Amazon Publishing reportedly retreating in NYC. Thank (or blame) Barnes & Noble

Originally posted on Gigaom:

When Amazon Publishing launched its general trade imprint in New York in 2011, the goal was to go head-to-head with the big traditional publishers here. The company announced in May of that year that it had hired industry vet Larry Kirshbaum to run the new general publishing division. Kirshbaum said at the time that Amazon was “going to back [the imprint] significantly” and that he would run it “in the vein of a major publishing house.”

But agents, authors and booksellers didn’t play along. Industry newsletter Shelf Awareness reported Friday, citing unidentified sources, that Kirshbaum is leaving Amazon Publishing early next year.

Shelf Awareness also said that “In connection with [Kirshbaum's] departure, the most ambitious part of Amazon’s publishing operations will be scaled back. Already several editorial people have left or been let go, and Amazon has not been a factor in bidding on major books the way it…

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Libraries and the Disposable Culture

So I’ve been thinking … *waits for the snarky comments* …

As I was saying, I’ve been thinking about things a lot in the wake of a recent change in locations. Lately, the push with big municipal libraries has seemed to be fewer and fewer books on the shelves and more and more “open community space.” Weasel words at their finest.

I cannot help but notice that this push to wreck the print collections of large municipal libraries is coming at a time when their budgets are at the mercy of supremely rich “titans of business.” For example, you need look no further than the dire straits of libraries in cities like New York or Boston.

When I first started this gig, everyone I knew encouraged me to do it. Librarians were the hot commodity of the future, especially public librarians. People were on the radio praising their neighborhood librarians for helping them do this or get that crucial bit of info. How times have changed.

When I was in library school I had a professor who was tasked with teaching us the arcane science of records keeping. Somewhere in the course of this discussion, we turned to the durability of the sundry storage means out there. We all agreed that magnetic tape was the best for longevity, durability, and ease of preservation. However, the professor was waxing eloquent on how everything decays, even the prized new movie technology of DVDs. Fine. Yeah. It happens. Then came the clincher: “Of course it’s done that way. I mean, where would the economy be if you never had to buy another copy of that DVD again?”

I’m pretty sure I lost half my tongue from biting it so damn hard. WHERE would we be? Well let’s see … for starters we’d all have a hell of a lot more cash to purchase the big ticket items so crucial to our lives without having to strain our credit to the breaking point. Cars, refrigerators, washing machines, etc. Have you noticed that lately the marketing push is to things that don’t last very long but are really cheap?

Buy a smartphone! Sure you’ll be lucky if it lasts the two years of your contract but hey they’re cheap with that contract! Buy jeans at Wal-Mart! Sure, they’ll fall apart about a year or two after buying them, but hey, it’s 10 bucks for a pair! Who cares? Buy this DVD! Well, it’ll be no good in 10 years or so because of whatever the hell it is that’s supposed to happen to those shiny coatings and the data coded in the plastic. It’s like everyone took a page from the book of American car companies of the 80′s and 90′s. Hell, even as late as 2001 General Motors sold a car that stopped working the month after I made the final payment on the five-year loan.

So now, people are spending loads and loads of cash on crap that’s cheap, glitzy, and distracts them from the important things like the hardware of living. Or the gutting of our shared history and knowledge. Just look at the travails of the systems in New York. Queens Public, once the number one library in circulation, is now ceasing the purchase of books. All three systems in that city are constant targets of huge budget cuts by one of the richest dirtbags ever to take political office, and those cuts are only partially ameliorated by the city council in an annual battle as these systems beg for their fiscal lives.

Then you look at the trend of designing big public libraries to be “open community spaces.” Invariably, being open means reducing the number of shelves in favor of a sterile, glass and steel, post-modern box of crap that looks like something out of a glitzier version of Blade Runner.

We’ve been egged into a cycle of disposability that’s inimical to the well-being of the average person. Sure, save the financial tricksters that melted our collective economic face, but God forbid someone in charge exercise some of their vaunted “management” skills and actually look at what needs cutting and what doesn’t, rather than demanding huge cuts from everyone in the name of preserving a low-tax dogma.

The reason I bring this up is because my recent change in location drove home just how stark the difference is between a library all about “open community space” and a library that actually IS a community space. I have a reference collection now that makes me weep for joy, dear readers. A real, honest-to-God treasure of a reference collection, encyclopedias and all. No one driving me crazy to throw away things like the Chilton’s auto repair manuals and so on. And you know what?

Ten times more people come into this place than my old location and actually USE these books. They actually stay and read, and converse with us. And I’m not talking about the same old regulars that come in all the time. We have those, but we also have many different people coming in all the time. Why? Books. We haven’t thrown them all out. We are a community space because we have not thrown away something that belongs to the community.


Grouchy? Who? Me? Nah …

So I recently got a shoutout from my colleague at A Case For Books. The somewhat fair accusation that I’m occasionally grouchy was leveled at me. Ok, guilty as charged, but hey, sometimes I have good reason to be grouchy. Hang onto your modems, ladies and gentlelibrarians.

