Confessions of a booklover

Looking at my book purchases over the past few years, I’m finding that most of them are ebooks. The new paperbooks in my collection are mostly gifts, gratefully received, augmented by a few used volumes purchased online.

Cost is a factor, admittedly, but so is shelf space. We still have a thousand or more titles to cull from our collections before moving the remainder up here, and keeping them in storage ain’t cheap. My own practice of the past decade requires me to say adios to one copy every time I get a new one, and I find the swapping to be heart-rending. Books really are personal, and who ever wants to let go of a friend?

Among the harder aspects of putting our old house on the market was one we hadn’t anticipated. Our Realtor told us the bookshelves couldn’t be jammed, as ours were, but that buyers were entranced when shelves were only half full. We didn’t want to repulse them but, well, we had several walls to go through on that point.

That meant buying a lot of boxes from U-Haul to pack. Buy boxes? They stack better, for both transport and storage. Worth the price.

~*~

When it comes to how I’m now reading, I do find a distinction between ebooks and paper.

If it’s a page-turner being devoured quickly for pleasure or else an authority I’m using for background reference, I prefer digital. The digital search function’s very helpful, believe me – much better than relying on an index – and if I’m quoting something in a writing project, cut-and-paste beats keyboarding any day and is less likely to include typos. On the other hand, if the text requires slow reflection and digestion, traditional paper moves to the fore. Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living is a prime example, along with Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative.

Maybe the divide even comes down to whether it’s something I want to read hands-free or hands-on.

~*~

These also play into my considerations in my own publishing strategies.

As I looked to outlets for my big nonfiction project, Quaking Dover, I realized it was the kind of volume most readers would want to have in their hands or even wrap as a present.

It was one I’d want to place in bookstores and libraries, but that became a big hurdle.

If I put it the book up at Amazon’s KDP, the bookstores would back off. As for libraries? Dunno.

The alternatives I saw were prohibitively expensive for what would be a niche item, unless it magically took off on the charts, even as print-on-demand.

The plot thickened when my ebook haven, Smashwords, announced it was being absorbed by Draft2Digital. Yeah, the promises of no changes were there, but really?

Yet from what I’m seeing, maybe not. Maybe this is the big challenge to the Amazon juggernaut.

Upshot is, that’s where I’m planning to place my print version.

What’s the future of retail after Covid?

We all know the boost the Covid shutdown gave to online shopping and delivery. Ordering from the comfort of home, when everything went well, could be a pleasure. For some of us, it even meant being able to find exactly what we wanted, even after we had tried without success to find the item in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Of course, it could also be exasperating, as I discovered when a promised item failed to arrive before Christmas, even though it had been ordered more than a month before, and cancellation and refund weren’t available, due to the fine print that the product was being shipped from an independent source rather than the classy brand name. It was finally delivered in February, even after I had finally got the retailer to cancel the purchase.

As we also know, not every website is easily navigated, either.

~*~

I think about that when I look at the vacant storefronts in Eastport’s historic and charming downtown. Just what would fit in here efficaciously? Retail, of course, is the heart of it, along with a mix of offices and studios.

It’s a situation we share with many other communities, where the pleasures of being able to stroll from one option to another are countered by the expectation of easy parking. Just what do we really want or need, actually? More possessions? Services? Treats for the eyes or taste buds?

If you open a store, you’re not going to get rich at it, even though retailing requires a special insight and savvy. To be successful, you’ll also need value-added lines in ways the online rivals can’t compare. Think of the personal touch as a shopper when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for to fix a particular problem.

Eastport has the additional complications of a small year-round population that swells in the summer, meaning the retail season can boil down to half-dozen prime weeks with a long slowdown in between.

~*~

You’ll hear people talk fondly of the old Woolworth’s or Newberry’s, with their lunch counters and swivel chairs or their extensive fabric selection or whatever, or the way these emporiums anchored the block. Not so for the dollar stores or Walmart.

