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Barnes & Noble laying off staff

After a terrible holiday season, Lauren Thomas and Lauren Hirsch report for CNBC, Barnes & Noble without warning laid off an unspecified number of employees on Monday morning.

Barnes & Noble is trimming its staff, laying off lead cashiers, digital leads and other experienced workers in a company-wide clearing, CNBC has learned from sources familiar with the matter...The number of affected workers couldn't immediately be determined. As of April 29 of last year, Barnes & Noble employed about 26,000 people.

The smart thing for Barnes & Noble to do would be to give its employees more control over its stock, to make each store a unique neighborhood hub with plenty of local character, and to create welcoming spaces staffed by well-read employees. Of course, the company will likely do the exact opposite: more corporate control over stores, cost-cutting measures that make the stores feel even more empty, and fewer staff around to make personalized recommendations and to create local flavor.

I worked at Borders as it started its slow, sad corporate decline — you can read my account of that here — and from the outside, this Barnes & Noble news looks very familiar to me. There's always some possibility that Barnes & Noble might be saved, but I wouldn't bet money on it.

It's time for the publishing industry to start figuring out how to thrive without a Barnes & Noble in every corner of the nation. Right now, losing B&N would be disastrous for publishing and for American literature in general; it would move all the power to Amazon, and it would close the only bookstore in many rural communities around the country. If I were one of the big publishers, I would start organizing with independent bookstores — right now — to figure out a way forward together.

A story for another time

Is Amazon very good or very bad at naming things? It's honestly hard to tell. Why would any company choose to promote a line of e-reading devices with fire-themed names, for instance? Most businesses would balk at the idea of even hinting at book-burning in their book-related products, but Amazon led with the Kindle and then doubled-down on the concept with its Fire family of tablets. Naming their personal-assistant line of speakers the Echo, too, seems a little cute — what is an echo but a hollow and fading repetition of ourselves?

But Amazon has sold hundreds of thousands of those devices, and so by the only arbiter that matters to Amazon — that of the market — the names must be considered a success. The problem with this thinking, of course, is that markets can only ignorantly choose winners or losers in the moment. There's no nuance to a market. If you make a mistake, but that mistake is rewarded with profits, you'll keep on making that same mistake until something catastrophic happens.

Earlier this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos unveiled the Spheres to the world. Located at the corner of 6th and Lenora downtown, Amazon's Spheres are a cross between a biodome and a corporate conference room. They're supposedly a place for Amazon employees to work in a pleasant natural environment. The Spheres have already become a symbol of Amazon's domination of downtown Seattle, and local media went positively berserk when Bezos took the press on a tour of the constructs.

Now, Amazon has opened up a public-facing section of the Spheres, and they've given it one of their trademark curious names: The Spheres Discovery at Understory. On Tuesday, Understory opened to members of the public who had the foresight to make reservations in advance online.

When walking into the Understory at the base of the Spheres, visitors are greeted by enthusiastic young people in bright Amazon polo shirts. They scan tickets and usher people inside with the barely restrained zeal of Scientologists. The first thing you'll see in the Understory is a wide array of video screens showing some of the plant life in the Spheres. One of the Amazon employees directs a tourist to stand in a colorful spotlight in front of a video screen. While standing in the spotlight, a narration to the video screens is audible — it sounds as though a tour guide is standing directly behind you, whispering information into your ear. Step an inch out of the spotlight and the voice is gone. Step back into the spotlight and she's there again.

In a room to the right of the video screens, visitors will find samples of plants that can be found in the Spheres above, including a particularly robust orchid. In a room to the left of the video screens, visitors huddle around some signage giving an ebullient explanation of the purpose that the Spheres serve in Amazon's corporate culture.

In this room, you'll see some testaments to Amazon's charitable giving. (Amazon gives much less than other corporate giants in the region, of course, but you won't learn that fact here.) Perhaps the most bizarre touch in this room is a spray of plastic bananas intended to promote Amazon's Community Banana Stand, which hands out free bananas in South Lake Union during the week. The bananas are obviously synthetic — they practically glow — and next to all the testaments of the Sphere's natural beauty they feel decidedly off-brand.

