books on the radio


David Shields’ Reality Hunger: Mostly Not Available in Canada

No Appetite for Physical Book Sales

* NOTE: Big respect to the people at Chapters/Indigo – and one person in particular who will remain nameless until such a time as I get the OK to mention said person by name – for hustling to get this book into stores in Canada and for staying in touch with me during the process.

The book is available at the Robson Street store in Vancouver and I encourage everyone who has even a foggy inclination about this book to go and buy it and to join the conversation about it.

Agree or disagree or suffer from indifference, I think it’s important and I’m glad that people can now walk into a bookstore in Vancouver and other places and buy it from another human being!

Thanks!*

Very simply: I do not understand why David Shields’ hugely anticipated new book, Reality Hunger, is not available for sale at the brick and mortar version of Canada’s national big box book chain, Chapters/Indigo.

I come at this scenario from 2 points of view:

1) I’m a fan of David Shields and have been following the media coverage and build-up for this book for months.

The contentious debate around literary remixing, appropriation, creativity & attribution brought on by Helene Hegemann, the 17 year-old German novelist whose been accused of accelerating worldwide copyright apocalypse only stokes the fire.

2) My experience is as a bookseller/buyer for independent stores and the Virgin Megastore.  And as a book lover, a reader, someone who wants to buy books.

It is impossible for me to understand how a book by an established writer that is receiving this much advanced media attention is not stacked high on the display tables at the front of the store by the time the doors open for business on the date of release.

And if that’s not in the cards – for a host of complicated reasons – then how about at least having a few copies available for idiots like me who still occasionally enjoy the 3-dimensional experience of buying a book from a human being?

Who still consider release dates to be a piece of meaningful communication between publisher and audience.  A kind of promise.

The date of release, by the way, was last Tuesday, February 23rd.

*

Here’s the story: I didn’t actually expect Chapters/Indigo to have copies at the doors, stacked high on the release date.  I live in Vancouver and everything in the physical book trade supply chain takes longer to get here.

No problem, we’re used to it.

Also, this is books that we’re talking about, not music or movies, so the sense of urgency and coordination to satisfy the hunger of the audience that has been piqued by well-placed coverage in the media is diminished.

Or non-existent.

Anyway, so I wait a day and then check the Chapters/Indigo website to see whether Reality Hunger is showing in-stock at any of the Vancouver locations.

Apparently not.  I could order it from them online, sure, but all physical locations are showing a stock level of zero.

So I called one of the stores and spoke to a very helpful young man who told me that there were no copies at any Chapters/Indigo stores in the entire country of Canada as it had not yet been ordered.

Not yet been ordered.  Got that?

A day after the release date, the largest retailer in the country hadn’t even placed an order!

Reality Hunger isn’t published by a small press with limited sales and distribution power, it’s a front list book published by one of the largest publishers in the world, Random House.

As a fan and former bookseller this makes absolutely zero sense.

Is this some new tactic in the battle against digital piracy?  Like, maybe if the book isn’t available at all no one will want to steal it?

*

Am I expecting too much?

*

One can surely make the argument that I am expecting too much.

That Chapters/Indigo took a pass on this title because it’s some obscure book of essays and literary criticism by an American author.  That there would be no appeal to the Canadian audience.

This despite the fact that it’s a Random House front-list title on the influence of reality culture and contains a feast of quotes printed on the front cover from the likes of Jonathan Lethem, Patricia Hempl, Geoff Dyer and Albert Goldbarth, and has been reviewed by the likes of Chuck Klosterman and Zadie Smith.

But whatever, right?  It’s not like people actually read anymore.  Lethem, Klosterman, Zadie Smith?  Nobody cares what those people think.  They have no influence.

Speaking of having no influence on consumer behavior, here’s a list of some of the media outlets that have reviewed, discussed and generated awareness for the release of Reality Hunger over the past few months: Guardian Books Podcast, The Believer, Fader Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Millions, Seattle Times, Pop Matters, The Huffington Post, Bookslut, New York Times.

Ahem.

*

Frustrated to the point of despair, I called around to all the bookstores in Vancouver and none of them carried it, though they could certainly special order it for me.  It would only take about a week.

