by Pat Holt
Tuesday, May 29, 2001
HEALTH-CARE AUTHORS MAKE HOUSE CALLS AT 'DESKTOPSPA'
I used to think the hottest development in publishing was the make-your-own-book idea that one finds increasingly on the Internet at publishers' websites specializing in, say, travel, reference, cookbooks and the like.
At these sites, customers are invited to select chapters or sections from titles they've browsed and to create exactly the book they need for personal use. If they're going to London, the Cotswolds, Oxford and Glasgow, for example, they simply pull relevant chapters from full-length books they like best on the site and create their very own, tailor-made guide.
The latest effort at Microsoft Press was mentioned by a reader in #236 and seems to offer state-of-the art "custom books." This site's message is: Why order a computer title that's not entirely what you want when you can customize an ideal book, piece by piece, AND update it even after you order it?
EVEN MORE TAILOR-MADE
But now there is an even hotter innovation that - irony of ironies! - makes books expendable and invaluable at the same time.
This approach not only disintermediates the bookseller, it cuts out the publisher AND the book (ideally you don't have to read!) - but hang on, the news is good for everybody in the book biz.
The innovation is called DeskTopSpa, and it combines the resources of bestselling authors in the health-care field ( see www.desktopspa.com ).
Andrew Weil, Bernie Siegel, Jack Kornfield, Joan Borysenko, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Belleruth Naparstek, Gay Hendricks and Suzy Prudden (and these are just a few) have all contributed original and existing works to a package of complementary health-care treatments that are purchased by companies and offered to workers right at their computer.
HOW IT WORKS
Let's say you're typing away at your office computer when you feel a tightening in the wrist that you know is only going to get worse.
Your company has already sent you to a doctor who's put your forearm in one of those removable but inflexible wrist casts and scared you to death with talk of "surgery down the road."
You've tried acupuncture, meditation, exercises and herbs with limited success. You're supposed to take frequent breaks but you'd miss your deadlines if you did. You're starting to panic every time this wrist pain recurs, and the increasing stress, as you well know, causes further panic and contributes to more wrist pain.
Now if someone in charge of health-care management in your company were to say, "Andrew Weil to the rescue!" you'd probably think you're going to be handed a book by Andrew Weil, or a chapter from one of Dr. Weil's books, or, considering the "custom book" idea mentioned above, an Internet URL where you can pull all the commentary Andrew Weil has ever made about anything related to repetitive stress syndrome of this nature into a series of printouts that, reformatted, will make a book that's applicable to your condition only.
But no: You need help NOW. You're in pain NOW.
And, voila! Your company, you learn, has hired the services of DeskTopSpa, which introduces itself to you with a nifty questionnaire about your "health issues" (everything from "wrist and hand pain" to "frequent flyer stress"). From this list, you use a sliding scale that results in the selection of of "treatments" (stretches, meditation, yoga, exercises) you can do in your office chair at timed intervals.
Just setting up the DeskTopSpa program makes you more closely involved with monitoring your health, but the best part is yet to come: At times of the day that you choose, DeskTopSpa sends short, personalized instruction from, say, Gay Hendricks (who takes you through an anxiety-reducing exercise called "Breathwork for Stress"), Shinzen Young ("Quitting Smoking Meditation"), Ken Cohen ("Dissolving Headaches"), Carol Dickman ("Wrist Yoga") and many others.
Further, if something's not working - say you're getting a cold or feel a different ergonomic injury flaring up - you can click over to a real, live health care practitioner who works with you as a nurse or a trainer might.
According to DeskTopSpa CEO Aaron Naparstek, "just about all the authors we use are participating voluntarily and for free at this early stage. We can help them sell their books and CDs by offering live links to their sites, but eventually we'll pay them a royalty for everything they contribute. This could develop into a sizeable revenue stream for them."
I'll say. DeskTopSpa has all sorts of statistics showing that office workers who take regular and frequent breaks from the computer to do, say, a guided visualization, stress-relieving meditation, relief from eye strain or other wellness treatments do not call in sick as many days and are working in the office with greater concentration and energy than those who go off and have a donut or cigarette and still suffer repetitive stress injury, headaches, etc.
