These days the world of independent bookstores (and giant chains of bookstores) just has to get more and more eye catching to compete with readers’ shrunken attention spans. What to do? Hire the entire cast of Mad Men and come up with one of these genius spots, to start:
1. Mint Vinetu, Vilnius, 2011.
2. Whitcoullis, New Zealand, 2011. Amazingly the poster includes all the words to A Clockwork Orange. (Because it’s just the kind of novel you want to read in really tiny script…)
3. L’Echange, Montreal, 2007. See another here. An ingenious marketing strategy for a popular secondhand book store.
Since its invention in 1965, booksellers have depended on the ISBN system used internationally to facilitate the distribution of books and to track sales. However, the digital revolution is changing even this long-standing publishing tradition. eBooks do not need, and mostly do not have, ISBN numbers (the cost of acquiring an ISBN ranges from $25 to $250). In a world that has become increasingly less analog, the perceived need to have a universal system is rapidly diminishing. Instead of one global identification system, there are now many. According to The Economist,
“Amazon has introduced the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN). Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) tag articles in academic journals. Walmart… has a Universal Product Code (UPC) for everything it stocks—including books. Humans are also getting labels: the Open Researcher and Contributor ID system (ORCID) identifies academics by codes, not their names. And ISBNs are not mandatory at Google Books.”
This breaking up of the system has resulted in less-than-reliable numbers when it comes to tracking the growth of self-publishing. “Self-published writers are booming; sales of their books increased by a third in America in 2011,” the article continues. “Digital self-publishing was up by 129%. This ends the distinction between publisher, distributor and bookshop, making ISBNs less necessary.”
However, as Porter Anderson points out in Publishing Perspectives, that number estimating eBook growth at 129% is simply a guess. No actually knows the true number due to the anonymity that foregoing ISBNs affords. Anderson also points out that “boom” in self-publishing does not always equate in success for authors. There’s more writing out there, yes, but just how fruitful is self-publishing for writers? Without hard data, it is impossible to say for sure.
Should we be concerned about this or not? I think the question Anderson poses is a good one: “[I]s there something inherently wrong — or somehow too determinedly journalistic — in wanting to be able to quantify, categorize, and track the progress of the industry through the “tagging” of its output?”
What do you think? Is time to end ISBNs?
Penguin Books “Modern Classics” line is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. To honor that landmark, the press is offering fifty titles in “mini” form. Each text measures a mere six inches by four inches. You can purchase each one individually or buy the entire box set. The works offered range “from Beckett to Saki, Nabokov to Kafka and Updike to Wodehouse.”
When the company decided to offer this anniversary item to the public, the format presented some unique challenges for the copywriters who compose the “blurbs” on the back of each text. Those writers have just a few inches, and therefore, only a few seconds, to convince you to buy the book. They must “get across what makes each writer’s work unique, what their style is, their importance, their influence, and give a flavor of what is actually in the stories as well all in about fifty words.”
Louise Willder, the Copywriting Manager at Penguin, explains that they had a bit under nine months to write all fifty blurbs with their in-house copywriting staff—not a great deal of time to have read, absorbed, and researched relevant facts. The blurbs were then reviewed and refined by the entire staff until everyone was happy with them.
You can listen to those involved with the process speak a bit more in-depth about the making of the Mini-Classics in a series of videos produced by Penguin. Here is Part Five, “Making the Mini Modern Classics: Copywriting.”