I have the privilege of working in what’s called a “diverse” community. What this usually means is the library community consists of a mix of pampered, wealthy folks who drop in at the library because it’s a thing to do, and those who are genuinely in need of our services. You’d be surprised just how many communities fit this mold in New York State, even in the supposedly more homogenous upstate. After a while, you start to get a sense of which patrons are pampered and which are needy.

Now over the winter we’ve had, there’s been so much freaking snow that only now are dead deer being revealed on the roadside, buried up to their chests in a combination of leftover ice and road gravel. It stands to reason there’s gonna be some ice left over on sidewalks and streets where plows and intrepid shovelers could not reach.

Among those intrepid shovelers is a wonderful crew of people known as custodians. I’ve had custodians share recipes with me, give me lifts when I needed one in an emergency, set rooms up for programs, stop flooding in the basements, and fix busted toilets. You name it. Seriously, I love these guys. However, that love is not widespread. Last week one of the more pampered princesses came in and demanded to know why some of the sidewalk outside still had ice, and why she had to walk around it.

My response was simple: “He might not be responsible for that part of the sidewalk. You might have to call sanitation or the highway department for that.”

“Huh, another one who gets my tax money for doing nothing!” Then she stormed out. That’s an exact quote, folks. I was biting my tongue hard enough to leave marks. What I wanted to say would have gotten me a nice, shiny pink slip and unemployment benefits.

This is what I wanted to say: “Now listen to me, you addle-pated, dimwitted, slack-jawed, spoiled MORON! There probably isn’t enough money in the WORLD to make you want to do HIS job, cleaning up YOUR crap from OUR public restrooms, picking up YOUR garbage from OUR floors, and probably scraping YOUR gum from under OUR tables. Here’s your damn dollar back and don’t show your face in here again.”

Come to think of it, this is the kind of thing I want to say to everyone who bitches and moans about how much teachers, custodians, garbagemen, and ad infinitum get paid or how much money is wasted on the oh-so-lavish benefit of $20 grand a year in retirement (IF we’re lucky). Let’s see you try to teach a classroom full of kids who either don’t want to learn, come from broken homes, or have no parents at home because THEY’RE WORKING TO PROVIDE YOUR PAMPERED ASS with the service you say you waste money on.

Better idea. Rush into a burning building wearing a hundred pounds of fire-fighting equipment and force your way through burning doors, walls, and smoke, all to save someone like YOU. Then you get to complain about all those “slackers” who are lounging around on disability.

Oh oh oh, here’s another one. YOU try spending two whole freaking days out on the streets in a plow and sand truck with no meal breaks, busting your hump to plow the streets of ungrateful twits like YOU. Seriously, the stuff I read in the papers about the New York City Sanitation guys dozing off in their trucks after being out there for hours and hours and hours? Yeah, I’d doze off too. Hell I would probably have stopped at a Dunkin Donuts just to stretch stiff limbs like those working stiffs. Let’s see you make it a couple of hours, princess.

If I sound grouchy, well, nothing aggravates me more than hearing complaints from people I’m trying to help about how public servants “waste” their tax dollars. Excuse me, this public servant is trying to get you that latest bestseller you “absolutely must have” but you’re too cheap to buy on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble even though you came rolling up in a shiny Benz.

I will be the first to admit that yes, there are some public servants that really could use a good kick in the ass. Captain Bringdown from Case For Books comes to mind. Go to that blog and look up that tag. We all have a Captain Bringdown somewhere, but that doesn’t mean most of us aren’t trying our damndest to provide you with a critical service.

Seriously, there’s people who need help with resumes, filing taxes, doing homework, or just getting away from bad situations at home. Have a little perspective, lady.

Yes I’ve been following that mess in Wisconsin. Why do you ask?


A Long Weekend

So another week has come and gone and I get a nice 4-day weekend with the family. Going to beg out as much as one can with small children in the house, catch up on viewing The Cape, some reading, the usual drill.

Every once in a while I plan to use this blog to review books I’ve read recently. Here’s a mini-review to get you started. My colleague over at Acaseforbooks recommended the Northlander series of graphic novels about the Viking era, written by Brian Wood and illustrated by different artists each volume.

These books are truly brutal in terms of storytelling and artistic execution.  The first, Sven the Returned, is a graphic exploration of one man’s return from self-exile in Constantinople to reclaim his family fortune.  Superstition, sex, politics, and brutal cunning are the order if the day here.

Pick it up from your bookseller or better yet from your local library.  Word of warning: my colleague wasn’t kidding when she said this book is for mature audiences. Don’t let the kids get ahold of this one.

Oh, and the book gets some details right, historically speaking. The Vikings did not wear horned helmets, and they were just as liable to use a trusty sword as they were an axe.


The Ol’ Gears Are Grinding …

A couple weeks ago I did a post on things that grind my gears.  Truth is, those are really minor annoyances.  The true grinding comes when I encounter things that go against the grain of librarianship.

