Monday, September 28, 2009

Word On The Street 2009

I spent a short bit of time at Word on the Street in Toronto on Sunday with Sephera Giron, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime and Nancy Kilpatrick in the Horror Writers Assocation booth.

I say a short bit of time because Saturday's rain pushed several of the chores and family plans that were supposed to happen Saturday back one day, meaning there was a desperate attempt to fit everything into the non-rain day.

Sephera Giron, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Nancy Kilpatrick

But my time at WOTS was fun, the weather turned out well and there was a huge crowd of people. We got to chat with a lot of folks interested in books as well as answer questions about the HWA, and of course see many friends and colleagues.

Besides, it was great to hang out with the ladies of horror for a while, and it had been quite a while since I'd seen Stephanie Bedwell-Grime so it was good to play catch up a little bit.

Sephera Giron, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Nancy Kilpatrick

Both Sephera and Nancy have stories appearing in Campus Chills, an anthology I'm editing and which is coming out October 22, 2009. Stephanie and Nancy were both in North of Infinity II, the last anthology I edited, which was released in 2006.

One of these kids isn't dressed in black like the others. Can you guess which one?

The most frustrating thing about the day was the 1 hour I spent stuck on Spadina trying to get out of town. Once I got through it all, to see that there was no construction, no road closure and no accident up ahead, AND it was a Sunday afternoon, it reminded me of why I stopped commuting to Toronto for work several years ago.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HNT - Flash Backward

Tonight on ABC a new television program premieres which is based on my friend Robert J. Sawyer's novel FlashForward.

If the television show is half as good as the novel (and all the trailers, ads and teasers indicate it will not only be as good, but will take the basic underlying thought-provoking and fascinating concepts from Rob's wonderful novel and expand them into a compelling and entertaining television show) then I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it.

The basic theme from the novel is predestination vs free-will, and, as I recall (because it has been ten years since I read the novel), Rob did an incredible job of covering those themes while telling a great story. The premise for the novel is that everyone in the world gets a brief glimpse into their future for just a few minutes -- it is the way that people react to what are often unexpected surprises in store for their future that makes it so interesting.

I'm pretty sure that the television series (which has the "flashforward" everyone experiences going only about 6 months into the future), is going to do justice to the themes Sawyer explored in the novel.

But enough about the television series, let's flash backward to look at 1999, when Rob's novel first came out and a few interesting trivial facts about the novel (and the interesting way I like to tie-myself to it. I mean, we all like tying ourselves to greatness, don't we?)

  • Rob won the 2000 Prix Aurora Award (Canada's top honour in SF & Fantasy) for "Best Long-Form Work in English" for FlashForward.
  • Incidentally, Rob also won in the category of "Best Short-Form Work in English" with his story "Stream of Consciousness" beating me in that category. My story "Erratic Cycles" was nominated that year. I couldn't have lost to a nicer guy.
  • Interestingly, Rob's story "Stream of Consciousness" was edited by Julie E. Czerneda, who was also in the running against Rob in the Long-Form Work category for her novel Beholder's Eye.
  • Also up against Rob in the Long-Form Work category was Edo van Belkom for his short story collection Death Drives a Semi.
  • Also up against Rob in the Short-Form category was Douglas Smith (he had two stories nominated that year - "State of Disorder" and "Symphony"
  • I republished Doug's story "State of Disorder" in the anthology North of Infinity II. Rob's story "Forever" was also reprinted in that anthology.
  • Julie, Doug and Edo (who are wonderful writers) are featured in an anthology I am editing and which is coming out in a few weeks called CAMPUS CHILLS -- all all original collection of short stories born from the dark shadows of campuses across Canada by some of Canada's finest writers of speculative fiction.
  • Rob wrote a wonderfully brilliant introduction to CAMPUS CHILLS.
  • In the novel FlashForward, Rob has two characters walk into their local bookstore and request an "on demand" book. Then they sit down to have a coffee at the adjacent coffee shop while the book is being printed and bound on the spot in the bookstore. (Hmm, does that sound anything like the Espresso Book Machine that I currently have in my bookstore? Did I only purchase the machine so I could see this scene in Rob's novel unfold right before me?)
  • CAMPUS CHILLS (which Rob wrote the introduction for, and which Julie, Doug and Edo appear in) is being printed on the Espresso Book Machines located at McMaster, Waterloo and University of Alberta bookstores. Each location is holding a really cool book launch simultaneously on October 22, 2009 featuring 10 of the 13 contributors to the anthologies. Julie will be at Waterloo (she is an Alumna from there), as will Doug (he's an Alumnus), Edo will be at McMaster; and our friend Rob will be unable to attend because he is attempting to "hermit" himself away to finish work on the third novel in his WWW trilogy
  • I own a first edition hardcover of FlashForward (pictured below)
  • Interestingly, my hardcover copy of FlashForward is one of the few novels of Rob's that I don't have signed. I'll have to rectify that the next time I see him.
  • I'm pretty sure that after I see the television show based on Rob's novel, I'll want to read FlashForward again.
  • I'm pretty sure that after YOU see the television show, YOU'LL want to read Rob's novel too. And I encourage you to do so (That's why I already have a nice display of Rob's book in my store, complete with an 11 X 17 poster of the cover of the book -- because anyone who gets the fact this show is based on a Canadian author's novel is likely to be asking for it on Friday)
  • But do be warned. Rob is an incredibly talented writer and storyteller. Once you read one of his novels, you're likely to want to read the other 18 or so that he has written. The GREAT news is that you won't be disappointed. I have loved every single novel Rob has written.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Doing It Right Digitally

