by Pat Holt
Friday, September 29 Friday, October 13, 2000
LIST/SERVE BREAKDOWN AT HOLT UNCENSORED
Just as Holt Uncensored is entering its most adventurous phase, word has come that the hard drive in the list server (Best/Serve) has crashed, taking much of the original Holt Uncensored subscription list with it.
It's a disaster that couldn't have come at a worse time. Just when readers overwhelmingly voted to keep both Holt Uncensored free and open to the public, I've lost the very "public" that has made it so powerful.
(What has been lost stays lost because Best/Serv is "migrating" - ack! these Internet euphemisms! - to its new owner, Verio, a company that typically wants its subsidiaries to move on. So I'm told there will be no rebuilding of the "expired" system.)
Paid subscribers (recorded on my very own computer) will continue to receive the column (AND THANK YOU AGAIN). I've also resurrected a number of email addresses from past correspondence. Best/Serv may still find other body parts.
But the big list looks deader than an IPO at Alibris.
So it's rebuilding time at Holt Uncensored. I'm making this appeal to you to ALERT ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO MAY NOT BE GETTING THE COLUMN. Just tell them to email me a "subscribe" message at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Please tell everyone this is still a FREE column; access to the website www.holtuncensored.com ) will always be OPEN TO EVERYONE.
I'll continue to seek bulk memberships and contributions in the spirit of the Open Source movement that has made the Internet one big experiment in collaborative democracy.
A Friends of Holt Uncensored has been formed that will be ripping up the Internet looking for old and new subscribers and helping construct a new network of support.
Thank you for helping. This setback may jam up the pipeline for a while, but you can always check this website for updates.
THAT 'COOKIE-FREE' HEARTBREAKER AT NEBA: PART 2
It seems universally agreed by now that the great story in retail for the 21st century is the way independent booksellers -- their numbers almost halved by one assault after another for the last 30 years -- continue to survive when everything from department stores to espresso bars are still being mowed down by national chain and Internet retailers.
Of course, it's easy for critics like me to talk about literature hanging in the balance and to whoop and cheer when we see independents launch good books, spread the word about these books and keep them selling way past the milk-to-yogurt shelf life they're are given by chain bookstores.
But how exactly independents can keep the door open against such terrible odds is where the greater drama resides. This is why listening in on panel discussions and talks at the New England Booksellers Association's (NEBA's) fall trade show proved to be one huge eye-opener.
For example, I didn't realize how spread-thin the independents have become until I watched their faces cloud over upon hearing a number of Great Ideas for Survival from panelists. Here are a few:
1) What can you do when the chain bookstore(s) down the street, which advertise "deeper discounts than anyone," quietly reduce discounts from say, 30% to 10%, as Barnes & Noble did recently, and still promote themselves as selling the cheapest books in the country?
Well, you can't point your finger and say nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah nyah, THEY LIED. "That's too negative. You have to turn it around; take a positive stance instead," said Carl Lennertz of Booksense, the marketing campaign sponsored by the American Booksellers Association that unites independents' expertise and merchandising power.
For example, you can convert customers right at the cash register. "Instead of saying, 'Have a nice day,' when give your customers change, figure your store's discount on the sale and say, 'That's $12.50 - you've just saved $3 with our store discount.' Or, 'That's $24.30. You've just saved $5 by shopping at our store.' Make this statement to every customer on every purchase every minute your store is open. They'll get the message and come back." Small but key gestures like this actually fight the good fight, he said.
2) If you're tired of waiting for the local Chamber of Commerce to recognize the dangers of big-box stores like Wal-Mart and superstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, form your own group of retail independents.
This is what David Bolduc of The Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colorado, did to great success by mobilizing customers as well as other store owners to revitalize the character of the central area and protect it as much as possible from giant outside interests.
Although another Borders is moving near to his store soon, Bolduc has upgraded customer service and generated the kind of customer awareness that Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz (California) said he is experiencing despite a new Borders just a half-block down the street.
