Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Friday night book signing; what could be better?

Borders, with its usual lack of fanfare and publicity, nevertheless hosted a very well turned out reading by a new author, Andrew Furman.  His first novel, Alligators May be Present, looks to have a built in audience in my south Florida neighborhood for sure. A synopsis from the publisher:

While many Jews have picked Florida as the perfect place to retire, Matt Glassman has chosen it as the place to begin his adulthood. Perhaps that’s because the pressures of life have always reminded him about his grandfather who mysteriously disappeared from the family twenty years ago. Now, while he tries to begin a family of his own, he also builds a relationship with the one person who might know the truth about his grandfather’s disappearance: his grandmother. She’s remained stubbornly reticent on the topic all these years, but when a familiar old man shows up at Glassman’s office he thinks he may finally get some answers.

I'm looking forward to reading it.

Want To Know What To Read? Storycode.com Will Do the Math
May 20, 2005
By Rachel Deahl

The notion that taste is personal may have gone the way of eight tracks and Hammer pants. A number of new companies are pioneering a variation of the search engine, known as "recommendation technology," which would use hard data to essentially tell consumers what music, movies and clothing they will like . . . even if they don't know it yet themselves. While this software is already present in the book industry—anyone who's ever been startled by Amazon or B&N's seeming omniscience ("Geez, how'd they know I'd love Knitting to the Oldies?") can attest to this—some companies are now gearing up to bring it to readers in a more ambitious way.

Storycode, founded by Steve Johnston, is one such example. Currently in "soft launch" mode (as of March 1), Johnston claims his new venture—it's intended to function as a book-recommendations database for fiction titles, powered by a "coding" system—has the potential to change the face of the publishing industry. The codes, culled from readers' responses to a series of questions—queries are broken down into five categories and touch on areas like plot and characters—are used to classify, and compare, every book featured on the site. Adding that the site will not publicly launch until a critical mass of codes has been entered—this could mean waiting for books to receive upwards of 20 codes each—the system is intended to offer readers recommendations of books, based on statistical data. In other words, if you just finished The Corrections and loved it, and now want to read another novel just like it, Storycode, Johnston says, will provide a recommendation, complete with a percentage quantifying the similarity between it and a list of matching books.

If the notion of a quantifiable classification system for books, which are, after all, judged and experienced by readers in inherently personal ways, sounds dubious, Johnston counters that all fiction conforms to certain guidelines.

"Every novel does, in some combination, form to a classic story type," says Johnston, who previously spent his professional career in two places: behind the counter of a bookstore; and in front of a computer. After a decade as a bookseller, Johnston became a Web consultant, offering his services to business owners looking for ways to successfully leverage the power of the Internet. "Even with more sophisticated anti-plot novels, the codes will reflect the ambiguity of responses that they receive." He says he sees Storycode as "filling a hole in the retail book trade," and predicts a time when retailers could offer booksellers a more satisfying and viable way to guide their customers to more informed purchases—what he calls "genuine recommendations." The Storycode future he envisions has booksellers logging on to the site from behind their counters, or e-booksellers repurposing his database online. Independent booksellers, meanwhile, are the "potential evangelists" for Storycode.

Leonie Flynn, a former independent bookseller and an editor of The Ultimate Book Guide (A&C Black), says she thinks Storycode is a good idea but doubts booksellers will latch onto it the way Johnston predicts. Saying the site was "more a browsing tool than a fast, immediate selling tool," Smith foresees the site as a place for book lovers over industry professionals. Andrew McClellan, manager of books for Virgin Megastores, says right now Storycode is "no more than an interesting idea." McClellan says that Storycode has potential, but wonders if it can be fulfilled.

"If they receive a lot of input from members of the book reading public, then the site may provide a credible and organic resource of recommendations…as well as becoming a hub for book readers online," he says." From that point, retailers and publishers could make great use of it; however, that's a whole lot of ‘ifs and ‘mays.'"

The idea behind Storycode echoes what other technology companies have been doing for some years for other kinds of products. ChoiceStream, Inc., for example, a Mass.-based company that delivers recommendations across a number of fields, including music, general retail merchandise, television and movies. The company licenses its database to companies such as eMusic, AOL and Yahoo. Its software is programmed to not only know just what consumers like, but more importantly, why they like it.

Darren Gill, ChoiceStream vice president of business development for entertainment, says the company's database is essentially a more advanced version of the recommendations systems on sites like Amazon and Netflix (which offer lists of recommended books and DVDs to consumers based on items viewed, bought or rated). According to Gill, because ChoiceStream has seven million users in its network, with a massive index of products classified, the company has a more advanced system for delivering personalized recommendations.

