Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Google Update

Josie Leavitt - February 28, 2012

Score one for the little guy. After an e-mail to Google, and several e-mails with the ABA about why Google was going to rescind my affiliate status, I received an e-mail late last night from Google. “We mistakenly sent you this notification – your affiliate status will be unaffected. We apologize for any confusion this might have caused.” While I’m not entirely certain what actually happened, I’m thrilled that I can continue to sell e-books without interruption.
I think Google might be revamping its affiliate program, but it seems at least for now, independent bookstores can still compete in the electronic book market. Here’s hoping that being an affiliate keeps our customers from going to Amazon and keeping their e-book purchases local.

Google, I Hardly Knew You

Josie Leavitt - February 27, 2012

On Friday I received an email from Google. I was told that as of March 15 I would no longer be an affiliate of Google, thereby unable to sell e-books on my website. Needless to say, I was a little stunned. I had seen the letter in a PW article saying that Google was no longer accepting affiliates, but I had no idea there were going this far. Neither did the other independent bookstores that were also recipients of this letter.
I am a member of the American Booksellers Association, but I don’t have my website through them. I have a Booksite website. I had to apply to become an affiliate of Google to be able to sell e-books on my site. I applied several months ago and was approved within a day. From that moment on we began to educate our customers how they could buy e-books from us. This has been a slow process. And now, finally every day, someone asks how they can buy e-books on our website. Sales, admittedly, have been lackluster, but these things take time to grow.
Now it seems we are not going to be given the chance. Google’s reason for dropping is couched in these very vague sentences: “We are constantly evaluating our Google eBook affiliate program, searching for the best mechanisms to create value for our partners and users. With our most recent evaluation, we’ve decided to narrow the scope of the program to a smaller number of partners to create a better experience for our customers. ”
So, apparently, Google doesn’t view us as being capable of creating a better experience for their shoppers. I have not been told if I can work toward providing a better experience, nor do I know what that experience is. I am frustrated and pissed.
But being mad at something as big as Google seems pointless. However, at the suggestion of Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Bookstore in Farmington, Maine, I wrote to the Google affiliate program and asked to be reinstated. I told them I was an independent bookstore and a member of the ABA whose e-book program was just starting to grow. I have not heard back.
I wrote to Oren Teicher, ABA CEO, to ask for the ABA’s help with this matter. My ability to sell e-books via Google should not be dependent on my having an ABA-sponsored website. I am a member of the ABA and I fully expect they will help me be able to sell e-books on my website. All members need to support of the ABA for help dealing with a giant like Google. After all, the ABA brokered the deal for the Google to allow Indie Commerce stores to be affiliates in the first place and to work with Google Books. I can happily report that Oren wrote me back late Saturday night and told me the ABA was aware of the situation and is working with Google to get the other displaced indies back to affiliate status. It’s awfully nice to have a trade association helping with this, as I do feel at a loss with Google’s size.
Google’s actions have soured me a little tiny bit on bookselling. Perhaps it’s the slowness of the season, but just when my e-books program seemed poised to make inroads with my customers, it might be taken away and I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. I’m sure Amazon has nothing to do with it, but I feel like it’s another thing that I can’t compete against. I don’t want to just roll over and give up selling e-books. Being able to sell them makes my store look current and vital. Customers who don’t have Kindles don’t need to look elsewhere for their e-books. Come March 15,  I don’t want to tell them that they have to go somewhere else to buy products they clearly would rather buy from us.
As I continue to wait patiently for an email from Google letting me know that I’ve been reinstated, I face the conundrum of how to market the e-books I can sell at least through March 15. I’m not really sure how to handle this. This all does beg the larger question of why is Google Books the only way I can sell e-books? If the publishers produce them and I sell their books, why then can I not just sell their e-books without having to go through the very capricious Google?
I think the best thing I can do between now and March 15 is sell a phenomenal number of e-books so I can create the kind of experience Google seeks for its customers.

Please, Some Enterprising Soul, Jump on This…

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 24, 2012

Fake book cover by yours truly.

