Wednesday, May 11, 2011

3 Generations of (E-)Readers

Hi there. How are you feeling? I only ask because I just finished the BK Staff CPR Certification course, so I am officially qualified to save your life. Or, at least, more likely to give it a try. So, just give me a shout or a hand signal if need be.

Moving on: Happy Post-Mother's Day! I hope you all had a nice time with family and friends. I was lucky enough to take a trip down to Los Angeles, where I spent the holiday with my parents and my 99-year-old grandmother. Yes, 99, you did read that right...and she is a pistol. While I was home some interesting technological developments took place. After many months of frustration with an almost-defunct cellular phone, I finally entered the world of The Smart Phone.

Given my positive experience with the iPod Touch and its various apps, I made a smooth transition to my new iPhone. In addition to having a phone, camera, and amazing 3G capability, I was happy to learn that I could easily transfer all of my music and, most importantly, my growing collection of iBooks. An avid BART/bus reader, I first started e-reading on my iPod Touch, and found myself quickly adapting to the device. Having always been vocal about my love for the tactile sensation and smell of a 'real' book, it took me awhile to make the transition to e-reading, but eventually did so for reasons of access and practicality. Not only is a reading device lighter and more portable than a book (let alone many books), but I'm able to buy and begin reading books more immediately than I could if I relegated my shopping to 'real' bookstores. (Note: I still read plenty of print books and am an adamant supporter of local and independent booksellers -- these two methods of consumption are not mutually exclusive, as some would have you believe.) And, let me tell you, it didn't take long before e-reading and e-buying (is that a thing?) felt natural. And, with a bigger screen and constant internet access, it's even better on the iPhone than it was on the iPod.

So, one generation down. Next up, my mother, who not only received my hand-me-up iPod (oh, how the tables have turned!) -- and don't worry, I got her a real and new present, too -- but a new Nook Color, as well. While I think she may have been temporarily overwhelmed by the abundance of new technology (a feeling that, as Digital Community Builder, I have experienced often), I genuinely believe she'll soon be hooked. In an attempt to give her some usage tips and tricks, I played around with that Nook to familiarize myself, and let me tell you, that is quite a device. Not only is the color display incredible, but with the wireless connectivity and the built-in tools and apps, I think the new Nook presents some serious competition to both the iPad and the Kindle. By the time I stepped away from the table, my mom was already getting the hang of it, and I don't doubt that she'll be wielding it like a pro by my next visit. So, two generations down, one to go.

And that one might be "to go" forever. While all of this was going on, my grandmother sat in (relative) silence -- which, for her, is pretty rare. As we subscribed to magazines, filled out crossword puzzles, snapped and shared pictures, and even answered some text messages, Grandma looked on with eyes wide, like someone who had gone to sleep and woken up in an episode of The Jetsons. She was genuinely amazed at the ease with which I was able to intuit the devices and, I have to admit, I was too. Not in the sense that I was impressed with my own unique capabilities (because, at this point, unique they are not), but because one family so easily represented the stages of technological change. There we sat, three generations of book-lovers, all coming to terms with the future (or, rather, the present) of book publishing -- both the good and the bad.

Have you experienced anything like this? If so, I'd love for you to share it in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Special (B)Earth Day!

Hello, Dear Readers. Happy Earth Day! I know, I know, it was actually last week, but I'm a big fan of the 'Better Late Than Never' life philosophy. And, really, considering everything the natural world has done for us, the least we can do is extend the celebration beyond one, single, solitary day.

**Speaking of extending the celebration, allow me to inform you of Berrett-Koehler's Earth Day Sale. Until May 12th, you can get up to 50% off of our Top 10 Sustainability titles. What a deal!**

Okay, that's that. Sorry to shamelessly plug our wares, but if we don't do it, who will? But, really, that sales ties in to something bigger than book-selling, I swear. We at BK are making a genuine effort to embrace Earth Day and it's message and to do our part to create change. As such, we're currently hosting an Earth Day 2011 group on BK Community, where we are inviting members to share their thoughts and feelings about Earth Day, as well as their hopes and concern's for our planets future. I even started things off with my own approach to environmentalism, and I encourage you to join and do the same.

