Category Archives: book industry

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Seven

Do you read? What are you favourite books?

(Note: Something went tits-up with my blog to make day seven come after day eight. Oh well!)

Yes. Yes, I do.
Two-thirds of what I read is non-fiction and my favourite author is Bill Bryson, who could write a 1,000 page book about gravel, and it would still be both interesting and dryly amusing. My favourite Bryson book is A Walk in the Woods, which is about the authors attempt to hike the length of the Appalachian mountains. Since it is a very long journey lasting several months that could contain mild peril, he decides to enlist the company of a friend. After reaching out, the only real interest comes from an old school friend with whom he has no recent contact. The time arrives for Bryson to meet his old friend at the airport, but the man who disembarks from the plane is morbidly obese, unfit for the trip, and so, hilarity ensues.

Particularly with fiction, I like to know that what I am going to read is going to be good before I delve into it because I have not finishing a book. The only book I have given up on is Fifty Shades of Grey. Got to the seventh chapter before giving up on all the “blushing” and “flushing”, all the mentions of “grey eyes”, the way Anastasia can just wander into work when she feels like it (“Oh, great, you came in today, we’re kinda busy”) and the way the writer constantly describes any particular location with three adjectives every damn time.

I really like Alan Bennet’s style of writing (wish he had more novels). I enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I like funny stuff. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If you use Goodreads, you can add me here.

Book Review: Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle

Crazy Town Rob FordCrazy Town is a fast-paced narration of how we got to where we are today under Toronto’s most divisive mayor since the last one. With more detail than can be afforded by the numerous but space-limited newspaper articles about Rob Ford, there are a few more revelations here and everything is helpfully brought more clearly into focus by the background information and chronological presentation.

Crazy Town is sensible and journalistic and, thankfully, lacking in rhetoric and hyperbole. Although the bulk of the content relates to the well-known new coverage, there is room for praise and empathy.

I consider myself fairly up-to-date on the politics of the City of Toronto, but there were details here that I had either missed or never heard, particularly in relation to the history of the Ford family. Information throughout is sourced (only rarely sourced anonymously, but often backed up by others or in one case recently dismissed by Doug Ford, backed up by an audio recording), and cannot be dismissed.

Book Review: Hunger Games

Mockingjay PinAll the kids are reading it, but the popularity of this book has been late arriving when you consider its September 2008 hardcover release. Perhaps The Hunger Games was a victim of those pages of pant wetting, hormone lathering excitement known as Twilight – the best selling book of that year.

Dystopia is the new ‘vampires’ and so freed from the shadow of Bella and Edward, Katniss Everdeen is our sultry, anti-social hero from Panem, a world of fragmented districts. Every year, two young citizens, one male and one female, will represent each of the 12 districts in a fight to the death presented by a charismatic host and aired on televisions across the world. It might be too much credit to suggest that this is a nod and a wink to our X-Factor obsessed culture.

The narrative moves along at a reasonable pace and, although occasionally cheap, there are  plot twists and devices to keep you guessing. There is occasional gory content that probably makes the book less suitable for the target audience, but on the other hand, many children will likely associate with Katniss Everdeen (or the boy from her district, Peeta). Most of the inevitable kills made by Katniss have a convenient moral context to make them more palatable.  And it’s not like most parents bother to check what their children are reading, anyway. Right, kids?

Unfortunately, the book suffers from occasionally weak writing, both stylistically and in terms of sentence structure. Although Katniss is supposed to be a brooding character and the book is written in the first person perspective, there is a lot of internal dialogue of the “woe is me” variety and not much actual dialogue. This is a shame, because some of the exchanges between Katniss and Peeta, further into the book, are quite amusing and the whining can become tiresome. Unless you are a teenager.

Perhaps I just don’t read enough “YA” (young adult) fiction and I’m being picky. Afterall, Stephenie Meyer said “The Hunger Games is amazing”, and with her level of prose, she should know. Sarcasm aside, Stephen King also enjoyed The Hunger Games. But maybe he was back on cocaine.

The occasional jarring sentence wasn’t enough to prevent me from finishing the book and, oddly, I thought the book suffered less in the latter stages. It also should not be enough to stop you from reading it. Based on the fact that this is a young adult book and not a work of literary fiction, I give it 4/5.

[xrr rating=4/5]

Book Review: The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits…

That full book title? “The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin”.

