Monday, January 31, 2011

Amazon Talks to Stock Analysts

I love Seeking Alpha. It's a website that posts the transcripts of the conference calls between public companies' management and the analysts who follow the companies' stock.

Seeking Alpha has now posted the transcript of the question-and-answer session on Thursday between Amazon and the analysts who follow their stock. Despite all the questions, Amazon said practically nothing. Almost every question was greeted with an expansive, but empty, cheeriness. In the approximately twenty questions, I counted eighteen "great," seventeen "well," sixteen "excited" or "exciting," and fourteen "pleased."

Amazon's spokesman during the call was Tom Szkutak, Chief Financial Officer and senior vice president. Szkutak came to Amazon eight years ago from General Electric.

Seeking Alpha allows me to quote up to 400 words. I tried to pick answers where something was actually said. The pickin's were pretty slim.

[From Youssef Squali of Jefferies & Company, Inc.]
...can you tell us how many distribution centers you actually had at the end of 2010?

We had approximately 52 at the end of 2010. We added 13 last year. We will add more fulfillment centers this year. We ... aren't saying how many yet because again we're trying to determine what the growth rate will be.

[From Youssef Squali of Jefferies & Company, Inc.]
Are you quantifying CapEx [capital expenditures] for Q1 [the current quarter]?

No, we haven't quantified the CapEx for Q1 ... But again, we will do what we need to do to support the growth in both the infrastructure and fulfillment.

[From Benjamin Schachter of Macquarie Research]
... the one question would be, all in Kindle hardware and software, the whole thing together; how is that impacting gross margin? And then overall, how should we think about how the agency model and the e-books? How that going to impact margin?

First off, we have a long-standing practice of not breaking out any individual products or categories. But what I can say about Kindle is it's growing very fast. We're extremely pleased with what we're seeing. We sold millions of devices in Q4. The content business, the content part of it is growing very fast ... We have Kindle content, eKindle book sales growing at a faster rate than paperbacks, which is really exciting. And so that business is going very well.

[James Mitchell of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.]
... is there any big obvious reason why international growth decelerated while the domestic growth accelerated?

In terms of the international growth specifically, if you look back to last year, we did have very strong media growth in international in Q4. You'll see that it's up 26% on a local currency basis, which is one of the strongest quarters we've had ... but there were certainly some impact from some of the weather that we saw in Europe during the month of December.

[James Mitchell of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.]
Is the fact that some of the e-books are being sold on an agency rather than on a consignment basis, is there acting as track on growth temporarily, in terms of your reported revenue?

Certainly, the agency piece is included in the numbers that we reported today. But in terms of the impact, we're not bringing that out. But again, we're very excited with the growth that we're seeing within books, e-books specifically and physical books are going well as well.

But although the conference call was a non-event, Publishers Marketplace pointed me toward the very interesting SEC paperwork which Jeff Bezos filed on Friday. He reported that he owns 19.5% of the shares of Amazon. When I multiplied his 88,135,951 shares times Friday's stock close of $171.14, I got $15 billion.

Not bad for seventeen years' work.

Go here to read the SEC filing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Amazon Had a Fab Fourth Qtr & Stock Drops

Yesterday's Publishers Weekly had an excellent article about Amazon's excellent autumn here:
The top line was stellar with total sales for the year up 40%, to $34.2 billion, while net income rose 28%, to $1.15 billion. In a prepared statement chairman Jeff Bezos said the company passed two milestones in the fourth quarter--its first time sales topped more than $10 billion in a quarter with actual sales hitting $12 billion; and “after selling millions of third-generation Kindles during the quarter, Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on,” even while sales of paperbacks rose.
Despite this glowing news, the stock nose-dived in after-hours trading. The stock price dropped more than 10%, losing $17.15 to $167.30. I found this puzzling given that Amazon had exceeded its forecast of per-share profit of 88 cents on sales of $12.99 billion by earning a per-share profit of 91 cents on sales of $12.95 billion.

To find out why the stock had dropped, I trolled the Internet. The Seattle Times had a story here that helped explain investors' reaction:

One concern: Amazon, which released its results after the closing bell, gave a first-quarter outlook that fell below Wall Street's prediction.

Another concern: Amazon's operating costs rose 38 percent from a year ago, squeezing profit margins ...

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan ... [said]: "Amazon did exactly what it told investors it would do ... What does that tell you? It tells you that expectations got ahead of themselves."