What I’m requesting here is a book organized like a baby-name book, but one that lists picture book characters by name. There’s no huge profit in it, really, except that you’d probably sell a copy to every bookstore in the country, and possibly to every library. And grandparents. Oh, grandparents!
I can’t tell you how many times people come in — at least twice a week — looking for a book for a baby or toddler named Oliver, or Ellie, Stephen, etc. Now, this request is disenchanting on principle, since it is a shallow pond from which to fish a book — and yet, as a former child, I do have to admit that it can be delightful to discover a book about someone with your very own name. (Mine was Princesses’ Tresses, about which I have blogged, and which has a rather wonderful story.*) So there is a place for such a resource, since not all picture books are as obliging as Owen, No, David, Bedtime for Frances, Olivia, etc., to be eponymous by character.
This project would be ideal for someone who enjoys creating practical, sortable databases, perhaps while watching Deadliest Catch or Downton Abbey marathons. It’s the kind of task I myself tend to enjoy. Hmmm.
If the picture book character name book goes over well, then a chapter book / MG edition might be in order, because we do also get requests for those by character name, although not as often as for picture books. (I’m happy to report that there is no call for a YA volume; by the teen years, adults seem to have come to their senses and realized that children can in fact think beyond their own names to enjoy a darned good story about somebody else.)
Enterprising Database Creator, whoever you are, you could fashion a little web database in addition to the book. A book would be handier on the fly in a bookstore, but a website would be easy and quick to update, and parents and grandparents would be able to use it.
The sad thing is that I am only partly kidding about this project. I sort of want this book to exist, if only to make my life easier 104 times a year.
*A codicil to the “kids like books with their names in them” is that this is only true, of course, when the character is a good egg. Classroom read-alouds can be harrowing; imagine being a first-grader named Camilla and hearing Hooway for Wodney Wat during share circle. Aieeee! This is why characters named Murgatroyd and Parsimony are especially appealing — but not to certain grandmothers with a list in hand.

The Power of Local Partnerships

Josie Leavitt - February 23, 2012

Every day it seems like I’m reading more and more doom and gloom articles that are heralding the death knell for the independent retailer. The battle against the chains, the online vendors, book fair companies, etc., continues — the list is long and constantly changing. One thing hasn’t changed is the power of working with others to strengthen local businesses.
The beauty of a good partnership is the real feeling that you’re not in it alone. Someone is there to help with the planning and executing of an event, and that is a lovely feeling. Yesterday morning we had our first author enhanced story hour. Liza Woodruff, a great local illustrator, came in and read her book, Ten on the Sled. Normally our Wednesday morning story hour draws anywhere from two to eight kids. But this event saw more than 30 people! How did we get so many folks to come to an event at 11 a.m. on a weekday? We worked with a local preschool that was within walking distance. We knew about this preschool because one of our staffers sent her kids there. So, again it was all about reaching to folks we already know and love and hope they feel the same about us.
At 10:45, I was just back from throwing out the trash when 18 little kids came up the deck to the store. This story hour was a fun adventure for them. It’s not every day they get to walk around town and see an author. Honestly, is there anything cuter than a pack of little kids in snow jackets, hats and gloves holding hands and traipsing into the store? I think not. The kids had a great time watching Liza draw and equally important, Liza had a ball. So this was a great event for all. Did we sell a heap of books? Not so much, but this event was more about getting the preschool used to coming to us for midday events. Perhaps next time we’ll send home an order form, but I really wanted to stress the fun of the event without anyone getting the feeling that we were hard-selling them about the event.
Part of the success of this event was Liza helping to promoting it on her Facebook page. She has a lot of friends and several folks came to the event because they saw it mentioned in her Facebook feed. The store mentioned the event on our feed and I really feel like everything worked well together.
As the year progresses we have more and more partnership possibilities awaiting us. These excite me because of the potential of cross-marketing with other businesses and creating a demand for our bookstore and whatever the other business sells. It’s funny, but I always assume that all the folks in my town have been to my store, and that’s just not true. Every day someone comes in and confesses that it’s their first time here, and that delights me, mostly because they’ve actually come in, but also because something, usually our being out in the community, has gotten them to pop by.
My motto for this year is to say yes to working with more folks, because the more people we can partner with, the better business will be for everyone involved.

L.A. Times Book Award Finalists: Five Authors, Two Houses

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 22, 2012

Two publishers and five authors are celebrating being named finalists for the L.A. Times Book Award, the winner of which will be announced on April 20, the evening before the kick-off of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a huge (and by all accounts fantastic) two-day annual event.
Scholastic has three books in the final five: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (which also received a Printz Honor and an Odyssey Audiobook Honor from the ALA in January). Candlewick has two finalists: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, and A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness (which also just won the U.K.’s child-chosen Red House Children’s Book award).
I hope a newspaper as large as the L.A. Times will decide to recognize excellence in literature for readers younger than a YA audience, as well, since they are not only the nation’s most enthusiastic readers, but also the paper’s future readers. Perhaps next year….
Congratulations to the finalists — this is a terrific list of novels!

