Saturday, May 31, 2014

At BEA: Isaacson On Collaboration; Patterson On Amazon/Hachette, Again; and More

Publishers Lunch

Walter Isaacson discussed his forthcoming book THE INNOVATORS with Slate publisher Jacob Weisberg Friday morning at BEA. The book, which traces the lineage of technological innovation from Ada Lovelace ("I didn't know much about her until my daughter introduced me"), Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to the founders of Intel to Twitter's Ev Williams, was an antidote to his biography of Steve Jobs. "Almost every great innovator in the book had a great collaborator," Isaacson said, adding he wanted to show "three to four great types of leaders" as opposed to the singular, uncompromising vision of Jobs. "People would come up to me and ask 'how to be just like Steve?' I'd say 'don't try this at home!' It's actually *not* the best way to be a leader. You can be a really nice collaborator which provides sustained innovation."

Isaacson also discussed why he made chapters-in-progress available on platforms such as Medium, which he singled out as the most helpful -- one chapter received more than 18,000 comments in the margin in a single week. "I ignored a lot of them, but less than I thought." Isaacson hopes to produce an enhanced ebook "in the next two years" as well as a "Wikified multimedia book that I can curate."
Near the end of the session, Weisberg asked Isaacson about the topic on most everyone's mind at BEA, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Isaacson said, "When you screw authors, publishers, and users, and you're trying to be what Amazon is trying to be, then you have a problem and it has to be resolved." He explained at length: "Amazon has done a lot of innovation and that's good: there are the Singles, and they enable people to self-publish. Amazon has had this way of saying 'here's how we do things in the future.' If they destroy that, it's bad for everybody. I love Amazon. I buy all my clothing from Amazon. In 1999 I said Amazon was a customer service company, focused on doing right thing for customers. I think Jeff Bezos is in danger of losing that sense that he's not in it just for the money instead of because he cares about making good products. That was the secret of Steve Jobs. I think this could be resolved, but it's about the perception that publishing a book is not the same as delivering a button-down Oxford shirt to a hotel room."

James Patterson also talked more about the Amazon/Hachette dispute at the ABA Luncheon Wednesday, a day removed from awarding another $1 million to independent bookstores around the country. His remarks echoed his earlier Facebook posting when the dispute was first reported widely to the public earlier this month, with further pointedness: "Amazon also, as you know, wants to control book selling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy."
In other convention news, Next Big Book, the offshoot of Next Big Sound that has partnered with Macmillan on data analytics for book sales, won the BEA Start-Up Challenge Wednesday afternoon.

ABA ceo Oren Teicher addressed the organization at their annual membership meeting on Thursday afternoon in an enthusiastic vein: "I could not be more pleased to be able to reiterate - the indie bookstore resurgence has continued."

At the same time, he noted how "the aggressive discounting and strong-arm tactics of the dominant online retailer continue to cause havoc. Its recent bullying assault of a major publisher is just the latest example of a unilateral and shortsighted strategy. To put it plainly: the book industry is being held hostage by a company far more interested in selling flat screen TV’s, diapers, and groceries. It is clear they are prepared to sacrifice a diverse publishing ecosystem to achieve retail dominance. That's not good for anyone."

Without providing exact figures, Teicher acknowledged that ABA members overall experienced a modest sales decline in 2013 after a strong 2012. His phrase was, "After a year of robust sales growth in 2012, the indie channel held on to the lion's share of those gains in 2013." The opening of 2014 was also soft, due in part to the weather, but "after a truly brutal winter that depressed retail sales nationwide... sales in the second quarter have recovered." Teicher said, "There's every reason to believe that 2014 will be another year of solid sales for the indie channel."

He celebrated the gains in association members and member store locations announced informally through the AP, and celebrated how "a number of established stores are expanding and opening in new locations, and a whole new generation of younger booksellers are continuing to join our ranks." Teicher also noted "what may be the most significant change," which is the recent pattern in which "many veteran store owners who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into building successful businesses are finding buyers for their businesses." He added, "Stores that just a few years ago might very well have closed are now beginning a new chapters of innovation and growth."

Teicher also announced that the ABA has signed a new seven-year agreement with Reed "to continue our partnership at BookExpo America." He noted, "our ongoing co-sponsorship of BEA with Reed is based on a shared commitment to providing indie booksellers with the best possible experience - and value - by attending a large national event such as this."

At the same time, Teicher acknolwedged "there are also a significant number of threats to indie bookselling." Among them, "Congressional gridlock seemingly has delayed progress on national e-fairness sales tax legislation and maintaining the sensible and needed reformations of the Senate’s USA Freedom Act." Apparently the ABA also has misgivings about minimum wage legislation, which "may soon pose very difficult business decisions for members as they work to maintain the business profits necessary to pay an equitable wage."

Teicher closed by saying, "While I do not ever under-estimate the challenges we face, by working together, I remain optimistic and confident that the best days of independent bookselling are ahead."

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