Along the same lines, BGC Partners analyst Collin Gillis sees Amazon shares as overvalued and rates Amazon stock as a "sell."

Amazon webcast the conference call. If you want to listen (and view a slide presentation), go here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Future of the Book Business

Publishers Weekly pointed me to Tuesday's New York Times, which had an op/ed piece on the book business here.

The editorial began with the reminder that Borders is in precarious shape. Suppliers are refusing to restock and landlords are beginning to take defensive measures.
Despite all that, we are happy to say that it’s far too early to kiss book publishing goodbye. E-book sales more than doubled in the first 11 months of last year — to about 8 percent of total sales. E-readers are flying off the shelves, and overall book sales are holding up as the paper-based industry transitions to the digital age, increasing 3.5 percent in the first 11 months of 2010.

The op/ed points out some of the challenges the book business faces; obstacles we have discussed on this blog over the years:

  • People have so many more options for ways to spend their precious leisure time
  • Publishers compete for best-selling authors, making it tougher for new writers to break into the business
  • The possibility that readers no longer want to read book-length material, preferring to opt for shorter material
  • The push toward social interaction via the web, which is very different from the solitary occupation of reading a book

The piece concludes with this optimistic statement:

Though book sales have declined slightly in the last 10 years as a share of
consumer spending, they have still grown more than 15 percent over the period,
after accounting for inflation. And Nooks, Kindles and the like might actually
help books gain a wider following by taking the bookstore to the customer.

May it ever be thus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do I Look Like Ann Landers?

There's a major-league cat fight going on over at Harper's Magazine.

According to Wikipedia, Harper's is "the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S." after Scientific American. It was founded in June, 1850. Contributors have included Horatio Alger, Noam Chomsky, Winston Churchill, Theodore Dreiser, Robert Frost, Seymour Hersh, Henry James, Jack London, Norman Mailer, Thomas Nast, Sylvia Plath, Jane Smiley, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson, Mark Twain, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, E.B. White, Woodrow Wilson and Tom Wolfe.

In 1980, the magazine came close to dying when it was announced the August issue would be its last. In July, John R. MacArthur, grandson of billionaire philanthropist John D. MacArthur, rescued Harper's by establishing the Harper's Magazine Foundation, which now publishes the magazine. MacArthur became president and publisher of Harper's in 1983 at age 27. He is now 54.

New York Magazine called Harper's: "one of the last bastions of old-line liberalism and a lonely defender of a certain idea of what literary culture should be."

That's why the current controversy seems so ironic.

As New York describes the contretemps, it sounds like two issues that have been simmering on the back burner finally came to boil.

First, of course, is the problem all newspapers and magazines face today: how to be profitable in an Internet world. New York says Harper's 2009 tax return indicated "MacArthur invested $4.4 million into the magazine" while his 2006 losses "were only $2.9 million."

In the December Providence Journal, MacArthur made his opinion of the Internet clear in a column reproduced in Harper's here:

Partisans of the Internet like to say that the Web is a bottom-up phenomenon that wondrously bypasses the traditional gatekeepers in publishing and politics who allegedly snuff out true debate. But most of what I see is unedited, incoherent babble indicative of a herd mentality, not a true desire for self-government or fairness.


It probably comes as no surprise to you (reading this on the Internet) that MacArthur's position on the Internet has been a trifle worrisome to the staff at Harper's. That concern--among others--led to the second issue. The staff began thinking about unionizing, and Ben Metcalf, the literary editor, was instrumental in transforming thought to action.

Last July, Metcalf and a small group of staff informed MacArthur that they were unionizing. The publisher was furious. New York described it:

MacArthur contested the entire staff's right to unionize, arguing that editors and assistant editors who make up about half of the editorial team were management and thus did not qualify.

Despite MacArthur's opposition, last October Harper's did form a union, joining UAW Local 2110.

Last Tuesday, New York reported here that:

MacArthur "is trying to lay off Harper’s' literary editor, Ben Metcalf, who’s worked at the magazine since the mid-nineties and who played a key role in the union drive — a move the union says is pure retaliation."

