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Archives: August 2007

What, Are You Still Here?

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Happy Labor Day weekend—see you Tuesday morning.

(Vacashun Kat is…Spot, who looks like a cutie but, according to Dutton/Gotham publicity manager Beth Parker, is actually a terror.)

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Bongos and Catcher’s Mitts, Put to Uses God Never Intended

Readers of a certain age will remember Don Novello‘s classic The Laszlo Letters, a collection of the absurd letters that Novello, a television comedy writer best known for his appearances as Father Guido Sarducci, wrote under a pseudonym to celebrities and corporate executives, along with the serious responses he got back. Lots of people have tried this schtick in the thirty years since that book’s original publication—Novello’s own latest sequel, From Bush to Bush, came out in 2003—and here’s a guy who’s tapped into the opportunities offered by our shiny new digital world, with a batch of wacky letters to eBay vendors called, simply enough, Letters to eBay.

Two warnings: The soundtrack is incongruously loaded with what Stan Freberg used to call ‘pling pling pling jazz,’ which I suspect is a deliberate bid for irony, and there’s a simulated scene of natural childbirth that might be NSFW if you’re in a particularly uptight workplace. But then, you shouldn’t be watching five-minute videos when you’re at work anyway, should you? Oh, go ahead; we all know you’re just killing time until you can bail for the three-day weekend, and I bet your boss didn’t even come in today.

Sex Advice Expert Demands Bigger Trailers

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YouTube doesn’t seem big enough for Amber Madison, a 23-year-old author who turned the experience she gained writing sex advice for the campus newspaper at Tufts into Hooking Up: A Girl’s All-Out Guide to Sex & Sexuality, published earlier this year by Prometheus. In addition to her standard website, Madison is collaborating with Weller/Grossman Productions, a TV production company specializing in reality-based programming for networks from CNN to Animal Planet, and Permission TV, a technology firm which has provided broadband video capabilities for clients like Mitt Romney and Activision, on AmberMadisonTV.com. The website debuted last month with thirty widescreen “episodes” of The Talk With Amber Madison, a series of short videos—with larger “screens” than YouTube and better image quality—featuring advice on everything from how to deal with undesired “hair down there” to extracting yourself from an abusive relationship. New episodes are added weekly, and viewers are able to email their own questions to Madison or participate in the site’s other online forums. (There’s a long disclaimer video before you get to the content, explaining why visitors shouldn’t post their personal information, how Madison’s not a doctor, and so on.)

The press release about the website is careful to note that this isn’t intended to promote Madison’s book, but is “a genuine new media venture” reaching out to its own audience. But of course there’s a consideration towards her publishing career, if only in the sense that the young author is assembling her own “platform,” as the industry experts call it. Although the production values could still use a little work; between that backdrop and the fake plant, the clips still have a slight aura of public access about them…or, ironically enough, a porn studio in the Valley.

Book Parties No Longer Dead, Just Bloated

I’m the first to admit I’m not all that attentive to the fashion and style thing, so it wasn’t until somebody asked me why I hadn’t written about Alex Kuczynski‘s skeptical look at literary megaparties in last Sunday’s NYT style supplement that I even knew the article existed. Unlike Rachel Donadio, who filed a death notice for the book party back in April 2006, Kuczynski recounts all the soirees she’s been to that were “so huge and elaborate that you might think you were at a wedding.”

Of course, even while spinning in the opposite direction, she hits the same James Atlas essay for the New Yorker Donadio did; you can’t write a piece about book parties without acknowledging its existence. After that, it’s all “you should’ve been at Elaine’s, back when we were all poor but we could smoke in bars, so we were happy, and now we have parties in rich people’s apartments, and that’s pretty sweet, too.” Basically, my one takeaway from this article was that I need to be doing more outreach, because I wasn’t at any of the fancy parties Kuczynski writes about, and I’m not exactly a wallflower. “I had a book party last year at 21 Club,” she confides halfway through her spiel, “and I paid for it, and it sure was expensive, and only about 90 people came, and no one wrote a single peep about it.” I would’ve, honest!

Robert Barnett’s Multimillion Dollar Advance Touch

Bloomberg’s Edward Nawotka finally uncovers some answers to questions I’ve wanted to ask for ages: how exactly does Robert Barnett earn his living from the megawatt authors, politicians and celebrities he represents? Not by standard agency commission, that’s for sure, because even though Barnett, a partner at the DC firm Williams & Connolly, functions on behalf of his book clients much as an agent does — negotiating contracts, assisting with the editing process, refereeing between writer and publisher — he firmly rejects the term.

