The World’s Top 8 Bookstore Ads

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.

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Rumors of Doom for ISBN Numbers


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 Perspectivesthat 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?

A Promising Payday, a Petulant Penguin

Lena Dunham scores with Random House while Penguin seeks repayment on book deals gone sour.

If you’ve evaded living under a rock this past week, you’ve probably also heard about the bidding war over Lena Dunham’s forthcoming book of essays that resulted in a $3.5m payout for the author (slash director, slash actress). Yes, now aspiring young authors can join the ranks of aspiring young film makers made green with envy by the talented Miss Dunham. But all we can think of is that, for her sake, it better be good, given the example that Penguin set in court last month.

At the end of September the Penguin Group New York filed lawsuits to recoup losses made on advances to several of its authors who never delivered. With the filing of these suits, the details of these authors’ paydays have become public knowledge. Though none are as hefty as Dunham’s, the size of a few of these advances may surprise you:

The largest advance of the list went to Ana Marie Cox, who founded the political blog Wonkette. In 2006 she signed a contract that totaled $325,000 to write a “humorous examination of the next generation of political activists.” Now, because she didn’t deliver, Penguin is suing to reclaim the $81,250 advance it paid her, plus $50,000 in interest. Hopefully her correspondent jobs at GQ and The Guardian compensate her as handsomely (we’re guessing that they probably do).

A controversial plaintiff in this series of cases is Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat. In 1996, Rosenblat and his wife appeared on Oprah to tell the miraculous story of their meeting and falling in love. Per the story, Herman survived his imprisonment as a child in the concentration camp Buchenwald thanks to a young Roma, his future wife, who threw apples to him from the other side of the fence. Years later, the two met again in New York on a blind date and fell in love. Unfortunately, their tale is as implausible as it sounds. When news of the faked story broke, Rosenblat was due to release a memoir through Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin. The publishing house then cancelled the release of the book and now aims to collect the would-be memoirist’s advance of $30,000, with an additional $10,000 in interest.

Penguin is also seeking repayments from Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, for a teen book on depression that she never produced; New Yorker journalist Rebecca Mead for a $50,000 deal she agreed to in 2003, and never fulfilled; and Conrad Tillard for the $85,000 paid to him for the memoir of his “epic journey from the Ivy League to the Nation of Islam,” also never completed. The Smoking Gun has more on those.

Here’s hoping Lena Dunham never ends up in the same hot water, given the massive amount she’d be held accountable for. We’re pretty sure she’s doing just fine, though.

On another note, um Penguin, how bout sending advancements some other writers’ ways? I know several who’d fulfill their contracts for you. Just sayin’.

Thoughts on advances, the repayment of advances, and celebrity book deals in general? Sound off below!

Small Spaces, Powerful Words: Penguin Books’ “Making the Mini Modern Classics”

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.”