Some Updates On Earlier Posts

Josie Leavitt - February 21, 2012

Throughout the year, I have promised to give updates on some posts. So, here’s a smattering of things that needed follow-ups.
A Determined Dad was about a dad who was thoroughly fed up with his twin boys’ reading habits. He was fixated on reading Huck Finn with the kids. We urged him to start with something a little easier and lighter. Did he follow the advice? Nope. Sadly, two days after the blog went live the dad broke his leg skiing. Feeling the loss of several weeks to perhaps build up to Huck Finn, he leapt right in. I asked one of the boys how it was going and he smiled and said, “Dad can get a little intense about that book.”  They may not be reading the way we had all envisioned, but father and sons have been spending some quality time together.
Book Talk Nation was a new initiative started by the Authors Guild whereby authors are interviewed on the phone and folks can call in and listen. Originally, I had said we sold just about 20 Katherine Paterson books. The fun of this event was the pleasure of going to Katherine’s house for her to sign the books; I got to have coffee with Katherine Paterson! The Authors Guild paid us promptly. I think this type of event could be a great way to remind folks about what indie bookstores can do.
– This update was supposed to happen in October, but I forgot. Workman had a Real Good Deal promotion that I thought would be wonderful. What happened was less successful than I had hoped. The main problem was the table that came with the books was just too little. If I could have put that table on a table I think we would have a lot more book sales.  The book mix was actually pretty good and it was so easy to return what didn’t sell, while the program wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, I do so appreciate Workman’s efforts with indies.
– Lastly, one of the first posts I ever wrote was about my love for e-catalogs. Well, three years later, I find I’m not in love anymore. I realized what I truly enjoyed about accessing catalogs on line was never losing them. I have discovered that I don’t relish spending more time online when I get home from work. While I used to thumb through catalogs and make notes in the evenings, I almost never log on and scan through web pages when I’m home. This is actually starting to be a problem as more and more publishers stop producing catalogs. I realized part of the problem was my desperate need to wear the right reading glasses. I finally saw the eye doctor and the glasses are on the way, so now I have no excuses.

Friday Video Fun: Book Returns, Flying Books, and After-Hours Magic

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 17, 2012

There are some amazing bookish videos circulating around the Internet lately, and in case you’re one of those rare people who has been getting actual work done instead of marveling at these, I’m posting them below for your weekend pleasure, along with the world premiere of a teeny, snarky little video on misadventures in bookselling by yours truly.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a magical, award-winning (and Oscar-nominated) animated short film directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. It tips several pixels at The Wizard of Oz, celebrates the power of books and stories to comfort, delight, entertain, teach, and restore. This video might make your throat a little lumpy in places and, if you’re me, cause the ol’ eyes to leak a few tears. It’s marvelous and a little mysterious.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.
A bookstore comes to life after hours in “The Joy of Books,” a mesmerizing little stop-action film by a husband-and-wife team and many many volunteers. The labor involved in making this will be evident to anyone, and especially to booksellers who can’t help imagining the hours it took to shelve and move and reorganize and reshelve all those books!). Share this with children of all ages; it will make bricks-and-mortar stores even more magical to little ones!

And now, in case you HAVE seen the previous marvels, I am presenting a humble chuckle: the latest in my Bookseller Frustration Video series, “Book Returns.”
Book Returns
by: EHB

(The first video in the series is called “I’m Looking for a Book.”)
What bookish delights have you discovered lately?

How Incarcerated Parents Can Read to Their Children

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 16, 2012

FP staffer Kelly and the Kids-a-Part book hearts.

