Book Trends Blog

December 8, 2012

Comparing the Tablet Devices by Bob Spear

Filed under: Book Industry,Book Marketing,Book Publishers,Book Writers,Readers — bobspear @ 9:29 pm
Tags: ,

There is always an interest in acquiring new technology at Christmas time. This year brings a lot of interest in e-readers/tablets, so I thought a comparison of what’s available would be helpful. The following is based on a combination of information from Publishers Weekly and The Motley Fool. Info is not available for all aspects:

Tablet                             Price       Mkt Segment          Camera        Battery Life

Apple iPad—             $499-$829     Full                                 front/back        10 hrs

Apple iPad Mini—  $329-$659       Small                             front/back        10 hrs

B&N Nook—           $129-$299         Full                                none                  10 hrs

Galaxy Tab—          $250-$400                                               front/back        7-10 hrs

Google Nexis 7—   $199-$299         Small                             front

Google Nexis 10—  $399-$499      Full                                 front/back

Amazon Kindle Fire HD—  $199-$264  Small                   front                    11 hrs

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9″—  $299-$614  Full             front                     11 hrs

Kobo ARC—              $200                                                      front                     10 hrs

Microsoft Surface RT—   $499     Full                                 front/back          6-7.5 hrs

Novo 7  Flame Android Tablet—  $189                              2 on front

These comparisons come just in time for Christmas. Enjoy!


March 7, 2012

Latest E-Book Alliance by Bob Spear

It was inevitable. Smaller e-book enablers are striking deals with major companies in order to see their content distributed and sold. E-books are no different from any other valuable commodities; they need economy of scale to be able to succeed and survive. The latest is last week’s deal struck between Smashwords and Blio. Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, announced the deal and explained it in an email to all the authors who have e-books on the Smashwords site that they would now also be carried by Blio, a major e-book distributor that provides content from the major publishers. Baker and Taylor, the second largest book distributor in the world, uses Blio to sell its e-books to indie bookstores and libraries. My bookstore, The Book Barn, has its own landing page on Baker and Taylor’s data base. If you go to that page, you can see the Blio connections. You can even download their free AP to turn your computer into a book reader. Blio also connects with Google Books where over 1,000 e-books that have outlived their copyright protection can be had for free. This is a win/win for everybody. It also levels the playing field with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. All this makes good business sense.

February 27, 2012

Recent Trend in the Book Industry by Bob Spear

The following is an excellent analysis of several industries, to include the book industry, in an article entitled:

Creeping Fascism, Part One: Return of the Company Town
By: John Rubino | Thursday, February 16, 2012. I am including only the book portion, but I have personal knowledge of several other industries he used for examples to be right on the money. I think you’ll find this both interesting and scarey:
“Book Publishing
But perhaps the best way to understand the true structure of America’s political economy in the twenty-first century is to talk to some of the people who publish, edit, and write books in America. These days, most articles on the book industry focus on technology. The recent death of the retailer Borders is depicted as a victory of Internet sales over brick-and-mortar stores, the e-book market as a battle between the Kindle e-reader and the iPad. But if we look behind the glib narrative of digitization, we find that a parallel revolution has taken place, one that has resulted in a dramatic concentration of power over individuals who work in this essential, surprisingly fragile industry.
A generation ago, America’s book market was entirely open and very vibrant. According to some estimates, the five largest publishers in the mid-1970s controlled only about 30 percent of trade book sales, and the biggest fifty publishers controlled only 75 percent. The retail business was even more dispersed, with the top four chains accounting for little more than 10 percent of sales. Today, a single company–Amazon–accounts for more than 20 percent of the domestic book market. And even this statistic fails to convey the company’s enormous reach. In many key categories, it sells more than half the books purchased in the United States. And according to the company’s estimates, its share of the e-book market, the fastest-growing segment of the industry, was between 70 and 80 percent in 2010. (Its share of the online sale of physical books is roughly the same.)
Not surprisingly, then, we find the same sort of fear among our book publishers as we do among the chicken farmers of the Sweedlin Valley. I recently sat down with the CEO of one of the biggest publishing houses in America. In his corner office overlooking a busy Manhattan street, he explained that Amazon was once a “wonderful customer with whom to do business.” As Jeff Bezos’s company became more powerful, however, it changed. “The question is, do you wear your power lightly?” My host paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “Mr. Bezos has not. He is reckless. He is dangerous.”
Later that same day, I spoke with the head of one of the few remaining small publishers in America, in a tattered conference room in a squat Midtown office building. “Amazon is a bully. Jeff Bezos is a bully,” he said, his voice rising, his cheeks flushing. “Anyone who gets that powerful can push people around, and Amazon pushes people around. They do not exercise their power responsibly.” Neither man allowed me to use his name. Amazon, they made clear, had long since accumulated sufficient influence over their business to ensure that even these most dedicated defenders of the book–and of the First Amendment–dare not speak openly of the company’s predations.
If a single event best illustrates our confusion as to what makes an open market–and the role such markets play in protecting our liberties–it was our failure to respond to Amazon’s decision in early 2010 to cut off one of our biggest publishers from its readers. At the time, Amazon and Macmillan were scrapping over which firm would set the price for Macmillan’s ebooks. Amazon wanted to price every Macmillan e-book, and indeed every e-book of every publisher, at $9.99 or less. This scorched-earth tactic, which guaranteed that Amazon lost money on many of the e-books it sold, was designed to cement the online retailer’s dominance in the nascent market. It also had the effect of persuading customers that this deeply discounted price, which publishers considered ruinously low, was the “natural” one for an e-book.
In January 2010, Macmillan at last claimed the right to set the price for each of its own products as it alone saw fit. Amazon resisted this arrangement, known in publishing as the “agency model.” When the two companies deadlocked, Amazon simply turned off the buttons that allowed customers to order Macmillan titles, in both their print and their e-book versions….”
Mr. Rubino also commented on industries such as silicon valley, chicken raising operations, micro breweries, and others. Those of us in the book business know the above comments to be true.

