Dog-Eared and Dispatched: June 8, 2014
This week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture starts on a positive note with a look at the importance of independent bookstores. We’ll also take a look at Penguin Random House’s new logo strategy, which was announced on Tuesday. Finally, the Author’s Guild weighs in on the Amazon/Hachette affair, and there are some disheartening words about the future of publishing. See the footnotes for news about Knausgard, the Hoefler/Frere-Jones typographer’s war, local library news, the subtle art of reviewing women authors, and more. Ready? Set. Read.
This has been a good week for independent book stores. Indie bookstores are picking up the slack in delivering the books Amazon won’t, although some are cautious about and have “made a conscious effort to not define ourselves in relation to Amazon.” On Wednesday, Powell’s sales spiked when Hachette author Steven Colbert (the next Oprah in terms of book sales?) gave Amazon the finger on the Colbert Report and urged viewer to preorder Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California through the Portland bookseller’s website. Another iconic bookstore in a different rainy city also had a banner week, as Foyle’s Books (the model for 84, Charing Cross Road) launched its new location. The queue of readers waiting for the new shop to open went round the block on Saturday morning; thankfully, Foyle’s put together a mobile shop map to help shoppers navigate the new store (Powell’s take note!). The Foyle’s move also prompted discussion about bookstore design, especially on the question of whether bookstores should reinvent themselves to become destinations in their own right, spaces “given over to experience rather than transaction.” Reactions are mixed. [Shelf Awareness, Salon, MobyLives!, The Guardian, Intelligent Life, MobyLives!]
Penguin Random House has a new logo. In a June 3, 2014, press release the publishing giant launched the “new corporate wordmark [that] underscores the importance of the written word to the company’s culture and work and will most often be paired with one of Penguin Random House’s 250 widely recognized and respected publishing divisions, imprints, and brands.” Jeremy Mickel’s 2013 typeface Shift is used in the “elegant and inclusive” (but also slightly dull and corporate) wordmark that, thankfully, will not often appear on the spines of books. Designers’ reactions were cautiously approving, noting the difficulty of the task and changing character of the publishing industry: “A sign rooted in bricks and mortar has now been replaced by something that feels more digital.” On Twitter, though, the reading public was generally less enthusiastic: “Many were disappointed that the classic Penguin and Random House logos will be largely scrapped (Penguin Random House UK will still use the orange penguin in company branding). Others felt the new design lacked creativity; some were incredulous that such a simplistic solution took so much time and effort.” [Galleycat, Penguin Random House, Business Week, MobyLives!, Publishing Perspectives, Publishers Weekly]
Ah, yes. Here we are again. We couldn’t go another week without giving you an update on the Amazon/Hachette imbroglio (there’s a timeline, in case you’ve forgotten what happened in last week’s episode), especially as the coverage is becoming more nuanced with the Author’s Guild weighing in. Although Guild president Roxana Robinson acknowledges that Amazon is “taking an unfair position,” she also notes that publishers haven’t been treating authors too well, either: “The [author-publisher] partnership based on mutual cooperation and shared success that was traditionally part of the publishing world is being lost […] Publishers used to split their profits with authors, after accounting for the costs of production, 50/50. Now [publishers] are treating authors as hostile opponents. It’s not a good economic model, and it’s not a way in which anyone prospers or makes money. It doesn’t bode well for the future of publishing either.” Speaking of the future of publishing, Hachette laid off 3% of its US workforce this week, although it claims this has nothing to do with its continued fight with Amazon. The Department of Justice’s renewed interest in publishers’ pricing models is, however, the result of an Amazon white paper, so things are not looking good for four of the Big Five. Which leaves the future of books to Amazon and Penguin Random House. As Michael Shatzkin notes: “Nothing publishers can do — or could have done in the past — would change the fact that Amazon controls anywhere from 35 to 75 percent of the sales for most trade books. Anybody with that much market inside its corral can charge a considerable toll for getting inside its gates […] Amazon will grow at the expense of all other book and ebook retailers and Penguin Random House will grow at the expense of all other trade publishers. Smaller publishers have already felt the pain and self-published authors will in the future. That’s what will happen naturally and organically from now on, unless a stronger force intervenes, and on the right side instead of the wrong side the next time.” [Publishers Weekly, MobyLives!, Shatzkin Files]
1. What is making Knausgaard’s My Struggle such a success?
2. The oldest public library west of the Mississippi, with the highest per capita circulation in the US, Portland’s Multnomah County Library turns 150 this June: Happy Birthday!
3. How not to review women’s writing: a timely critique of New Yorker.com’s review of Patricia Lockwood.
4. A design note: New York Magazine has an interesting article on the Hoefler/Frere-Jones fiasco – “Not long before they went to court, they each gave an interview to a film crew with Dress Code, a New York design studio. […] There’s talk of inherent trust, of always seeing type in the same light. If a design isn’t working, they both feel it intuitively. It’s a final glimpse of their partnership as something satisfying and fruitful.”
5. Should you be embarrassed to read YA novels as an adult? Slate columnist Ruth Graham thinks you should; almost everyone else disagrees.
6. “It’s true that, at one point or another, all reviewers are gripped by a disgust at the utter inconsequence of most books” – on Katherine Mansfield’s time as a book reviewer. See also a review of Oscar Wilde’s book reviews.