After exploring the three rooms, visitors are likely to start looking around for a way to climb up into the Spheres and explore the terrariums. That's when they'll realize the limits of the Understory. One tourist asks an Amazon employee whether the tour extends up into the Spheres. "No," the employee says. "They're actually working up there, so we can't interrupt them. You need a badge to get up there." The tourist nods, and then wanders over to the video screens to take a picture of a video tour of the inside of the Spheres. That's as close as he's going to get to the Edenic garden promised from the outside of the Spheres: a picture of a picture on a screen.

So. What is an Understory? It's basically the carpet of the forest, that spongy layer of green that absorbs and distributes water for everything else. But Amazon loves names with multiple, even contradictory meanings. It could be a fancy way of saying "basement," after all, and the Understory visitor center is the Sphere's cellar, basically. But "understory" also sounds like the parts of a story that a narrative doesn't explore: the innocent bystanders of fiction, the passersby who walk onto the page, say one line, and are gone. The soldiers who die messily in the background while the protagonists bask in glory. The screaming woman falling from a building who is saved at the last minute by Superman before she's desposited safely on the ground to wander into obscurity again. The understory is everywhere that the narrator doesn't direct our attention.

The reality of the Spheres is that if you have an Amazon badge, you're allowed into the story of the corporation. You get to hang out in treehouses and write code surrounded by exotic plants. If you don't have an Amazon badge, you're cast into the Understory. You wander around a rinky-dink museum with one exhibit that enthuses about what it's like to be allowed into the world above. You crane your neck and peer at the ceiling, and you wonder what it's like up there, in what you're told is the only story that really matters in Seattle right now. And then you'll realize you're never getting up there. And so you return, dissatisfied, to your story — to the understory.

Once you leave the Understory, you'll probably wander around the Spheres, trying to look inside. You'll walk by the tiny dog park, and by all the people bustling around with orange Amazon Go tote bags. You'll walk in that direction for a half-block, and you'll walk by the long line of people who are waiting in line to get into a cashierless convenience store that's plastered with signs promising you'll never have to wait in line again. None of it will make sense to you, but you'll just shrug and keep walking away from the Spheres. It's okay that it doesn't make sense to you. It's not your story.

Holy cow: Amazon announced yesterday that they're adapting Seattle author Neal Stephenson's sci-fi classic Snow Crash into a TV series. And they also announced that they're adapting Portland comics writer Greg Rucka's comic with artist Michael Lark, the dystopian bioengineering epic Lazarus, as a series, too. And they also announced that they're adapting Larry Niven's Ringworld series into a TV series. I can't say that I think Snow Crash should be a series — I don't even know if it would be an effective movie; I think it's better left as a novel that was ahead of its time when it was published — but the other two are ripe for serialized storytelling. As much as I hate to admit it, I think Amazon's television arm is really on to something here.

Franklin Foer has advice for any city looking to become Amazon's second headquarters

Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind is a must-read book of the fall season. Subtitled The Existential Threat of Big Tech, World is a full-frontal assault on the fallacious idea that the big four tech companies that shape our world — Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple — are benevolent firms that have the advancement of humanity in mind.

Foer smartly couches his polemic in memoir, relaying his experiences as a beloved editor of the New Republic. When the storied magazine was bought by a tech gadfly, its century-old dedication to the art of journalism and thoughtful opinion was discarded in favor of click-hungry content farming. Foer was fired, and the majority of his staff left with him in solidarity.

A lesser writer could seem like an aggrieved party in World, and Foer certainly does acknowledge that his pride was wounded in the aftermath of the New Republic’s Silicon Valley-styled meltdown. But instead he makes a compelling case for considered, intellectual thought in the public sphere, even as he rages against the slick digital robber barons who have consumed our attention in exchange for a few baubles of convenience.

Foer reads from World at Elliott Bay Book Company on Wednesday, September 27th at 7 pm. The event is free; no purchase is necessary. I hope you'll go hear him out. You’ll likely think a little differently about the urgings of the vibrating hunk of glass and steel in your pocket after the event.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of a phone conversation I had with Foer last week.

I assume you heard the news that Amazon recently announced that they're looking to found a second separate-but-equal headquarters in another city?