Then, too, there is the situation with employees already in recovery from illnesses relating to heart disease, cancer, depression and other problems - they, too, are offered personalized treatments from the author/experts at DeskTopSpa, and as a result will feel less isolated within the office and more supported by their employers along the way.
MY TWO WORRIES
I had two worries about DeskTopSpa at the beginning: First, those constant "it's time for your treatment!" reminders would, I was sure, drive me bats coming from an employer who would increasingly resemble Big Brother. This didn't happen: Since I chose only those treatments I felt I needed (and I could choose NONE if I wanted), the employer-as-fascist factor didn't come up.
Second, this approach is so far beyond the make-your-own-book concept that it's frightening: Shouldn't we all worry about a slick package that removes just about every line of the text from the books of our favorite health-care authors and repackages their exercises into "streaming videos" (why does that term sound, well, obscene)?
Actually, says Aaron Naparstek, quite the opposite is true. These 2-minute (at most 6-minute) treatments have the potential of introducing authors to so many new users that the effect of DeskTopSpa, for that percentage of people who'll want to probe deeper, will be to stimulate even more sales of good old-fashioned read-'em-on-your-lunch-hour, take-'em-home-and-study books.
For now, DeskTopSpa has the usual kinks to iron out (Macs have a tougher time using the program than do PCs, for example). But it's already on its way with companies like MiaVita, the health-care-service provider, which signed the first licensing agreement to install the program with a number of companies.
It may be that one day we'll wonder why this obvious, easy-to-use, learn-at-your-desk partnership in health between management and employees wasn't always a fundamental part of office life from the beginning of the computer age.
The fact that the health-care authors themselves are so positive about the idea that they've signed up for no money means that this kind of literature can flourish in any era. We'll keep following the adventures of DeskTopSpa and see.
NOTE TO READERS: This will be the only column this week as we're off to Book Expo to dish the dirt with alla pros in the field. See you next week.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
In your piece entitled, THE INDIE MESSAGE: NOT LOST IN THE SHUFFLE, AFTER ALL, you express some qualified encouragement about NPR's Talk of the Nation program on which they interviewed independent booksellers and John Mutter of PW.
Some very interesting things occurred in the week preceding this program. On April 24th, I heard a plug for a Talk of the Nation show to be aired that day. In the announcement, Juan Williams said something to the effect of "Independent booksellers have withdrawn their charges against the chains" and announced his pending interview with someone representing Borders. Well, I was so annoyed that even the tag misrepresented the facts that I fired off this email to NPR:
I was one of the plaintiffs in the recently resolved law suit against Barnes & Noble and Borders. I heard the announcement for your program today and was immediately frustrated that even the 5 second tag grossly misrepresents our recent law suit against the chains. You said that independent booksellers "withdrew" their charges against Barnes & Noble and Borders. This is false! We accepted a settlement offer made to us by the chains. I certainly hope this error is not a reflection of how the program will proceed today. I also hope that you intend to include a representative of ABA, our legal team or one of us plaintiffs on your program. I also hope that your coverage is not influenced by the underwriting department. There are three good summaries (ABA, Holt, Landon) of what took place and what should have taken place. I urge you to read them before proceeding with your interview today. I will paste them below. Please don't fail us Juan - read the trial highlights and tell your listeners the chains aren't guilty.
By coincidence, this program was to air at the same time that ABA and we plaintiffs and our attorneys we're having a conference call to discuss the outcome of the lawsuit. I did not hear anything back from NPR before joining the conference call (or ever) and in the course of our lengthy discussion, i asked my peers if anyone knew what was happening with the program and was informed that it had been cancelled.
Of course, I was pleased at the show which aired the following week but I couldn't help wondering what happened with the first one. How much were B & N and Borders influencing the reportage? They do underwrite programs and I'd prefer to believe that this in no way influences NPR's programming choices. I found myself asking, "what happened to the Borders person and how did the format of the show change so quickly and without mention?" How many of my comrades sent or phoned NPR with complaints akin to mine? And why was the host of the program changed from Juan Williams to someone else?