Readying themselves to take a huge hit in sales, the Bookshop staff has experienced only a 6% drop in the first three months that Borders has been open, Coonerty said. Time will tell how long people resist Borders, but every aspect of the Bookshop, including a discounts, book clubs, selection, community links and even binder of testimonial letters located at the cash register, has been geared to prove Bookshop Santa Cruz a bookstore to choose over any other.
3) If you've got a store website with a good database but can't afford to compete with the dazzling design and services of Amazon.com or other Internet big guys, you can still beat the heck out of 'em by going after local people and groups as your "Associates," said Dick Harte, founder and owner of the website service for independent bookstores called BookSite www.booksite.com ).
You can find local authors and local publishersoffer a free webpage and listserve (Internet distribution), as well as give them a commission on every sale when they put a link on their site that sends book orders back to your site.
Another possiblity: Approach the bigger companies in your town; offer to set up search engines with your store's name on their websites. Give their staff members 10% off and tell them youâll deliver books to their office twice as fast as Amazon.com.
Finally, offer to put a search engine on the websites of local schools and churches that link to your site; announce there that you'll give 10% of all sales back to the school or church.
Indeed, a great hue and cry arose from at least one person (identified with the Holt Uncensored contingent), who wanted to know: "Why can't the ABA with its huge prestige issue a mighty roar when Amazon.com pulls a stunt like this? It's a phony and dangerous 'policy' -- why not say so?"
Because, said NEBA prez Donna Urey, independent booksellers can very easily look like "whiners" even in the face of such an intolerable policy. "If we have even the appearance of being naysayers, or dinosaurs, we lose," agreed Lennertz.
So again, the message was, take the positive stance: Considering the pernicious invasion of information-gathering electronic "cookies" from websites like Amazon.com, independents can have a little fun with the privacy issue and get their point across at the same time by putting signs up everywhere to announce "THIS IS A COOKIE-FREE ENVIRONMENT."
I had this great idea later to put a parenthetical note underneath saying "(Not those cookies") with an arrow pointing to a plate of home-baked cookies, but this pointed out the problem overhanging all:
For every Great Idea for Survival that came up, independents got a look of wild delight on their faces that said, "say, this IS a good idea." But within moments, the expression changed to a dark glower when they realized they did not have the staff, money or time to even consider such a change.
"How am I going to train/pay/alert/lead this great staff to make all these changes when I'm in the back/front buying/selling/inventorying/shelving/meeting/paying bills?" came the questions.
Every aspect of the store, every inch of space, every cent and every moment of time has all been accounted for, each piece of the mosaic so crucial that if left to fall out or rattle around unfixed or break down, the larger picture - the one we all love of the proud and strong independent bookstore holding up Free Speech and good literature for everyone - will fall apart with it. Heaven knows this has happened with thousands of stores.
Then came the real heartbreaker: ABA prez Neal Coonerty and ABA chief operating officer Oren Teicher sat down to answer questions about the just-issued announcement that ABA is raising its dues mightily, in some cases by 100%. Looks of desperation filled the room.
"What will the ABA end up respresenting if booksellers leave the association because they can't afford the dues?" people asked. "What happened to the millions of dollars from Reed Elsevier [which bought the convention], from the Penguin settlement, from the OLD dues structure?"
Well, the money has gone to stepped-up advocacy programs, First Amendment battles, the lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and Borders and other areas, said Coonerty and Teicher. The silence in the room became painful.
People sometimes ask why this column doesn't comment very much about ABA issues, and the answer is that I'm enough of an advocate of independent bookstores to step aside when it comes to aspects of bookselling that are none of my business. The ABA is the independents' trade association; they have to run it as they see fit.