Now we're watching cities bow and scrape in the hopes of bringing Amazon to them. Tucson just sent a giant cactus to Amazon management, like some sort of a weird dowry or something. I was wondering if you had any advice for cities that might be trying to entice Amazon to set up in their city?

Let's just look at Amazon's track record when it comes to exploiting civil government. Part of its business model has been to fleece local municipalities — with its refusal to pay sales tax over time, or all the concessions that it extracts when it goes about setting a warehouse down.

I think the right metaphor is the sports stadiums that get built in cities, where owners come in and exploit civic pride and sense of civic purpose in order to get these fantastical deals for themselves, where cities empty their coffers in order to build these monumental facilities that teams then make money off of.

I just think it's sad. And part of the sadness is that we can see where this is going over the long run, which is that Amazon may bring jobs in the short term, but they really don't want those jobs over the long run. In the long run, when Amazon puts down a warehouse, it's going to automate it, so there are not going to be workers.

I wonder whether these cities are doing anything to remotely try to calculate the long-term economic benefit for themselves. I doubt it.

One of the things that I thought was especially interesting in this book was the writing about media, especially the parts that focused on your own experience. I left a publication soon after management installed [analytics software] Chartbeat because they devalued arts coverage after they learned that it wasn't as popular as they had assumed it was.

I've done a lot of thinking since then that maybe the original sin for the marriage between media and the internet was the decision by Google founders that a click on an ad was only worth a fraction of a cent. It's a system that doesn't allow for the fact that some clicks could be worth more to some advertisers than to others. It's very rigid. Do you think there's a way to change that discussion — to revalue the importance of writing as valued by advertising — or is the advertising model basically dead for media?

My sense is that the advertising model is kind of dead in the short term. I fundamentally agree with you that Google has deflated the advertising market as it exists now beyond any reasonable significance to media companies. We need to move on to something different.

My preference is to move to a subscription model, but I also think that it's possible that there's some form of advertising that hasn't been invented yet that could be more valuable than display advertising, and less corrupting than the native advertising that we've seen people moving towards over time. But I'm not smart enough to know what that is.

Do you think anyone's getting close to it? Do you see anybody doing things that you like?

What I like is the resurgence of subscription models. I like that the New York Times and the Washington Post seem to be selling subscriptions in some volume, re-acclimating people to the idea of having to pay for what they read.

But I also think that the subscription model as it exists now for digital journalism isn’t valuable on its own because the prices are set far too low. We're kind of in this place where everything has been deflated. The value of digital advertising has been deflated, the value of digital subscriptions has been deflated, and it's hard to see where exactly the fast-forward is.

One thing that I do think -

Sorry that I don't have the cheerful, optimistic solution for you.

It's okay. Nobody has those solutions, that's the thing. That's why it's important to keep thinking about it. But one thing that I do think the internet has done really well — and I don't know if it gets a lot of credit from people in the media on this — is to provide a platform for people who have never before had voices in the media.


I find it really difficult to argue for a return to the old gatekeeper model when there's now more representation in culture than ever before. Is there a way to reclaim institutional thought and consideration while still maintaining the representational progress we've seen in the last 10 years?

Yeah. That doesn't seem terribly difficult to me. I think that institutional journalism has responded to the internet, and also a shift in times, by being much more representative. I think that when it comes to a lot of these questions about new technology and old media, it's easy to slip into Manichean thought. The choice isn't between going back to the old media of the 1980s — which was stodgy, excessively white male, etc. — versus the status quo. I think we have the ability to do better on all fronts. I don't think that we need to abandon all the good aspects of change in order to respond to the bad aspects of change.

As you were collecting ideas for this book, where did you draw the line between reality and conspiracy theory, and between apathy and malevolence in the intent of these companies? It's very easy for me to get too wrapped up in this sort of good guy/bad guy paradigm, when the truth of their intent is much more complex. Is this something you've had to think about as you’ve put this book together? This is kind of a vague question and I'm very sorry — can you retrieve anything of value out of that?

I think you're saying that it's possible to look at what the tech companies do and come to the conclusion that they're highly malevolent, when in fact they may have a lot of ideas that could be caricatured as malevolent, but in fact are relatively benign. Is that what you're saying?

