It's Pearl Harbor Day December 7, and that means nothing to most people under 67 years of age. So in the spirit of these more modern times, let's troll through the latest news on books.
It may be more interesting than reviewing "Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan... and the World." I'll get around to The Pigeons Who Ate Manhattan next week.
In The Cleveland Scene, Cleveland's News Arts & Entertainment Weekly, this rant: "The existence of a book called 'Spliffigami' is evidence that it's too easy these days to lay out books and print them on dead trees. Author Chris Stone (really?) doesn't even seem to be attempting humor with his manual on how to roll joints using multiple papers, twisting and folding them into elaborate shapes including, but not limited to, forks and flowers."
In Cleveland that's a putdown. In Mendocino, it's your invitation to buy a book with dope money.
Publisher Simon & Schuster bled with bad news this week. First, they eliminated 2% of their workforce. They also announced they will publish two books on Ted Kennedy. His terminal brain cancer will sell a lot of books for the company next spring. S&S also has a book on Obama in the works. It will tell the story of Obama's first 100 Days, which haven't happened yet. S&S is the publisher that got started during the last depression. Their innovation was to sell crossword puzzle books with a pencil attached.
The day before Simon & Schuster's announcement, Random House reorganized, not a happy word if you are employed there. They knocked off 54 jobs and disbanded Doubleday Publishing Group.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books. Not you. The editors. You keep on buying books, hear? Of course, with no manuscripts coming in they will eventually stop publishing. Houghton has a great plan to save money: Go out of business!
Houghton has the Curious George franchise. Will those execs take along the Man in the Yellow Hat when they plead for a Washington bailout?
To be clear, they're only temporarily stopping buying books. Maybe they'll start up again when the clouds of depression lift.
At the chain bookstores Borders Books & Music reported sales down by ten per cent. Barnes & Noble is down 7.4% and Books-a-Million by 9.9%. One of the largest book distributors, Baker & Taylor, laid off 80 workers.
Other straws in the hurricane: Random House will not attend Canada's biggest book show, but at the same time they are expanding their E-book offerings. That's electronic books, not ink on paper books with pages you have to turn. The Random House sales force already gets their catalogs and advance reading copies on E-readers, so why not you, too?
These publishers are drops in the financial bucket for the corporations that own them. Simon & Schuster is owned by Viacom. Random House is owned by Bertelsmann. Houghton Mifflin is owned by Vivendi International. Baker & Taylor is owned (formerly owned; see Comment below) by the Carlyle Group. The Carlyle Group is cutting 100 jobs, or ten per cent of its staff. Reuters calls the move "the first significant cuts made by a large U.S. private equity firm since the global economic crisis hit." The Carlyle Group also invests heavily in war related industries, and features George Bush senior, James Baker, and John Major as top consultants.
In happier news: Penguin Group financially assisted the United Nations Refugee Agency and author Khaled Hosseini to open a new school for young children in Arababshirali, 150 miles from Kabul in Afghanistan. The school serves 270 local children. Khaled Hosseini is the author of "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
Finally, evidence that the bookstore fantasy lives on: "Defying the economic downturn in order to live out their dream of having a bookstore, Liz Garo and business partner Claudia Colodro hosted the grand opening of Stories Books and Café in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles on Saturday, November 15."
Next Week: Pigeons. I promise.
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"Spliffigami" by Chris Stone. Ten Speed Press paperback $12.95. ISBN 1580089372. Great cover. And yes, that is his real name. From the publisher: "Chris Stone has written several humorous trivia books on cricket and football, as well as edited or coauthored titles on various aspects of cannabis culture and golf fitness. He lives in London."