"Storycode is asking you to do the background work," Gill says. "What we need from a user is to have them tell us about content; people who have done three or four ratings on Yahoo Movies, which licenses our database, get a personalized experience." Gill also says that ChoiceStream is looking to expand the reach of its business to cover other areas—with literature being one of those. "Books has been on our list for a while," he says.

Savage Beast Technologies, Inc., another company in the recommendations business, works exclusively with music and offers recommendations through a system it calls the Music Genome Project. The company, which currently licenses its technology to retailers like Best Buy and Borders, employs a team of specially trained musicians (the profile of a "music analyst" is someone with a four-year music degree and a background in music theory) to characterize songs according to some 400 different attributes. Tim Westergren, one of Savage Beast's founders, says he sees recommendation technologies, and the businesses that provide them, becoming more pervasive in our daily lives. "You can [apply this kind of system] to almost anything from food to dating. I mean, Match.com is trying to do it with people." Westergren says he believes "it's the next wave of the search."


U.S. Book Production Reaches New High of 195,000 Titles in 2004
Tuesday May 24, 7:45 am ET

Fiction Soars

NEW PROVIDENCE, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 24, 2005--Bowker, the leading provider of bibliographic information in North America, today released statistics on U.S. book publishing compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2004 increased by 14% to 195,000 new titles and editions, reaching another all-time high.

The catalyst for growth in 2004 was adult fiction, which reversed a three-year plateau and increased a staggering 43.1%, to 25,184 new titles and editions, the highest total ever recorded for that category. Adult fiction now accounts for 14% of all titles published in the U.S., the highest proportion since 1961. New poetry and drama titles increased 40.5%.

The number of new titles released by the largest trade houses increased 5.4%, to 24,159, their largest increase since 2001. University presses increased their title output 12.3% to 14,484, reversing a 4.3% decline in 2003. Since 1995, new titles have increased 72% for all U.S. publishers, 22% for the largest trade houses, and 12% for university presses.

New juvenile titles continued to rise in 2004, increasing 6.6% to 21,516, a new high for that category. Among adult non-fiction categories, religion, travel and home economics enjoyed the largest increases, while education, history, science and biography suffered the steepest declines. The large trade houses published significantly more business, juvenile, law, sociology, and travel titles, and significantly fewer religion, poetry, and literary fiction titles. New adult fiction titles published by the large houses increased a modest 3.5%, a fraction of the increase seen from U.S. publishers as a whole.

Meanwhile, university presses enjoyed increases in almost all categories, with only philosophy and psychology experiencing significant declines.

In 2004, the average suggested retail price for adult hardcovers released by the largest trade houses decreased 10 cents to $27.52; adult fiction hardcovers held steady at $25.08; and adult non-fiction hardcovers decreased 29 cents to $28.49. Adult trade paperbacks increased 11 cents to $15.76; adult fiction trade paperbacks increased 7 cents to $14.78; adult non-fiction trade paperbacks increased 15 cents to $16.16; and adult mass-market paperbacks increased 14 cents to $7.35. The average list price for juvenile hardcovers increased 26 cents to $16.09.

Additional information, including charts to download, can be found at: http://www.bookwire.com/bookwire/decadebookproduction.html, http://www.bookwire.com/bookwire/trade.html or http://www.bookwire.com/bookwire/university.html.

"2004 marked a return to pre-9/11 patterns of publishing," said Andrew Grabois, senior director of publisher relations and content development for New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker. "The historic increase in fiction, and the high double-digit growth of the religion, personal development, domestic arts, and travel categories, point to a seismic shift in the marketplace from the political to the personal. Publishers are betting that the reading public, exhausted by four years of terrorism, war, and polarizing presidential elections, will be more than ready for the kind of escapist and self-help fare that seemed trivial and inappropriate in the wake of a national tragedy."

Other interesting statistics from Bowker include the following:

11,458 new publishers registered with the U.S. ISBN Agency in 2004, an increase of 5.3% over 2003.
4,040 books were translated into English from another language, a decrease of 8.1% from 2003.
Novels published by the large trade houses averaged 359 pages in 2004, a growth of 24 pages since 1995, and 43 pages since 1990.
The book production figures in this preliminary release are based on year-to-date data from U.S. publishers. If changes in industry estimates occur, they will be reflected in a later published report. Books In Print data represents input from 81,000 publishers in the U.S. The data is sent to Bowker in electronic files, and via BowkerLink(TM), Bowker's password protected Web-based tool, which enables publishers to update and add their own data.

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