Thanks, no.

The only bookstore that I contacted that had copies in their store, ready to be bought by customers, was Bolen Books in Victoria.

I contacted the affable, Springsteen-loving Rob Wiersema and he informed me that they had 5 copies on display.

Kudos, as always, to the independents (and especially Rob, who as President for Life of the BC Bookseller’s Association, is always out there reprezentin’ the tribe;).

And David Shields can rest assured that at least 5 readers living on an island off Canada’s west coast will be reading his book.

As for the rest of the country? Not so much.

*

One reason that I care enough about this to write this post is because I think that Reality Hunger is going to be an important book.

That it’s going to do what nearly every single other book published this year will fail to do: generate real conversation and debate across a variety of disciplines about the nature of creative expression, copyright and attribution in the 21st century.

Crucial issues as the passionate response to the story about Helen Hegmann’s book demonstrates.

Another reason is that I hate to see writers, readers & book lovers so brutally under served by the dumb beast of corporate bookselling.

In an era where there’s constant uncertainty about the influence of digital sales and distribution to the traditional supply chain how can a major publisher not provide physical books to the largest book retailer in an entire country?

With that much media – Huffington Post, New York Times, Fader Magazine (calls it the Hip Hop Album of the Year!), the Globe and Mail, Bookslut, the Guardian Books Podcast – how is it possible that Chapters/Indigo slept on placing an initial order?

Has this appetite for immediacy – this Reality Hunger – killed the ability of book publishing’s marketing and supply chain to work effectively together to serve the reader on time with physical book sales?

Is it wrong for me to expect to be able to walk into a major book retailer and buy a copy of a widely publicized book on the date of release?

Or are we happy to relegate all sales of physical books to independents and online sales channels?

Has digital effectively won the battle so soon?

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Copyright in the Digital Age: BOTR Talks to Jesse Finkelstein

Books on the Radio vs Jesse Finkelstein: Copyright in the Digital Age.

Click Here to Listen to Jesse Finkelstein & Sean Cranbury Talk Copyright

At the beginning of February 2010, just before the Olympics rolled into town and before the independent literary showcase W2 Real Vancouver Writers’ Series took root in the local imagination, I was invited to speak on Copyright in the Digital Age to the Masters of Publishing class at SFU.

In preparation for that talk at SFU I spoke to an expert in the field of book publishing, copyright, international rights contracts by the name of Jesse Finkelstein.

Jesse is the Digital Assets and Foreign Rights Director at Douglas & McIntyre, Greystone Books and New Society Publishers.  She leads the company’s digital publishing initiatives and the development of international rights sales for all three imprints.

Jesse was formerly an Associate Publisher at Raincoast Books as well as the Everything-That-Needs-Doing Person at Vehicule Press in Montreal.  She is a graduate of McGill University as well as Simon Fraser’s Masters of Publishing program.

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jesse.  We have had a few great, passionate conversations about rights, the digital wave and the adaptability of traditional publishing business models to fit new demands.

It was a real honour to have Jesse on the show and I think that you’ll agree that it’s a fascinating conversation.

And, even at 30 minutes, it’s way too short.

Please comment below with any thoughts, ideas or questions that you have about these issues or our conversation.

Thanks, Jesse!



Richard Nash Interview at O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference
February 23, 2010, 7:20 PM
Filed under: Industry Change | Tags: , , , ,

An excellent video snapshot of some of the common arguments arriving at the intersection of traditional book publishing and digital influence.

Some choice quotes from this short interview:

“[We can create} self-organizing, self-perpetuating, self-selecting communities around a reading/writing platform that allows people to discover like-minded people across the planet.”

“I want our communities to not always be so self-evident or narrowly defined by genre in the ways that we have understood that in the past because one of the things that the web allows us to do is free ourselves from limiting our choices to, say, 20 genres… allowing for unlimited hybridization, cross-pollination and increased narrative specificity for writers and audiences.” [Words in italics are mine – a DJ Cranbury remix of Richard Nash.]

“On the internet nobody knows your gay knitting dog.”

Thank you, Richard.  Well done.