Category Archives: new books

Make Mine Local — with Lots of “Likes”

According to an article in Salon, the American Booksellers Association reported an increase in the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. in the last five years. This is certainly surprising news considering the seemingly increasing popularity of e-books and the convenience and low prices of Amazon.

The article claims that two things are driving the increase in indie bookstores:

  • a desire for authentic local experiences
  • social media marketing

The “local movement” of the last few years has done wonders for our communities. People care about consuming local food and using local services. When local businesses thrive, so do communities. In my own ‘hood, neighbours banded together to form a community association — DECA — that has brought new life to the area by offering incentives to local businesses and by creating and promoting local events like farmers’ markets.

Even big builders have seen the error of creating unwalkable suburban neighbourhoods where driving to large chain stores is the only option for residents.  People want to live near hubs offering something local and unique, and builders now attempt to emulate just that.

As for social media, the Salon article rightly points out that small businesses thrive when their customers create word-of-mouth buzz. Sophisticated consumers don’t trust advertising, but they do trust their friends — real or online — who let them know where the good restaurants are, what pubs have the best craft brews, and which new books they can’t put down.

Smartphones, of course, allow us to find the best stores and restaurants in any ‘hood in which we find ourselves. No longer is there a need to play it safe by sticking to the big chains. A unique small business with great online ratings can be found in seconds.

Authenticity and word of mouth: sounds awfully old-fashioned, doesn’t it?

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How To Save Local Bookstores

I’m always on the hunt for new ways to deliver content in the digital age. Here’s a great article that urges bookstores to embrace print-on-demand machines and e-books. I think the author makes some great points. Booksellers earn a greater profit on e-books compared to the old-fashioned variety (yes, the profit may not be a lot in actual dollars, but it’s only a matter of time), and I would love to see local bookstores get a piece of the e-pie. As for print-on-demand, the upfront costs are great, but, as the author points out, rent is killing bookstores, and investing in machinery is a long-term business strategy. What do you think?

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An Editor Shall Lead Them (Well, a Journalist, at Least)

When it comes to campaigning, politicians market to voters just like businesses market to consumers. We voters are seen as taxpayers looking for the best bang for our buck, explains journalist Susan Delacourt in Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them. Delacourt was a guest today on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today.” She said she dislikes the term taxpayer and would like to be called a citizen. Government shouldn’t be something that happens to us; it should be something we are actively engaged in as citizens.

Believe it or not, Toronto, but engaged was exactly how I felt watching a recent political debate on the boob tube. I know, I know — between the three-ring circus at city hall and the scandal in the Senate, who among us has held out much hope for government lately? But there is hope indeed, courtesy of the federal by-election in Toronto Centre with candidates Chrystia Freeland (a former editor with Thomson Reuters, among other organizations), author and activist Linda McQuaig,  former reporter John Deverell, and lawyer Geoff Pollock. (Freeland and McQuaig are also former journalists.)

During the lively debate (yup, I just used a cliché — give me a pass this time?) on TVO’s “The Agenda,” the candidates talked about actual issues and drew their lines in the sand. Freeland and McQuaig are diametrically opposed: Freeland is pro–big business, and McQuaig is sick and tired of the status quo. Deverell replied with a resounding yes when asked by host Steve Paikin if he was against economic growth, saying that unrestrained economic growth is not sustainable.

What? Politicians being forthright? Who knew? Granted, the bar is set pretty darn low, but still: This was like a cool summer breeze — no, wait. This was more like a quick slap to the face: surprising — and surprisingly bracing after the shenanigans of the last few weeks (I’m looking at you, Rob Ford *shudder*).

Journalist George Jonas is fond of the saying that the desire to run for office is exactly what should disqualify a candidate from running for office. He’s a wise man, that George. But regardless of the criticism aimed at politicians and advertising, I for one feel a little more like a citizen today thanks to a few engaged — and engaging — journalists.

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There’s an App for That, but Will You Use It?

This year’s International Festival of Authors features Marisha Pessl, author of Night Film. I haven’t read this book yet, but it’s full of creative extras, including a “Night Film Decoder” app that can be downloaded and used to scan images in the book (print or e-book) that unlock multimedia content.

I love innovative stuff like this, yet I can’t help but think, “Who has the time?” I have yet to read Chaucer, Eliot, and Waugh — I’m never going to catch up.

In an article in the National Post, Pessl said that the reading experience is sacred, and she wouldn’t want readers to be interrupted by their phones. She said the app is for “insane readers” — and we’ve all been there, haven’t we. If the Brontë sisters had broadsheet companions to their works — imagine fake missing person ads for one Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, or stagecoach timetables and maps of roads leading far, far away from Rochester’s Thornfield — I’d have pored over every square inch.

But can there be too much of a good thing? I want to experience an interactive book to see what kind of value the extras add, and how they change the reader’s experience and understanding of the story. I think extra content certainly appeals to a wider audience — not only to those readers who love text but to those who love art and poetry and technology and surprises. In twenty years I’m sure today’s toddlers won’t be asking themselves if too much content is a bad thing; they’ll be happily picking and choosing their content as they see fit.

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The Incomparable Lionel Shriver

Yesterday was the pub date for Shriver’s new novel, Big Brother. I went straight to the store and bought it. What a pleasure to be back in the presence of her insightful writing. A dozen pages in, she conveys so many ideas to which I find myself nodding my head in recognition and agreement, and she’s sent me reaching for the dictionary with words like peristalsis and eidetic.

Whereas some novelists tend to write the same book over and over again, Shriver covers new territory with each of her novels, allowing the reader to explore and discover worlds they may not have experienced before — sports, academia, journalism, music, glass-blowing, school violence, snooker, cancer, NGOs — all the while delving deep into her characters and themes. I highly recommend her.

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Content Collaboration

Self-publishing is growing by the minute. From Wattpad (check this out already!) to Amazon’s Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing, content creators (authors seems so archaic) are finding places to share their talents, and readers are enjoying the fruits of those talents. Actually, readers themselves are agents in the creation of content, offering their praise, criticism, and ideas in mutually beneficial writer/reader communities.

With so much buzz happening online, how are traditional book publishers keeping pace when marketing their books? Book trailers have become commonplace, and the use of social media is a no-brainer. But, as featured in today’s National Post, Penguin Canada has gone a step further with The Echo Project, an online companion to Khaled Hosseini‘s new novel, And the Mountains Echoed. A PR firm is creating online content for every page (402!) of the novel. Of course, Hosseini is a rainmaker; but still, this is ambitious. And yes, interested readers/creators, the project is interactive.

Interestingly, the National Post article reports that the number one way the public learns about new books is by in-store awareness, and word-of-mouth is number two. Number two I get, but number one? It’s only a matter of time before that gets deep-sixed.

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The Empathy Gap

There’s a new book on bullying, Sticks and Stones, by author Emily Bazelon. I haven’t read it yet, but Bazelon’s article in the National Post today contained a phrase that I found apt: the empathy gap. I don’t know if Bazelon coined this phrase or not, but she’s spot on when she writes that the Internet creates this gap, allowing people to say and do things that they wouldn’t in a face-to-face situation.

Today’s article is about the behaviour that has lead to the recent deaths of two Canadian girls (in separate cities), and it involves sexting and online harassment. I’ve witnessed the most heartwarming emotional support online as well as the most heart-wrenching, and I can only imagine what the heart-wrenching stuff can do to a teenaged girl, or anyone else for that matter.

But that phrase — the empathy gap — really put a lump in my throat. What can I do today to bridge that gap?

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