bob was hungry would suffice), that they forget most readers also want a compelling story.

But they don’t see it. And when no one reads their novels they hurl stones at book buyers, declaring them to be mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, troglodytes.

Now please, please, pu-leeeze don’t get me wrong. I love—no, I adore, lush, complex prose. But I’m weary of these kinds of rants from dense literary stylists whose books go down like aspirin without water and they can’t understand why consumers don’t gobble them up like Skittles. Or worse, they think the world is upside-down for not appreciating the struggle of trying to ingest their bitter pills.

This is as absurd as Nicholas Sparks writing an emotional editorial in US Magazine declaring THE NOVEL IS DEAD because he’s never been nominated for a Pulitzer.

If you’re a writer of commercial fiction you’ll probably never win the Nobel Prize. And if you’re a hard-core, literary writer—face it—odds are, you’re going to be paid in posterity points instead of pounds. Deal accordingly.

Self-awareness, kids. It’s free and goes a long way.

*I’m not going to name him because literary novelists crying this particular kind of wolf have become so common that honestly, they all look and sound alike to me.**

**Post-racial (ha) observation. Why is it always a white guy saying the novel is dead?


A big THANK YOU to BookCon

There's been quite a viral uproar about BookCon. What's is BookCon? It's the big, grand, open-to-the-public day of Book Expo America, which is the largest book event in the country. And what did BookCon organizers do? Well, they created a line-up of literary luminaries consisting of 29 white people and a cat. (I'm not making this up).

So, naturally, everyone but Donald Sterling is quite upset.

(Heck, James Patterson is on a panel talking about children's books that he didn't even write. That's like the white CEO of P.F. Chang's being invited to compete on Iron Chef, but, hey, that's just piling on at this point).

But, in a weird way, I think we owe the folks at BookCon a big THANK YOU for pointing out that we are not in any way living in a post-racial world. And for giving the other 50% of Americans a rallying cry.

And if they ever want to include an Asian American author who wrote a book which spent two years on the NYT bestseller list, I might happen to know one.

***UPDATE 5/3/14***

BookCon has added Rachel Renee Russell--an African American author. At first they said she could be a moderator, but after realizing she'd sold more books than two of their panelists they agreed to let her actively participate. Kudos to Renee for her persistence (and insistence) and shame on BookCon for their tokenism.