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Sharing compelling displays: An ABA bookseller collaboration


ABA logoThe American Booksellers Association Winter Institute last month in Seattle was all about sharing and education. Sometimes sharing ideas is enough to create new ideas along the way, and that’s just what happened to me. I attended some wonderful sessions about merchandizing and decorating, and when I was telling someone about it later, I wished I had copies of all of the slides I had seen.

Creating Compelling In-Store Displays was a panel featuring Arielle Eckstut and Joann Eckstut, authors of The Secret Language of Color; and Jonah Zimiles of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ. In this fascinating discussion of color and theme, they showed a variety of displays, store windows, tables, and fixtures, including some amazingly inexpensive and quick ideas that were still professional and eye-catching.

Gifts 101 wasn’t really about merchandizing, but panelists Linda Marie Barrett (Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café), Monica Holmes (Hicklebee’s Children’s Bookstore), and Jan Hall (Partners Village Store) showed a lot of pictures, including tables and racks that meshed books and gift items.

Identify and Cultivate Your Store Brand was all about making the look and feel — the “experience” — of your store together. Like the gifts session, its focus wasn’t merchandizing, but there were some amazing ideas. The panelists represented a diverse collection of bookstores. Nicole Sullivan (BookBar Denver) showed an amazing bar made out of books, Bradley Graham (Politics & Prose) has displays bigger than some of the sections in my store, and James Adams (5ive Creative) talked about case studies where he’d helped bookstores with their branding.

At the cocktail reception the last night of Winter Institute, I ran into Sydney Jarrard from the American Booksellers Association. Always eager to create more work for other people, I suggested to her that the ABA should create a Pinterest board where bookstores could share ideas for displays and window decorating. She enthusiastically agreed, talked to the boss, and dropped it back in my lap last week. I really have to work on saying “no” more often.

The Collaboration

I have now created not one, but two Pinterest group boards, one for in-store displays and one for windows. I started them with a few humble (very humble) pictures from my own store, and this blog post is the beginning of an effort to reach out to booksellers across the country (heck, around the world: I met book people from six countries at Winter Institute) and get everyone else sharing.

To join in the process, visit the board(s) you are interested in and follow them. Then leave a comment here on this blog post using the same name you used on Pinterest. I’ll authorize you to pin, and you can start adding pictures from your own store.

You do not have to be a member of the ABA to participate, but why on Earth would you have an indie bookstore and not want to join? They provide an awful lot of benefits for a very reasonable level of annual dues.

It’s a two way street! There are a lot of good ideas out there, and we want to get as many people participating as we possibly can. Here are the pictures I started things out with:

Effective Bookstore Displays

You can find this board at www.pinterest.com/garyrobson/effective-bookstore-displays/

Store Display-Benjamin

Who could possibly sell cat books better than a cat? I put copies of various cat-related books next to our bookstore cat Benjamin’s bed, so he’d attract attention and people would pick up the books when they stopped to pet him.

Store Display-MapsRed Lodge is right up against the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We are surrounded by millions of acres (literally) of wilderness areas and outdoor activities. We decided to set up this display to keep the hiking guides, maps, atlases, and outdoor activity books all together. People coming in for a copy of Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains just might want to pick up a hiking map to go with it!

Creative Bookstore Windows

You can find this board at www.pinterest.com/garyrobson/creative-bookstore-windows/

Store Window-Computers

When we first started selling computer books, we tried to come up with a good way to show them off. Being quite a packrat, I have saved up computers since I got my first one in the 1970s, and I built a mini-museum in the front window. People stopped to look at the old acoustic coupler modem and Apple ][, and ended up coming in to pick up a Mac or Windows book.

Store Window-Halloween

Last Halloween, we decided to take the store right out onto the sidewalk. As you can see in the picture, the local high school had decorated the windows for the big game, and we put this inflatable black cat in front of the door, moving his head back and forth to watch people go by. You can’t always see into the store well due to glare on the windows, but you could sure see this fellow!

