Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Redefining the Meaning of a "Killer Wine"

This post is about a real wine from a Napa Valley estate which may or may not exist and whose proprietor may or may not be chairman of Defense Therapeutics but who is definitely running for president in 2008 (see video of announcement).

The $25 a bottle of Xantaeus – a small-production Napa Valley wine -- is a classic Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot grapes from prized vineyards in the trendy Rutherford and Stags Leap appellations.

You can buy the small-production wine online (castellodavinci.com), or at a fortunate few and very elite wine stores and restaurants in California's wine country.

But Castello Da Vinci, may or may not be the lavish estate atop a volcanic knoll along the Silverado trail whose owner may or may not be former Army General Clark Braxton who announced his candidacy for President Wednesday night at a gathering in Sonoma Valley.

The 150-plus people gathered at Cline Cellars sipped the first release of Xantaeus 2003, noshed on a lavish spread of wine country food and. listened to Braxton as he stood Patton-style in front of a giant American flag. He told the attentive crowd that Democrats and Republicans had failed the nation and that his independent presidency was vital if the country were to have "a future worth living."

That may or may not be true.

War Hero Braxton may or may not have sustained a head wound in Vietnam, but that did not matter to the people who lined up after the speech to grab one of his campaign buttons and to purchase case-lots of the rare Xantaeus wine they had tasted with the hors d'ouvres.

And to buy signed copies of my "investigative thriller," Perfect Killer which features General Braxton who may or may not exist and his estate which may or may not exist and his Xantaeus 2003 red wine which certainly does exist in a very tasty space of reality.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Independent Denial

I was in one of my favorite independent book stores yesterday and overheard the following conversation:

INDIEBOOKSELLER: "There are so many books published these days, thank goodness there are stores like ours to sort through what is good to read."
PET CUSTOMER: "Uhm, absolutely."

INDIEBOOKSELLER: "After all, chains are just big warehouses with too many titles to choose from. How could a customer know what's good to read. Readers really need us to make those sorts of decisions for them."
PET CUSTOMER: "Er ... Right."

INDIEBOOKSELLER: "It makes no sense to go to a big chain when people can come here and get a selection we've worked hard to produce after sorting through all the chaff."
PET CUSTOMER: "Totally." Then leaves without purchasing anything.

I really like the store owners and want them to succeed. But this rationalization does not bode well.

So what can they do with limited shelf space and limited funds to add titles?

1. Greet every person as they walk into the store. It's a small store and that's not hard.

2. Get rid of the clique. Make every person feel welcome, not just pet customers.

3. Be enthusiastic about every reading taste. Fake it if you think romances, mysteries and thrillers are beneath you. Your bottom line is beneath you too if you foster that 'tude.

4. Embrace online. Have a "Book Sleuth" terminal (or several) like Borders. Encourage people to use it for special orders of stock you don't have. It may take a bit longer for the b0ok to arrive than it would with Amazon, but you can offer free shipping and a friendly email to them upon arrival. That email is also a great and acceptable (non-spam) opportunity to say something positive about new arrivals, events, signings etc.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Charge: Pandering. The Verdict: Guilty!

I received an email which charged me with pandering to the politically correct.

"I noticed that when you blogged about book stores, you began with the pandering plea (and I quote): ' first choice is ALWAYS a well-stocked independent bookstore with knowledgeable and friendly staff"."

"Really? Sometimes isn't it a pleasure to wander into a B&N or Borders and just wander around and marvel at all the stock? All the titles? Who cares if the person behind the counter is channeling Thomas Jefferson? Why do you think you need to apologize for liking the experience at a chain? Didn't you write that as a way to pander to the chain bashers?"

That was the indictment.

I plead guilty.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Amazon Bashing

Lovers of the mystery genre are a lucky lot to have The DorothyL web site, an astoundingly active discussion forum named for legendary writer Dorothy L. Sayers.

This moderated forum is lively, informative and always interesting. But I'm continually amazed at a steady drumbeat of Amazon bashing there and elsewhere.

Amazon has its flaws. And given my preferences, I'd rather wander and browse the shelves in a well-stocked book store, especially a friendly independent with good inventory and staffed by knowledgeable people.

But I can't keyword search the physical shelves and often I am looking for books too obscure or slow-selling to be stocked in a physcal store. Amazon allows that.

Amazon offers a backlist of books that no physical book store could afford and thus allows continual residual sales of books that would otherwise be OUT of print. And if it is out of print, there are links to secondhand booksellers who can usually fill the need.

Of course, there are online alternatives to Amazon, among them Barnes and Noble and Booksense. Borders online has been coopted by Amazon. Powell's has a great site as does Alibris and Abe.

I've been pulling for Booksense for years, hoping this site for independent book stores would succeed. But independent booksellers are ... well, independent and not always in tune with the buying public. The Booksense site is awkward to use and fails to offer many of the search, shipping and account management capabilities as Amazon does.

So, give your local independent a first try (if you feel welcome there) and develop your own online sources. But despite Amazon's flaws, it deserves some respect for offering valuable services found nowhere else.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Don't Change, Sue.

Marketing expert and blogger Seth Godin has some pithy and relevant comments in his post "Don't Change, Sue."

While his piece uses the cigarette and auto industries as examples, his comments are every bit as relevant to music and book publishing when he says,:

"In the face of change, reactionary stuck companies don't look to marketing or innovation. They sue."

And if you ever thought correct punctuation wasn't relevant, just think of how the headline's meaning would change without the comma.

(Yes, technically it probably should be a semi-colon or perhaps a period, but with no punctuation mark at all, we have a vgery different meaning.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Will Random House Learn from the Sony/BMG Fiasco?

Over at The Da Vinci Crock, Kodewulf posted the following comment:

"I know this is a bit off-topic, but if you see what Sony did with the new DRM fiasco, then it's very easy to understand all the underhandedness that Random House are displaying. It seems that Bertelsmann got a finger in the pie with everything that's shady."

In fact, Kodewulf pre-empted a blog post I was going to talk about here because the Random House/Bertelsmann connection with Sony/BMG's covertly installed hacker rootkit came to mind when I read about Random House's own digital "pay per page" project.

Significantly, nothing that Random House has announced mentions any sort of digital rights management controls or system. Will purchasers of material be allowed the same sort of fair use as one who purchases a dead-tree version? Will purchasers be allow to print out the pages? Cut and paste? Will they have to buy special viewer software (can you say "Peanut Reader?").

All of those restrictions are among top reasons that ebooks of any sort have not caught on with consumers ... that plus reader devices that suck. However, I was initially excited about ebooks for my Palm PDA ... until I bought Peanut Reader and fiund that -- I could not print, underline, cut and paste etc ... what a load of ...

One might hope that they'd learn from the Sony/BMG fiasco and blizzard of lawsuits ... but then, you'd think that publisher's would have learned from the experience of the music industry in general --- something that has not happened.