Just as I would never criticize an independent for being "crabby" (in fact, I've always liked that part - it gives me a chance to explain why "crabby" independents are essential to the future of our democracy, the protection of rain forests, the price of gas and the availability of liver transplants), as a book critic I don't know enough, and shouldn't know enough, about how a trade association like ABA works to comment on anything besides that movie undermining independent bookstores that some ABA people apparently liked a long time ago.
What I do know is that independents who've felt pushed to the wall will now be challenged more than ever before because of this dues raise. Maybe Friends of the Store groups, personal relationships with the media, interns working for academic credit . . . But here we go again, more Great Ideas with no time or money to invest in them.
There was some turning of the tide in another area, however. Asked if authors can ever "help" independents compete against chain bookstores, Arthur Golden ("Memoirs of a Geisha") said that he himself had turned down Barnes & Nobles' invitation to appear in a splashy New York Times ad promoting the chain.
"It's not that I feel that chain bookstores are evil or that independents are good," he said. "It's just that if I did something like that, I could never look at [Brookline Booksmith's] Dana Brigham in the face again." Well, bravo: Whenever a chain or Internet bookseller or publishing conglomerate gets too big or controlling, the first thing to go is the human element. If independent bookstores continue to survive, it will be because of their enormous resilience, of course - but also because of personal relationships like the one Golden mentions.
Perhaps with NEBA's system of "Book Doctors" (bookstore experts from every field who make themselves available to other booksellers at specified hours in the week), personal relationships within the independent bookstore community will somehow resolve the dues issue. Heaven knows they've done it before.
'LISTEN TO US' - A LINK TO 'THE BLIND ASSASSIN'
So the question left on the table after the piece in #187 (9/22/00) about Margaret Atwood's novel, "The Blind Assassin," was whether that story-within-the-story about children blinded by the intricacies of weaving carpets reminded you of anything.
In the novel, the civilization of Zycron, a distant planet, is so cavalier in its sophisticated savagery that the value of such carpets is measured in how many children have been blinded in the making of each item. After their sight has gone, the children are routinely sold to brothels for sex work and later, if they survive, become adept as robbers and assassins creeping silently around in the dead of night.
The story reminded me of the Nike factories in Indonesia described so eloquently by Naomi Klein in "No Logo," reviewed here last December and available at http://www.holtuncensored.com/members/column115.html#no
Nevertheless, I thought that Atwood, with her gift for exaggeration and blistering satire, had deliberately gone overboard describing children blinded by their work and sold as slaves.
But lo and behold, facts worse than one could ever imagine are laid out in a Young Adult book that you almost want to read covering your eyes called "Listen To Us: The World's Working Children" by Jane Springer (Groundwood; 96 pages; $16.95; distributed by Publishers Group West).
Here we read about Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child of who was sold for $12 by
his parents to a carpet factory owner. From age 4 on, he was "chained to a loom" while working "six days a week, 13 hours a day" weaving carpets. He escaped at age 10 and quite miraculously became a leader in the movement to free children from forced labor in Pakistan.
Iqbal's physical growth had been stunted by malnourishment, however. His fingers hurt, and "he had difficulty breathing," Springer writes. He told reporters that in the carpet factory, "if a child hurt his finger, they would dip it in hot oil." Nevertheless, Iqbal became so powerful that he was awarded the $15,000 Human Rights Youth in Action Award from Reebok, no less. A short time later, however, he was shot to death at age 12 by unknown assailants.
That's only the first page of this beautifully written and illustrated book by UNICEF worker Springer, who reveals how nations all over the world exploit children in surprisingly similar ways - taking away their birth certificates in Nepal, using them to load charcoal into hot kilns in Brazil, forcing them to make bricks out of mud in Peru, withdrawing rest periods and cutting shifts in fast-foot restaurants in North America (oh don't think the problem is limited to the starving Afghans, says Springer! Take a look at your local MacDonald's and see what's really going on by the fryer!).
Then the worst of it: Young girls (and boys) "are kidnapped outright and sold like slaves to a pimp or brothel" while others are lured into sex work by promises of getting a good job for the first time in their lives.