I know this may sound a bit paranoid, but that's bound to happen when for a decade you've been deceived by publishers and wholesalers and misrepresented by most members of the media, which seems to be increasingly in the business of fostering the dividend versus giving the true scoop.
2) I also want to respond to the well-written and well-thought-out letter from Bruce McPherson, which you printed in missive # 233.
Many of us have thought a lot about the role of liberal returns policies in aiding the growth of the chains despite their non or marginally profitable statuses. What was brilliant about the chains growth strategy was that they leveraged their growth on the publishers. They stretched credit to the max and trimmed returns cycles to the min and voila: consignment! Of course this was horrible for the publishers but there isn't enough time to cover that here. But i do want to say that the suggestions Mr. McPherson makes are sound and i only suggest different ones because i think the concept of returns is valuable to publishers, booksellers and readers in that it helps booksellers to have the courage to try books which they might have otherwise skipped. With our shallower pockets and superior book knowledge/experience/ love, we have always bought more carefully and returned fewer books than the corporate guys.
I just want to suggest that returns penalties based on a ratio of purchases could preserve what is good about publisher returns without subjecting publishers to the recklessness and/or manipulation of buyers. I've done this before so before signing off i will attach the text of a flier which we hand out to caring and/or curious members of the public and media. It's not copywritten and if anyone likes it and find no flaws in it, please feel free to use it. If i''ve made any errors, please help me to correct them. I'd rather be right tomorrow than not at all.
6 Reasons to Support Your Local Independent Bookstores
If you lose your independents, you lose your independence.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
As background for your information, I am forwarding two emails sent out by Amazon about Bibliofind - one to customers and one - to Bibliofind dealers.
Amazon bought one of the best independent booksearch sites on the net - it started back in 1996 and was the first one we listed on back when we only had about 800 books catalogued.
For a couple of years, they practiced a sort of benign neglect -the only change they made to it was to have credit cards kept on a "secure server." Well, it turns out that apparently the credit card info was hacked for 4 months before the hackers finally left some graffiti on the site, so they would notice it.
After the site was down for several days, it came back eviscerated (not only were the credit numbers no longer being stored, the buyers could not even send their address in the emails requesting purchase of a book - and now Amazon has dealt it the death blow.
I won't discuss the "ease-of-use" which Amazon claims except to mention that Bibliofind might have been a "boring" site, but it was one of the fastest and easiest to use - both for booksellers and for book buyers.
It will be missed. Fortunately, there are still several independent sites out there, with no markups on books, and direct contact between customer and bookseller - among them are Abebooks.com, Antiqbooks.com, BookAvenue.com, Bibliophile.net and significantly the new database being run by the bookseller's co-operative, TomFolio.com!
Dear Bibliofind Customer,
And the letter to dealers:
Dear Bibliofind Bookseller,
Dear Holt Uncensored:
About Amazon.com taking over Bibliofind. Just today I heard the owner of an independent complaining bitterly about how amazon was closing them off from any communication with the browser/reader and putting a huge price on books that they then order from the independent used book seller for peanuts. I'm about to order a used book I can't find here from an independent through BookFinder, which lists independents who give their address and let you order by check if you prefer not to use a credit card on line. Does everyone else already know about this source?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
As an independent bookstore, we have always put customer service as #1. This includes what we call in the biz a "STOP" order or, Single Title Order Plan." When a book is available only through the publisher (and not through any of the would call the publisher directly and order it that way. Many times, we would receive a 20% discount or less. Add shipping and handling to that charge and you can see that the bookstore never makes a dime. It is a service we provide the customer as stated in our motto "We help you find the books you love."
But, for years, when the bookseller would call most of the publishers to order the specific title for the customer, the question would be "Are you with Barnes and Noble?" And when the question was answered, "No," the comeback would be "Ok, it's this much (or whatever)." We understood the implication to be that Barnes and Noble obviously had different terms. You can draw your own conclusions...
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.
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