Yeah. That's a good, solid place to start for sure.

I would say that what makes these companies interesting is that they're idealistic and ambitious. I think one does need to take seriously their own self-description. I think that we need to treat them as not just money-making corporations, but treat them also as companies that have ambitions to change the world. Sometimes they're self-justifying ambitions. I think that [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg does a lot of self-justifying, but in other instances I think that they're perfectly sincere in describing how they want to change the world.

[Calling it] a conspiracy makes it sound like people are sitting in a back room somewhere in Palo Alto devising a hidden plan. My point is that the plan isn't actually very hidden. I think that a lot of times these companies, for the most part, are very naked in describing what they're up to, so I don't really think it takes a whole lot of reading to go to the place I go when I'm describing them.

Do you worry when you put this book out that there's a chance that you might be pigeonholed in the role of the curmudgeon — like, CNN will call you to fill out a panel whenever they need someone to just complain about Big Tech?

Yeah, I've clearly cast myself as grandpa. I don't understand why that's a worry. Am I worried that I'm a token, is that what you’re asking?

The media tends to find value in people who say “no,” but they value them only if they say “no” in the same way again and again. I wonder if there's a possibility of you being typecast as the man who said “no.”

I feel like I'm just writing my opinion. Really I wasn't thinking about being on a CNN panel when I was writing about this book. I want my argument to be heard, so I'd probably go on a CNN panel, but really I live to write books and arguments, not to be on CNN panels, so that's what I think about most.

Do I worry about getting typecast as a curmudgeon? If that's your question, I clearly don't really worry about that because I wrote a book that can easily be described as curmudgeonly.

What has the response been like at your events? Is there anything that you think that people can expect coming out to your reading in Seattle?

One of the interesting things in the moment that we've arrived at is there's this concept that's become cliché in describing our politics, which is this concept of the Overton Window, which is when the discourse expands to include ideas that resided outside of the mainstream.

When I started working on this book, I felt like people looked at me weirdly, and they couldn't understand why I was going to be criticizing these companies in technology that people have so much affection for.

Over the last couple months, I happened to make an argument that lined up with a shift in thinking. In large part, I think the election started to change people's minds about Facebook, and then Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods elicited a lot of anxiety about Amazon's size, and etc.

One of the fascinating things is that there are a lot of people who I thought would hate my argument. I've just been surprised at the people who are either centrist or in finance — or even in Silicon Valley — who seem sympathetic to my argument. It feels like I thought I was going to be throwing a stone at the Overton Window, but instead, it feels like I'm just climbing through the Overton Window just as it's opening.

Book News Roundup: It's all bad news, kids

Total company [first quarter] revenues fell 6.6% to $853 million, while Nook revenues fell 28.1%, to $29.5 million. That is literally the lowest Nook revenues ever recorded.
  • So that book written by Hillary Clinton's pastor has just been pulled from shelves due to rampant plagiarism.

  • Big changes at Vanity Fair, as editor Graydon Carter is retiring. Here is where I'd ordinarily say this is a great opportunity for an enterprising young editor to make her mark and reimagine the glossy magazine for a new generation, but come on. We all know that's not going to happen. It's been sad watching Vanity Fair shrink to anemic sizes; that last Hollywood issue was a shadow of years past.

...and while we're talking about Amazon and Whole Foods...

...a few thoughts that weren't necessarily pertinent to today's Lunch Date column that I still wanted to collect:

  • It's now clear that Amazon Books, the brick-and-mortar bookstore Amazon built in University Village, was the trial run for Amazon buying some national retailer like Whole Foods. They wanted to get a handle on signage and displays and all the other practical elements of physical retailing before buying into a real-world sales environment.

  • The signage in Whole Foods now definitely resembles the signage at Amazon Books. It's not as enthusiastic as the signage you'll find in other grocery stores, and that makes it interesting. It may only be a matter of time before we see signs over displays of turnips referring to customer data, the way Amazon Books proudly displays bestseller ranks on their marketing materials.