January 21, 2012

Writing Settings by Bob Spear

One of the most loved and respected authors of western fiction was Louis L’amour.. His fans found his stories to be very realistic because of the accuracy of his settings. If one of his stories mentioned a specific well or spring, you could go to that location and find it. This is because L’amour had done so before he wrote about it. His research was meticulous.

Does this mean you need to become a world traveler to be able to construct realistic settings? Not necessarily. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in or traveled in a number of countries in Europe and Asia, as well as all over America, so I could search my memory and describe a particular location I had personally experienced just like L’amour had done.

Detailed, accurate settings make for interesting reading. This is why books are often referred to as armchair adventures. But, what’s an author to do if his story takes him to a place he’s never been? All is not lost. First there are atlases for those of us who know how to read a good map. Second, there are sources of good information in Google and Wikipedia. Most importantly, there are UTube  and documentaries which can give you a look at far away places. Any author who doesn’t avail himself of these resources is just plain lazy. By studying and seeing for oneself the locations you’re writing about, you can produce much more interesting works.

OK, how about science fiction and fantasy? Did you ever notice how many fantasy novels come with an excellent map of the stories’ settings? I always find myself checking such maps as I read just so I’m clear as to where everything is. The beauty of scifi is its settings are whatever the author wants them to be; therefore, detailed descriptions become essential.

Good settings are the sign of good fiction writers. They add spice to your stories. They also add connectivity with your readership for those who have been to the places you write about. Do your due diligence to make what you write as believable as possible.

December 21, 2011

Lazy Book Designing by Bob Spear

My eyes are stinging and my brain is dizzier than usual. I just finished reading for my bookstore’s review two excellent young adult books for consideration of including them on our shelves and hand-selling them once we do. OK, so why the physical impacts?

Both books were interior designed using serif-less fonts. They’re OK for ads or internet usage, but they are horrendous for reading on paper. Why? and Why were they used? Ah, here is my best guess. It may all be about laziness on the part of the interior designer/typesetter. Follow along as I explain more:

Text fonts that use serifs are easier to read. The serifs, those little tittles that come to points on each letter’s lines, bring closure to the letters. They let the eye know what the each letter is (try to figure out if a letter is a capital I or a small L in a sanserif font). Reading the text in a book without that help is daunting at best.

The two books I read were The Eleventh Plague and Cinder, and both were excellent, except for the typesetting. I know whereof I speak. I am an interior designer for books and a design judge for the Ben Franklin Awards. Neither books would have made it to the Ben Franklin finals but would have been rejected out of hand immediately.

So, why would a designer use sanserif fonts for his text paragraphs? I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess it was done out of sheer laziness or for a publisher’s cost cutting guidance. Many people prefer using sanserif text fonts for computer screens, where serifs can become too complex for screen resolutions. For this reason, many ebooks are set with sanserif text fonts. OK, so the designer makes the ebook version first thing since they are cheaper, easier, and quicker to publish. Why go back through and change all the text paragraphs to serifed fonts. After all, they are wider (which may add to the page count) and may create some widows and orphans that weren’t there before (again screwing up the layout throughout the book).

It’s my guess that is what happened with these two books I just struggled through to read with my aging eyesight. I think that many self-publishers may fall into this trap as well (both these books were from major publishers). Give your readers a break and design your books correctly. There is a reason for every designing tradition and standard practices.

December 9, 2011

Leveling the Playing Field with Amazon by Bob Spear

Filed under: Book Industry,Book Publishers,Booksellers,Readers — bobspear @ 2:02 pm

Amazon seems to always choose the underhanded way in their business model. Below is the latest in a long series of questionable business practices they have become involved in. This quote is from an open letter in Publishers Weekly from the CEO of American Booksellers Association, which watches over us independent booksellers.


