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[PHOTO] Purchased at Word on the Street, Toronto

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Purchased at Word on the Street, Toronto

I got the Derek Jarman book for $C5 from the Glad Day booth. The Ke$ha book came free.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Book lovers shrug off storms at Word on the Street”

Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew’s brief Toronto Star article just touches upon the rather enjoyable time I had at Word on the Street on Queen’s Park. (I’ll have plenty of pictures in coming days.) When I was there in the afternoon, the weather was happily perfect.

Sunday morning’s thunderstorms didn’t dampen spirits at the 25th annual Word on the Street.

The Toronto book and magazine festival drew an estimated 210,000 people to Queen’s Park Circle, mostly in the afternoon, organizers said.

“During setup at 8 a.m. it was really bad. Lightning, rain. Bad rain. We can handle any weather, but lightning does scare us. But that’s over,” spokesperson Stephen Weir said in an interview.

“I suspect the audience we lost in the morning arrived in the afternoon.”

This year’s roster of over 200 authors included Canadian writers Claire Cameron, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Sean Michaels, and Shani Mootoo.

“The festival is huge now,” said one festival-goer, Sue Peters of Toronto. “I haven’t been her for a few years and I can’t believe how big it is.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 22, 2014 at 8:20 pm

[PHOTO] Polkaroo!

Polkaroo!

I went to Toronto’s Word on the Street literary festival yesterday, and had a wonderful time. The streets surrounding Queen’s Park were cordoned off from traffic and filled with booksellers and literary events amid photogenic scenery.

One thing I appreciated was the TVO Kids stage outside of the Royal Ontario Museum. There, Ontario’s public television station had some of the most iconic characters of their programmers posing and taking pictures. Polkaroo, for instance.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm

[PHOTO] Shawn Syms, Nothing Looks Familiar

My own copy of Shawn Syms' short story collection Nothing Looks Familiar, bought at his launch. (Thanks, Glad Day!)

Above is my copy of Shawn Syms‘ debut short story collection Nothing Looks Familiar (Arsenal Pulp Press). I bought my copy at the fabulous book launch held at Buddies in Bad Times, courtesy of Glad Day Bookshop.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • blogTO identifies the ten most important buildings in Toronto.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at evidence for plate tectonics in Europa’s ice crust.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the discovery of methane, carbon monoxide and ammonia in the atmospheres of some brown dwarfs and looks at implications of variability in brown dwarf atmospheres.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes China’s plans to launch a second space station into orbit.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ notes how Germany’s Left Party is continuing its strong support from Russia.
  • Joe. My. God. observes how Ted Cruz’ support for Israel was unpopular at an event for Middle Eastern Christians, including many Palestinian Christians.
  • Language Hat notes some signs of cultural cosmopolitanism in the Stalinist Soviet literacy scene.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that global warming will devastate forests in the western United States.
  • Otto Pohl notes the arbitrariness of race and geography in bounding Africa.
  • Discover‘s Out There and the Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla both note Rosetta’s views of its target comet.
  • The Speed River Journal’s Van Waffle chronicles with photos the story of the vole he found eating his potatoes.
  • Towleroad notes a mother in Alabama who is trying to cut her dead son’s husband out of his estate.
  • Why I Love Toronto celebrates Queen Street West.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that diasporas of Russian minorities should also be recognized as Russian, argues that Putin is cornered, and notes the significant differences between Estonians and Russophones in Estonia in beliefs about religious and the supernatural.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World notes controversy over whether Ukraine should try to cut a deal with Russia.

[LINK] “Why Indie Bookstores Are on the Rise Again”

Slate‘s Zachary Karabell suggests that independent booksellers in the United States may be entering an era of modest prosperity, owing to the overstretch of major book chains in previous decades.

Only a few years ago, observers projected that the rise of chain stores and Amazon would lead to the vast shrinkage of independent bookstores. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of member independent bookstores has increased more than 20 percent since the depths of the recession, from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,094 in 2014. Meanwhile, Borders went bankrupt in 2011, and the fate of Barnes & Noble, which failed to make the Nook into a viable e-reader competitor with Amazon’s Kindle, appears murky. What happened?

The short answer is that by listing their shares as public companies, both Borders and Barnes & Noble were drawn into a negative vortex that destroyed the former and has crippled the latter. Not only did they become public companies, but they positioned themselves as high-growth companies, focused on innovation and disruption. That forced them to compete with the growth company par excellence in their space: Amazon. It also forced them to pursue high sales volume at the expense of inventories. Those strategies, as it turned out, were precisely wrong for the actual business they were in: selling books to a selective audience. Which is precisely what independent bookstores are good at.

Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and even Costco looked to be squeezing the life out of indies in the 1990s and into the aughts. Borders alone went from 21 stores in 1992 to 256 superstores in 1999. Barnes & Noble saw even greater growth. Those stores offered more choices, cafes, magazines, and for a while, music. Many independents, already operating with razor-thin margins, couldn’t compete. Between 2000 and 2007, some 1,000 independent bookstores closed.

But even as they were expanding, the chains were beset by questionable management decisions pressured by the demands of public markets to grow, grow, grow. Facing the need for expensive investment in technology, Borders sold its online distribution to Amazon in 2001 and threw its efforts into more stores and bigger stores, using its share price to finance massive debt. Barnes & Noble opened more superstores as well, but it also decided to challenge Amazon by developing the Nook at a cost of more than $1 billion.

The results were disastrous. Barnes & Noble bled money; it just announced earnings with yet another quarter of losses and declining revenue. Amazon dominated because it could spend far more money on technology than the chains, and because its core competency was in the disruptive technologies of e-readers, distribution, and inventory management. Amazon was never seen primarily as a retailer, and hence it could carry massive inventories that were a drag on its earnings and then spend billions on research and development because investors accepted Amazon’s narrative that it was a disruptive technology company redefining how everything is sold, not just books.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm

[LINK] “Shelving to Save a Book’s Life”

Susan Coll’s article at The Atlantic about the complexities of shelving books on the shelves of bookstores resonates with me.

The rules of shelving can seem arbitrary, even arcane, but the fundamentals are easy to learn: two hard covers, and no more than three paperbacks of the same title, on each shelf. The exception is the face-out. If the jacket is displayed horizontally, behind it you can stack as many books as can fit.

Turning a book face out is an act of tremendous power, or so it feels when you are working at an independent bookstore at a moment that has major chains shrinking and Amazon wreaking havoc with publishing’s already fragile ecosystem. In a bookstore, you can decide, unilaterally, without having to ask permission or sit in an hour-long meeting, to simply face out Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance because, well, because it’s one of your favorite books, and it also solves the problem of what to do with the space left by your desire to consolidate the David Mitchells, which means moving them all to the shelf below.

You can also show a little love to an obscure mid-list paperback you just discovered suffocating between two behemoth hardcovers—simply because it feels like the right thing to do. The positioning will likely only matter for a day or two before the next person doing some shelving undoes your handiwork, sticks three Fine Balances spine out, climbs the giant ladder, and puts the rest in overstock.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm

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