I’m well into a stage of de-collection and downsizing, so I hesitate to add more possessions. Still, when I walk into a place like the Rock & Art store in Ellsworth or Bangor, I can be tempted.

Obviously, I don’t have the answer for what will revitalize the district, but my guess is that it will be an array of things not currently in our vision. Who would have thought of brewpubs a decade or two ago, for instance?

Or, as they used to say in the days of black-and-white television, “Please stay tuned.”

Here comes the paperbook edition!

A history book seems like a natural for a print edition, but it can be a risky deal for a publisher.

After all, few titles are of the bestseller scope aimed at a nationwide readership.

My Quaking Dover is a prime example of the niche appeal that can arise when you zero in on a small community and then further refine it to a crucial minority. Even when it becomes a microcosm of a much bigger picture, as I believe mine does, the hard reality is that it’s hard to break even in traditionally publishing such a work.

~*~

Independently producing at Kindle Direct Publishing was one alternative, but it wouldn’t get copies into brick-and-mortar bookstores, which would have to buy the books at full price from Amazon and then add an additional fee, or into many public libraries – and I do see those as essential outlets for this work.

I looked into several other services but concluded that the costs to me would have been prohibitive, no matter how attractive the result.

Now, however, I have good news to share.

Quaking Dover is appearing as a print-on-demand edition from Draft2Digital, available through its affiliated traditional retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

D2D first came to my attention when it acquired Smashwords.com, the pioneering ebook enterprise that’s been my literary haven for nearly a decade now. The more I learned of it, the more I sensed that releasing my print editions there was no-brainer.

~*~

See what you think. Like the ebook edition I’ve previously announced, the paperbook is being offered at a reduced price in a pre-release – in this case up till its October 8 release.

You can help me prime the pump by requesting your own physical copy at your favorite bookstore or library.

Check out my author page at Books2Read for details.

Let’s shake things up!

‘Congratulations! You are qualified to get better services and a better rate.’

This is what I got in the mail from our cable company, a month or so after it had hiked our broadband fees by 30 percent. He they were now, returning with a pitch to cut the monthly bill to $5 under what we were paying earlier but with television channels included.

The first problem? We don’t have TV and don’t want it!

“Redeem your upgrade today.”

Who are they kidding? You can bet that a year from now that monthly bill will skyrocket. Trying to scale that back to where we were would be with just the broadband becomes the second, and bigger, problem.

Of course, the third problem overshadowing all of this is the inefficiency of unchecked monopoly. Where are the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans when we need them?

How do these companies justify their rates, anyway?

The cruise ships are coming!

As our City in the Bay has been redefining itself, in part thanks to its lively arts scene and surrounding natural wonder, tourism has been ticking up, even in the face of Covid-19.

Part of Eastport’s appeal is the deepest natural harbor in the continental U.S., a port that at one time, back when there was a lot of smuggling, was the second-busiest in the nation – something a shift in federal tax laws and heightened enforcement soon curbed.

Still, we have a long history of steamship travel, right up to the auto age.

And now, this year, hooray, we’re even anticipating the return of passenger vessels, albeit of the increasingly popular “small” ship variety rather than the floating cities that can overrun a seaport.

First, the 210-passenger, 325-foot Pearl Mist is scheduled for five visits, most of them 3½ hours ashore, as part of a seven-night round-trip out of Portland. Other stops on its Fundy Bay circuit include Rockland and Bar Harbor in Maine, and St. Andrews, St. John, and Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. Fares run from about $4,000 and up.

Second, in September we host the innovative 530-passenger, 459-foot Roald Amundsen expedition ship on a 10-hour stopover. Originally, this was to be part of an adventurous 44-day navigation across the Arctic Ocean in a Northwest Passage venture from Vancouver, British Columbia, an ultimate bucket-list voyage. But the fares, starting around $57,000, may have been too pricy for the Covid-antsy market, causing it to be broken up into segments – the first ending at Nome, Alaska, and the second continuing from there on to Greenland and ending at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Eastport is now tucked in as the cherry in a shorter, more affordable, New England dessert.