And, over the weekend, battle lines were drawn as New York reported here that "84 writers and former Harper's editors" wrote an open letter to MacArthur. The letter here said in part:

We ... object to the actions you've taken in response to the union formed there, by legal vote, on October 14th of last year. We are greatly concerned to learn of your plan to lay off union members so closely on the heels of the election and without first negotiating a contract. We ask that you reconsider these layoffs and negotiate with this union in good faith, as the law requires.

... we further ask that you explore fund-raising options adopted by other not-for-profit publications and open the magazine's foundation to monies other than your own.

I was conflicted as I read New York's excellent coverage (I really encourage you to read the two articles). John MacArthur deserves enormous credit for many things, not the least of which is rescuing Harper's during its time of need when he himself was just 24 years old. The guy could have spent his time ... and the family money ... on lots of other things.

I also feel a lot of sympathy for him. I'm ambivalent about the "herd mentality" of the Internet myself. There are so many calls on our time today that I am reluctant to do any more than I am currently doing on the Internet. I've poked my toe out on the Twitter branch, but I've steadfastly resisted diving into the FaceBook pool.

Bottom line, I've decided I can best understand Mr. MacArthur's situation if I liken it to adopting a child. Nobody forced you to do it. It was a laudable decision on your part. However, once you decided to cross that line, you assumed certain responsibilities. And those responsibilities go far beyond just feeding and clothing the kid.

You're also stuck with figuring out how to handle the graceless, ungrateful and often obnoxious teenager--whether you want to or not. Maybe you don't agree with his decision to dye his hair pink and only answer to the name Laser Moonbeam, but he's your kid. You have to do what's in his best interests.

And that includes letting him grow up and assume responsibility for his life.

It's way better if you do so with grace and understanding. After all, if you keep peace in the family, one day you get to hold the grandkids and take some credit for everyone's happiness.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Odds and Ends

From USA Today here:

The post-holiday surge in sales of e-books continues. For the third week in a row, more than a third of the top 50 books on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list sold more e-book copies than print versions.

On Tuesday, Apple reported here on their blockbuster first quarter ended December 25, 2010:

The Company posted record revenue of $26.74 billion and record net quarterly profit of $6 billion, or $6.43 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $15.68 billion and net quarterly profit of $3.38 billion, or $3.67 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter ...

Apple sold 4.13 million Macs during the quarter, a 23 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 16.24 million iPhones in the quarter, representing 86 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 19.45 million iPods during the quarter, representing a seven percent unit decline from the year-ago quarter. The Company also sold 7.33 million iPads during the quarter.

From Shelf Awareness here:
November bookstore sales rose 5.3%, to $1.09 billion, compared to November 2009, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the year to date, total bookstore sales have slipped 1.9%, to $14.4 billion.

The gain reverses a slide in sales compared to 2009 for the past half year: November marked the first time since April that bookstore sales were up compared to the same period a year earlier ...

E-books continued to be the strongest category, with sales up 129.7%, to $46.6 million, in November, compared to the same period in 2009, and sales up 165.6%, to $391.9 million, for the year to date.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who Reads Mysteries?

Publishers Marketplace directed me to a survey of mystery readers commissioned by Sisters-in-Crime. Bowker PubTrack conducted the survey of 1,056 mystery readers in September, 2010.

According to the study, the respondents were drawn from two sources:

The study "used PubTrack™ Consumer’s monthly panel of U.S. book buying men, women and teens, balanced to US Census ... Respondents were drawn from a pool of 75,000 survey respondents who bought a book in 2009 and the first half of2010. The survey was given to a broad range of mystery readers, notjust seriously involved mystery fans."

In addition, "Sisters in Crime provided a supplemental contact list from mystery bookstores."

The readers were classified as avid (37% said they are almost always reading a mystery), frequent (51% said they often read mysteries) and occasional (12% said they sometimes read mysteries).

Not surprisingly, the gender of readers breaks heavily female (65%) to male (36%).

I'll confess to being a bit surprised at the age spread. Seventy-one percent (71%) of the readers were over 50 years old while only 15% were in their 40's and 14% were 39 years old or under. The bottom line here is that seven out of ten of the readers were over 45.

Where the books came from was interesting:

  • 19% of all readers acquire mysteries at libraries

  • 11% of all mysteries are sold through book clubs such as Mystery Guild

  • 39% of all mysteries are purchased in stores

E-book sales are growing fast. In 2009, 1.7% of books sold were e-books. In Q2 of 2010, 7% of books sold were e-books.