  • Like the Amazon site, there are sales that follow you around the store at Whole Foods. Last weekend, for instance, all Kleen Kanteen water bottles were 50 percent off. As you walked around the store, you'd encounter signs for Kleen Kanteen displays, directing you to different places. Clearly, the Kleen Kanteen deal was a loss-leader — something ridiculously attractive to draw you inside the space and keep you hunting around. Amazon is most definitely applying their online sales philosophy to the physical spaces. And I bet it works really well.

  • We're very likely to see some widescale experimentation in the grocery space, and I bet every other grocery chain is sending employees into nearby Whole Foods to keep an eye on them. Expect to see every chain — not just the high-end grocery stores — start to emulate Whole Foods.

  • I think the next thing we'll see from the big chain stores is an attempt to shake off their unionized employees, claiming that the cost of competing with Amazon is too high to pay union wages. (Amazon was probably interested in Whole Foods in part because they're not unionized.) If unions know what's good for them, they'll argue that it's their expertise and customer service that's keeping non-Amazon grocery stores afloat. Amazon isn't interested in the Whole Foods workforce; they've demonstrated in the way they treat warehouse pickers that they believe ground-level employees are disposable chattel. Grocery stores should respond to the threat of Whole Food by paying their employees more, not less, and making sure their employees are better at their jobs than Whole Foods employees.

  • I would advise other grocery stores to keep the bookstore model in mind. The bookstores that are still around after Amazon are around because they're very good at what they do: they're attractive and interesting places to visit, and they provide experiences that Amazon can never duplicate. Put it this way: Amazon isn't going to put PCC and other quality region-specific retailers out of business, the same way Amazon couldn't put Elliott Bay Book Company out of business. But Safeway and QFC and other large chains, if they try to out-cheap Amazon by cutting corners on labor and variety, are very likely to go the way of Borders and Books-a-Million.

  • Do not doubt that this is war. Amazon doesn't get into a space unless they plan to dominate that space. Sometimes they make mistakes. (See the Fire Phone for the best example of an Amazon failure.) Most times, they don't.

Amazon is still advertising on Breitbart

Now that former White House senior advisor Steve Bannon is back in charge of hyperconservative news outlet Breitbart, it's vitally important to note that Amazon is one of the last remaining mainstream advertisers on Breitbart.

The organization Sleeping Giants has been on a crusade to convince Amazon to stop advertising on Breitbart. They responded to comedian Andy Richter's tweet above with an update on their crusade:

Think about that. More than 2,500 advertisers have realized that posting on Breitbart is bad for business. They've made the moral decision to stop advertising there. Amazon, after months of consumer advocacy from Sleeping Giants, still advertises on the site.

What will it take for Amazon to stop giving Steve Bannon money? What if you sent them an email? What if you canceled your Amazon account and told them that you decided that you could no longer be complicit in advancing a white supremacist agenda? Maybe your voice will be the one that tips Amazon over onto the right side of history.

It's vital to stop Steve Bannon from advancing his white supremacist agenda. Amazon is one of the last major mainstream funders of that agenda. They must stop advertising on Breitbart.

The Help Desk: The online retailer that shall not be named

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I work at a large independent bookstore. I love my job, but my manager is getting on my nerves — specifically, his tendency to smack-talk Amazon to customers. He’s always launching into lectures about why shopping at Amazon is a bad idea, how they don’t support the community, and stuff like that.

I agree with him! Amazon is bad. But he brings up Amazon a lot. Like, a lot. I know he thinks he’s educating customers, but he sounds like a scold, and kind of a bore.

I’m pretty new at bookselling, but it seems to me that people aren’t going to shop at indies out of guilt. They’re going to do it because they like indies better. And if we lecture them all the time about the “Evil Empire” or whatever, that’s just going to scare them away.

But I’m not really comfortable with lecturing my manager about lecturing customers. Can you think of a way to help me realize that he’s being counterproductive?

Lily, Alki

Dear Lily,

You're right – people don't shop at indie bookstores for bitter lectures from staff on what their competitors are doing. You know this, your customers know this, your boss apparently does not.

But I empathize with your boss's Ahab-esque obsession. One of my favorite northwest pastimes used to be lecturing conservative hunters about how safe access to abortion is a fundamental human right. I firmly believed that everyone would agree with me if they just first gave me three hours of their undivided attention, preferably somewhere festively claustrophobic, like the bathroom hallway at a house party.