“ABA Responds to Amazon App Promo

This week announced that customers who go into bricks-and-mortar stores on Saturday, December 10, use the company’s smartphone price check app on select products, and then purchase that product from Amazon will receive a discount of up to $5.

While books were not included in the promotion, indie bookstores, like other Main Street retailers, were outraged by the online giant’s latest move.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher has written an open letter (below) to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, highlighting the glaring discrepancy between the company’s recent statements in support of sales tax fairness and this latest exploitation of an inequitable strategic advantage.  


Dear Jeff Bezos,

We’re not shocked, just disappointed.

Despite your company’s recent pledge to be a better corporate citizen and to obey the law and collect sales tax, you created a price-check app that allows shoppers to browse Main Street stores that do collect sales tax, scan a product, ask for expertise, and walk out empty-handed in order to buy on Amazon. We suppose we should be flattered that an online sales behemoth needs a Main Street retail showroom.

Forgive us if we’re not.

We could call your $5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.

But maybe we’ve misunderstood.

Even though you’ve spent millions on lobbyists, fired affiliates in seven states, and threatened to shut warehouses to avoid collecting sales tax, maybe you really mean it now when you say you support a level playing field.

It’s up to you to show us.

In the meantime, indie retailers remain the heart of countless communities — offering discovery, energy, support, and unique experiences. See you on Main Street.


Oren Teicher, CEO
American Booksellers Association”

October 28, 2011

Editing Non-Native English

For those who edit books and articles professionally, occasionally you might run into a special challenge. How do you deal with works written by clients for whom English is not their native language. I certainly can’t claim to be a trained linguist; however, I have faced this challenge a number of times in my past. As a retired intelligence professional, I have been interested in other languages and have lived in other countries where languages other than English are spoken. Here is a list of languages for which some of my editing clients spoke as their primary languages:

  • German
  • Spanish
  • French Canadian
  • Korean
  • Chinese
  • Farsi
  • Japanese

What can you expect if you find yourself working for such a client? First,English is one of the more difficult languages in the world. We have so many exceptions and sound alike word choices. We have been influenced by so many other languages. When you couple these with the usual writing and punctuation mistakes we see in native speaking English writers, it’s not surprising that writers from other languages have problems.

As editors, we owe these clients two important aspects. First, we want to help them get their English correct. Second, we want to try to insure we help them communicate what they really mean when transitioning from their own languages. The following are some hints that you might find useful for accomplishing these two goals:

  1. Watch for patterns in sentence structure and word order. Usually these will become noticeable as you read through their work. If these sound funny or unusual, they may express how the client’s native language is structured. I have edited a number of clients who first wrote their book or article in their native language and then directly translated over word by word without considering how we arrange our words in sentences.
  2. Watch for unusual ways of saying things. My Korean martial art instructor had funny little ways of driving points home. For example: “If you hit him here, he should be die.” He was a professional translator with a degree in English from Seoul University, yet he still used these little idiosyncrasies in word choices.
  3. Sometimes clients will use idioms from their native languages that don’t make sense in English, just as we have many that don’t translate into their languages very well. You’ll need to ask what the client meant when you run into these. Idioms are the mark of true fluency in foreign languages. For example, I remember one phrase in German that translated into English thusly: “That place is so strange, that foxes and hares greet each other and shake hands.” This is not something I’ve ever heard used in American English, but it was common in Bayrish Deutsch (Bavarian German).

The bottom line is that editing folks for whom English is not a native language requires a lot more work and care in communicating. For this reason, I charge higher rates for such jobs because of the extra time, thought, and care they take. Such a client needs to understand this up front. It is always a good idea to ask for a sample of the work before coming to terms. I have had jobs that have required a complete re-write. They always take more time and effort. You may find you just don’t want to take it on, and that’s OK as long as it’s determined up front.

Editing non-native English can be challenging but not impossible. It can lead to frustrations, but it can also lead humorous situations. It also can open doorways into a better understanding of another culture. Although I was initially raised as an Indiana farm boy with no travel experience or exposure to other languages and cultures, that certainly changed when I went to college and into the military. For these reasons, I always provided foreign cultural opportunities to my four children, which has held them in good stead in their lives. As editors, we must be open to learning about other languages and cultures in order to improve our abilities of communicating with and understanding of people throughout the world. Editing non-native English users is a good place to start.

August 15, 2011

Selling EBooks by Bob Spear

As a Smashwords ebook author and publisher and an independent bookstore owner, I have been concerned about the direction ebooks are taking us. At times I have been feeling like I was running a buggy whip  business while folks down the street had started to sell gasoline. How could I compete?