Another interesting element was the reason why the readers selected a particular mystery to read:
  • 53% chose a specific mystery because they liked the author
  • 39% liked the series
  • 29% liked a character
  • 21% liked the subject or topic
  • 16% liked the price

The survey makes for interesting reading. Go here to see the whole survey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nattering About Amazon and Kindle

Remember Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent shtick? Johnny would hold an envelope up to his forehead and make a prediction.

I don't have a big feathered turban, but I do have an adorable gray cap, and I'm going to make a prediction of my own: Sometime between April 10 and 25, Amazon will announce that Stephen King has been inducted into the Kindle Million Club.

What is the Kindle Million Club, you ask? According to Amazon:
The "Kindle Million Club" recognizes authors whose entire body of work has sold over 1 million copies in the Kindle Store (
On July 27, 2010, Amazon announced that Stieg Larsson was the first author to achieve Kindle Million Club status.

Exactly three months later, on October 27, 2010, Amazon announced that the collected works of James Patterson had catapulted him into the Kindle Million Club.

Last week, slightly less than three months later, Amazon announced that Nora Roberts had achieved Kindle Million Club status on January 11, 2011.

Do you see a pattern here? I do. By the way, Amazon is scheduled to have its Fourth Quarter earnings conference call on Janu-
ary 27, 2011
. While it would be very nice to have such upbeat information to share with the stock analysts, it probably would have stretched the analysts' credulity a bit to have Nora join the Million Dollar Club on the very day that Amazon announces its year end results. Hence the January 11 announcement.

Anyway, that's why I'm betting Stephen King will ring the bell in April.

Over the weekend, I read an article by Steve Windwalker titled "Just How Big is the Kindle Revolution?" Among the things Windwalker said that caught my interest was:
... when you look at the long lists of titles by Roberts and Patterson, it is all the more impressive that Larsson was able to storm the castle with a single trilogy. But there's definitely a lesson here for emerging authors, and it is a lesson that many Kindle Nation faves like Imogen Rose, Scott Nicholson, Paul Levine and J.A. Konrath have learned well: trilogies, series, and multiple titles allows authors great efficiencies when it comes to building exposure for their books.
Go here to read the article.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revisiting the Millennium Trilogy

Publishers Marketplace pointed me toward two articles on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy.

The first is an article in Canada's National Post here, which dropped this bombshell:
In a new memoir to be published next week, Eva Gabrielsson says that she wants to finish writing a fourth volume in the massively popular series of thrillers written by her longtime partner, the late author Stieg Larsson.
In my December 10 post here, I reported that, because Larsson died without a valid will, his father and brother inherited his estate. The pair offered to sign over Larsson's half of the apartment he shared with Gabrielsson "if she would turn over his laptop, which supposedly held an unfinished fourth novel. She refused to give in to what she called 'extortion.' Bad press led to the family finally signing over Larsson's half of the apartment."

Of course, Gabrielsson faces a very huge impediment to publishing her partner's novel if she finishes it. Presumably, the father and brother own Larsson's copyright to his characters. The National Post acknowledges this issue along with a tantalizing insight into the proposed fourth book via a quote from Agence France-Presse :
[Gabrielsson would only finish the fourth book] once she gets undisputed rights to his work from the Larsson family.

“It is not my intention to recount here the plot of the fourth volume,” she said. “On the other hand, I want to say that Lisbeth little by little frees herself from her ghosts and her enemies.”
At the same time, The New Yorker has an article here that tries to decode why people love Stieg Larsson's novels.

Reviewer Joan Acocella and I agreed on two issues. Readers of this blog may remember that, last July here, I said:
The structure of the novel is similar to that of a sandwich. The financial crime story is the bread surrounding the mystery of Harriet's disappearance. The mystery whizzes along; the financial crime story plods endlessly.
Acocella also hated the pace, and I nodded in agreement with her assessment of Blomkvist when she said:

The most crippling weakness of the trilogy, however, is its hero. Mikael Blomkvist is so anti-masculinist that, in a narrative where people are brandishing chainsaws, he can take no forceful action.

I was surprised that Acocella made the following error when describing Lisbeth Salander:
Early in the trilogy, we find out that when Lisbeth was a child her mother was regularly beaten senseless by her mate, Alexander Zalachenko, a Russian spy who had defected to Sweden, where a secret branch of the security police put him on the payroll, thinking that he could tell them useful secrets.
Acocella is wrong here. Larsson didn't tell us about Lisbeth's parents until the second novel in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire. In the first novel, Lisbeth visited her mother on holidays, but only referred to what happened in their past as "The Evil."

