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Category: bookstores

Portrait of a Bookstore to close after 26 years

Portraitofabookstore_1Another Southern California independent bookseller is calling it quits. Studio City's Portrait of a Bookstore will close its doors May 17 after 26 years in the business.

Owner Julie von Zerneck, a former actress, opened the store in 1986 with the help of her husband and co-owner, Frank, a television producer. At the time, he'd been making a string of slightly naughty Lifetime TV movies: "Portrait of an Escort," "Portrait of a Stripper," "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold," "Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress." Hence, Portrait of a Bookstore: a little sassier than you thought.

Since 1998, the bookstore has been housed inside the sprawling Aroma Café, a warren of cozy rooms and outdoor patios. Portrait of a Bookstore occupies a 900-square-foot room that feels both completely its own and connected to the cafe around it. In its small space, it has packed a great range of independent bestsellers, classics, jewelry, children's books, greeting cards, unique glassware and other gifts. During its last month in business, Portrait of a Bookstore's stock is all marked down 50%.

But it wasn't the stuff in the store that its staff emphasized when I visited it in 2011. "There are people who've been coming here for 20 years," bookstore manager Aida Chaldranyan said. "People 16 or 18 now that we watched grow up -- from 'Green Eggs and Ham' to 'Life of Pi.' "

That sentiment was echoed in a goodbye letter that the bookstore wrote to its customers: "Over the years, we have watched local writers work in our garden on their manuscripts, get published and arrive on bestseller lists. We have watched babies come into the world, learn to read in our children’s nook and grow up to start families of their own. We have cherished every moment of our time in this community."

Julie von Zerneck insists that closing the store now is the right time. “A happy ending depends on when you stop your story,” she says, borrowing from Orson Welles, “and this is our happy ending.”

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-- Carolyn Kellogg


Photo: Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City will close for good on May 17. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times



Ann Patchett talks local bookstores with Stephen Colbert [Video]

"Ooh! Independent bookstores! I should buy one of those on Amazon." That was Stephen Colbert on Monday night. After a couple of days off, he apparently wanted to talk about bookstores. As you do.

He did so with novelist Ann Patchett, whose 2011 novel "State of Wonder" was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Patchett is co-owner of Nashville's Parnassus Books, which opened after the city's two major bookstores closed. "I see this as a gift to the city," Patchett told the Associated Press last year. "I see this as a charitable contribution ... not as an investment, not as a smart business move, but really as somebody who loves Nashville and somebody who doesn't want to live in a city without a bookstore."

On "The Colbert Report," she makes a case for a bookstore as a place to find community -- book clubs, readings for kids, even Jack Black and Al Gore. Colbert seemed convinced -- maybe he'll head to Parnassus when his next book comes out.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Authors in L.A.: Katherine Boo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, too

Kareemhillaryclinton

Feeling bookish this week but not quite in a mood to read? Well, there are plenty of events around town to pique your interest if your interest involves listening. Here is a sampling. And, as always, we recommend checking with the venue for time changes, late additions or cancellations.

Mon. Feb. 13: 7 p.m. Paula Huston discusses and signs “Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit” at Vroman’s.

Tue. Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Robert Scheer in conversation with Mr. Fish, author of “Go Fish, How to Win Contempt and Influence People,” at Vroman’s .

Tue. Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Ali Wentworth discusses and signs her memoir, “Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tales” at Book Soup.

Wed. Feb. 15, 8 p.m. Katherine Boo discusses her book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Zocolo Public Square at the Skirball Cultural Center

Wed. Feb. 15, 7 p.m. Actress and author Carrie Fisher discusses and signs her latest memoir, “Shockaholic,” at Book Soup.

Thur. Feb. 16, 7 p.m. PG Sturges presents and signs “Tribulations of the Shortcut Man,” his follow-up novel to “Shortcut Man,” at Book Soup.