That has been the quandary for many independent bookstores. If they didn’t have a very expensive website with the American Booksellers Association on their system, they had no access to sell ebooks to their customers. That has changed with the advent of book distributor Baker & Taylor’s new service for independent bookstores who use them as their primary first-choice for book orders.

If you go to you will find a landing page similar to what you would find at Amazon, but easier to navigate. Halfway down the page you will find:

This will take you to an information page and also allow you to download an e-reader app onto your computer. When looking for books on the site’s search engine, if there is an ebook version available, it will show up along with the hardback version, the various audio versions, the reinforced library version, the trade paperback, and the mass market paperback. If you want the ebook, click on it to go into the shopping cart. It will give you a choice of formats. The rest is business as usual. Notice that we have built automatic discounts into what we offer through our site on Baker & Taylor. Oh, BTW, if you need to rent textbooks, click on that tab and perform your search. Once found, that goes into either the shopping cart or the rental cart, depending.

In addition to the ebooks for fees selections, you can also peruse GoogleBooks for their thousands of free open-source materials. I’ve downloaded eight free ebooks about Buffalo Bill Cody and Leavenworth’s history that I can use for research material in support of my historical performer gigs. These were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s and are no longer protected by copyright.

In all, this really levels the playing field for us. Anything bought through this site goes toward our bookstore’s account. In other words, we get our share. Now we have the ability to sell in two markets we’ve always wanted and didn’t have the ability to do so. This may prove the salvation of mom & pop stores like ours. We’re really grateful Baker & Taylor recognized the need and came up with a solution in which everybody wins.

July 30, 2011

Nasty Publisher Practices by Bob Spear

This posting may explain why more and more authors, especially those with marketing abilities, are going the self-publishing route.

Low-Balling Royalty Percentages—This is often done to inexperienced, unrepresented authors. It is so difficult to get a publisher to accept one’s work, that new authors are very reluctant to rock the boat. The publishers know this and really screw the authors on the percentages they offer.

Cooking the Books—playing devious number games with the sales reporting figures. Never ever agree to base your royalties on net results. This is a common practice in the movie industry and is often used to leave the writer penniless.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy—New writers rarely have a large following initially, so the publisher spends little if any on marketing; therefore, the books don’t sell well. And, the publisher says “See, we told you so.”

Print Runs—This is related to the last item and is especially egregious. It has been done time after time to Piers Anthony and was recently done to talk show host Michael Savage. The publisher announces plans for a large print run to raise the hype level, then only prints half or less than that. The book takes off and runs out of inventory within a couple of weeks. By the time the publisher can get more printed, the buying public has moved on to the next hot item and the book is forgotten.

As you can see, some practices happen because of ethical problems and some happen out of sheer stupidity. There are several others of that ilk, especially when it will make an editor or upper level publisher management look bad. Blame for doing something wrong is rarely admitted because of the egos involved.

Bottom Line—If you’re going to work with major publishers, use a competent, reputable agent. You pay him a percentage to watch out for deals like this. One of the best things that can happen is a bidding war. If a publisher has to put out a major investment to get a work and its author, he will back it with hype, marketing, and decent-sized print runs.

There’s nothing personal about all this. It’s just business as usual.

July 15, 2011

Filed under: Book Industry,Book Publishers,Readers,Self-Publishers — bobspear @ 5:52 pm

I received a heads up from Dan Snow and who co-hosts a book industry newsletter with self-publishing guru Dan Poynter and is a past member of the Board of Directors for the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).  At the annual awards presentations, he had noticed a young girl of about 16 years in front of him at the buffet line. In chatting with her and her mom, he was impressed by how well-spoken she was. Later on in the evening, her book, Grace: A Child’s Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery, by Melinda Marchiano & published by Happy Quail,  won the  The Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book (Nonfiction). Here are some of her book’s endorsements: In her book, Grace: A Child’s Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery, Melinda Marchiano offers an honest and inspiring portrayal of her cancer experience through the eyes of a teenager and proves there is medicinal value in love and laughter.  Melinda and I share a common bond.  We are survivors.  And we believe in the importance of empowering fellow survivors to live life on their own terms.  By sharing her story, Melinda is giving a voice to this global epidemic that needs immediate attention.  I am grateful to Melinda for having the courage to speak up and for her generosity in helping others fighting cancer.–Lance Armstrong  “I have often said God gives children with cancer something extra.  They are remarkable and inspiring people to be around.  Melinda tells her story with such honesty and openness that you can’t help but be touched and encouraged.  This is sure to be a blessing to all that read it!”-Jeff Foxworthy “What an extraordinary young girl Melinda is! Her story, though heartbreaking, pulsates with joy and faith and hope. God bless her!” –Kathie Lee Gifford If you like touchingly well-written books by young folks, you should find this author ideal. Dan told me when she received the award she was floored. He said it obviously mad her whole life, plus she was a very modest girl.

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