Okay, your turn!

There are a few of my pictures to get the ball rolling. Let’s see how many more we can get on here in the next month. Challenge issued. Challenge accepted?

Intro to Macintosh Computers Adult Ed Class


iMacI will be teaching an adult education class called Introduction to Macintosh Computers in the Red Lodge High School computer lab starting later this month. It will be on Thursday nights from 7:00 to 9:00, beginning March 8 and running through April 12 — a total of six sessions. This will run concurrently with the Social Networking course I’m teaching there.

Macintosh computers include free software to manage your calendar, music, photos, contact lists, and email; and programs that let you create movies, browse the Web, chat with friends, and even create music. Attendees will learn the basics of these programs and the Mac itself. You don’t need to have a Mac to take the class: we’ll be in the computer lab at the high school, where there are enough computers for everybody.

WEEK 1: Toto, we’re not in Redmond anymore!

Macintosh computers don’t work like Windows machines (thank goodness!), but all computers fundamentally do the same things. In this first session, you’ll learn how to start up and shut down a Mac, where all of the files are, how to adjust basic settings, and how the Mac OS differs from Windows. We’ll take a look at some of the programs that are included with the computer and what they do, and then pop online and browse the Web from our Macs.

WEEK 2: Managing your life – setting up calendars, contacts, and email

These days, we don’t just use computers to … well … compute. We keep our lives on the computer. This class session will cover creating calendars and contact lists, and then using them for scheduling events, sending emails, and synchronizing to your phone. We’ll look at some of the differences between Apple’s philosophy and Google’s philosophy and how to work with both.

WEEK 3: Pictures! Loading pictures and using iPhoto

It’s hard to find a camera that uses film these days. Everything’s gone electronic. Luckily for us, Apple provides absolutely amazing photo management software for free with every Mac. In this class, you’ll learn how to load all of your pictures into iPhoto and how to work with them once they’re there, including organization, basic editing, printing, emailing, and uploading.

WEEK 4: Cue the music! How to load, manage, and even create music on a Mac

Apple revolutionized the music industry with iPods and the iTunes store. A lot of people, unfortunately, think that if you use iTunes, you have to buy all of your music from Apple. Not true! In this class, we’ll load and share music (legally) from a variety of sources, create playlists, create ringtones, and learn the tricks of synchronizing your music with iPods, phones, and other computers using the iCloud.

WEEK 5: Entertain me! Videos, podcasts, ebooks, audio books, movies, TV shows, and more

For more and more people, their computer is becoming their TV, and vice-versa. This week, we’ll take a look at how to connect your computer to a big-screen TV and use it for movies and TV shows, using both Netflix and Apple’s own store. We’ll take a short video in class, transfer it to the computer, do some simple editing, and play it on a TV. Finally, you’ll see where to get an amazing amount of free entertainment, including podcasts, ebooks, and audio books, and then see how to buy even more online.

WEEK 6: Using your Mac with other devices

Few of us carry our computers everywhere we go. Most of us, in fact, end up using more than one computer, along with a smart phone and a plethora of other electronic devices. We’ll spend week six learning how to share your files and pictures among your devices – even if some of those devices aren’t from Apple! We’ll share files with Windows computers, set up portable storage devices, and – here’s the most important part of the class – set up Time Machine, Apple’s backup system that keeps your important files safe.

I like to keep my classes very informal, very hands-on, and highly customized. Feel free to ask questions about your own Mac. To sign up for classes, contact Red Lodge High School at 406/446-1903. The cost is a paltry $15.00 for the entire six-week program. Deadline to sign up is February 17. See you there!

Treadmills, books, e-books, magazines, and apps


We have a treadmill at home. A fine treadmill, but with a major design flaw (from my perspective): the book holder. I’m a pretty big guy, and at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, my eyes are a long way from the book holder when I’m on the treadmill. My eyes aren’t great, but I can read a book with standard print from that distance. It’s a little jiggly when I’m moving, but I can manage. The holder itself is fine for a small book, but won’t easily hold a thick book. It will hold a magazine, but most magazines have pretty small print.