Thur. Feb. 16, 7 p.m. Percival Everett and Steve Erickson explore the themes of memory, identity and place in conversation with Brighde Mullins, director, USC Masters in Professional Writing Program. ALOUD at the Los Angeles Central Library

Continue reading »

Monday reads: Virginia Woolf punk'd the Royal Navy and more

In 1910, Virginia Woolf and her friends pretended to be "Abyssinian princes" and their British guides, convincing the Royal Navy to give them access to the battleship Dreadnought, flagship of the home fleet. They were given a tour and feted with a band and salute from the crew. "Even Woolf's cousin, one of the naval officers on board the ship, failed to recognise the author," writes the Guardian. Understandable: She was in face paint and a false beard.

In Sunday's paper, David L. Ulin reviewed Nathan Englander's new collection of stories, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank," finding it "accomplished." It's illustrated, in part, in the video above. The magazine Electric Literature took a single sentence from the story "The Reader" and had it animated by Drew Christie (video above).

Art and story intersect on a new blog announced Monday, the Chimerist. It's by Maud Newton and Salon's Laura Miller, two Internet-veteran readers obsessed with both books and their iPads. They'll be exploring the best of storytelling on the iPad, and are inviting screenshots and app codes. Send 'em if you've got 'em.

You won't need a download code to get "Why American Newspapers Gave Away the Future." The longform article examines the issue of newspapers offering online content for free; it's by Richard Tofel, managing editor of ProPublica, and will be available Feb. 8-15 for free for the iPad (irony included). Afterward, it will be available from most e-tailers for $1.99. It's from Now & Then Reader, the latest content creator to jump in the longform sandbox with the likes of the Atavist, Byliner and Grantland.

Like Barnes & Noble, the bookstore chain Books-A-Million will not stock titles from Amazon Publishing, it has told Publishers Weekly. After the demise of Borders, Books-A-Million became the nation's second-largest brick-and-mortar bookstore chain, with more than 200 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

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Amazon Publishing books won't be found at Barnes & Noble

-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

Amazon Publishing books won't be found at Barnes & Noble

A Barnes & Noble store in Florida.
Barnes & Noble won't carry print books from Amazon's new print publisher, according to reports that surfaced today. The news may signal a growing division between the online retailer and the nation's largest brick-and-mortar bookseller.

The word came from Brad Stone, who recently wrote Businessweek's cover story on Amazon Publishing and its head, publishing veteran Larry Kirschbaum. Calling this "a declaration of war," Stone posted an excerpt of an email from Jaime Carey, Barnes & Noble's chief merchandizing officer, On Google+.

"Barnes & Noble has made a decision not to stock Amazon published titles in our store showrooms. Our decision is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain eBooks to our customers," Carey wrote. In addition to exclusive deals Amazon has announced with specific authors, in December it launched KDP Select, a way for authors to participate in an unusually structured Kindle lending library and payment pool,  as long as their e-books remained exclusive to Amazon.

 "Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content," Carey continued. "It’s clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest."

Amazon has partnered with one traditional publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has agreed to distribute the print editions of Amazon Publishing's books through its New Harvest imprint. Those books, too, would not be welcome at Barnes & Noble, the publishing industry newsletter Publishers Marketplace confirmed.

Carey concluded, "We don’t get many requests for Amazon titles, but If customers wish to buy Amazon titles from us, we will make them available only online at bn.com." This points to something Californians became aware of last year: Amazon is exempt from paying sales tax because it has no retail establishment in the state. The California Legislature  passed a bill mandating that the retail giant collect taxes;  Amazon retaliated by threatening to launch a ballot initiative to repeal it (even canvassing in front of brick-and-mortar bookstores), and the two sides came to an agreement postponing the sales tax mandate.

Amazon has been publishing books for some time through small imprints based in Seattle. Its New York imprint, with Kirschbaum at the head, seeks to move into the same territory as traditional publishers, with high-profile signings of James Franco, Tim Ferriss, Penny Marshall and Deepak Chopra.

But it will have to figure out how to get those books into people's hands.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A Barnes & Noble store in Coral Gables, Fla. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

 

A bookstore says: Don't be an iPhone-y [video]

Late in 2011, an online-only retailer launched a holiday promotion offering discounts to people who shopped in brick-and-mortar stores and used their smartphones to scan prices and instead buy online. This ruffled the feathers of some who found the practice predatory, particularly fans and supporters of independent bookstores. It didn't matter that the promotion itself didn't apply to books -- the fear that it might, someday, caused a hubbub. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo even penned an op-ed against it in the N.Y. Times.