Now, we aren't the only ones making a big deal about this day, either. The other evening, I was lucky enough to happen upon a special television program, a 2-hour (commercial free!) PBS documentary called American Experience: Earth Days. To be honest, the documentary was created last year in celebration of Earth Day's 40th Anniversary, but it seems like an appropriate thing to recycle, no?

The PBS website describes the program like this: "It is now all the rage, but can you remember when everyone in America was not "Going Green"? Earth Days looks back to the dawn and development of the modern environmental movement through the extraordinary stories of the era's pioneers." Now, this is an accurate description, but it doesn't quite do the program justice. Made up of current-day interviews with ecological pioneers, as well as incredible archival footage, the documentary shed a lot of light on a celebration and overall consciousness I had previously taken for granted.

What particularly stuck out in my mind is the role that technology has played in the environmental movement. Now, I came into the program a little bit late, and I don't have the time to re-watch right now, so forgive me ahead of time for any rampant paraphrasing or false information. What was news to me was the fact that in the early days of the American environmental movement (we're talking '67-70), most activists were ardently anti-technology. As such, this same movement very much opposed the works of NASA and the Space Race of President Kennedy. It was not until French explore Jacques Cousteau (respected marine conservationist) extolled the potential learnings of space exploration that the movement was able to converge more easily with the mainstream. Around the same time, the highly-popular image of the Earth from outer space was taken and made public, which had a major impact on the growth of the environmental movement. Once people were confronted with the reality of finite space and finite resources, they opened their eyes and their minds to the importance of sustainable living.

So, like I said, I probably botched that time-line in some way, but you get the idea. This story may not be news to all, but I think it provokes some interesting thoughts regarding technology today. Sure, there are still many ways in which technology is working against our planet's future, but at what point do the benefits begin to outweigh the costs?

This article highlights the ways in which organizations big and small are greening their technological processes. But, on a more personal level, this resonates with what I wrote on BK Community. You can go read it if you like, but I'll summarize: My commitment to environmental conservation stems directly from my love for animals. And, while that compassion is the reason behind my 6+ years of being a vegetarian, that decision had far more to do with not wanting to eat my furry friends than it did with any larger connection between conservation and factory farming and/or any other existing arguments. It wasn't until I began watching high-quality nature programs (in particular BBC's Planet Earth) that I began to connect the dots between large-scale sustainability and the animal kingdom I so wish to preserve. So, while I'm sure there are those who would argue that bringing cameras and camera crews into a remote jungle area is an example of technology encroaching on nature, it's also an example of how that practice created a more dedicated environmentalist, and I wouldn't be surprised if I weren't the only one.

So, as always, there are two sides to this coin. And, as always, I'd love it if you shared your thoughts, either here, or on the aforementioned BK Community forum.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Designing Woman: A Woman's World That Works for All - Volume 3

Well hello, readers. Is it time for another blog post already? I suppose it is. That being the case, I'm pleased to report that I can inform of you of an exciting new development: I have a new apartment! Starting in May, I will be a proud resident of San Francisco's Mission District, and I could not be happier. After a tireless and months-long search, I have finally found a place to live, and I think that the space I have found justifies all the work put into the hunt. While I'm sure that you're pleased on my behalf, I wouldn't be surprised if you were a bit confused as to how this is relevant to publishing. But, have I ever strayed too far off topic? I think not!

For the last few months I've been focused on securing an apartment. Now that I have found one, I can move on to something more exciting: designing and decorating it! And, in beginning my conceptual research, I was reminded of a lady I quite admire: architect and designer, Zaha Hadid.

I first learned of Hadid in May of 2010, when she topped the list of 'Thinkers' in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World' issue. In reading that article, and following-up on the internet, I was impressed with Hadid's vision and accomplishments. Born in 1950 in Baghdad, Hadid received a degree in mathematics from the American University in Beirut, after which she moved to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. In the 40+ years of Hadid's career, she has established her own practice, as well as held numerous faculty positions at prestigious institutions around the world. In 2004, Hadid became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an award which honors a living architect "whose work demonstrates a combination of...talent, vision, and commitment" and who "has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the environment through the art of architecture."

What's that? Did you someone say "significant contributions to humanity?" A phrase like that automatically sets off of my BK mission-match alarm, and once that alarm rings there's no stopping me. Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we have our third author in my imaginary BK series, 'A Woman's World That Works for All'!