It’s also deucedly awkward turning pages. I have to just about take the book or magazine out of the holder, turn the page, and slide it back in. A real pain in the neck. I want something with large text that fits easily in the rack and has easy-to-turn pages, even when walking or jogging on the treadmill.

Wired Magazine on an iPadEnter the iPad.

I can enlarge the text as I please, it’s backlit so I don’t have to worry about positioning a light on the treadmill, and turning a page is as easy as swiping my finger across the screen — a piece of cake even at a jog. I like the feel of “real” books, and I like buying and selling used books, which makes reading less expensive, but the iPad is the perfect treadmill solution.

Then came Apple’s new release of iOS, which I loaded this week. It has a million new features, but some of the basic fundamentals stopped working, like being able to read an ebook. Big chunks of text disappear between virtual pages. I have to keep changing the text size up and down to try and fit more or less text per page and hope I can read those missing lines. A pain in any circumstances; completely untenable on a treadmill.

“iOS 5 has a million new features, but some of the basic fundamentals stopped working, like being able to read an ebook.”

Apple’s been trumpeting their new “Newsstand” on iOS 5, which allows you to group all of your magazines in one place and read them on the iPad. I figured I’d give it a shot. I can usually count on Wired magazine being ahead of the curve on tech, and they have a free issue when you load the app, so I loaded it up and gave it a try.

I love you, Wired, but you sure missed the boat on your iPad app. It’s almost like a group of designers sat down in a room and said, “How can we make this as awkward as possible for a 50-year-old dude on a treadmill?” It’s pretty; I’ll give them that. It’s an immersive experience that’s better than a magazine and better than a web site. But it has a few problems.

“I love you, Wired, but you sure missed the boat on your iPad app.”

  • You can’t adjust the text size. This is a huge step backwards in both ergonomics and accessibility.
  • Navigation is inconsistent. Sometimes you have to swipe down (for the next page in an article) and sometimes you swipe sideways (for the next article), but you can’t skip to the next article without either going through all of the pages or activating the scroll bar on the bottom and delicately scrolling sideways.
  • Navigation requires precise movements. Turning a page while moving at a jog is easy with the iPad’s e-reader for books. Just tap the right margin or swipe from the right. In the Wired app, you have to have the motion exactly correct. If your swipe isn’t exactly horizontal, it will try to scroll down, even if you’re on a page where downward swipes don’t work. If your swipe is too short, it treats it as a tap and shows the scroll bar. Many of the pages have active spots, and if you accidentally hit one of those, you end up playing an audio clip or showing a graphic instead of moving to the next page.
  • As a combination of my first and third point, some of the features require hitting fairly small buttons with fairly high precision (just a tap, not a swipe), which is quite a challenge on the treadmill.
  • There’s no onscreen indication of how to navigate. When I first loaded it up, I got to the first page of an article I didn’t want to read, and couldn’t figure out how to move on. I kept swiping sideways, and the image would flick sideways and come back. It took several minutes to figure out I had to go through all of the pages to the end of the article, and then flick sideways.

Beautiful app, guys. Looks great. Tons of data. Nice interactive features. But your ergonomics stink.

Until Apple fixes their ebook reader, it looks like I’m back to podcasts on the treadmill. Oh, well. I’ve been missing Science Friday lately. Hey, Ira! I’m back!

Kindle store vs. Apple iBookstore – An author’s perspective


Darkest Hour eBook CoverIn 2003, I created a booklet based on a pamphlet written by Fay Kuhlman. Entitled The Darkest Hour: A Comprehensive Account of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1943, it sold pretty well both at my bookstore and at the Carbon County (Montana) Historical Society. When 2010 rolled around, it seemed like time to update the book a bit, so I went to work on building a 3rd edition.