It's easy to fall into the habit of such selfish soapbox lectures. Everyone loves agreeing with themselves and in these instances your audience is held resentfully captive because they want to buy a book from you or still hold out a vague hope that eventually you'll grow tired of talking and fuck them, and then spend endless mornings making them elk-steak breakfasts until the race wars begin, at which point they might have to hunt you for sport because your name sounds suspiciously ethnic.

I was lecturing one such hunter about abortion and he interrupted me with, "You want to kill babies, get out there and sterilize all those wild horses ruining our public lands. That's the kind of killing I can get behind." And I thought to myself, "This man is an unfuckable genius."

What do northwest rural conservatives dislike more than abortion? Wild horses and wolves. Which is why, just this week I trademarked the names "PlannedParenthoof" and "PlannedParentwoof" and began the process of marketing myself as the northwest's first wild horse and wolf abortionist.

But back to your issue: obviously, your situation is complicated by the power dynamic between yourself and your manager. If your manager is a mostly reasonable person, try approaching him the next time you hear him mention Amazon to a customer and either start screaming something simple like, "ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!" or "I think we'd make more headway with our customers if we thanked them and praised them for shopping with us and left our competitors out of the conversation." If you're uncomfortable with this upfront tactic, you can talk to your manager's boss or write an letter from a "customer" that delicately highlights your manager's Amazon obsession.

To be clear: your boss is not likely to get over his obsession. The key is to find a way to redirect his dour lectures into positive, productive interactions with customers, much like PlannedParenthoof/woof will undoubtedly do for anti-abortionists living in rural communities.



Book News Roundup: Support your local comics newspaper

Book News Roundup: Sarah Galvin's going on a European book tour, Jim Demonakos is leaving Emerald City Comicon

  • You can add poet Sarah Galvin to the short list of Seattle authors who have gone on a European tour. Starting on Sunday, Galvin will be traveling to bookstores in Amsterdam, Krakow, Paris, Berlin, and Reykjavik in support of her terrific new collection out from Gramma Press, Ugly Time. If you know anyone in or near those cities, let them know by sending them a link to the tour page.

  • Heidi MacDonald at the Beat broke some pretty big news this morning: Jim Demonakos, the Seattle-area comics retailer who started Emerald City Comicon, has left the organization. Two years ago, Demonakos sold ECCC to ReedPop, an international producer of comic book conventions. "I’m not leaving for another job, I don’t have an immediate new project," Demonakos wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change. This means that next year's ECCC will be the first time the show is not produced by its founder. It'll be interesting to see if the convention can maintain its essential Seattle-ness without Demonakos at the lead.

  • At Strong Towns, Kea Wilson wrote a piece about why urbanists need to talk about Amazon:

Amazon has made it their business model to make you think that way: they market themselves as your friendly, invisible big box store, with all of the benefits and none of the massive, concrete drawbacks of the K-Marts of the world that you’ve (rightly) come to distrust. All you see is the website, algorithmically manipulated to show you everything you want and need—and two days later, a little brown box on your doorstep with a smile printed on the side.
  • Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is launching an interesting new news organization. I don't know if Wikitribune will actually work, but it's always worth your attention when people try new models of journalism.

  • The bookstore that trolled Piers Morgan on Twitter is now in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to stay open.

  • This 2011 video of a carwash for books is making the rounds on Twitter and it's so terrific that you should watch it again:

Book News Roundup: The APRIL farewell tour begins this week

  • I'm quoted in this very good short sendoff for the APRIL Festival in this month's Seattle Met, by Darren Davis:
The party may be ending this year with a send-off event, but it leaves having made its mark on the local literary scene. “APRIL took readings out of bookstores and into bars, onto the street,” says Paul Constant of The Seattle Review of Books, who started noticing younger crowds at readings after 2012.
  • Blogging service Medium announced yesterday that they're going to start selling memberships for $5 per month. A whole lot of blogs that we like, including The Awl and Electric Literature, moved over to Medium last year. Then, Medium laid off a bunch of employees. Hopefully, they'll figure this out, because there aren't very many blogging options available to people anymore. I remain skeptical that a subscription, which offers "exclusive stories" and an "offline reading list," is going to be lucrative enough to support the company, but I wish them luck.