While Zaha Hadid is already the author of a number of beautiful design and architecture books, she has yet to put words down on paper in an attempt to share what she has learned through her years of experience. In over 40 years of design -- in the fields of architecture, product design, interior decorating and furniture-making -- what sort of evolution has Hadid seen? More importantly (for the purposes of our series), what more evolution does she see in our future? What, to the passionate and unabashedly womanly Zaha Hadid, does a world that works for all really look like?

In Time, clothing designer Donna Karan had this to say about her friend and collaborator: "However you view her work, Zaha is a visionary. Her style is legendary and completely original. Zaha is a woman and an artist of her time -- and yet she is very much ahead of it too."

I rest my case.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Publishing with Pop

Hello Readers. You guys will be happy to know that I've been working on improving my brainpower lately, attending the weekly Pub Trivia at a local drinking establishment. This event appeals to me, because I am able to learn and grow, while also showing off my insanely good memory and my great skill at celebrity face recognition.

However, last night I learned something at trivia, completely unrelated to any of the questions. I returned from a brief trip to the bar downstairs to find my 3 team members (all very smart and attractive young men, just in case you were wondering) in an animated conversation about Slavoj Zizek, a person (turned out to be a man) who I'd never heard of. They halted their rapid-fire admiration-session just long enough to tell me that Zizek is a 21st-century philosopher best known for a) being crazy and b) using examples from modern day popular culture to explain philosophy and psychoanalysis. Um, what? I feel like someone spoke in a magical language made just for me. I'm a big fan of crazy (from a distance, obviously), but I'm an even bigger fan of dumbing-down tough material (especially philosophy, which I've never been able to really wrap my brain around) with stuff I can actually understand, i.e. movie stars, musicians, and other mainstream memes. At that moment I made a vow to further research this mystery man, and research I did. Don't worry, I'll share.

Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist who works in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He's also made some major contributions to the fields of political and film theory, as well as theoretical analysis. He is currently a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, and has held professorial positions at a large number of Universities all over the world. Back to the interesting part: Zizek uses examples from popular culture to explain the theory of Jacques Lacan, and uses Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian philosophy and Marxist economic criticism to interpret and speak on current social phenomena, such as the current global financial crisis. Zizek writes on many topics, including subjectivity, ideology, capitalism, racism, human rights, ecology, cinema, and religion. Seeing as I only found out about this guy last night, I haven't had the chance to read any of his work just yet, but I plan to do so, posthaste.

Now, you may be thinking, "This is a great story Bonnie, but what exactly does it have to do with Berrett-Koehler?" Perfect timing on your part, because that is the subject I was just about to address.

As an aspiring acquiring editor here at BK, I've been tasked with brainstorming ways in which BK might branch out and reach a younger audience. Young Adult (YA) literature is the fastest growing genre out there, but so far most publishers have been hard-pressed to get non-fiction material into the hands of those youngsters. Vampires and werewolves don't exist in real life (or do they?), so that option is off the table. Good thing I came up with another idea. What if BK were able to re-purpose some of our existing books so that they'd be more accessible to young readers? Sure, Theory U is a complicated read, but maybe less so if 'The U Process' were somehow related through the lens of Serena Van Der Woodsen's character arc on Gossip Girl. Macroshift is difficult for me to fully comprehend, but I imagine I'd give it more thought if 'The Breakdown' (i.e. destruction) were represented by Lindsay Lohan and 'The Breakthrough' (i.e. productivity) by Natalie Portman. I'm obviously just throwing things out right now, but I'm hoping that you get the idea.

And working on the assumption that you do get the idea, what do you think of it? Am I being crazy or am I being crazy smart? Because, really, this is about more than selling books to a new crowd. BK books are important, mostly because they're full of ideas aimed at creating a better future. Well, who better to invest in our future than those who will be around to see it? I'm taking this lesson from Zizek and running with it. Now, if only I could find a suitable author...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Woman's World that Works for All - Volume 2

What? You didn't think I'd give up on my ladies-only line of BK books, did you? Just needed a quick break to share my thoughts on the future of book-selling (as I am wont to do), but let's get back to this game-changing series of products, shall we?