"Many countries in Asia and South America have huge numbers of child sex workers," writes Springer. "More recently, the countries of eastern Europe - Russia, Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic - have had an enormous increase in child prostitution." North America and Western Europe are known for using children in the booming underground pornography market, she says.
The best part about "Listen To Us" is the grid of despair and hope that seems to lift up every photograph and personal story. For the millions who die in decrepit surroundings, a few live to tell this hideous story, and to join groups like Free the Children that are "committed to getting rid of child labor."
Children helping each other is a compelling theme in Springer's hands, and it begins with not buying carpets, athletic shoes, leather goods, garments, hamburgers, matches, cigarettes, firecrackers and other products made under such oppressive conditions.
Springer does not speculate, of course, about whether these children grow up to be blind assassins. But Atwood makes us wonder what else they can become. Never loved or cared for during childhood, tied to the machines where they work night and day, forced to live in impoverished and unsanitary dormitories, they are considered luckier than the starving homeless children who pick through garbage outside factory walls.
"Listen to Us" has plenty of ideas for readers of all ages to help children find a way out of this problem. One thing is guaranteed - readers of all ages won't buy anything without looking at the label and thinking twice about its origins ever again.
NOTHING'S CHANGED AT PERRY ELLIS
(This story first went up on the Hot Off the Keyboard page at www.holtuncensored.com - since I'm in Disaster Mode I'll just start it here and show you where to click over:)
Well, since I've been traveling (and please pardon my absence), Hot off the Keyboard was looking Cold as a Mackerel until I came back to discover that fashion manufacturer Perry Ellis is STILL running ads with the famous Dead Women in the Shower Motif, now adjusted to show clothing on the men because of protests, one gathers . . . (continued at Hot Off The Keyboard)
Dear Holt Uncensored:
In regard to Joanne Sinchuk's letter about iUniverse authors who believe they've been "nominated for an Edgar Award" after the print-on-demand company submitted their work for consideration, I wonder if anyone can quote iUniverse's actual notification to its customers.
If iUniverse tells those authors it has "nominated" their books, the service is clearly at fault. If the service tells authors it's submitting the book for consideration, however, the blame for overstating the situation lies with the authors.
A few years ago, back when people had to self-publish their paperbacks in the hundreds or thousands instead of one copy at a time, I received a copy of one such book with the cover line "Soon to Be a Million Copies in Print!" The "Nominated for an Edgar Award" claim might arise from the same combination of hope and bluster.
J. L. Bell
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I've been watching the running dialogue about print-on-demand in Holt Uncensored with some amusement as its focus has shifted from technology, to business, and now finally to cultural aspects.
As authors, publishers and booksellers, we should remember that "print on demand" doesn't necessarily mean "demands to be printed" -- that's for the marketplace to decide. As recent print-on-demand-author-behavior horror stories bear out, there's a price to be paid for disintermediation, especially when the intermediaries play a role in verifying the truthfulness of claims.
Do you remember CB radio in the 1970s? I think print-on-demand has reached that stage of maturity, and we're being reminded that not everybody with a microphone and a transmitter is necessarily Edward R. Murrow.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
This idea that iUniverse authors are claiming they've been "Nominated for an Edgar Award" because iUniverse says it routinely puts mysteries through some kind of nominating hopper sounds patently offensive and bordering on fraud. As a very small player in the bookselling world I find it difficult enough to side-step the obvious doo-doo - this kind of thing would take a very sharp seller to even catch. Frankly I think I would have just gone with the flow, misrepresenting the claim on to my customers. I embarrass myself quite enough in such matters as not knowing certain authors or their characters, I don't need help from iUniverse!
