Another Bookstore Slipping Away

© Ottawa Citizen

I woke up this morning to hear CBC Ottawa Morning’s host mention that independent bookstore Collected Works was on the brink of closing. An ill-timed expansion of the store in 2010 seems to have undermined the economics of the small independent bookstore. It has until  Christmas Eve to find a financial backer. The Ottawa Citizen has the details.

Having watched my favourite Ottawa bookstores close in the past year or so (the long-lived Shirley Leishman’s Books and Books on Beechwood as well as Nicholas Hoare and Mother Tongue), I find it sad to think that readers in Canada’s capital city may one day be served only by a handful of Chapters superstores and a collection of used bookstores.

I entered the book publishing world with my first book in 1984 (a lateral move from magazine publishing) and remember the next 15 years fondly. The world of books was collegial and smart and fun. Each year, hundreds (could it have been thousands?) of booksellers and publishers would meet Continue reading

A Welcome Review

John Harlin IIII’m feeling a bit starstruck today after an incredibly complimentary note from John Harlin III. A member of the Harlin climbing dynasty, John is author of the Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain That Killed my Father, star of the Imax film, The Alps (about his own Eiger ascent) and recently retired editor of the American Alpine Journal.

Thank you John. These are generous words and I’m delighted that you share my vision of the future of illustrated books. I mean, coffee tablet books. (Rather than wait for a review copy, John bought the very first copy on iTunes two weeks ago.)

Everest: High Expectations, by Pat Morrow and Sharon Wood, is at the vanguard of the new wave in publishing. It’s an iPad-only book about two milestone Canadian expeditions to Everest in the 1980s. One journey takes Pat Morrow to the summit after four people died early in the expedition. The other is Sharon Wood’s struggle for the top via a new route with no Sherpa support… Both of these stories are historically important and superbly written.
… this is the first mountain book to fully utilize the incredible new iBooksAuthor system from Apple, which helps authors create multi-media “coffee tablet books.” I think it’s brilliant. It brings a book to life like never before, including slideshows, video, and sound clips. And yet the design follows the aesthetic tradition of a photo-heavy book that you’d proudly display on your coffee table. So it’s a “coffee tablet” book.
I’m convinced that growth in publishing will be in tablets and I recommend this book for two reasons:
1) these are gripping good tales that are gorgeous to look at, and
2) this book is making history, as perhaps the very first climbing book designed specifically for today’s most exciting medium.

Just One More Paddle, Please…

ice blocks kayakThe temperatures soared toward 10°C the past couple of days so I headed down to my boat yesterday in hope of a paddle. But there was too much ice between me and open water. Darn it.

The Everest book kept me hopping day and night since late July and I seem to have missed a season of paddling… well, except for two fun days in the Thousand Islands in early August. (Yeah, and four days in Georgian Bay.) But my regular morning “commute” to the office by way of Dipper Bay and Birch Lake was totally disrupted.

Guess it’s time to get the skates ready in case we get a hard freeze next week.

Bare Bums

One of the concerns I have about producing books only for Apple’s iPad is the fact that Apple Corp has complete approval of the editorial content of the ibooks it displays in its iTune bookstore. It puts a spotlight on the control that giant companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have over media at a time when censorship by democratic governments has faded.

Case in point: early this month Apple refused to carry Hippies 1 and Hippies 2 , an illustrated history book from a Danish publisher, because of archival photos of naked hippies frolicking in the 60s and 70s. (The publisher covered the naughty bits with apples to no avail.)

The Globe & Mail’s Michael Posner also reveals that the Apple content panel retitled Naomi Wolf’s new bestseller Vagina: A New Biography to V***** to protect the sensibilities of the world’s 100 million iPad owners. I suppose she can take solace in the fact the book is unillustrated.

Luckily, the Apple morality panel didn’t stop us from sharing a pair of 1982 buttocks in Everest: High Expectations at Base Camp. Not every editor gets to add a shower scene to his book.


The Business of Coffee Tablet Books

Books published by Frank

Some of my old paper books.

I decided two years ago to stop printing books and pursue the e-alternative.

With 50,000 unsold books collecting dust in a Toronto warehouse and the market for them shrinking weekly, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

In the 1990s, Bungalo Books used to sell between 100,000 and 200,000 books a year — goofy kids picture books that John Bianchi and I produced at a time when the term “self-publishing” was used with derision. By 2010, self-publishing was suddenly in vogue but annual sales of our once profitable backlist had slipped to less than 2,000. Printing books was a money-losing proposition and publishing had lost its pleasure.

My initial e-steps were tentative and the early projects — a series of interactive book apps for kids — failed for a variety of reasons. I didn’t have the technical skills to create “book apps” myself, nor the money to outright hire the people who did. A couple of joint ventures failed in mid-production and I refused to sell rights to my books to app developers Continue reading

It’s a Book

While out in Victoria in 2010 to do a presentation for the local Children’s Literature Roundtable, one of the group’s executive introduced the audience to Lane Smith’s “It’s a Book,” recently released by Macmillan. Two characters, a tech-head donkey and book-loving gorilla, face off as to the merits of a book.

Visually it is a cute book, best read aloud. The audience loved it although there was some tut-tutting when the donkey is called a jackass. (Hey, it was Victoria.) It certainly captures the e-book vs. old-book debate with charm and humour.

Shortly after, I stumbled across the publisher’s one-minute video of the book on youtube and came to the conclusion that “It’s a Book” is even more effective as a video. In fact, it undermines Smith’s thesis Continue reading

Damn Beavers

I have spent the past four months working long days — very long days and nearly every weekend — to put together Bungalo’s first iBook. I think most people would agree that it’s been worth the effort. It’s a beautiful book and tells a great story in a new and unusual way.

I think that Apple’s iBook platform is the answer to the faltering business of creating economical and effective illustrated books. I’ve taken to calling them “coffee tablet books” in tribute to the big, lush coffee table books I used to produce back in the 1980s.

But one can’t expect to emerge from a crazy work schedule unscathed — especially if one lives beside a quiet lake surrounded by thousands of acres of protected wilderness. The beavers it seems have been as busy as me.

beaver ate this birch treeIn early September — about the time I was doing the final edit of Pat Morrow’s 1982 ascent photos with him — I noticed the beavers had taken out a few trees on the south end of my shoreline. I wasn’t too worried as I had been Continue reading