I had monkeyed around with eBooks back in the 90s, but that was well before their time. Delivery mechanisms were limited, there was no copy protection, and few devices that would qualify as readers. I decided this would be a fine time to see what’s involved in becoming a Kindle author and an iPad author.

I must confess that I went into the experiment with a bias. I’m not your typical Apple fanboy, in that I definitely recognize the flaws in Apple’s products and I use a wide variety of competing products. I have, however, done consulting for Apple, owned many of their different products, and currently use an iMac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, AppleTV, and more.

On the flipside, I own a bookstore. That means I deeply resent some of the things Amazon has done to the book business. That hasn’t stopped me from selling used books on their site and promoting my own books there, but I’m certainly not an Amazon fan.

Nonetheless, I resolved to do both at the same time and compare the processes with as little bias as possible.

Getting Started

I began the process by applying to be a publisher on Kindle Direct and on Apple’s iTunes Store. I filled in the forms, submitted them, and set out reading whatever information was available on preferred formats. The Kindle application went through fast. I was up and ready to publish in a day. The Apple application took well over a week, and I couldn’t find any way to speed things up. It was far more complex and the agreement far more restrictive than Amazons. This is definitely Advantage: Amazon.

As for file formats, Amazon uses a format called MOBI. You can use color in your cover image, but the inside of the book is black & white. Amazon didn’t have any tools of their own for doing the conversion, but recommended a product called Calibre. Once I stripped out tables, removed all color, and generally took the book back to text-only format, I could reformat the illustrations, build a table of contents, add in the cover art, and convert it using Calibre. It took several iterations, but I finally got what I wanted.

Apple, on the other hand, uses the open ePub format. Since Calibre does ePub, I did a quick reformat of what I’d done for MOBI, swapped the color pictures back in, and did the conversion on Calibre. Looked smooth and easy, but wouldn’t upload. I wrestled with it through several iterations, and finally resorted to reading the help files on Apple’s website. As it turns out, they specifically tell authors to avoid Calibre, as it creates incorrectly-formatted ePub files. Argh! However, the “Pages” word processor on the Macintosh outputs beautifully-formatted ePub, and everything went smoothly from there.

Since I don’t own a Kindle, I had to download a “Kindle Preview” app from Amazon to see how the book would look. On Apple, I simply dragged it to iTunes and synced the iPad. In both cases, I saw what I expected.

Given the formatting capabilities, availability of color, and openness of the format, I’d have to call this Advantage: Apple.

Making the books available for sale

Once your contracts are in place, uploading books is easy with both companies. Again, Amazon’s is faster, but that wasn’t a big deal. Setting prices and royalties was similar. Amazon made the book available in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. Apple gave me all three of those, plus Australia, Canada, and France. One rather significant difference is that Apple requires an ISBN for each eBook. I bought a block of ISBNs when I self published a couple of books years ago, so that wasn’t an issue for me. If you’re a first-time self-publisher, however, that could be a problem. Amazon, on the other hand, makes up a code themselves (they call it an ASIN rather than an ISBN), and you’re ready to go.

You can see what the book looks like in Amazon’s store and Apple’s store and compare for yourself. The Apple iBookstore looks quite different in a web browser than it looks on an iPad, but you’ll get the idea.

Both companies offer online sales and royalty reports and trend charts, and both make it easy to remove or update your book. It’s a close race here, but not requiring an ISBN probably makes this Advantage: Amazon.

The bottom line: Sales

The Darkest Hour, 3rd edition went on sale through both venues in March. Aside from a quick announcement on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve done no promotion whatsoever. It’s a highly-specialized booklet about a mine explosion that took place over 65 years ago. How has it done? According to the royalty reports, 25 copies on Kindle and 1 copy on iPad.

I’ll probably come back and update this after doing some promotion and giving it more time, but for the moment I have to declare Kindle the winner from the author’s perspective. I still like my iPad much better for many reasons, but as I release eBooks, I know where I’m putting my priority for first release!

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