Derek Dahlsad is a technical wizard and sharp designer. Self taught in most respects, he pulls a formal theatrical design education and part-time computer science courses into a skill-set that is neither purely artistic nor limited by technicality.

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August 2005

Defining Oneself By The Books
24 Aug 2005, 9:46:35 am

Sam Allis of the Boston Globe took one morning to cast books from his shelves, littering the scene like corpses.

Because it's time. I no longer want to define myself by my books. (Just how I want to define myself remains unclear.) I've always held that books reveal great mysteries about a person. You can discern the shapes of their minds. You can glimpse their tastes and passions. So what was I doing? Refining or obscuring?

I suppose, like any collection, the items are kept because they remind the owner who they are: Shelves full of Green Bay Packers paraphrenalia remind a person of their religious affiliation, shoeboxes of shells show a person where they've been. Books, uniquely, contain knowledge -- ideas that really do shape who a person is.

I'd suggest to my wife tossing out all but the most defining books, but...well...nothing good will come of it. While I have numerous books in boxes in the basement (mostly technical references), none of my wife's books are allowed to be boxed up -- they can't breathe in there! is the reasoning. Like a treasured pet, my wife treats her books with the utmost dignity, never to be banished to remote parts of the house nor tossed away without proper circumstances.
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Is A Bookless Library Still A Library?
23 Aug 2005, 9:31:05 am

The University of Texas - Austin has made the undergraduate library more acommodating to studying and social removing all the books.

First there's the reaction: "What crazy Texan came up with a bookless library? That Bush governor they had must be behind this!" But that's not really at the core of this. This isn't an absurd "make more room in the library by removing books" -- the problem at the core is that the school did not consider study-space valuable enough to build a new building...they replaced the library, something considered less valuable to the school. Colleges can squeeze in community and study spaces wherever they can, or they build 'commons' for all-access spaces; many schools do this regularly. In UTexas-Austin's case, the choice to reduce the library's value is of paramount concern. No books were destroyed in Austin (they were moved to other libraries in the system); they simply figured books have less use to undergrads than space to sit and work.

Somehow, this college (and, no doubt, others are of similar mindset) has decided the choice is either books or study space; libraries have long been a shared study space, so their logic is that, if the books are recieving less use in the same space as an increase in studying or computering, then expand one and shrink the other. Nothing could be worse of an idea.

If a college is expected to provide as many resources as possible to their students, a library is an excellent example. The internet offers nothing special to a student in Austin, than it does one in London; a university with a well-stocked library has much more learning available than one with a building full of armchairs, Wi-Fi networks, and a Taco Bell on the first floor.

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Book Vending Machine
22 Aug 2005, 12:46:17 pm

The news wires are abuzz with how Paris has book vending machines, but this, in fact, is old news: The University of Iowa tried this five years ago, placing local authors' works in a vending machine near the library. (they also reused the idea and offered bookbinding kits via vending machine) There's also reports that other cities around the world have their own bookselling entrepeneurs releasing robotic librarians into the wild.

My wife and I discussed this once upon a time, figuring an ideal place for them is where travellers congeal, like highway rest-stops and gas stations, hopefully capturing people who have exhausted the entertainment that they'd brought with them. Children's books would probably do better than adult, but we'd bet pulpy 'throwaway' novels -- guilty entertainment, with little literary worth -- would be good as well. Who brings Tolstoy or Vonnegut on a long drive? Well, other than myself, but you catch my drift. The Paris vending machines claim to distribute the classics, which I doubt has much appeal to the average traveller. In the US, some Stephen King, some trashy romances, and some mysteries would definitely get a couple bucks out of a bored person en route to some destination. Backlists would probably sell well, purchased because it's recognized by title or due to the movie adaptation.

A publisher (or even a bargain seller, like the ones that pop up for the holiday season) could buy vending machines themselves (They run around $3000 ea), pay route reps to keep them stocked, rent the locations from retailers, and fill the machines with their own backlist. Then they could drop them every hundred miles along US highways and meet numerous number of customers who'd stick a $5 bill into a machine to get something to occupy the next 4 hours of their drive.