Acocella believes that part of the attraction of the Larsson trilogy is "the absolutist morals" of the "revenge story." I agree with the absolutist morals part of her assessment. I liken the books to the cowboy tales of my childhood: the white hats pitted against the black hats (or Indians). We like stories in which good [although Lisbeth pushes that description] triumphs over evil.

Acocella also suggests that readers are titillated by the rapes. That was certainly not the case for me. I regarded much of the sexual content of the novel as Larsson's male fantasies allowed to run amok. [shrug]

For me, the chief attraction of the novels was Lisbeth Salander. She intrigued me and made me care. I wanted things to turn out well for her.

I hope there is a fourth novel. I would like to see how Salander ends up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Touch of Nice

You might have seen this video on Yahoo this morning. At a time of national sadness surrounding the events in Tucson last Saturday, it's a reminder of the basic goodness of people.

Elizabeth Hughes, an eight-year-old, was invited to sing the national anthem at a hockey game on Friday night. Partway through her performance, the microphone failed. Once the crowd shhh'd the stupid woman who laughed, they came to Elizabeth's rescue.

A very nice moment.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Further on Previous Post

I was thinking some more about Mike Hyatt's "e-Book Clubs" prediction, and went back to re-read it.

On a second read, I wonder if I was using a narrower definition of a book club than Mike is. I made the assumption that the publisher would select the books for the book club member.

I now suspect that he merely meant that the member would agree to purchase X number of books for a certain price--similar to the "Bundled Books" prediction.

That actually makes some sense to me.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mike Hyatt's Six e-Book Trends in 2011

I've often mentioned Michael Hyatt on this blog. Mike is the CEO and Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the world's largest Christian publisher.

Mike has impressed me more than once with his innovative management style. Among the posts in which I mentioned him was one describing the reorganization of the Thomas Nelson Company three and a half years ago here. In April, 2008 here, I reported that Thomas Nelson would not be participating in Book Expo America (BEA) and the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) because Mike no longer believed the two trade shows offered enough value for the cost.

Even when I've disagreed with Mike, as I did when I asked "Is this really how you want to make money?" here, I've respected his business acumen.

I say all this as a lead-up to Mike's blog post on Tuesday here in which he made six predictions for e-book trends to watch in 2011.

To be fair, Mike never claims to be the first making these predictions; he just says that these trends will "happen in earnest" this year.

Even so, from my perspective, some of the "predictions" were gimmes--because they've been talked about for so long. In January, 2008, Mike Shatzkin made fifteen forecasts for Publishers Weekly (PW), including this one:
Although overall sales will remain paltry, increased activity by publishers selling direct to consumers from their Web sites, particularly digital downloads, will lead to “read and listen” bundles of e-books and digital audio and other pricing experiments (it is worth noting that the Sony Reader and the Kindle can deliver both text and sound). Other combinations, including book-and-audio and book-and-digital file (the latter tried by Amazon), and even combos of multiple titles, will be offered.
Even though the "Bundled Books" prediction has been around a while, I give full credit to Mike Hyatt for being one of the early adopters. His company was at the forefront of bundling when they announced the initiative they called Nelson Free two years ago. I wrote about it here, quoting Publishers Weekly:
Thomas Nelson announced today the launch of NelsonFree, a program that allows readers to receive content in multiple formats—physical book, audiobook and e-book—without making multiple purchases. With NelsonFree, the price of the hardcover book includes both the audio download and the e-book ...
A month after Shatzkin's predictions in PW, Advertising Age did an interview with Chris Anderson (he of The Long Tail) in which he talked about "the three kinds of free." I wrote about the article, saying:

The first kind of free he describes is the Gillette razor-and-blade model. At the turn of the twentieth century, King Gillette invented the safety razor. While trying to convince people to try his innovation, he gave away thousands of razors. Of course, the razors were useless without the blades, which people then purchased for their new "free" razor. Anderson calls this model the cross-subsidy one, where the manufacturer subsidizes one product in order to build a market for another.

Which, of course, is what prediction #5 ("Free e-Readers") is all about.