Apparently, booksellers at Harvard Bookstore (not connected to the university) were compelled to pick up a movie camera and make the sitcom-y vignette above.

While the online retailer's promotion brought attention to the issue, it's not at all new. For quite some time, bookstore staffers have been observing customers coming in, browsing the shelves, asking for help, then departing to buy the book they sought online. Now they can even do it while standing right there in the store. It's almost always cheaper online.

The staffer, his expertise, the building's rent and lights, the cost of getting the books into the store itself -- that's why the bookstore price is higher than the online price. Imagine if you went to an online retailer's site and typed in "big head, cover" -- would you ever find the book these customers want?

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Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman, 98, dies

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Don't miss: A bookstore comes alive [video]

If you had been walking through the streets of Toronto late at night not too long ago, you might have seen sleepy volunteers in a brightly-lighted bookstore. That was Type Books, and the crowd and a camera had been brought there by Sean Ohlenkamp, an artist, creative director and animator. He and his wife Lisa, who helped create the video, appreciate print books.

In the video, the books in the bookstore come alive: they move, turn themselves upside-down, rearrange by color, circulate, stack, even read. And dance.

Could a Kindle, Nook or iPad be so charming?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Barnes & Noble's Nook news: good, surprising

Nooktablet
The good news: Barnes & Noble's Nook is selling big. The surprising news: As a result, the company may sell the Nook division. That's what B&N said Thursday in a statement that ran the gamut from jargon to obfuscation.Take a look:

"We see substantial value in what we've built with our NOOK business in only two years, and we believe it's the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value," said William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble. "In NOOK, we've established one of the world's best retail platforms for the sale of digital copyright content. We have a large and growing installed base of millions of satisfied customers buying digital content from us, and we have a NOOK business that's growing rapidly year-over-year and should be approximately $1.5 billion in comparable sales this fiscal year. Between continued projected growth in the U.S., and the opportunity for NOOK internationally in the next 12 months, we expect the business to continue to scale rapidly for the foreseeable future."

In plain language, that means the Nook business may be spun off or sold. That comes in the same announcement, which proclaimed that sales of Nook devices were up 70% from a year earlier, setting a new holiday record for the company, with the tablet performing better than expected (the black-and-white e-ink Nooks, not so much). So -- why sell the Nook? At Wired, Tim Carmody explains:

Initially, B&N projected earnings before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization (EBTIDA) of $210 million to $250 million. In December, the guidance offered was at “the lower end” of that figure. Now the company has revised its expectations again, to just $150 to $180 million. So after taxes and other non-operating expenses, B&N will most likely lose quite a bit of money, somewhere between $1.10 to $1.40 per share.

The drop in demand for the Nook Simple Touch and the cost of advertising the other Nook devices takes most of the blame for the drop in expected profit.

Some observers look ahead and see a dark horizon for the last surviving national brick-and-mortar bookstore. The N.Y. Times' Dealbook writes, "a spinoff of the unit would raise questions about Barnes & Noble’s ultimate fate." In a piece with the ominous headline "Barnes & Noble May Separate Nook Business as Losses Mount," the Wall Street Journal explains:

The bookseller tried for months to sell the company, but gave up last year around the time that its biggest brick-and-mortar rival, Borders Group Inc., went belly up. Instead of a sale, Barnes & Noble took an investment from John Malone and his Liberty Media Corp.

Maxim Group analyst John Tinker said Barnes & Noble is caught in a bind as it tries to appease traditional retail investors and those interested in the digital story.

On Wednesday, news broke that Barnes & Noble was looking to sell Sterling Publishing, which it acquired in 2003 for $115 million. Selling Sterling would bring an influx of cash in the short term, industry chronicler Publishers Lunch notes, addding, "While Amazon is investing heavily in their in-house publishing program, Barnes & Noble is headed in the opposite direction as part of their repositioning as a technology company."

Except -- why would a technology company sell the Nook? "This is about requiring sustained investment in the Nook business to grow and expand internationally," Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told Wired. "A separate Nook business may be able to attract new investment and partnerships and innovate more quickly."