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Lamenting The Lost Great Novel
17 Aug 2005, 1:38:32 pm

The literary world is wondering why the Greatest Work Of 2005 has yet to manifest itself. The subtext seems to be that marketability is not hindered by this -- plenty of big-name books are still selling like hotcakes -- but in an environment where moneymaking trumps quality, you're simply being droll by asking why the spaces formerly filled by great literature have been crammed full of chick-lit and novels-clearly-written-to-maximise-movie-options. If there is a great work of literature, it's not to be found at the big publishers. Where is it? It's either sitting in the author's garage with 500 other copies, lost deep within Lulu's database, or collecting dust while waiting for a seven or eight figure advance. Hopefully it'll appear before readers lose all hope in finding anything worthwhile at a bookstore.

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The Disappearing Women's Bookstores
17 Aug 2005, 8:43:44 am

AlterNet looks into the current state of women's and feminist bookstores, and finds a group of specialized stores struggling to keep a shrinking audience. Many have found their audience is changing, on one hand becoming more mainstream as the formerly revolutionary attitudes are commonplace, and on the other hand catering to sexual subcultures looking for an open venue to explore their choices. Of course, Borders and Barnes & Noble share the blame under the Walmartian doctrine of market monopoly.

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Small Publishers Like Amazon
16 Aug 2005, 8:04:37 pm

Small and independent publishers are loving, because the limitless shelves allow for more democracy in the book market. What it amounts to is small publishers can pay a fee and have their books listed, without contracting with a distributor -- and Amazon benefits from having a fuller inventory and cutting out the middleman. A common complaint of independents is getting their books into the Big Boys; is wise to break down that wall, since there will be books in their inventory unavailable anywhere else.

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A New Book Size - "Premium"
15 Aug 2005, 9:39:03 pm

A new book size, in between mass-market and trade paperbacks, is coming: 4-1/4" x 7-1/2", or 'premium' paperback. Height is increased more than width, allowing for slightly larger type and looser spacing between lines for the benefit of baby boomers' aging eyes. My question: is this really why book sales are sliding? Baby boomers are still an affluent part of society, but the younger market whose dollar is competing for fancy clothes and CDs is the one that needs improvement -- and that's the one demanding $16 worth of value in their TPBs, not a fancy new size that costs more than the same item they can get for $6 in mass-market form...that is, if the book does get issued in mass market format in the next ten years. If publishers can get $10 for a book people would've paid $7 for, why bother with mass market trimsize? Since books are neither a necessity nor an impulse buy, customers will pay more for quality; they aren't interested in a cheaper version of something they would have bought anyway. Increasing price for a new mass-market version is squeezing as much as possible out of a low-quality product, getting an extra $3 from a customer who doesn't think the book is worth $16.

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15 Aug 2005, 1:52:24 pm

The book Eleven on Top, by Janet Evanovich, is a bestseller with 4 stars at The reviews foam at the mouth with praises of Evanovich's talent and the value of the book, love for the book, adoration for the book...but this review says If This Is A Best-Seller, We're In Real Trouble. Aparna Balakrishnan lashes the book for problems with grammar, contrived and uninteresting dialogue, and a boring story -- hardly a book worth four stars or best-seller status if it would have garnered a C in 9th grade English. Lee Seigel gives a similar lashing to Sean Wilsey's Oh the Glory of It All, addressing the empty, rambling marketably manufactured prose that passes for literature today. This book, too, has 4 stars at Amazon, with glowing reviews from throughout the media.

When all book reviews are positive and mindful of the author's feelings, what good are they? These days, there's no reason to read a review from anyplace other than a literary journal. Culture magazines like People often include book reviews, but they're rarely substantial, nothing more than the announcement of a new product. Music reviews are often more thoughtful than the book reviews, and this is a disservice to the public. Real book reviews, especially those critical of big-name books, would open the public's eyes to what they're being advertised. So long as you're not critical of Harry Potter; they'll have your head for it.

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What Small Bookstores Can Do
11 Aug 2005, 7:32:16 pm

In my research, reading, and imagining, I've come up with a list of changes small bookstores can use to increase profits and remain viable when challenged by Barnes & Noble and for their products.
More >>

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Write A Novel In 100 Days
10 Aug 2005, 7:20:42 pm

Peace Corps Writers has a quick and painless summary of how to put pen to paper and be done with a novel in 100 days. But, writing's not supposed to be painless, right? This actually includes both pre-preparation and soliciting an agent, both important things many writers neglect to think about (often preventing them from actually writing anything). It mostly amounts to a 'tip of the day' for 100 days, since many steps could be done in the same day, but if you actually follow the process, doing one simple step a day, you'll be more likely to actually finish. Remember, NaNoWriMo is coming up, but November is only 30 days long -- prepare early!

