David Wilk talks to Kieron Smith about The Best Little Bookshop

October 2, 2014 by  
Filed under PublishingTalks, The Future

kieron-smith-newPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how they believe publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing.  I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

UPDATE: as of January 27, 2015, it was announced that (sadly) Best Little Bookshop will be closing and Kieron Smith moving on to other pursuits. Still, this discussion ought to remain interesting to anyone who is thinking about bookselling and consumer interaction with books.

Kieron Smith is a long time bookseller and founder of the new online bookstore, The Best Little Bookshop. This new site takes a different approach to online retail book selling than others have done. There is much more emphasis on curation, more in-depth presentation of books and publishers, social interaction onsite from customers, and importantly, the participation of other booksellers from the outset. And the store, while based in the UK, is friendly to buyers from other countries. I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing around with BLB, and for me, it’s a great experience. I’ve discovered books and publishers I’ve never heard of and that I am interested in reading and buying. I’m looking forward to seeing how Kieron and his team integrate other booksellers into the store experience and how its community of users will influence the direction the store takes in the future.

Best Little Bookshop is clear evidence that it is possible to create new models of retail book selling online. The store launched in summer 2014, so as of now, there are still features in development, and doubtless more changes and improvements to come. My conversation with Kieron was exciting for me, as I see so much potential with this site for publishers, authors and readers, and wanted to hear first hand how the founder views the future.  One interesting point – no ebooks here, just print.

Alert: this is a relatively long interview at 41 minutes. Take your time and enjoy!

Kieron Smith has over 17 years of book trade experience, starting with WHSmith Retail, establishing the multi-channel Ottakars.co.uk website in 1999, heading up the web offering at BCA and operations at Methven’s Booksellers, followed by three years outside the industry at Europe’s leading video games website GAME.co.uk. Head of online for Waterstones.com in 2006-7 and then MD of international online book retailer The Book Depository (purchased by Amazon in 2011) for five years until November of 2013. The Book Depository was acquired by Amazon.com in 2011.

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Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Mark Teppo about The Mongoliad

In this ongoing series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I believe that these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly and broadly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.  These conversations give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by active participants in the book business.

It’s likely that most listeners of this podcast series are aware of the innovative storytelling project called The Mongoliad.  This project, a “transmedia” collaboration of several science fiction and fantasy writers, along with their readers, and others, is one of the more far-reaching experiments in digitally enabled fiction.  There are many interesting practical elements to this project, including quality control, story and character continuity, and other issues of control.  And there are economic questions as well.

There are all sorts of bigger issues in play here as well, including the notion of author, ownership of ideas and control issues in a collaborative crowdsourcing environment, and the nature of writer and reader in a community setting.  Hopefully these issues will continue to be explored and discussed in many other venues.

Mark Teppo is the Chief Creative Officer for Subatai Corporation, which is the operator of The Mongoliad project.  Mark plots and fabricates alternate versions of historical eras for this project and others.   He is also the author of the urban fantasy series The Codex of Souls (Night Shade Books) and lives in Seattle.  His other projects include: Darkline: An on-going research and commentary site dealing with esoterica and the occult and Psychobabel, a pair of non-linear texts—The Potemkin Mosaic and The Psychobabel Folio—the Psychobabel project explores the landscape of dream, the labyrinth of linguistics, and the deconstruction of mythology.

Just after I interviewed Mark for Writerscast, Amazon and Subatai announced that Amazon will be publishing the books related to The Mongoliad.  I asked Mark to comment here to provide some additional context for our discussion.    Here is what he said:

Regarding the deal with Amazon’s new SF/F imprint, we’re thrilled that they want to bring The Mongoliad to a larger audience.  One of the
things that we’ve always said is that, for many of us, a book doesn’t really exist until you can crack it open and bury your nose in its pages.  I grew up with books, and still have a house full of them. Rooms seem strangely naked if they don’t have books in them.  Digital technology is coming to books, and e-readers are definitely going to change the market, but they don’t make physical books any less a critical part of our being.  To that end, partnering with 47North (Amazon’s new S/F imprint) to be able to produce The Mongoliad as a physical book is simply part of what we always wanted to accomplish.

On a more practical side, the e-reading market is still in its infancy.  Those of us who spend all day on the Internet easily forget that a significant part of the reading audience prefers physical texts.  We’d be remiss in our efforts to entertain everyone if we didn’t make every effort possible to let them enjoy our stories as well. Amazon’s entry into the SF/F publishing space will allow us to put the entirety of the Mongoliad on the shelves in bookstores by the end of 2012, which–in publishing terms–is almost overnight.

I think you will find this discussion about The Mongoliad well worthwhile.  It is a really interesting project being done by a very smart and accomplished group of people.  I’ve enjoyed reading it as the series has evolved, and recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction and visionary writing or who might be looking for inspiration to develop other innovative models for digital storytelling.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Frank Rose

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Frank Rose is a journalist and author, most recently of a book called The Art of Immersion, How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories.  I could easily have interviewed him about that book, which is interesting enough in its own right (and later this year I plan to talk to him about it for WritersCast).

But for this conversation, I wanted to talk to Frank about how writers are adapting to the changes wrought in publishing by the advent of digital books.

Frank has recently reprinted another one of his books, one that has been out of print for a number of years; it fits the profile of a fine book from the recent past that cannot be published or re-published commercially anymore.  That book is called West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer.  It’s about the power struggle at Apple that ended up with Steve Jobs being pushed out of the company he had helped found. West of Eden was originally published in 1989 at which time it was a national best-seller and was rated as one of the ten best business books of the year by BusinessWeek.

In 2009, Frank published an updated version of the book himself for Amazon’s Kindle, as well as a digitally printed paperback edition under his own press name (Stuyvesant Street Press) and the book has been doing quite decently.  One assumes that there are a fairly large number of people today who are interested in and knowledgeable about the history of modern computing and the computer industry.  Enough for an author, if not for a commercial publisher to make a reasonable profit from publishing this book digitally.

Currently Frank writes for Wired, where he has been a contributing editor for almost ten years.  Before this assignment, he was a contributing writer at Fortune, writing about Hollywood and global media conglomerates, he’s also been at Esquire, Premiere and Travel + Leisure, and has written for the New York Times Magazine among many other magazines.  And he began his writing career at the Village Voice covering the emerging punk scene in Lower Manhattan in the ’70s.

Chances are good that Frank Rose’s experience as an author turned publisher will be reflective of a myriad of similar authors in the next few years.  And perhaps will indicate some interesting opportunities for other segments within the publishing ecosystem. I think this conversation will be interesting to many in the book business who are thinking about how roles are changing in publishing, especially as digital publishing creates so many new opportunities for easy distribution to readers.

More on Frank Rose here.  More on West of Eden at Amazon.