Holt Responds: Yes, how is the bookseller to know what claims are trustworthy and what aren't when POD books come at them from every corner of the printing universe? Moreover, I think what these letters from booksellers reveal is that iUniverse is trying to promote itself rather than educate authors about the tough realities self-published books. Perhaps iUniverse fears that if it were a little more honest with its clients, and word got out about how hard it is to market and sell the self-published book, fewer authors would go the POD route. As it is, when you hear boasts from POD publishers that they're processing tens of thousands of self-published books at a time, it does seem that the point in this business is to make money off the authors, not sales of the books.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I feel compelled to weigh in on the POD issue. Corporate behemoths are not the only players in this field. There is one particularly interesting example. Paul Coates of Black Classic Press in Baltimore invested some years ago in POD technology. This part of his business now supports the press. Here's their mission, taken from the web site ( www.blackclassic.com ):
"Founded in 1978, Black Classic Press is devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. We specialize in republishing works that are out of print and quite often out of memory. We began publishing because we wanted to extend the memory of what we believe are important books that have helped in meaningful ways to shape the Black diasporic experience and our understanding of the world."
Paul has really saved us when we've needed to do an immediate short-run on books (i.e., for a conference or to avoid going out of stock).
Here is a link to an article he wrote about POD for the PMA newsletter a few years back.
Paul is an amazing person who does good work. I'd highly recommend him to anyone thinking about POD.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Re your report from the New England Booksellers Association's conference and Jane Alexander's speech.
I for one was disappointed in Ms. Alexander.
I think we can all be cute on examples of art and censorship. Not all things that are called uncensored are in fact uncensored. Holt Uncensored is censored I suspect. You don't included all e-mails you've received but probably pick and choose those that represent a cross section of the ideas e-mailed to you that week. If that isn't censorship why can't we apply that to other situations? Why can't a library choose not to carry a certain book because they already have other books that fairly represent the idea(s)? This is commonly done in smaller libraries with their reference collection.
The TV and movie industry apologists continually tell us that more parental involvement is needed not censorship of programs. Parents to do what? Tell Johnny or Mary to turn from channel 4 to 5 when what's on 5 is just more of what's on 4? There are no other choices, doesn't anyone see that?
The F word in movies. If I hear that one more time I'll scream. The point is made that unless that kind of language is spoken it wouldn't seem real and the movie would not be believable. Really? Was that the criticism of The Godfather? No common four letter words were spoken in that film and I don't remember anyone sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Wait for the remake! I for one am getting a little tired of people wrapping themselves in the First Amendment (the final and predictable refuge of a losing side) every time someone honestly challenges them to rise above the cheap and the crass.
It's too bad no one can stand up to some of this without being labeled a Right Wing Republican. Oh wait a minute, Robert Byrd is a Democrat isn't he? Well, then, he's old and doesn't count.
A NEBA Member
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Adrienne Rich is to be lauded for her stand against the chains in defense of independent booksellers. However, without criticizing Ms. Rich since I donât know with whom she publishes, I wonder why so many authors criticize the big chain booksellers but continue to publish with Random House, Harper, etc.? This is especially relevant in light of exposes like the recent book by Andre Schiffrin, The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read. There are other alternatives. Disintermediation is here. If Stephen King can do it, others can too. How about the possibility of small consortiums of mid-list writers, pulled together perhaps by genre, publishing both in electronic format, on the web, as well as in a print-on-demand format for distribution through book stores?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
The new version of Eudora, the popular e-mail program, features a "Mood Status" indicator that lets you know whether incoming or outgoing messages contain strong or possibly offensive language. Messages get marked with one or two chili peppers to indicate their relative "heat."
Imagine my surprise upon looking into my electronic file of online newsletters and noticing that every single edition of "Uncensored" is now marked with two chili peppers!
Holt responds: How honored I am to hear this (I mean ONE chili pepper would be such a slap in the face), although I must admit it often happens that "Holt" is read as "Hot" which combined with "Uncensored" can get me in trouble before starting Convincing Essay #1 (NOT a rant).
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.