“I’m a lawyer and proud of it,” he told Nawotka. “I bill my clients an hourly rate; I don’t agree with taking a percentage for someone’s creative output.” (An agent typically takes a 15% to 20% commission as payment.) At $900 an hour, Barnett’s attention doesn’t come cheap. But when it’s a question of a multimillion-dollar contract, Barnett’s hourly rate can offer a client a massive savings over an agent’s commission. In an example Barnett cited, he billed a client $150,000 for negotiating a $3-million book contract — a substantial discount from the $450,000 to $600,000 an agent would customarily charge. Discounts for authors – but not for publishers. Knopf Publisher and President Sonny Mehta said to Nawotka that the upside of working with Barnett “is that when he calls about a client, it’s always someone you will want to take a meeting with. The downside is that he’s an expert on valuation, and as such I can never quite negotiate the deal I’d like.” An understatement to say the least…

Seeking Eyeballs, Thriller Writer Turns to Cable

Before turning her talents to fiction, M.J. Rose was once a creative director at an ad agency; so was fellow thriller writer Chris Grabenstein. Between the two of them, they created this 15-second spot for Rose’s new novel, The Reincarnationist, and got it slotted into next Monday’s season premiere of the History Channel show Digging for the Truth. Over the next five days, it will also air on four other shows on the History Channel and A&E. Rose breaks down the details on her media buying strategy on her blog, but the meat of the story may lie in how she convinced her publisher, MIRA, to work the cable angle rather than taking out an NYTBR ad. “This whole package, production, media everything is less than 1/4 of a page in the Times,” Rose informed us yesterday, elaborating on her public discussion of how the nine airings she purchased may reach many more readers than an ad in even a heavily read book review section.

(Disclosure: I don’t actually look at our homepage regularly, except to see what Sarah’s written about, so it wasn’t until I filed this item that I discovered Rose had bought ad space from mediabistro.com and is running the ads now.)

“The Big Read” Goes to XM Radio

In a press release issued yesterday, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with XM Radio, announced the launch of The Big Read on XM, a radio series based on the NEA’s national reading program of the same name. The Big Read brings communities together to read and discuss a single book in order to restore reading to the center of American public culture. Building on the literature program’s success, the new series will introduce the Big Read to XM’s more than 8.2 subscribers nationwide. The Big Read on XM premieres September 10 on Sonic Theater (XM Channel 163), the XM radio channel devoted to audio books and contemporary theater. Hosted by Sonic Theater Program Director Josephine Reed, the series’s first installment will feature FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury.

The Big Read on XM will air audio versions of classic novels in 30-minute installments, courtesy of Audible. Other program highlights will include NEA-produced readings, interviews, and commentary about each novel by some of the nation’s most celebrated authors, actors, and public figures. Just a few of the notable names taking part in the Big Read are actors Robert Duvall, Cheech Marin, and Mary Louise Parker, writers Ray Bradbury, Alice Walker, and Tony Hillerman, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Richard and Judy Focus on Kids’ Books

The Bookseller’s Anna Richardson reports that Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, UK forces in literary tastemaking, are planning a one-off children’s book show as part of a new Channel 4 literacy season this autumn. “Richard & Judy’s Best Kids’ Books Ever” will be an hour-long, peak-time special featuring top children’s authors, aimed at encouraging children to read.

The program is part of a Channel 4 season on the state of Britain’s literacy that will run at the end of October. The week-long season will also include “Can’t Read, Can’t Write”, a series that follows a headmistress’ mission to wipe out illiteracy in her primary school with the help of literacy expert Ruth Miskin and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, and a “Dispatches” investigation in which Channel 4 News’ chief correspondent Alex Thompson investigates standards of children’s literacy in Britain and the wider social impact of poor literacy rates.

Could a Borders-B&N Merger Be Possible?

On face value the idea seems ludicrous, but after reading this piece in the Detroit News by Nathan Hurst, there is some reasoning to the possibility that Barnes & Noble and Borders could one day merge with each other. That is because last week, a federal court ruled that a combination of the nation’s largest organic grocers, Whole Foods and Wild Oats Markets, didn’t violate antitrust rules. U.S. regulators had argued that the merger could reduce competition and inflate prices for organic grocery shoppers. That deal closely mirrors a potential deal between Borders and Barnes & Noble and “could be perceived as a potential new precedent and open up meaningful discussions,” David Schick, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in New York, wrote in a report to investors earlier this week.

The talk of a potential merger of Borders and Barnes & Noble comes as both firms struggle against online rivals such as Amazon.com and big-box retailers such as Target. Online stores often offer lower prices, and big-box stores are offering a much wider selection than they have in the past. Those struggles have led many industry analysts to speculate that by combining forces, the two companies might be able to better tackle the competition. Whether this happens remains in question, but it’s certainly not impossible…

Waterstone’s Offers Details on New Supply Plans

Publishing News reports that last week, Waterstone’s announced details of its much-discussed plans for a consolidation center and, with it, its supply chain partner. Unipart Logistics has won a 10- year contract with the retailer covering warehousing and distribution for all Waterstone’s stores and fulfillment for Waterstones.com. Unipart was also responsible for presenting the bookseller with a range of options from which it has chosen a 150,000 sq ft warehouse space in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, which will be fully operational from May 1, 2008. Rob Entwistle, previously General Manager of Central Distribution for the Dixons Store Group, has been appointed to manage the contract with Unipart.

Said Simon Blacklock, Waterstone’s Supply Chain Director: “This is a very important step in the development of Waterstone’s supply chain. It will enable stores, and over 2,500 suppliers, to communicate more efficiently and cost-effectively, as well as being more environmentally sound, as it will deliver a drastic reduction in the use of cardboard and packing material. Unipart has a strong track record of innovation in the supply chain and has demonstrated a very real focus on meeting our key requirements of availability, cost-effectiveness, delivery and service quality. We look forward to the relationship producing many benefits for Waterstone’s and its suppliers.”

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