As you may recall, the first work in the 'A Woman's World that Works for All' collection came from bestselling dystopian YA author Suzanne Collins (and, if you can't recall, you can re-read here). This second book will go in a different direction, just to make sure we cover all of our bases. While Collins' BK book imagines, and works toward, a world without trauma , the next book in the series is aimed at overcoming and dealing with the trauma that already exists. Who better to pen this prescription than acclaimed psychologist Edna Foa?

As human beings, we are taught to fear those things that are harmful to us. If and when those fears are realized, the damage can be hard to undo. In extreme cases, the pain associated with these experiences is known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition consisting of depression, anxiety, anger and isolation. The viciousness of PTSD is matched by the severity of the things that can provoke it: sexual assault and abuse, natural disasters, and of course, war. (Take a moment to to check out these statistics.) Many people have difficulty addressing this condition, and far too many sufferers cope by working too hard, drinking too hard, and keeping the pain to themselves. This doesn't sit well with Edna Foa.

Foa, who studied first at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and then in the U.S. at the University of Pennsylvania, began studying post-rape trauma 30 years ago, cobbling together a therapy based on related anxiety disorders. In 2000, Foa and her husband visited Israel, arriving five days before the Second Intifada began. What Dr. Foa witnessed changed her focus from post-rape trauma to combat-related PTSD, from which point she developed a therapy known as Prolonged Exposure, or PE. PE involves identifying thoughts and situations that trigger fear and then gently exposing sufferers to them, the thought behind which is that facing the memories strips them of power. And it works. The U.S. military is embracing PE, as is the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To Foa, spreading the word is what is most important. "If you develop a wonderful protocol, it's useless if nobody uses it," she says. Well, what better way to spread the word than to write about it, Edna? While Dr. Foa is already the author of numerous psychological texts, I think she could branch out with a book for Berrett-Koehler, taking on more than just the medical aspects of the condition. Namely, to help create a world that works for all, how can we apply what she has learned from PE to other trauma that exists? How would she do it? Do you, readers, have any ideas? Feel free to share below.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

BK at Banana Republic?

Well, well, well....Publisher's Weekly has struck my brain-bone yet again, this time with an article on a fancy new book-selling chain. The 'Retail Nation' section of this week's PW features an interesting article on Bookmarc, the new book-selling (and publishing) brand of the Marc Jacobs fashion empire.

Now, I had heard about Bookmarc stores popping up, but it wasn't until I read this article that I understood what the shops were all about. Marc Jacobs has opened Bookmarc stores on both coasts, as well as added branded Bookmarc sections to a handful of MJ stores both in the U.S. and Europe. Additionally, stand-alone Bookmarc stores are in the works for Washington, D.C. and Shanghai. These shops function under the mentality that, "Fashion is about lifestyle. Anything can be fashion," and, as such, books fall into that category. The store is filled with both paperback and hardcover titles, most by and about rock stars, cultural revolutions, erotica, fashion, art, photography, and history. The man behind Bookmarc, Jacobs's business partner Robert Duffy, says that Bookmarc is "fun, and its profitable."

Fun and profitable, you say? Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, only a few days ago, in a related article in the The New York Times! 'Beyond Bookstores', published February 27th, tackles similar subject matter, but broadens the landscape. Using trendy Los Angeles boutique Kitson to illustrate a theme, the NYT addresses a growing trend in book-selling: non-book retail. "In a town that is all about flash, Kitson is finding a surprising source of revenue that is not from its fashionable shoes or accessories. It is from books." And Kitson isn't alone. "A wide range of stores better known for their apparel, food and fishing reels have been adding books. Anthropologie has increased the number of titles it carries...Coldwater Creek, Lowe's, Bass Pro Shops and even Cracker Barrel are adding new books." (FYI, I checked - you can get MadLibs at Cracker Barrel, a winning combo if ever there was one. )

So, what's the deal with these new book-buying outlets? Both articles point tellingly to the failings of traditional booksellers.