Well, it is what it is. It’s a book full of tweets, and a small one at that. A pocket bible for the twitterati, in size but certainly not in scope. The 112 pages containing three or four tweets on each, along with the occasional doodle, won’t take you long to read. Perhaps one washroom visit.

Steve Martin is a funny man, and there are some laugh out loud moments. A running theme is that his wife is long suffering in the face of his comical stupidity. While it takes the imagination of Steve Martin to set-up the the context of the mirth, it is often the replies from other Twitter users that are funnier. To demonstrate, “Just saw a duck in the shape of a cloud” is met with the response, “a shotgun will generally have that effect at sufficiently close range”.

[xrr rating=3/5]

Dear Author…

I thought it would be mildly amusing to email a bunch of people who have the same name as famous book authors (but are not the actual author) to see if I would get a reply. The email that I wrote was just odd enough and young enough sounding that the recipient would hopefully feel that it was an innocent and genuine mistake.

I knew the ratio of replies would be low, so I initially sent out around 20 emails to people who share the name Stephen King/Steven King and Michael Crichton.

Here are the emails I sent:

Stephen King Email

Michael Crichton Email

I’ve had a couple of replies from “Stephen King” so far, telling me I have the wrong person – one of them ominously referring to me as ‘friend’, as in, “you have the wrong person, friend”. However, I did get a nice reply from “Michael Crichton”.

Michael Crichton Reply

If I get any more, I will post them!


Boomerang by Michael Lewis – Book Review

Boomerang is a continuation of the financial crisis story laid-out in The Big Short. But while The Big Short was, for the most part, told from the perspective of those within the borders of The United States, Boomerang covers those counties hurting most: Ireland, Greece, Germany and Iceland.

Calling himself a Financial Disaster Tourist, Lewis visits these countries and speaks to members of government, workers and citizens. As with The Big Short, his writing style, the way he recalls events and conversations, causes the book to almost read like a novel, a work of fiction.

But there is no fiction and, as such, there are many ‘woah’ moments.

Responsibility for the $100 billion in Icelandic banking losses spread across the population equates “to roughly $330,000 for every man, woman and child”.

Anglo Irish Bank lost HALF of EVERY dollar that it invested.

In parts of Dublin, “rents had fallen to less than 1% or the purchase price; that is, you could rent a million-dollar home for less than $833 a month”.

Lewis, by writing in his narrative style, seems to struggle to link the events in these four countries to the national character. He may have a point, or he may simply be stereotyping – his coverage of Germany and their supposed schiesse obsession feels like a bit of a strain, pun excusing.

Nevertheless, the book is easy to follow, informative, quick-paced and, at times, mind-blowing.

[xrr rating=4/5]

Why I Won’t Shut Up :)

O'Connor Public School Recently, I’ve been posting about how I want you to ‘adopt’ a school. My employer is raising money to buy books for a local school’s library and for every 100 people who ‘adopt’ the school, they will donate another book. It’s totally FREE to ‘adopt‘ the school, yet only a couple of my friends have taken the time to do it. It’s just three mouse clicks. Restore my faith in humanity and facebook friendships. Stop ignoring this.

I know that everyone is asking you to copy something as your status, or asking you to ‘like’ their page or sign their petition, but this is much more real than that. It is very hands on for me personally, and those I work with. If you know me, you know I don’t often buy into this kind of thing, but I’m very passionate about this.

Last week, I visited the school. I met the principle and I photographed their current school library. I saw the optimism that the children had as they waved and said “hi” to the principal as he escorted me to the library. This is not just some faceless, anonymous charity that I have latched onto.

O'Connor Public School LibraryThe library currently has books, but most of them are story books and they are older. Adopting the school (or making a donation) means that they will get new books and it will be the staff and/or children from the school who choose the books.


I am witness to this process. Last year, while working at the store, I helped a couple of librarians choose around $2,600 worth of books. We loaded them into boxes and then transported them to the back of their vehicle to stock-up the library at Warden Avenue Public School.

The year before that, we got books into the library at Crescent Town Elementary School. I was in England on this occasion, but my colleagues were delighted when children from the school came in and chose the books they wanted for the library.

O'Connor Public School Library DisplayO’Connor Public School has around 215 students, and our aim is to provide one book for each of them. Donations go a long way to achieving this goal, but I’m not even asking you for money (if you CAN donate – brilliant). I’m just asking for you to take the time to ‘adopt’ the school. It’s three clicks of your mouse, if you register via your Facebook login.

To adopt the school, click this link and click “Adopt This School” in the right-hand box.