I feel similarly about the "e-First Publishing" and "Social Reading" predictions. The Institute for the Future of the Book has been experimenting with social reading for years. Here's an excerpt of a post from September, 2009:

Today reading is primarily a solitary experience, even for those people in book clubs who join together after the fact to discuss a book they've read. I think Robert Stein is on the right track in describing the book's future. Stein is a senior fellow at the London School of Economics and director of the Institute for the Future of the Book. He believes that in the future reading will become more of a social experience.

In the very near future, people will be able to read a digital book in a social networking environment. They'll be able to comment on the material being read in real time. And the author and fans will be able to converse digitally as the readers progress through the book.

I was most interested in two of Mike's six predictions: "Monetization Experiments" and "e-Book Clubs."

In "Monetization Experiments," Mike says, "This will include in-book advertising (or commercial-free for a premium), sponsored links, subscription delivery, and even all-you-can-read options for one price."

Chris Anderson had suggested in-book advertising or commercial-free for a premium, but I was interested in the all-you-can-read options for one price. That would be a very intriguing possibility.

Under "e-Book Clubs," Mike says "Just like the book clubs of yesteryear, etailers will give them an e-book bundle in exchange for a commitment to purchase a specific number of titles at a special membership discount."

This was the only one of Mike's six trends that I actively disagreed with. Historically, book clubs have appealed to people who were unable to access bookstores. Years ago, when book clubs were in their heyday, they were popular with people who lived in geographically isolated areas or with people who didn't have ready access to a vehicle.

Bertelsmann (parent of Random House) and Harlequin--two huge book club vendors--both saw their profits begin to tank with the advent of the Internet. In July, 2008, I wrote here:
With the easy immediacy of e-book downloads and the ready availability of online bookstores like Amazon, why should anyone sign up for a book club that has an expectation of a minimum number of books or where the selection is left to the publisher?
The one case in which I might expect to see a resurgence in book clubs would again be in geographically isolated areas without ready access to either the Internet or bookstores.

In May, 2007, BusinessWeek had an article that I referenced in my previously mentioned 2008 post in which they reported:
Ukraine is the most spectacular example of Bertelsmann's success with book clubs in the former Soviet bloc. And it's proving that with the right mix of marketing and merchandise, there's money to be made even with low-cost goods. The region has well-educated populations hungry for a good read but relatively few bookstores where they can indulge their passion. As a result, Bertelsmann has also become the biggest book publisher in the Czech Republic and has scored big successes in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere.
I'll admit to huge curiosity about Mike's book club prediction. I am not following his reasoning on that one. Perhaps he is talking about providing religious books to under-developed countries. In that case, I could understand and agree with him. Otherwise, I don't see that one trend taking off.

At any rate, I was pleased to see Mike's blog post on the subject.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Whither Go Books?

Okay, I'm just going to admit it from the outset. This story in The New York Times (NYT) depressed me.

Let me begin by saying that I've had a friend for over twenty years who is an interior designer. Therefore, I'm familiar with the interior decorating practice of buying books by the yard as decorations. Marilyn has sometimes had to go on a hunt to find leather-bound books of a particular color or size as finishing touches for a home office or library. The way she described the old law books and beautifully bound but outdated medical books she purchased, I envisioned what she was doing as a retirement for books who'd outlived their usefulness, kind of like sending a wornout racehorse to a pasture in the country to live out his life in a pleasant setting.

I'm not sure why I had such a different reaction to Juniper Books, Thatcher Wine's business. Maybe it was just the conspicuous consumption implicit in the endeavor that made me feel slightly queasy.

At any rate, Thatcher Wine--an improbable name if I've ever heard one, although clever when paired with the title of his company--builds "custom book collections and decorative 'book solutions'" for his clients. As an example:
For the spa in Philippe Starck’s Icon Brickell, the icy glass condo tower in Miami, [Mr. Wine] was asked to wrap 1,500 books in blank white paper, without titles, to provide a “textural accent” to the space.
Okay, okay, maybe I'm being overly sensitive. My neighbors routinely complain that it takes me way too long to prune back my rose bushes in the spring. I hate to admit to them that I'm afraid I'll hurt the bushes.

I was somewhat mollified when a decorator recalled her father buying “masses of random, leatherbound books to assemble libraries ... But the people I work for don’t want books just as backdrop or theater, which they did 20 years ago. Now they want books they actually might read.”

