Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who is that Papier-mache man?

Now that Ginger's been introduced, I should probably account for myself. And why I'm in a potentially scandalous partnership with a machine named Ginger.


First and foremost I've been a bookseller most of my life, before that I was an obsessive SF & Fantasy & Comic nerd in the 80s (oops. I just reveled my 'use by' date). I worked at several bookstores in my career; a now-defunct book chain called Crown Books (remember them?); then a very long stint at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle (and contrary to any rumors, opinions, EbbCo. is going to be around a looooong time); and now I'm here at Third Place Books.

Bookselling has always been an amazingly rigorous intellectual job; you're brain never shuts down--whether you're recommending books to customers, trading opinions with co-workers, or trying to figure out how to bring in more business to your Indie Bookstore. But I've been watching the Publishing industry slide into this weird Stockholm syndrome-in-a-Wal-Mart situation where the art of bookselling is sorely under-appreciated. Until Indies build up the next sleeper hit (too many examples to cite here, but trust me). So a solution to this down-slide was badly needed. I think the EBM is that solution (more later on that).

So what's a bookseller like me doing in a place like this? As lead publisher & designer of a small Press? Luck and timing, mainly. But there's also my extended relationship with Graphic Design, harkening back to this SF&F zine I published  long ago called PRESCIENCE. The experience of putting together the zine (old school Word layout, cut & paste imagery, photocopy all) led to the purchase of my first computer, an Apple Performa. Running Photoshop 5 and Quarkexpress. That was in 1995-6. I've taught myself most aspects of design, picked up handy tips from talented individuals--all while working at bookstores. That's the answer for the design side of my experience.

Publishing? In 2001 a brief stint at a wacky online start-up called Publishing Online introduced me to the concept of e-books and, further, Print on Demand technology. The wheels in my mind started spinning: how can both of these book formats work towards helping the publishing industry and Indie Bookstores (not Big Box Chains, 'cause frankly they could all switch to selling shoes and their board members probably wouldn't care)? I spent many years (back at a bookstore job) pondering the idea, but I didn't like how these start-ups were treating e-book design (design was virtually non-existent, and when it was it was clumsy), and the POD examples I'd seen were atrocious. Worse that uncorrected proofs.

But as the years went on, I noticed the growing innovation with e-books (Cory Doctorow's efforts along with SF&F publisher Baen Books), and heard rumors about this...machine...a machine that could pop a book out in 15 minutes. It was like as if someone had told me they'd seen a minotaur walking down the street one night-- plausible, but beyond my understanding at the time.

I'm going to skip a few years ahead and get to where we are. Third Place Books is investing in a vision of the future of bookselling, & book publishing Big and Small. It's going to take some time to get the public's mind around the concept (it took some time for booksellers to understand it, and the big publishers have yet to recognize the potential).
Which is why I'm writing this, why I'll be back to pester the internet with my ruminations...

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