Lastly, if you can watch this and then continue on your way, you have no soul.

Why Are Books So Expensive?

Expensive BookThey’re not. Especially if you buy online. It’s your expectations that are out of kilter. But don’t worry, that’s not the end of another of my acerbic articles.

Everyday in bookstores around the world, customers grimace in a manner suggesting that they have just taken a mouthful of vinegar and wasps when they hear that the hardcover book they want is around $30 Canadian.

To be honest, it is hard to know what to say to a customer who pulls a face like they are about to vomit. Whether or not something is expensive is subjective, so what do I say? “Well, actually, I don’t think the book is expensive”. Yeah, that wouldn’t go down so well. It might seem to imply that I think they are tight-fisted. Usually I just tell them the price is typical for a hardcover book, in an airy sing-song kind of way. It tends to be less confrontational, but it does make me look airy and sing-songy. It exacerbates the belief that sales associates are all a bit dim.

Before I start talking about why a hardcover book is priced at around $30, let’s have a ponder over WHY people think books are expensive.

1) Discount, discount, discount!

Sale signs

Lots of places offer books at a cheaper price than traditional bookstores, so this needs to be broken down further.

Online Bookstores: Most of these online bookstores have significantly lower costs than a traditional bookstore, and these savings are passed onto the buyer. In the traditional bookselling world, an author writes a book which is bought by a publisher and then sold on to a distributor. The distributor, err… distributes the book to bookstores. Amazon is essentially a distributor who is selling direct to the public via their website. They are cutting out the bookstore altogether and passing the savings on.

Grocery Stores, Department Stores, Wholesale Outlets: Places like Walmart often reduce the price of books by around 30-40%. There is hardly any mark-up left on the book, but they can afford to do this because various other products in their store still have higher mark-ups. Clothing, for example. Walmart is a multi-national company and can harness the advantages this offers in economies of scale. In other words, a book might only earn them $1 per sale, but they are getting dozens of sales, in thousands of stores. A place like CostCo (wholesaler) makes almost nothing on books, but you do pay for a membership of at least $50 per year. Both of these types of location can afford to gamble that most people will buy more than just a book. Especially since it is such an ordeal to take a trip to these places with their dire line-ups and generally terrible service.

Traditional Bookstores: Waterstones, WH Smith, Indigo, Barnes and Noble and so forth, often give discounts on newer books. This is usually to compete with places like Tesco, ASDA, Walmart and Costco. Suddenly, saving a couple of dollars to line-up and fight through crowds at Walmart has become a bit less attractive. Unless you were going to Walmart, anyway. But this discounting works for impulse purchases and for bookstores that are local to a given population. The downside for traditional bookstores is that customers think to themselves, if a best selling book can be sold for 30% less, why can’t a an older title? Discounting devalues the brand and the industry in general, but overall leads to more sales in newer titles (obviously, else it wouldn’t happen).

Book binging2) Books don’t cost that much to make

Customers often just don’t get it. You are not just paying for a physical item when you are purchasing a book. You are paying for the creative process that bought the book into being. The physical cost of a hardcover book is only around 10-20% of the cover price (at most). But you are also paying an author for what could have been years of work and you are paying for their talent. You are paying a publisher to format the book, to get it printed and to promote it (a significant cost). You are paying a distributor to buy the book from a publisher, hold the book until a bookstore wants it, and for them to then ship it out to that bookstore. You are paying a bookstore to sell it to you and all the costs associated with running a bookstore (which I may write about at a future time).

3) The Internet and The Broadband Generation

Information can be found for free and in an instant on the internet. This has been harming the newspaper industry in particular, especially in The UK where there is a lot of competition. People expect instant gratification and they expect if for next to no cost. This has eroded the value of the written word, especially in non-fiction genres.

Sony E-reader4) E-Books

E-Books are significantly cheaper than hardcover books partly because there is next to no cost to mass produce them. This saves the 10-20% manufacturing cost over a hardcover book. A bookstore usually gets around 40-50% of the money you pay for a book, but since e-books are not sold in bookstores, they are sold online, that saving is also passed on to the buyer.

5) Books used to be cheaper

This is a misconception. While hardcover books used to be around $10 in the early 70’s, adjusted for inflation, the cost of books has not changed a great deal. But of course, it’s easy to look back and see a 60% rise.