That explains it. Now: to find a buyer.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times

Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman, 98, dies

Georgewhitman_shakespeareco
George Whitman, the legendary founder of the Paris bookshop and literary institution Shakespeare & Co., died Wednesday at age 98. Whitman opened his bookstore in 1951, following in the footsteps of Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Company, which had been shut down during World War II.

Shakespeare & Company was a haven for American and British expatriates who became some of the most important literary figures of the 20th century, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Beach published James Joyce's "Ulysses" when no one else would. Beach was forced to close the store after Germans marched on Paris.

Whitman nurtured a new generation of struggling writers at his shop, including Allen Ginsberg, Anais Nin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Devorah Lauter writes:

He used to call Shakespeare & Co. "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookshop," and in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said: "I never had any money, and never needed it. I've been a bum all my life."

But Whitman was something of a wild-haired, and wild-mannered, king to those who knew him....

Inspired by Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore and publishing house, which closed during World War II, Whitman fashioned the 17th century, two-story apartment into a labyrinth of soft-lit, teetering bookshelves, winding stairs, a library, stacks of well-read Life magazines, and cushy benches that turned to beds at night for Tumbleweeds. Free tea and pancake brunches were served every weekend to anyone brave, or hungry enough. After brunch, the leftover, mysteriously thick pancake batter was used as glue to repair peeling floor rugs.

Whitman didn't care much for supervising the young lodgers that passed through, but his temper could famously flare if a book was misplaced or an edition not shelved just so....

He once threw a book out the second floor window at a customer below because he thought they might enjoy reading it. And he used to light people's hair on fire to save them the trouble of paying for a haircut. After all, he had been using the same technique on himself for years.

Lauter wrote that Whitman, who was born in New Jersey, had a "spitfire wit, unpredictable temper and unending generosity." He will be buried in Paris; his daughter Sylvia, who has been in charge of Shakespeare & Co. in recent years, plans to continue.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Shakespeare & Co. window display featuring photographs of George Whitman. Credit: Miguel Medina /AFP/Getty Images

Barnes & Noble's new Nook: A $249 tablet with e-reader bones

The new Nook tablet, which retails for $249, is available for pre-order
On Monday, Barnes & Noble unveiled its new Nook at a news conference in New York. As was widely expected, there is now a Nook Tablet, pictured above. Look closely and you'll see that the demo version was loaded with Netflix, Parents magazine, games, Hulu and the bestselling Steve Jobs biography.

The new Nook Tablet, which retails for $249, is available for pre-order and should begin shipping next week, well in advance of the holiday shopping season. In addition to Barnes & Noble stores, it will be available at major retailers, including Target, Staples, Wal-Mart and Office Max. You may find it in the aisle near the Kindles -- on Tuesday, Amazon announced that its Kindle will be found for sale at 16,000 brick-and-mortar stores, including some of those same retailers, beginning Nov. 15.

Bargain hunters may be drawn to Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, which is $199. But our Technology blog wrote that "for the extra $50, the Nook Tablet offers beefier specs than the Kindle Fire that, Chief Executive William Lynch argued in unveiling the new Barnes & Noble device, will add up to a faster, smoother experience when reading books, playing games or watching movies." The Technology blog detailed those specs, then went on to say: 

Unlike the Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet and Nook Color have no built-in storefront for buying movies and music.

Lynch said that while Amazon sells those items, Barnes & Noble is focused on selling digital reading content, while letting others handle the music, TV show and film side of things -- such as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora which all come pre-installed on the Nook Tablet.

"The Kindle Fire is a vending machine for Amazon services, they've said it themselves," he said at the company's flagship store in New York's Union Square during the Nook Tablet reveal. "In one word, we're more open" in allowing users to get their music and video content from wherever they want.

Barnes & Noble was late into the e-reader game, and its entry was full of stumbles -- many shipments of its first Nook failed to arrive in time for Christmas, as promised. Since then, it seems to have gotten its e-reader footing, getting a clearer picture of what its customers want when it comes to reading e-books and getting it into their hands, without delay.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The new Nook tablet is demonstrated Monday at the Union Square Barnes & Noble store in New York. Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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