I complain a lot about the broken textbook industry and how things continue to spiral out of control in a "chicken and egg" battle involving bookstores, publishers and students. The price of textbooks goes up -- sales go down. Prices go higher. Sales plummet further. It's a vicious cycle.

Everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else with very few parties actually looking for real solutions.

But sometimes there is good news -- a glimmer of light among the gathering storm cloud. Sometimes one or more of the groups out there tries something a bit different in an attempt to break the vicious and maddening cycle.

Not that many days ago, I blogged about a university department working with a publisher to offer a workable and very promising solution that I believe was good for the publisher, I know was good for the bookstore, and which I also believe was beneficial for students. A wonderful three way win situation.

And here is some hope in the world of digital books/ebooks that I'm quite delighted with.

First off, I'm very proud to be a member of the CCRA (Canadian Campus Retail Associates) and to know that the time and money we're investing in working together to come up with solutions like this that can actually benefit students and save them money on their textbooks.

Campus E-Bookstore is an initiative to allow for ePub format books to be downloaded by students. The initial offering, or phase one of the platform is a selection of the most popular public domain titles being used most often in North American campuses being offered for free. Full details can be seen on a NACS press release announcing the partnership between CCRA and NACS Media Solutions.

The idea is to help individual campus stores be able to provide easy links to these texts for those students looking for an alternative or compliment to existing course materials. With the ability to create dynamic links and an easy way to get a decent DSV (or Digital Study Version) copy downloaded with as little hassle as possible. These study versions have been produced in the EPUB format, enabling them to be viewed on most mobile reading devices, such as the Sony Reader.

I believe that a project like this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Just to reiterate -- a group of campus stores paid money to create digital material to be given out to students for free.

My own experience having access to POD technology in my bookstore has continued to demonstrate that even when students can get a public domain or open access textbook for free (via Project Gutenberg, etc), they will likely purchase a hard copy of the book if it is a REASONABLE PRICE. I use upper case for the words "reasonable price" because reasonable means different things to different people. But I have seen the positive effect of giving something away for free and offering a low-cost alternative hard copy. Those who wish not to or cannot afford to purchase the product but still access the content are happy -- those who want a hard copy for a decent price are happy. And sales of the reasonably priced hard copy typically increase.

Of course, FlatWorld Knowledge is another entity out there that has the right idea -- in a similar fashion, they offer free online versions of textbooks and reasonably priced hard copies available for sale.

There is a fantastic interview from CBC's Spark with Nora Young that you can download and listen to where Eric Frank explains the concept of Open Textbooks.

At the end of the day, I'm delighted to see another glimmer of hope in these two wonderful efforts to put a stop to the madness.

Building A Better Wasp Trap

The wasps and hornets have pretty much been taking over this past summer. Not a good thing for enjoying the back yard. (And since the summer weather seems to have finally come in September, we're spending more time outside now than we did in June or July)

My wife Francine came up with a great easy-to-make wasp trap which I think she read about in one of the many places she finds things (and I honestly don't know if it was from a magazine or newspaper article or something she found online) -- but in any case, because it worked so well for us, I thought I'd share the simple wasp trap.

(And, for the record, when I say wasp, I'm talking about the flying stinging insects and NOT White Anglo Saxon Protesants)

What You Need
- 1 2 litre clear bottle (ie, a Coke bottle)
- 1 cup of fruit juice (apple, cranberry or mixed fruit)
- 1/2 cup of liquid dishwashing soap

How To Do It
You take 1 to 1.5 cups of sweet juice beverage (we have used apple juice, cranberry juice and mixed fruit juice drinks which all work equally well) and mix it with about half a cup of dishwashing liquid soap. Pour it into an empty clear 2 litre bottle and you're done.