We do a lot of charitable giving and community outreach at The Flying Pig, and our favorite programs, of course, are the ones that match families with books. There’s a wonderful organization we’ve worked with in various ways over the years, the Lund Family Center, which provides adoption services, teen pregnancy prevention resources, and residential facilities for pregnant and parenting young women and their children. This year, they approached us to partner in a blockbuster of an idea: getting books to incarcerated parents to record reading aloud to their children, who will then receive both the book and the recording to help keep them close to their parents while they’re separated.
This Storybook Program is part of a broader Lund Family program called Kids-a-Part, which “aims to keep families connected when a parent is incarcerated. By offering a variety of services, including education and advocacy, as well as direct services, such as parenting education, communication skills, financial assistance, and referrals to other community resources to children and families affected by a parent’s incarceration, we work to lessen the negative effects of separation during this challenging time in a family’s life.
“These donated books will help connect a child with his incarcerated parent. The parent will record themselves reading these books so that the child can have the comfort of hearing their parent’s voice at bedtime.”
One of our booksellers spearheaded this partnership with Lund, who sent us a wish list of classic picture books they’d love to share with the families. Kelly created beautiful paper hearts, each with a book title on it, and hung them over the cash register area for customers to choose. They buy the book at 20% off, and we give the books to Lund for distribution.
The Lund Center has done a terrific job letting its supporters know about the initiative, and we have had the most positive, marvelous response from our customers, both new and old. This kind of partnership is a win-win, and we hope it will catch on in more communities!

Valentine’s Rush

Josie Leavitt - February 15, 2012

It happens every year, and every year I’m surprised. The day of Valentine’s Day we see a steady stream of men, and a few women, who come in with literally moments to spare to get their beloved a gift or card.
Perhaps it’s me, but February 14th is not a surprise date. It happens with amazing regularity every single year. It’s a universal date, so it shouldn’t really sneak up on people. But there are lots of people for whom it seems to be a shock. These folks come in somewhat sheepishly looking for cards and books on the 14th. We have no judgment and are all too happy to help find the right book for the person, or children they love.
All morning parents streamed in for a book with love in the title or cute cards. Younger siblings came in to help pick out cards for their older siblings. Everyone was very cheery and it was just fun. Noon happened and the tension with transactions seemed a little more fraught. The perfect book hadn’t been ordered, so compromises had to be made. Or in some cases they were just abandoned with a vow of being “better next year.”
Stupidly, I left the store around 3:30, right before it got really busy, leaving Elizabeth alone with a store full of the sincerely late planners. At one point she called me at home to see if I could remember the titles I recommended to a customer six weeks ago. Needless to say, I couldn’t remember. But Elizabeth said the store was full and handed the customer the phone. So, together we constructed what I might have recommended. Pretty soon, Mary Ellen was walking around the store picking up the titles I was suggesting. At one my point I told her to “take three giant steps to your right and look at the end of the top shelf.” It was actually really fun. Twenty minutes later we had traversed half the store and she was ready to get rung up with four books for her teenage son’s Valentine.
While I know now that we will never have one staffer working the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, it is nice to to know that help is only a phone call away. I hope everyone got the book they wanted for Valentine’s Day.

And Now for a Little Variety

Josie Leavitt - February 13, 2012

I do stand-up comedy when I’m not toiling at retail. Sometimes my comedy takes me to very interesting places. This past Friday I found myself in the Charlotte Central School Multi-Purpose, hosting the 6th Annual Variety Show.
The Variety Show features kids from kindergarten to 8th grade performing all manner of acts. I learned a very important lesson this year. Saying “Break a leg” to the littlest children, who started off the show, was not the best idea. All I heard was a quarter of the kindergarten class saying, “Why does she want me to break my leg?” “Is my leg going to break?” I tried to explain, but to no avail, but it didn’t get in the way of their song starting the show. It was going well until half of the kids jumped choruses and were no longer singing in rhythm with the other half. It was charming.
I have a lot of shows a year, but this is one of my favorites. The innocence of this show is what I particularly love. Scared kids gather backstage and wait their turn to go on. You can feel their nervousness, but they all did great. There was one girl, a fourth grader, who belted out an Adele song that rivaled Adele herself. She brought the house down. And when she was leaving the stage she started to cry, just a little, and then I noticed that her hands were shaking. She was also wearing Ugg snowboots and that just completed the picture for me.
I was struck by the number of kids who chose to recite poetry. These brave kids were compelling and the audience was extremely appreciative. There are two brothers and a sister who have recited poetry for all six years of the Variety show. It’s been great to see them grow into poised poets who don’t nervously present their poems by rote, but rather act them out and fully embody the poem.
Wearing a different hat in front of 500 members of my community is great fun. It reminds all the parents that I am more than just the owner of the bookstore. Ironically, this helps business. I’ve already signed up for next year and several kids have told me they’ll be there as well.