Another issue I have already covered (to death) in another post is how the price of a book in US dollars appears lower than the price in Canadian dollars. Customers get mad about this because the inter-bank exchange rate gives the Canadian dollar a higher value from time to time. The fact is, everything costs more in Canada. The cost of living is higher, and that translates to more expensive goods – including books. The prices on the back of books DO NOT represent exchange rates. They represent different COSTS. But customers still get mad and some probably withdraw their custom.


So why do books cost $30?

First a book has to be written. James Patterson and Nora Roberts might be able to knock out a book every couple of weeks, but for many authors, especially first time authors, writing their book can take years. An author deserves to be paid for this work. Having said that, many first time authors might find they are only offered something in the region of $5,000 – $10,000 for their work. Only a more established author will receive a lump sum AND a percentage of future sales. For the majority of new authors, this few thousand dollars is all they will see. Not much for a lot of work and (hopefully) talent. Especially since the author normally needs an agent to even be considered by a publisher.

The publisher has several jobs. Their staff read manuscripts, negotiate deals with agents, edit the work, request changes, format the work, have cover art designed and see to the manufacture of the book. A significant cost is the promotion that is required for a book to stand any chance of being discovered, if it is by a new author. This might be as simple as running commercials or as complex as running author tours. Publishers send out free copies of books to the media for review, to influential bloggers and to bookstore staff and other industry workers. These days, publishers all have a social media presence. All of this is expensive. Finally, the publisher sells the book to a distributor. Something to add is that, in most circumstances, it is the publisher who takes liability for any books that are stolen from a bookstore or that simply do not sell (the bookstore is usually able to return unsold books for their money back). However, it is the publisher who sets the price of the book.

Book warehouseA distributor sources books from publishers and sells them on to bookstores across the world, as and when they need them. It is a huge logistical under-taking that is beyond the scope of many publishers. As already mentioned, Amazon is essentially a distributor, but they sell their books directly to the public. One of the best known distributors in North America is Ingram. They are used by the majority of independent bookstores.

A bookstore receives books from distributors (or direct from some publishers) and sells them on. The bookstore generally gets around 40-50% of the cover price. This may seem a lot, but it is no cheap business to run. I will write more about the life of a bookstore in the future.

I know that none of this is very specific and I am not giving hard, solid numbers. But it is very difficult to do so when every single book is a different story. The economics of every book is different, depending on the author’s fee and the size of the print run. Obviously the more copies that can be printed, the more profit can be made (assuming they can be sold). But I know that’s what you want. So here are some generalisations:

Bookstore: 40-50%
Author: 5-15%
Distributor: 10-20%
Publisher: 20-40%

The Things Bookstore Customers Say

Angry customer

Where is my copy of Twilight?!!

I don’t keep my identity secret on this website, so my employer is welcome to see who I am. On that basis, I need a disclaimer:
I’m not suggesting my employer’s customers are in any way lacking. Some customers know less about books than I do. It is my job to educate and serve them. That education and service has, on occasion, begun after the following questions.

1. Do you sell diapers?

My answer: No. No, we don’t.

Answer that would get me fired: Not yet, but since people want to buy pretty much everything other than books from us, we may have them soon. Call back in about 6 months, we’ll likely be selling them out of the Child Adoption Department.


2. Is this book 20% off?
No, the sale only applies to children’s books
So this doesn’t qualify, then? *holds up “Laptops For Seniors For Dummies”
N…no. No.

Answer that would get me fired: Only if you buy it along with a book on re-incarnation.


The Unicorn of Killimanjaro3. Do you have any books about Unicorns?
You mean, like, a kids book? Or a Fantasy fiction book?
No, I mean non-fiction.. photographs of Unicorns
I don’t think unicorns are real

Customer returns about 30 minutes later carrying a large hardcover ‘coffee table’ book called The Unicorn of Kilimanjaro by Robert Vavra featuring photos of a unicorn (photos of a horse that had been either photoshopped or had had a prosthetic horn attached to its head). She then engaged another employee (me) in conversation about the beauty of unicorns, showing me each individual photograph and seeking my critique about each. Meanwhile, the original employee is hiding in the back, practically in tears of laughter.
To this day, I cannot be sure if the customer genuinely believed in Unicorns or whether she was a comedy genius.

Answer I actually gave that should have gotten me fired:
Her: *shows book* It’s called “The Unicorn of Kill-kill…Kill-er man….”
Me: Somewhere in Africa…


4. I’d like to return this book!
Is there a problem?
Yes! It’s upside-down!
*looks* The book is fine, ma’am. The dust jacket is just on upside down.

