They Just Keep Trying, Don’t They?

By Jessica castro, ia Unsplash

While Presidents submit their proposed Federal budgets each year, the “power of the purse” – the authority to appropriate money – rests with Congress, and most Presidents’ budgets are more or less ignored, except as a blueprint for that particular administration’s or the party’s agenda.

The Stiletto Gumshoe is more or less a politics-free zone, however passionate my own positions may be (and what they are…well, we won’t get into that here, unless they’ve peeked through unintentionally in prior posts). Nonetheless…

For each year of this current administration, the President’s proposed budget called for the complete elimination of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which funds research and provides grants to museums and libraries. The IMLS is the primary source of federal funding to public libraries. Not their primary source of funding, mind you, which typically will be local property taxes, but the primary source of federal funding. Also, the proposed 2021 budget – “A Budget For America’s Future” – calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (the NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (the NEA).

I have my points of view and you’ll have yours about erecting walls, detention camps, cozying up with dictators, billing taxpayers for resort stays, launching a Satellite Sam space force, gutting or cutting Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S.D.A., the State Department and…well, you get my point. And I’m sure there are political persuasions that will rail against the NEH and NEA as promoters of particular ideologies they vehemently oppose. (Or choose not to understand.) So, let’s just agree to disagree.

But it’s pretty hard to argue against public libraries.

I whine about my own local library often, a lovely and well-appointed facility that unfortunately is woefully short of actual books. But complaining doesn’t mean you won’t find me in there every week or so, and leaving with books in hand.

Despite the repeated attempts to defund or eliminate the IMLS, NEH and NEA altogether, Congress has not only re-appropriated funds in each of the past years, it has actually increased funding. Sincere support or pandering, who knows?

ALA

Whether you come up a few bucks shy on your next bookstore visit, or faint when you see the online bookseller charges on your credit card statement, or routinely take advantage of your local library like me, consider popping over to the American Library Association site at www.ala.org for a handy link to reach out to your own congressional representative to voice your concern about where your tax dollars go. Or, where they don’t go. I mean, we’re talking about your local public library, for goodness sakes.

John Warner’s 2.10.20 Biblioracle column in the Chicago Tribune, “Libraries Most Popular Attraction, And For Good Reason” (link below) references a December 2019 Gallup Poll of Americans’ most common cultural activities. Surprise: Going to the library topped the list, coming in at nearly double the rate of going to the movies, and way more than attending sporting events, zoos, casinos, concerts, etc., used most frequently by lower income households and, surprisingly, shows the highest use by the 18 – 29 year old demo (and incidentally, highest regional use in the Midwest…go Flatlanders!) Warner’s column concludes with a simple message: “We don’t want a world without libraries”.

Amen to that, brother.

(Photo: By Jessica Castro, via Unsplash)

https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/books/ct-books-biblioracle-0216-20200210-fdrdtzhlafct3jbmmohjcy3txa-story.html

The Decade’s Best (Make That Bestsellers)

by brittany markert

Normally I bypass many of the end-of-year ‘best-of’ lists populating so many blogs, newsletters and sites that I follow. This year, pad the count with extra end-of-decade best-of lists. Skimming a couple right before the holidays was enough for me, though they’re still popping up on my screen. Much as I enjoy reading reviewers’ opinions, I know that my faves won’t be yours and vice-versa, and ‘best’ will be one thing to one reader and something else to another.

That said, one list did catch my eye, albeit not a ‘best of’ list at all: John Warner’s 1.5.20 Chicago Tribune Biblioracle column, “Top Bestsellers Rail Against Patriarchy” listed the NPD Bookscan top-selling books of the decade, and he opened by asking the reader to guess the top-selling book of the 2010’s. Warning: You may not like the answer.

