Saturday, July 28, 2007

Once again ahead of the NYT

Joe Nocera in the NYT discusses discounted sale prices on the new Harry Potter book.

While Nocera goes into a bit more detail, you get the gist of the article if you read my post from a week ago. (I do have to mention though, that counter to Nocea's assrtion, I haven't encountered anyone in my town who is charging full price for HP7. Even the local used bookstore is selling new copies at 25% off.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

For your edification

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides a "Poetic License Exam." (Subscription required, but I got a kick out of even the first three questions available as the free preview.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

It is the big thing in the book world right now, after all

Aunty Beeb reports that J. K. Rowling is peeved that the NYT and other publications printed reviews before the book was released.

In all truth, the only part of the article that I'm interested in is the last two paragraphs, which are included almost as a throwaway:
UK supermarket Asda has announced it will sell the book for £5 - just over a quarter of the recommended retail price [of £17.99].

Bloomsbury had originally cancelled Asda's order, with the supermarket calling the price "potty" and accusing the retailer of "blatant profiteering".

Given current exchange rates, the UK recommended retail price is roughly the same as the US cover price of $34.99, and Asda is selling the book for the equivalent of $10.

As an old bookstore employee and assistant manager, I'm interested in what people are selling Harry Potter for. Both my bookstore and the local branch of B&N are selling the book for $20.99. Amazon is selling for $17.99.

Standard retail markup, as many of you know, is 100%. Thus you can fairly safely assume that when you buy an item at full retail price that whoever is selling it to you bought it for half the price that you're paying. Books are an exception to that rule because bookstores have the ability, in most cases, to return unsold books to the publisher for a full credit of the invoice price. Because bookstores bear less of the risk, they keep less of the profit—generally 30-40% as opposed to the 50% of a standard retail sale.

Now of course, the power of the market plays a role. Thus, large single-item buyers like the big box stores (read: Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc.) can negotiate a better price from the publisher and offer deeper discounts. I don't shop at Wal-Mart, so I don't know what they're charging for HP7, but word from Target was that their price was closer to Amazon's than my bookstore's.

The kicker is that my amateur reporting indicates that my local bookstore, even at $20.99, is making about six cents on every copy sold. You read that right. Six cents.

This is a continuing frustration for independents and even small chains; while no one (except Scholastic and JKR) are making much money off Harry Potter (and other similar headline-grabbing titles), customer perception is often that the store selling for $20.99 is either greedy or gouging. I understand the benefits of retailers who can take advantage of market efficiencies. I just wish that people wouldn't take it personally when my market isn't as efficient as someone else's. We can't all be Wal-Mart, and, in the end, I think that's a good thing too.

Wal-Mart never has the new Rick Moody title I'm looking for. :-)

A pair of notes

The reviews are coming fast and furious on the 7th Harry Potter book. While I've finished the book, out of respect for a particular fellow reader I will request that Wordwright remain spoiler-free until Friday or so. After that, it's all fair game.

I will go on record, however, as saying (in contrast to Robert McCrum, the Guardian UK's literary editor) that I think that Rowling has constructed a series that will be considered a classic with a devoted readership on par with The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or [insert your own favorite children's or genre series here]. Sure, the Potter books have flaws, but so do Tolkien's and Lewis's.

McCrum's list of backhanded compliments is as follows:
So what to make of it, now that it's done? From the point of view of the English canon, it's hardly great literature. But if Rowling is neither CS Lewis nor Tolkien, nor Philip Pullman, hers has been, none the less, an extraordinary performance. At the end of a decade of accumulating Pottermania, you have to acknowledge, first, the ambition to undertake such a marathon, then the dedication to execute it, and finally the ability to bring it off.

To write one successful children's book requires uncommon gifts, to write two suggests a touch of magic, but to complete no fewer than seven bestsellers and apparently retain your sanity, and your all-round niceness, is a marvellous achievement. The completion of this world-shaking heptalogy is something close to a triumph.

So what does it all amount to? It's not difficult to find things in these books to sneer at. Cardboard characters? Tick. Torpid paragraphs? You bet. Flat-footed dialogue? On every page. A more-than-slightly autistic attention to minutiae? No doubt.

Perhaps it's the autism that animates it. The fair-minded critic has to concede that Rowling's devilry lies in her attention to detail. The magic of Potter is that he inhabits a fully realised parallel world. Moreover, Rowling does that unbeatable thing: she makes it work. How exactly she does it remains the mystery, but it's to do with a primitive grasp of basic storytelling.

(The full review contains some light but off-puttingly important spoilers.)

Secondly, and completely unrelated, many of you may have noticed that I've brought E.L. Lit Mags just about up-to-date. Those of you who pay close attention will have noticed that The Offbeat is the one area in which I'm a bit behind. While it would not be entirely unfair to surmise that a certain dissatisfaction with the last few issues plays a role in my procrastination, the larger factor is that I'm unhappy with the photos I've taken to be used on the website. Most of the RCR covers survived my amateur digital photography. The Offbeat covers didn't hold up so well. (Damn flash glare.) Hopefully I'll have the impetus I need to complete the job when I get my hands on the 2007 issue: Tell Me Everything.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I did it!

As of 11:30 last night, I no longer need to worry about spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

If you haven't finished the book yet, I'd stay away from any Harry Potter Wikipedia articles for now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In my shell

I have been, for the past week, actively avoiding online discussion of the upcoming book by a certain British children's author—even to the point of neglecting to post on Wordright for fear of encountering stray spoilers.

Finally, today, I broke down and read Michiko Kakutani's surprisingly spoiler-free review in today's NYT.

Well, you all know what I'll be doing on Saturday. With luck, I'll return to the world sometime on Sunday or so.

(If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, there's a hint here.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'll refrain from quoting her. I only know the ones that have become cliche.

The NYT has a brief update on the lawsuit over the Penguin Classics edition of Dorothy Parker's Complete Poems. (I'll let you read the article for the details. There's a semi-interesting question over whether the editor of a collection of Parker's uncollected poems exercised enough of a creative function in order to merit copyright protection, especially since Parker's estate isn't involved in the lawsuit at all.)

Me, I'd like to see the Penguin collection made available again. I nearly bought a copy when I worked in the bookstore and the original lawsuit meant that we had to pull the single copy in the store off of our shelves. Parker was clever, biting, hilarious, and she left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. when she died. (The NAACP now holds her estate, as well as Parker's ashes.) I would have loved to hang out with her.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

And in retrospect, I like his ability to get all worked up over a pickle

The NYT has a new visual blog from Rutu Modan. (As you may recall, they've done this before, and I certainly hope that they'll keep doing it.)

So, wordwrighters, do you think something like this would work in the printed Times, or is there something about online presentation that lends itself to the format?