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Christian Chick Lit?
10 Aug 2005, 5:04:14 pm

Christians want their chick lit -- and it sounds like they're getting it. The books are written for a Christian sensibility, something lacking in Briget Jones and Stella's groove reclamation. Niche markets seem to be the most profitable, according to many sources: a Christian, but non-religious, book most likely has quite a large audience.

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What Are Small Bookstores Doing Wrong?
10 Aug 2005, 4:59:55 pm

Paperbacks Unlimited is closing -- it catches my attention, not because I've ever been there, but because they seem to be doing everything right by my reasoning. One quote that's telling of their dilemma: People don't buy anything that wasn't advertised recently.

This looks like a marketing problem from both ends: publishers aren't marketing books enough, and booksellers aren't marketing their wares enough. How else are people supposed to know what they want to read?

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Book Publishers Discover The Internet
8 Aug 2005, 2:17:43 pm

The new novel, "Lunar Park," is being promoted in a way that takes cues from various recent films and Burger King. Promoters have created a series of websites about the characters in the book, as though they actually existed -- in hopes of drawing in potential readers who find the websites endearing enough to warrant purchasing the book. It's always nice to see publishers looking at ways to use new technology, but I've always thought fake websites -- which are downright fraudulent -- is a misleading way to gain interest in a product.

The article also continues with discussions on giving away ebooks for free, using bloggers to 'get out the word.' -- these both have promise, and the latter seems to never fail. It's word-of-mouth at T3 speeds, a valuable commodity if it can be gained.

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Appreciation of Horrible Poetry
3 Aug 2005, 8:51:31 pm

Dru Sefton writes of the facinating world of horrible poetry appreciation for Newshouse New Services. It seems that horrible poetry has a significant number of followers -- practically enough to warrant a publisher to devote entire books to the stuff. Oh, wait -- vanity "poetry contests" already fill that void, building up horrible poets with promise of being published. One writer submitted a near-unpronounceable poem which was readily accepted. "I could not get them to send me a rejection slip," he said.

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Where'd The Mystery Imprints Go?
3 Aug 2005, 2:29:18 pm

The New York Sun has noticed that most publishers have killed off their mystery imprints -- but a new publisher, Felony & Mayhem Press, run by bookstore owner Maggie Topkis, is bringing back long-lost mysteries that had even been abandoned by their own publisher's backlists. As publishers shrink their faith in their own backlists, no doubt more small publishers will snatch up these books -- backlists were once considered the only money-maker in the publishing industry -- and take the income tossed aside by the bigname publishers.

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Pengiun Betting On Trade Paperbacks
2 Aug 2005, 9:07:09 pm

Penguin, longtime UK publisher, is re-releasing a number of it's backlist in trade-paperback format. This is the approximately 6"x9" sized paperback printed on quality paper that fills the gap between hardcover and the "mass market" trade paperbacks. Penguin has been doing other TPBs, but this collection seems to be more-recent best sellers, rather than older titles losing position in the market. It seems people, as a whole, are beginning to look at trade paperbacks as genuine books (rather than disposable), and they're not much more expensive to produce than mass-market but on a large order cheaper than hard-covers. If people are looking at trade paperbacks as valuable, enough for Pengiun to put their money there, the small publishers who print TPBs for frugality's sake will benefit by appearing more like the big publishers. Penguin's editions, however, will retain many qualities of hardcovers (french flaps, rough page edges), but that's much easier for publishers to imitate than a hardcover.

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Reading Police Distribute Books
1 Aug 2005, 9:42:48 pm

Cute headlines write themselves sometimes: "Reading Police Distribute Books". That is, the Reading, PA police department is distributing books to underpriviledged children. The mayor pointed out that "many of the children in the city have no books of their own." I say, without any sarcasm, that is a horrible condition. All children should have books -- especially underpriviledged kids. The ability and desire to read is the easiest way to gain significant ground in this tough world.

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Women's Review of Books Returns
1 Aug 2005, 3:47:48 pm

The Women's Review of Books has returned, after a year hiatus due to financial problems. Ms. Magazine reports the return of the Review, a creation of Wellesley College design to provide a critical space for the review of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry by women.

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Welcome to the blog!
1 Aug 2005, 3:46:38 pm

The New Publisher Journal is up and running...hopefully I'll work out the bugs shortly, but check back regularly for information and ideas that we kinda think are relevant.

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