A big part of what drove Bookmarc's creation was Robert Duffy's frustration with seeing so many bookstores close and with being able to find content online more easily than in print. This sentiment is echoed - and further emphasized - in The New York Times. "Publishers have stocked books in nonbook retailers for decades. In the last year, though, publishers have increased their efforts as the two largest bookstore chains have changed course." As smaller shops close and big stores like Barnes & Noble dedicate more and more real estate to e-readers, games, and other multi-media products, they lose significant power as traditional sales channels. "Having a physical outlet for books is extraordinarily important for. While online and e-book sales are huge channels, lesser-known books can get lost...if they do not have a physical presence to spur interest."

Indeed, interest has been spurred, and to the benefit of publishers, retailers and, I would argue, all readers. For Perseus Book Group, sales at nontraditional retailers beat out sales at Borders for the first time in 2010. Michael Jacobs, CEO of Abrams, says that nontraditional retailers made up over 15% of their business in 2010 and he expects that number will grow to 25% in the next few years. Big publishers like Random House and Houghton Mifflin are now seeking specialty retailers as well, all of which is welcome business for stores.

The books are profitable for retailers, as they tend to drive other purchases. Patti Price, Lowe's Senior VP of Merchandising, says books on subjects like cooking and home projects "inspire and and inform customers to purchase goods that will allow them to...complete home improvement projects." Very clever, Patti!

While I have a negative gut reaction to anything that harms independent bookstores, as a literature lover and publishing professional, my loyalty lies with 'the reader' on this one. And, as such, I think these are exciting developments. The more we thrust books into all areas of the community, the better, and we might as well go where the people already are. Placement in popular stores can drastically widen the audience for books, appealing to someone who wouldn't necessarily browse bookstores, or even Amazon.

What say you? Do you support the sale of books at nontraditional outlets? More importantly, could this work for Berrett-Koehler? Use the comments section of this blog post to let us know where we should start selling our titles.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Woman's World that Works for All - Volume 1

Hi guys. How's it going for you? It's been pretty quiet around here this week, with many staff members out of town or out of the office for various reasons. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. The relative tranquility has given me a lot of room for thought, the result of which is this very blog entry. Hours of silent seclusion have led me far into the realm of the fanciful, and I'm about to propose something a little bit strange. However, this blog is one of few arenas in which I exert total control, so...go with me on this.

At Berrett-Koehler we talk a lot about creating a world that works for all and opening up new space, both ideas rooted in our mission statement. Like everyone else on staff, the energy I bring to work is motivated by these ideals (and, sure, the occasional free lunch), but I recognize that this is easier said than done. We may not always be ready or able to create that world that works for all but, in the meantime, couldn't we imagine what that world would be? As such, I'm imagining a series in which we invite others share their visions of a world that works for all, opening up new space with original, short, digitally-distributed pieces.

And, because this is extra-imaginary, I'm making all of the authors women. Now, my feminist leanings are no surprise to readers who know me well, but this aspect is as much a personal challenge as it is a political statement, so let's see how it plays out. In this series of short pieces, which I'm calling 'A Woman's World That Works For All', smart, talented, and accomplished ladies from various fields will envision our best possible futures, giving readers the motivation to figure out what it would take to get us there.

First up? Suzanne Collins, bestselling author of The Hunger Games trilogy and The Underland Chronicles.

Full disclosure: I have not ready any of The Hunger Games books, but they have been recommended to be my numerous well-respected friends, and are nearly next on my to-read shelf.

Published by Scholastic in 2008, the first book in this young-adult science fiction series introduces sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, formerly North America. In Panem, a powerful government working in a city called The Capitol holds power, hosting an annual televised event (The Hunger Games) in which one girl and one boy from each district are chosen and forced to fight to the death. The Hunger Games exist to show that not even children are beyond the reach of The Capitol's power.

Whoa, right? If Suzanne Collins can so handily (and successfully) envision our demise, just imagine what she could do on the opposite end of the spectrum. We already know that she's a hugely talented writer, and her readers are so loyal they couldn't help but follow her to Berrett-Koehler. As I type, The Hunger Games is being adapted into a movie, which means Collins is about to 'blow up' (as they say), making her one of the most influential figures in youth and pop culture. Katniss Everdeen is a strong role model for young women, and I think that Suzanne Collins is a good one for all of us.

*It should also be noted that Collins was a writer on the beloved (by me) television show, Clarissa Explains It All.