  • The latest issue of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice features an article titled "A Comparison of Traditional Book Reviews and Book Reviews of Fiction Using a Content Analysis Approach.” The idea is to determine whether traditional book reviews or Amazon reviews are more helpful for librarians. Here's the conclusion from the abstract:

Although provides multiple reviews of a book on one convenient site, traditional sources of professionally written reviews would most likely save librarians more time in making purchasing decisions, given the higher quality of the review assessment.
  • I interviewed former Elizabeth Warren staffer Ganesh Sitaraman at Town Hall last night about his new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. Sitaraman is an incredibly smart man who had a lot to say about the history of income equality in this country, and the audience Q&A portion of the evening was fantastic. You should read Sitaraman's book, which will influence political theory for years to come. And if you would like more information before you pick it up, I'd encourage you to read this wonderful Atlantic interview with him.

Book News Roundup: Fair trade ebooks, Jeffrey Tambor in Seattle, and writing tips from Kafka

  • If you're looking for a fun way to support the Short Run Comix & Art Festival, you should consider joining their Mini-comics club, which supports the festival's micropress.
Help support Short Run’s Micropress by joining our Mini-comics Club! Want mini-comics delivered to your door every month? Donors at the $120 level will receive a Short Run tote bag and 1 mini-comic every month to fill it up. We have curated a selection of Pacific Northwest artists who represent the look and feel of Short Run.
  • Tickets for the May 23rd Seattle appearance of Arrested Development and Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor went on sale yesterday. Seattle Arts and Lectures is bringing him to town to celebrate the publication of his memoir Are You Somebody?

  • Cory Doctorow is launching an online ebook retailer codenamed Shut Up and Take My Money, which he bills as the world's first "fair trade" online store.

As an author, being my own e-book retailer gets me a lot. It gets me money: once I take the normal 30 percent retail share off the top, and the customary 25 percent royalty from my publisher on the back-end, my royalty is effectively doubled. It gives me a simple, fair way to cut all the other parts of the value-chain in on my success: because this is a regular retail sale, my publishers get their regular share, likewise my agents. And, it gets me up-to-the-second data about who's buying my books and where.
  • Amazon is not just threatening bookstores anymore. Turns out, according to Naked Capitalism, Amazon might be putting 12 million non-book retail jobs at risk, too. Amazon's growth is increasing, mall retail stores are collapsing, and Amazon only needs half as many employees as brick-and-mortars.

  • This tweet is making the rounds:

  • Regarding that tweet, to aspiring writers: for God's sake, don't suffer for your art. Just write every day, no matter how difficult it may be. You will improve and it will get easier. Writing doesn't have to be a Kafkaesque experience.

Amazon drastically cuts payments to affiliates

For years, Amazon has offered commissions to book bloggers who link to books on Amazon. In other words, if you were reading a review on a blog and you clicked the link on the blog to buy that book on Amazon, you'd be sending a small amount of money the bloggers' way. It's called the affiliate program. Some book blogs have grown to depend on affiliate revenue over the years, and Amazon relied on affiliates to serve, effectively, as handsellers for the company.

As of today, that deal has changed. Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader notes that Amazon is cutting the amount they pay to affiliates by a significant amount:

Amazon is saying that they don't want to pay as much they used to; they no longer value the more active affiliates. That is their right; Amazon is in business to make money, and I can understand why they made this decision...I have been crunching my numbers, and I expect to lose about a fifth of my Amazon affiliate income. That's going to hurt, and I won't be the only one to feel the pinch.

This is what happens when you're the only game in town: when you decide to change the rules, there's nothing anyone else can do.

What does this mean for you? Well, it's likely there'll be even fewer book blogs for you to read in the months and years to come. A few of those bloggers are in the comments on the Digital Reader post. One notes, "Lots of people wanted to believe Amazon was altruistic and a force for good in the publishing world. Well it ain’t, and we’re seeing it more and more."

