Dog-Eared and Dispatched
Happy Sunday, literary citizens, and happy Mother’s Day to all you literary moms out there! In this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture, we examine B&N’s college-based survival plan. Next, we investigate the feud between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, with Amazon customers experiencing notable delays in the shipment of HBG merchandise. Lastly, we shed some light on the New York Public Library’s eleventh-hour change of heart and Mid-Manhattan Library’s impending makeover. For this week’s Footnotes, we highlight the success of California’s first official Bookstore Day, the pre-trial process involved in the lawsuit against Author’s Solutions, Amazon and Twitter’s recent partnership, the financial lives of the Big Five, and one writer’s exploration of why it is we lie about our favorite books. Ready. Set. Read!
Barnes and Noble has been facing a financial downturn lately, as we’ve documented these past few weeks in particular. Through it all, however, B&N has presented a brave face, putting few at ease and leading some to question the company’s remaining sanity. This week, Barnes and Noble revealed [part of?] its plan for survival, looking to position itself on more than 1,000 college campuses within the next five years. The lucrative nature of this move is clear: The nationwide sales figure for university bookstores has been estimated at $10 billion by The College Board, with students paying an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies in 2013, $771 of which was spent at campus bookstores. With a present tally of 696 campus locations, B&N is currently the second-largest operator of university bookstores. However, as Reuters reports, approximately 45 percent of U.S. college bookstores are still independently run. As explained by Reuters reporter Phil Wahba, B&N plans to meet its mark “by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.” B&N hopes to utilize its 30,000 square-foot “academic superstore” at Rutgers University as a model design for several of these campus bookstores. Academic superstores such as this are equatable to B&N’s normal store size, as opposed to the average size of a college bookstore, and B&N hopes to increase the number of such bookstores from its current count of 35 to around 75. Max Roberts, chief executive of the company’s college business, stated that he wants to make B&N bookstores “the center of the community, and appeal to other consumers, not just students.” Whether this tactic will be the saving grace B&N has been looking for—especially in the light of decreasing Nook sales—remains unclear. Still, many like Ed Schlichenmeyer, deputy CEO of the National Association of College Stores, remain pessimistic: “The low-hanging fruit has largely been picked . . . [Independent campus bookstores] stay independent because they feel a need to be adaptable to faculty, and increasingly, student demands.” In the last two years, B&N has acquired 50 more college stores, with 1,500 still retaining their autonomy. [Shelf Awareness, Slate, Reuters]
In what may be a full-on temper tantrum, Amazon has been discouraging consumers from purchasing Hachette books this week. According to The New York Times, Amazon’s unacknowledged boycott is taking the form of shipment delays, with the online retailer “marking many books published by Hachette Book Group as not available for at least two or three weeks.” As New York Times writer David Streitfeld notes, this is likely part of Amazon’s plan to garner even better sales terms from HBG during their annual renegotiation process. In a letter to Publishers Weekly detailing the situation, Hachette poses “legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores,” with HBG representatives going on to say, “We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly, and notifying them constantly of forthcoming publicity events and of out-of-stock situations on their website. Amazon is holding minimal stock and restocking some of HBG’s books slowly, causing ‘available 2-4 weeks’ messages, for reasons of their own.” As reported by Shelf Awareness, titles with delayed shipment dates range from new to old books, including Robin Roberts’s “Everybody’s Got Something, Stephen Colbert’s America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, James Patterson’s Alex Cross, Run, and J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories and Franny & Zooey. “For at least a decade, Amazon has not been shy about throwing its weight around with publishers, demanding bigger discounts and more time to pay its bills,” Streitfeld stated. “When a publisher balked, [Amazon] would withdraw the house’s titles from its recommendation algorithms.” [The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness]
Much to the shock of advocates and protestors alike, the New York Public Library has decided to abandon its original renovation plans to transform its research flagship on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street into a lending library in tandem with the closure of the Mid-Manhattan Library. Instead, the Mid-Manhattan Library will remain open and undergo refurbishment, leaving the flagship’s book stacks—once planned for destruction to make room for the circulating library’s reading room—intact. While protesters have claimed these stacks to be “architecturally important,” library officials have alternatively called them “unworkable because they lack humidity and temperature control.” The City of New York had planned to give $150 million to the NYPL for the project; as it stands, these funds are still scheduled for allocation to the library, though a breakdown of the new budget has yet to be clarified. Many critics view the NYPL’s latest decision as a huge money-saver, with several analysts questioning the budget projections from the beginning. Critics were also opposed to the fact that the books previously in the flagship’s stacks system would be moved to New Jersey, decreasing access to these resources. “When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget,” NYPL President Tony Marx stated. This decision was not without its financial losses, however, with $9 million having already been paid to British architect Norman Foster for the flagship library’s new design. Moving forward, library officials hope to keep sections of Mid-Manhattan open during renovation, with improvements to the building to include “50 percent more public space in the building, including new spaces for children and teenagers and more work areas for researchers and writers.” Many protestors are heralding this better-late-than-never change of plans as a sign of the power of the public: “This is a huge victory not just for those who use and treasure the New York Public Library, but also for the larger principle of librar[ies] as commons and public trust,” said Leslie Kauffman, founder of the Library Lovers League. “It draws a line in the sand: Real-estate interests shouldn’t be driving library policy. It was incredibly inspiring to be part of this campaign and see how many people—from Pulitzer Prize winners to influential union leaders to ordinary library patrons—were willing to speak up to save New York Public Library from the mismanagement of its trustees.” [The New York Times, Mobylives!]
1. California celebrated its first Bookstore Day on Saturday, May 3, bringing in large crowds, large sales figures, and a large amount of enthusiasm for the celebration’s return next year.
2. Author Solutions, a self-publishing service provider and subsidiary of Penguin, looks to face a lengthy pre-trial schedule as per the five-million dollar lawsuit charged against them last spring.
3. Amazon has officially infiltrated Twitter with #Amazoncart, which, as the name suggests, allows users to add items to their Amazon cart with only a tweet.
4. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Harlequin post first quarter losses, while HarperCollins witnesses an EBITDA increase of 83 percent.
5. Huffington Post‘s Gabrielle Zevin explores the topic of “Why We Lie About Our Favorite Books.”