But my relief was short-lived. Federico Uribe, described as "a Colombian conceptual artist working in Miami," tears up the books he buys to make primary colored sculptures.

Go here to read the article and here to look at the dozen photos of Mr. Wine's collections.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Former CIA Officer Charged By DOJ

Publishers Marketplace directed me to this story.

A former CIA officer, Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, has been indicted for leaking classified information to author James Risen for the 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

Risen is a reporter for The New York Times and, although he was not named in the indictment, both The Times and Publishers Marketplace named him as the recipient of the classified info.

The Times reported:

That material did not appear in The Times. The indictment says that the journalist worked on an article about the program in 2003, but the newspaper decided not to publish it after government officials told editors that such a disclosure would jeopardize national security.

Risen went on to publish his book with a chapter containing the material three years later.

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that Sterling, an attorney, has been charged in a ten-count indictment. Six of the counts relate to unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, one count of unlawful retention of national defense information, one count of mail fraud, one count of unauthorized conveyance of government property and one count of obstruction of justice.

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned the indictment on December 22 and it was unsealed yesterday, at which time Sterling was arrested in St. Louis.

The Times reported that Sterling worked at the CIA "from 1993 until he was fired in 2002."

The DOJ press release stated:

From November 1998 through May 2000, he [Sterling] was assigned to a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries, including Country A. During that same time frame, he was also the operations officer assigned to handle a human asset associated with that program. According to the indictment, Sterling was reassigned in May 2000, at which time he was no longer authorized to receive or possess classified documents concerning the program or the individual ...

The indictment alleges that Sterling, in retaliation for the CIA’s refusal to settle on terms favorable to him in the civil and administrative claims he was pursuing against the CIA, engaged in a scheme to disclose information concerning the classified operational program and the human asset – first, in connection with a possible newspaper story ... and, later, in connection with a book published by the author in January 2006.

Mr. Risen is African-American and has accused the CIA of racial discrimination.

The Times reports that author Risen has been subpoenaed twice, first by the Bush administration and later by the Obama administration. Each time he was asked to divulge his source for the book. He says he has not revealed that information.

Go here to read the DOJ announcement.

Go here to read The New York Times story.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

When Deer Go to Sea

I know I said I would be posting M/W/F, but if I see something quick and easy to share, I'll put it up on Tuesday or Thursday.

My middle brother (the hunter) sent me the link to this website and this story. I went "awwwww" when I saw the photos. It's the story of four young buck deer who went swimming in Alaska and couldn't get back. A fishing charter boat saw them, but didn't believe they could approach the deer. However, the deer were so exhausted, they began circling the boat. [I imagined the lead deer saying to the other three, "What have we got to lose? We're going to die out here."]

See what happened here.

Have a good day.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Censoring Mark Twain?

The holidays over, and I'm back. Wishing everyone a marvelous 2011. I'm going to be blogging only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while I work on finishing my next manuscript.

When I turned on my computer this morning, the first thing I saw was this:
According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books plans to release a version of "Huck Finn" that cuts the "n" word and replaces it with "slave." The slur "injun," referring to Native Americans, will also be replaced.
I was outraged by what I immediately saw as censorship in the form of political correctness. How dare anyone change an author's words? Mark Twain was anti-racist. Remember his statement: "There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages." Huckleberry Finn offered both social commentary and a window on a time in history.

I went to Publishers Weekly (PW) where I learned that the change was proposed by Twain scholar Alan Gribben who heads the English Department at Auburn University in Alabama. The article pointed out that:
Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of "all modern American literature." Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: "nigger."
According to PW, the "n" word appears 219 times in Huck Finn. That took me aback. The idea that schools are banning the book and a comment on Yahoo that it's "awkward being the only black kid in class and having to read it," gave me pause. Gribben himself told PW that, while "teaching and outreach, ... he habitually replaced the word with "slave" when reading aloud."

I called an African-American friend to ask her opinion. She said she has never read the book and would not because of the "n" word.

In the space of about an hour, I went from being furious to thinking that Gribben might actually be right. The original book will still be available to whomever wants to read it.

I checked Twain quotes to see if the man himself had any thoughts on the matter. I think this one might be appropriate: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

A lightning bug may actually be what is needed in this case. Lightning runs the risk of destroying the book entirely. If by changing those two words in one edition allows more readers to enjoy the novel, I'm for the change.