More exciting is the news that the Amundsen is now scheduled to return next year as part of an even more audacious 94-day cruise – a Pole-to-Pole adventure that will originate in Vancouver, British Columbia, and traverse the Northwest passage before coming to Eastport and then continue on to equatorial warmth, the Panama Canal, the Pacific coast of South America, and finally shore visits on Antarctica. Think of going from icy summer to the edge of autumn in New England to the tropics and on to spring while exploring three continents. The lowest fares figure out around $600 a day.

And little Eastport will be part of that.

In Maine, the bulk of the cruise action hits Bar Harbor, at the edge of popular Acadia National Park, where frequently two ships a day debark during the summer season, and in Portland, which gets especially busy during the fall foliage season.

We’re really not set up for the mega-cruise vessels that have dominated the industry. Let’s see how our emerging niche shapes up.

 

Deep Cove boatyard  

Eastport has the only big boatyard between Halifax and Bar Harbor, and, as they boast, the cheapest one on the East Coast.
Moose Island Marine Inc. operates the sprawling yard out of a modest office.
It’s a legacy from earlier days when shipbuilders popped up everywhere along the shoreline.
I do have to learn to identify the various boat styles.

 

 

 

Beyond those declining mass media numbers

Newspapers were in trouble even before the Internet. In general, fewer people were reading, period, and that included books and magazines as well. It was easy to blame television, but interests were shifting, too – and editors were at a loss when it came to hitting viable new directions that would capture attention.

Another factor was that the workplace and lifestyles were also changing. Fewer people were employed in factories, for one thing, and fewer were taking mass transit to get to and from work. Waiting for the bus, train, or ferry and then riding were prime time for many readers. Driving, then, meant less time for reading. More likely was the radio or even audiobooks.

When I entered daily journalism, afternoon papers generally had the larger circulation, fitting blue-collar work schedules that often let out at 3 or 4 pm. As the factories closed down, so did the afternoon papers in towns that had two or more newspapers. Most of the others shifted to morning publication, where they could be on the newstands all day and still look fresh. Thus, American dailies declined from 1,750 in 1970 to 1,279 in 2018.

The Internet’s whammy has been mostly to the papers’ business model, an arcane system I describe in my novel Hometown News.

What we haven’t heard much about is the bigger hit to commercial network television, where audiences have defected to cable content and streaming.

In fact, the best new programming is on those newer options.

The thought hit me while watching Only Murders in the Building was that such quality would have never appeared on a commercial network series. You no doubt can add your own favorites to the list. How many of those are on commercial networks? Any?

The meltdown of the monolithic mass media, both print and broadcast, is a mixed bag, of course. Here we are blogging, for one thing, but rarely does that get the same readership as a newspaper column in even a small-town paper. But we’re getting our say, anyway.

Keeping a clean desktop?

Here’s one filing system I used, back when dealing with piles of paper:

File

Toss

Act

Delegate

Haven’t quite figured out an alternative for online “piles” yet. Guess they’re “files” on the screen that’s erroneously called a “desktop.”

Last time I looked, my laptop was sitting on the real desktop.

And I’ve still been getting by without a printer.

Any ideas on how to keep those incoming emails and texts from getting lost in the clutter?

 

Is anyone else pestered by seemingly endless car warranty calls?

I’m assuming they’re robocalls, which I believe should be outlawed with horrendous consequences. Or even if live, rather than recorded, going for the throats of the higher-up perpetuators, rather than the poor offshore minions who actually speak into the phone from wherever.

But still, don’t they get the idea that I got the picture that they’ll never, ever, be this responsive if I pay up and ever need a repayment by way of a claim?

It’s an aging vehicle, after all, and will need some costly repairs. How much? The so-called insurance expects to be far ahead of any premiums in the long run, no questions asked.

Got any ideas on how to turn the table on this nuisance? My readers and I are all ears!