If your business relies on Amazon — whether you're a self-publisher or an affiliate or a used bookseller — you should remember that: pretty much everybody who partners with Amazon gets the shaft eventually.

Charlie Warzel at BuzzFeed:

As Amazon positions itself as an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, inside the company, dozens of employees are voicing deep concern about another political issue: Amazon’s choice to advertise on

According to internal emails and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, employees have begun voicing concerns about the company’s advertising relationship with the provocative far-right website. Some piled on to a complaint ticket in Amazon’s internal issue escalation system urging the company to sever its relationship with Breitbart, the site that former editor and now–Senior White House Advisor Steve Bannon once called “the platform for the alt-right.” Others are taking even stronger stands.

There's much more in the full report. Perhaps Amazon would pay more attention to customer complaints? You can let Amazon know you support their employees by calling their customer helpline and telling them to stop advertising on Breitbart: 1 (888) 280-4331.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance "estimates that Amazon is now capturing nearly $1 in every $2 that Americans spend online."

Book News Roundup: Donate your used books to Pocket Libraries tomorrow

  • Tomorrow is the Seattle 7 Writers Holiday Bookfest, which I wrote about for this week's Literary Event of the Week column. This is a great event and you should go, for all the reasons I explained. However, I made one error in the column that I want to amend here: I wrote... "...And if you’d like to make your neighborhood a more literate place, feel free to bring some 'gently used books,' which Seattle 7 Writers will then distribute to little free libraries around the city." That is actually slightly wrong: Seattle 7 Writers will definitely accept your used books, but they will instead use them for their terrific Pocket Library program, which is even better than donating them to Little Free Libraries. Here's what the Pocket Libraries are, from their own website:
Pocket libraries at a wide variety of sites provide invaluable reading material for women, men, and children who are currently without bookshelves of their own. Since 2010, we have donated over 30,000 books to local shelters, food banks, literacy organizations, recovery and counseling sites, and detention centers.

Harry Farley at Christian Today reports that Amazon's new advertisement features a vicar from the Church of England and an imam getting along. I'm sure it delivers a terrific message of togetherness, but I'll have to take Farley's word for it:

You're not ready for Amazon-level religious tolerance, America.

Step 1: Visit, send an email to, or call your local independent neighborhood bookstore. Talk to the store owner. Ask how they feel about the prospect of a President Trump.

Step 2: Consider this tweet, from the owner of the world's largest bookstore:

Step 3: Ask yourself, which reaction best reflects your values? Who deserves your money more? Who will better invest your money in your immediate community, in people who are taking action against President Trump? Recall, these things matter. Clicking buttons on websites matter. Where you spend your money matters.

Step 4: Act accordingly.

Book News Roundup: Is Amazon getting into the convenience store business?

  • Jean Riley wrote a great roundup of the state of independent bookselling in Seattle for Seattle Magazine.
The past few decades have been challenging for independent bookstores, with each decade seeming to bring on a new threat: First, there were the huge chains that dominated the retail landscape. Then, there was the shift to online shopping, followed by the invention of electronic–reading devices. And now, the entry of Amazon into brick-and-mortar territory with its first store in Seattle. Yet despite some trepidation expressed by area booksellers leading up to Amazon’s store opening last year, the indie scene here is undergoing a quiet renaissance, as evidenced by the spring opening of Third Place Books in Seward Park, bookstore buyouts and one of the most successful Independent Bookstore Days the city has experienced.
  • Speaking of Amazon and brick-and-mortar stores: is Amazon really getting into the convenience store business? Apparently, the online retailer is planning on shops that would function like the"bodegas and convenience stores found in larger cities, offering customer the ability to quickly purchase both perishable and non-perishable products, like milk, meats, peanut butter, and other items." It's unclear if they'd carry books, too.

  • Here's a time-lapse video of the New York Public Library's Reading Room as staff prepare it for its grand re-opening after renovations:

Eugene Kim at Business Insider writes:

Amazon is aggressively expanding its presence in the real-world retail market, with a plan to open dozens of new pop-up stores in US shopping malls over the next year, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

These stores mostly seem to be device sales locations, not bookstores. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble's founder and interim CEO calls the retail environment "one of the worst I have ever experienced in the 50 years I have been in this industry."