RedShelf: Affordable E-Textbooks

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RedShelf is a platform that allows students to access e-textbooks. The company started in June 2010, when the co-founders Tim and Greg were asked by a professor to create a digital course packet. They developed the e-reading technology while still in college, and started forming partnerships with campus bookstores. Now RedShelf has more than 160,000 titles and 160+ bookstore partnerships. Continue reading


Love and Care Pop-up Bookstore

Gotta love the holiday season. New Zealand publisher PQ Blackwell opened two LOVE AND CARE pop-up bookstores in Manhattan. Today, a friend and I explored the one in the Meatpacking District, on 344 W 14th Street. The store is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., until the end of December (or possibly only until Christmas).

The store sells art and coffee-table books, which means everything in the store is eye-catching and beautiful.

Inside Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble in Union Square

Last week I got to go to Barnes & Noble before the store opened and listen to two of their book buyers discuss how they decide which books to buy for which stores across the nation. Not going to lie, it was pretty sweet (even if I did have to be out of my apartment by 7 a.m.).

Here’s a list of some of the more interesting things I learned:

  • Just because a topic is a current affair, doesn’t mean the book will sell in stores (ex: recent crisis in Egypt–more people wanted to read about it in the news)
  • There are not enough diet cookbooks out there. Said one buyer, “I could buy 95,000 diet books and not have enough. It’s a subject born for the business.”
  • Cookbooks in general are always in the top 5 bestseller categories
  • The key to buying memoirs is making sure the author has a platform, whether it be a TV show, or some sort of access to publicity
  • The biggest drivers in the U.S. history category are the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers
  • When it comes to history, the topics that are home-based sell the best. For example, the original 13 colonies buy the most books about the Founding Fathers
  • The biggest driver in the military history category is WWII, though sales have been declining lately. The second biggest driver in the category is the Iraq/Afghanistan War (journalists covering the political/military situation and soldier memoirs)
  • Sociology books tend to be more academic, and not that popular, with the exceptions “Orange is the New Black” and “Jim Crow”
  • Buyers are more likely to purchase a book if the publisher is heavily invested in the book and is willing to do a lot of publicity
  • The personal relationship between the bookstore buyer and the publisher’s sales representative is important. The sales rep is the first one to convince the buyer to make a book nationally available, so it’s important that they know a lot about the book
  • Sales people were the first ones interested in “Seabiscuit
  • 30% of a bookstore’s business in the health section is done in January (new year, new goals)
  • Cookbooks are strong for Mother’s Day and the 4th quarter
  • Summer is for beach reading (genre fiction, narrative paperback, etc.)
  • Father’s Day and the 4th quarter are good for selling history books
  • Packaging matters a lot to a book buyer. A good jacket is colorful and vibrant (at least for health books). For some, the key is to be clear about what the book is and communicate a promise. For others, the bottom line is, will this book sell?
  • On average, people spend 3-5 seconds looking at a book on a table in the store
  • Most people go to bookstores looking for fiction. The front of the store yields high traffic and sales, but deeper in the store is reserved for dedicated readers
  • An author’s hometown is very important when determining which stores to stock with which books
  • Book prices are apparently climbing; health books on average cost $25. Still, the e-book competition for narrative books is significant (e-books tend to cost $10)
  • E-books are the “big x factor right now.” When it comes to fiction/genre fiction, e-book sales account for up to 50%, and in non-fiction, e-book sales are up to 10%. However, this will probably change as ereaders get better
  • Rarely do book buyers purchase non-returnable books (unless they are very confident about its success). Bookstores lose money when they return books, and with non-returnable books, they can only put them on clearance when they aren’t selling
  • Optimally, bookstores have 15-20% returns. If a book sells out in a month, it means the buyer missed potential customers. By not buying books, a bookstore could potentially put a small publisher out of business
  • In some towns, bookstores are the only source of entertainment. Therefore, quick changes in the industry, which this year led to Borders going bankrupt, are very difficult.
  • Interestingly, Barnes & Noble wants Borders to succeed. Said one buyer, “Bookstores are not going anywhere. Publishers are not going anywhere. If one of use becomes a dinosaur, we all go down.”

So, to sum up, “A book that doesn’t sell feels like a failure to everybody.”

Benjamin Franklin, Publisher


Photo by Sabrina Ricci

Yesterday I went to the Bowers Museum in Orange County, CA to see the Benjamin Franklin Exhibit. On display are 75 artifacts from Franklin’s life, in honor of what would be his 300th birthday. I went with my parents as part of a Christmas present to my dad, and while there, I discovered some interesting facts about one of the all-time most accomplished men.

First, he invented an instrument called the glass armonica. It was similar to a piano, in that it had pedals to push and you used both hands. But, it was basically a chain of glass bowls, and it mimicked the sound of a wet finger rubbing the rim of a glass. Over 5,000 were made during Franklin’s lifetime, and Beethoven and Mozart even composed music especially for it.

Next, and much more importantly (in my opinion at least), of all his accomplishments, Franklin was most proud of his being a publisher. He owned a printing press, through which he was able to widely disseminate his views and he made enough money to retire at age 42. Because he was so proud of being a tradesman, he wanted people to remember him as B. Franklin, printer–which is pretty much the same thing as a publisher.

Franklin wrote short stories and he published the second magazine ever in the colonies. He was also known for his humor. My favorite example of this was when he wrote a declaration in London’s The Public Advertiser, pretending to be King Frederick II of Prussia. In this declaration, King Frederick II told Britain that because they were originally conquered by the Germans, and protected by them in a recent war, they owed a lot of money; and, if the Brits were looking for a precedent to this declaration, they should look to the way they treated the American colonies. Ha ha, oh that tickles me.

Additionally, Ben Franklin’s autobiography is the most widely read memoir of all time, and it has never gone out of print. The book started as a letter to his son, and Franklin actually never finished writing it.

Lastly, I admire the way Ben Franklin viewed his inventions. He never patented them because he believed that scientific knowledge should directly benefit society. That is amazing, and a great way to promote progress.

So to quote my dad, a big fan of the guy, “Franklin’s my man.”

The Future of Publishing, According to Richard Nash

Today in my Interactive Media class, we had guest speaker Richard Nash. Nash, former publisher at Soft Skull, is now launching a start-up company, Cursor, which is a social approach to publishing.

Anyway, he was a very interesting speaker, so I’d like to share some of his thoughtful quotes.

“Of all the media, games and books have the most in common with one another because of the time spent engaging in them”

“The revolution currently transforming publishing is really desktop publishing”

“We’re really in the middle of a 2.0 revolution that has it’s 3.0 revolution yet to come”

“Not only can social media be used to sell books, but books can naturally be plugged into social media”

“There’s not one original thing that I’m suggesting. But the reality is no one is doing it (systematically)”

“What we want to own are the readers, but only if the readers are willing to be owned, because we’re giving them a sense of belongingness, challenging them in interesting ways”

“We’re not in a transition from one state of the industry to another state of the industry that is stable. Effectively the media business is shifting to a state of permanent self re-invention.”

“We [the publishing industry] are not going to find an answer, and that will be the answer for the next 15-20 years.”

Regarding the sort of post-partum depression writers feel after being published: “Being published is not the thing. Being read and loved and understood and engaged with was the real thing. Having your book published by a big publisher was a means to an end only.”

And lastly, my favorite, because I am a writer and so far all I’ve heard is about how lonely a professional writing life is: “Writers aren’t particularly asocial. And there is nothing in history that suggests writers could have been asocial.”