Response that would have, retrospectively, gotten me fired:
*Shoots self in face*


Deckled Edge Book5. Do you have any copies of this book that aren’t damaged?
Sorry? How are they damaged?
The edges of all the pages are uneven kindof torn?
That’s an intentional design, it’s called deckle edge paper.

Answer that would have gotten me fired: Wow, good eye. I don’t know *how* we missed that. Take them. Take them all.


6. How much is this book?
Why is it $12.99 in Canada but $9.99 in The USA
Because books are more expensive in Canada

How this conversation continues to the point it nearly gets me fired every day:
Customer: But our dollar is worth more than the US Dollar
Me: You don’t understand what the word ‘cost’ means. Books cost more in Canada.
Customer: But our dollar is worth more than the US Dollar
Me: Sir/Madam, we are not a bank. We are a bookstore selling a product that costs more in one country than another, we are not here to provide you with a competitive FOREX service. Did you know cars and Big Macs are also more expensive in Canada than The USA?
Customer: Can I pay you in US Dollars?
Me: Yes, but you will still be paying the Canadian price at this Canadian bookstore for this book that is marketed in Canada while you are here in Canada.
Customer: Well, that’s just ridiculous.

Answer that would get me fired: So is your face


7. Can I have a bag, or are you going to charge me for it?
In Toronto, we have to charge you 5c – it’s the law
Pfft, law.
Yes, sir.
Show me the law!
Show it to you? I don’t have it written down…

Answer that would get me fired: But then, I also don’t have it written down that murder is a crime, but most customers would accept it.
(Incidentally, I now have the precise name of the Toronto Municiple Code By-Law memorised. Sadly, I haven’t been challenged on it – yet!)


8. I’m looking for a book [it has a red cover/it has a miserable face on the cover/it was on this shelf a year ago]
Do you know who wrote it? Or the name of it?

I understand that part of my job is having product knowledge, but there is a delicate balance between how far my product knowledge goes and how much information the customer is giving me and how correct their vague recollection might be. My product knowledge (and my wage) do not lend themselves to remembering what was on a given display 365 days ago.


9. Look! [I Am Number Four/Twilight/Harry Potter/The Help etc…] They made a book out of it!

And the question that customers are most upset regarding?


Because were are sold out/Because we don’t stock it

Answer that would get me fired:
Why are you sold out? – Because several other people were more organised than you, and you are late to the party.
Why don’t you stock it? – This is a bookstore, with stationary walls. It is not the Tardis.

image credits: cepascalphilobiblon


If you think this was bad, you should see my e-book.

The Apple Books Conspiracy

Kobo App Notice

Kobo managed to inform their users of the change by having a "news feed" menu option, and then sending the news to app users - rather than have the notice built into the application itself.

There are several free applications for reading e-books on Apple devices available through the Appstore. They often work in conjunction with an e-store and some are branded after an equivalent e-reader. For example, The Nook App is from Barnes and Noble who also have an ereader called The Nook. Amazon provides a Kindle app (and has a Kindle ereader). Kobo has the Kobo ereader and the Kobo app.

Kobo, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and others have been forced to remove all store functionality from their Apple applications, and furthermore, have forced them to remove any hint that books are available to purchase.

Funnily enough, the iBooks application still has a store in place. This application, and the ebook store it uses, are run by Apple.

Apples’ desired response from this seems to be to drive customers to use iBooks, or alternatively, to force Kobo, Amazon etc.. to use the “Apple Subscription Platform” where the digital content (the books) are sold via Apple. To do this, Apple would take a cut of 30% and would take ownership of customer data (names and emails). A cut of 30% would pretty much represent the profit margin of ebook companies like Kobo and Amazon and the sharing of details is obviously contentious.

There were rumours that Google had removed their ebook reading app from the Apple appstore altogether, although it still seems to be there for me. But it is interesting to mention Google, who are gradually entering the ebook sphere as well as the cellphone software market via Android.

A couple of months ago, I predicted that Android (Google) would be the leader in the cellphone market, displacing iOS (Apple) within about 9 months.

In my opinion, this self-serving decision by Apple will only serve to lose them customers in the long-term. My next phone will likely be an Android phone.

Some interesting reading here, from the developer of the Kobo application:



Update: Kobo are coding an HTML-5 e-reader that you can use in Safari on your iPhone etc… which does not have to follow the Appstore rules (since it’s not an app).