This is going to sound very high-minded, but I truly believe that, as a librarian, I am not only a facilitator of information dissemination (say that five times fast), I am a protector of said information.  To me, all information is to be saved, from oddities like the Voynich Manuscript to the fact that rats can survive without water longer than camels, and that Sherlock Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” My job is to make sure you can access whatever information you need, regardless of whether some fool deems it objectionable.

I never imagined that said fool would be in my own workplace. I never imagined that a fellow librarian would ever take a photographically illustrated copy of Kama Sutra and send it back because they didn’t want to have to hear complaints about it from patrons.

Let me make something very clear.  I do not give one microscopic flying rat’s ass what you do or don’t find objectionable.  If I were to toss everything I found objectionable, 99% of the urban fiction collection would be gone tomorrow.  But I don’t do it.  I’m supposed to defend such material against objections from morally self-righteous twits who have nothing better to do than police everyone’s private reading material.

To say that I was stunned by my colleague’s behavior is … well I found it unfathomable that this person was given the trust of safeguarding the information the public has a right to see.  Yes, sex manuals fall under that category, even ones written by such infamous persons as Dr. Z. After all, they can be used for therapy, humor, or just to spice a staid marriage up.

To sum it up: information access good. Intellectual sloth bad. If one is unwilling to defend the collection against all comers, one should not be given charge of it.


Blogs and Authorship

So, dear readers, in addition to being a full-time public librarian and part-time crank, I am a wannabe author.  Thanks to a terrific Christmas gift, I have the means to actually write in my spare time without using public pcs or library owned desktops.

I’ve been devoting this spare time to writing a novel.  Those of you familiar with my past efforts will remember that I never made it past chapter 5.  I’m hoping to actually break this trend and power all the way through.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post.  Should I wait until I’ve got the entire thing written down and then submit the manuscript to an agent and publisher in the time-honored fashion?  Or should I try to get with the times and serialize it online?

It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around since I started this latest effort.  The advantage is that any money I get from reader donations and page views would be all mine, minus server fees.  The disadvantages are:

1. Having to pay server fees to host the thing.

2. A much smaller readership than could be reached through the traditional publication methods.

3. Serializing means writing to meet a deadline, which in turn means rushed writing, lack of revision, and no editorial polish.

So what do you think?

And for those of you wondering why this post is not library related, refer to the very first posting on this blog.


Things That Grind My Gears

A recent commenter suggested that I do a post on things that grind my gears.  I try not to complain too much but sometimes you just have to let it rip.  Yes, I know.  Those of you who know me are shaking your heads, saying, “He doesn’t complain TOO much?”  To that I say, it could be a LOT more complaining.  On to the topic.

10: Rudeness – You would think rudeness would be higher on my list.  However, working in New York accustoms one to the various, splendid ways people in this state find to push other’s buttons.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like rudeness, but you develop a thick skin in this line of work or you go nuts.

9: Circulation tricks – Many libraries like to use a little thing called in-house statistics to artificially inflate their numbers.  The fact that we have to do things like this just to prove our worth to bean-counters who wouldn’t know a reference book if it was stuffed with free money, really grinds the gears.

8: Clueless people – You know the type.  They come in, they look around, and they proceed to gum up the works.  For example, in most libraries, the librarian sits behind a great big desk, usually labelled “Information” or “Librarian” or something similar.  The librarian also tends to be wearing ID, and be well-dressed.  And yet, STILL, clueless boobs ask, on average of five times a day, “Do you work here?”

7: Proxy Googlers – “Hey, can you look something up for me?  No no type this in.  Now scroll down here … o…k bring it back up a notch.  Now click on this right here.”  Excuse me.  I have a masters in information science.  I THINK I know a LITTLE bit more about how to find things than you do.  Oh, and the next one of you who says, “Oh I don’t know how to use a computer,” when I helpfully suggest getting you an appointment on one of our terminals is getting a keyboard between the ears.

6: Taxpayers – Did you know I once had a 10-year-old get persnickety with me when I couldn’t find the book he wanted?  His exact words were: “My taxes pay for you!”  I probably would have been fired if I gave him the change from my pocket and told him it was his refund.

5: Obstacles – I’m standing here with a truck full of books, and yet you bulldoze right past me, stare at the shelf I was working on, and refuse to move for the next 15 minutes.  Five minutes later you complain that the book you wanted wasn’t where it always is.  Of course it isn’t.  I was still putting it away.   Boob.

4: Space Invaders – Seriously, I’d like a little more than 3 inches of space between your face and mine.  I did not invite you behind my desk and I do not appreciate feeling you breathing all over my hands while I’m trying to find what you’re looking for.

3: Busybodies – “You busy?”  Let’s see, I’ve got trucks full of books marked for various tasks, my hands are flying over the keyboard, and there were three people before you that I helped and five more behind you waiting for you to finish.

2: Top 10 lists – You’re getting 10-2.  Why?  Because why should things that make me happy, laugh, sad, or frost my preserves be limited to some arbitrary number?  Am I supposed to make shit up for your reading pleasure?

And those are my gear grinders.  How about you, dear readers?


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