Yes, it was E. L. James Fifty Shades of Grey. But it gets worse. The number two and three titles? Also E.L. James, with her sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Now this was a bestselling list, not a ‘best-of’ list. If you’re disappointed that cumbersome mommy porn sold so well when your own lovingly crafted projects may have languished in relative obscurity (consider that just the returns for the Fifty Shades books surely dwarfed most writers’ total sales), there’s still news in the decade’s top-sellers. In order, the top selling books in the 2010’s according to NPD Bookscan were:

Fifty Shades Of Grey, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

The Girl on The Train, Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

Divergent, Veronica Roth

brittany-markert

Whether you read or liked all or even some of the list, you can see that it’s overwhelmingly dominated by women writers and with books featuring female protagonists. Noteworthy? You bet. Someday, tallying women writers vs. men writers simply won’t be a topic, any more than women directors, musicians, artists, etc. Someday. But for now, there are still decades (centuries?) of male dominated pop culture and fine arts to rebalance. After all, the publishing marketplace (publishers, editors, literary agents, etc.) is comprised mostly of women. And, most books are bought by women. So, there should be no big revelation in the decade’s top seller list.

No one’s saying the books’ protagonists are all heroic women or even positive role models. It would be a stretch to claim that each title on the decade’s bestseller list necessarily ‘railed against patriarchy’, as John Warner put it in the Tribune. That’s the makings of another conversation. Still, the stats are illuminating, and it’ll be interesting to revisit this ten years out when we see what the 2020’s top ten will be, who’ll have written them, and what changes may or may not have occurred in readers’ tastes and the industry’s output.

Photos: Brittany Markert

 

This Is Getting Complicated.

Steven Meisel 2009

John Warner’s “Give A Gift That Supports Small Presses: Skip Amazon And Buy Direct” ran online in the 11.25.19 Chicago Tribune (link below) and reappeared in Sunday’s print/online editions’ Biblioracle feature, putting another spin on the whole ‘where to responsibly buy books’ thing.

For many, the Seattle big boy’s the bad boy, and I get that. For others, it’s their primary link to civilization. Chain booksellers have largely vanished. The noble independent booksellers may not be ‘round the corner, but need our support, and if their inventory doesn’t include the titles we’re looking for, they’ll be happy to order them. (Well, the owners are happy to order them…not so certain about some of the clerks.)

Warner’s Tribune piece notes that Amazon is reducing its publishers’ 2019 holiday season orders as a way to deal with ‘congestion issues’ in its warehouses. In some cases, independent publishers have reported devastating order reductions up to 75%.

We often forget just how much (or how little) publishers – small, micro and indie publishers in particular – make on each individual book sale. That $15.95 trade paperback was probably sold at a 45% to 60%+ trade discount. There may be additional co-op ad/promotional funding deducted from the wholesale price. Plus, the publisher pays the freight to distributors’ designated warehouses (Ingram, for example, has several regional distribution centers). And the publisher will have to accept and provide credit for returns later, when booksellers purge their shelves to make room for new books or simply to convert inventory into much-needed cash. Those returns are rarely (if ever) re-salable, often too shopworn to be remaindered and may only end up pulped for pennies.

So, John Warner’s article prompts book buyers to consider buying direct from indie publishers. More cumbersome than a Seattle-session? Sure it is, and possibly a bit more costly too. But, those publishers will make full price on your orders. Some may even offer online coupons, discounts and incentives of their own. Warner highlights several independent publishers like the University of Chicago Press and Coffee House Press, and points out just how easily and happily lost an avid book buyer can become in their online catalogs.

It’d be nice if buying a book didn’t have to be such a morally weighty endeavor, but it is. We want to support everyone: Authors, publishers and retailers alike. If it sometimes feels like too much to grapple with, I understand and agree. My own approach is to spread my book buying dollars around. With holiday gift buying season here, it should be no surprise that many books are on my shopping list. But after reading John Warner’s Chicago Tribune article, I’m definitely going to some small press and independent publishers’ sites to order direct.

I don’t know if it really helps, but it can’t hurt.

Photo: Dorothea Barth Jorgensen, Madisyn Ritland, Viktoriya Sasonkina and Nimue Smit by Steven Meisel for Alberta Feretti, 2009

https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/books/ct-books-biblioracle-1201-20191125-arlmpbtvjfd5rayrxelxnnqs34-story.html

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