It's a simple, yet effective trap. The insect is drawn into the opening by the sweet smell but is unable to find its way back out.

Each trap we have set up in the months of August and Sept have attracted three dozen or more of these flying stinging insects. And the great thing is that they seem to attract wasps and hornets and not bees. I've watched cute little bumble-bees fly on past to our flowers while the hornets climb inside the bottle and are unable to escape.

(Oh, and one last thing -- for best effect, you need to place the "trap" outside -- it works better there -- unless your house is infested and over-run with wasps and hornets like those terrifying scenes in a horror novel or movie -- in which case, don't bother with the traps, listen to that evil moaning voice booming: "Get Out!" in a thundering voice and run like hell as fast as you can out of there . . .)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Little Mr Pizza Man

This past Saturday, the owner of a local Pizza Pizza franchise that we regularly visit at 833 Upper James (near Mohawk), invited Alexander to come behind the counter and make his own pizza.

Prior to this delightful event, the owner, Ismet, explained to me that he has been doing this for several decades and has a photo album of the various children who have learned the joy and wonder of professional pizza making in his kitchens. Some of whom have gone on to work with him when they grew up.

After a quick tour where Ismet showed us where the dough and ingredients were kept, he and Alexander proceeded to make two small pizza's -- Ismet made one with Alexander and then watched over while Alexander made the second one completely without any help. (The only parts Alexander wasn't able to do were placing the pizzas in the oven and cutting the slices)

The very first step was a lesson in proper hand-washing. (Alexander was delighted that this is a task he is intimately familiar with)

After rolling the dough, they moved onto the spreading of sauce.

Then, a nice layer of cheese.

Some pepperoni.

Don't forget the bacon.

Now, into the oven.

And then eagerly await the finished pizza. (Look at that delighted smile)

And voila. Two beautiful pizza's.

Not only was this an exciting and memorable event for Alexander, but it was also very informative and educational for all of us. We got to learn a few of the tricks that professional pizza makers use when creating their masterpieces as well as little things that you don't think about but are critical in the food service business, like the half dozen different coloured handle pizza cutters that are used for cutting different types of pizza (ie, vegetarian, meat, etc) to prevent cross-contamination for both sanitary and religion reasons.

But this isn't just a cute story of a five year old getting to learn the process of pizza making from a professional.

It's an example of a big-hearted local business owner who went out of his way to make the day of three customers.

I am currently reading Mitch Joel's book SIX PIXELS OF SEPARATION. And while the book is about integrating digital marketing, social media and personal branding into entrepreneurial activities, Mitch regularly comes back to and focuses on the humanity behind it and the in-person touch-points that can result. Ironically, in this great book about the harnessing of the digital environment, it's really all about connecting with people.

And that's what Ismet is doing. He is focusing effort and energy on connecting with people in his community. He didn't have to take the time to share information and skills with a five year old. No, he did it out of kindness and a desire to make someone's day, to give them a cherished experience. (Interestingly, it not only speaks to what Mitch Joel regularly brings it all back to in his wonderful new book, about it being about the connection between people, but it also ties in nicely with the FISH philosophy inspired by the Pike Place Fish Market which includes: Play, Make Their Day, Be There and Choose Your Attitude.)

And one side-effect of this personal touch he added to our lives is the loyalty that he now has now secured in three of his customers.

The next time we decide we're going to get pizza for lunch or dinner, or someone asks us to recommend a local pizza place, where do you think will be top on our minds? The faceless owner of whoever has the best television or radio ad? Or the friendly and neighbourly owner of a local franchise who took the time one afternoon to personally connect with some customers and create a memorable experience?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Da Count - Moose Light Lime

Some friends just got back from a trip to Eastern Canada. Knowing how eager I was to sample Moosehead's latest offering, a Canadian-brewed version of the lime beer craze, they brought a couple of cases back for me.

I was delighted and sampled my first one last night after waiting several hours for the beer to cool to the proper temperature in my fridge. (That was a really long couple of hours)

Delicious. It has just the right touch of lime flavour. Some of the other brands I have tasted have too strong of a lime taste where you lose out on the actual beer flavour and it tastes more like some sort of vodka cooler. But this one is just right.

Of course, a few hours later, I read some online updates that the product has finally arrived at LCBO locations in Ontario and is in stock in Hamilton. Just a few days ago, I popped into a local LCBO location and was told their computer system did finally list the product and that it was on order (this was good news because just a week earlier it wasn't even in their database)

So now I can go out and purchase Moose Light Lime locally.

But I'm still delighted to have such good friends that they made a point of helping me get this beer, which, looked for the longest time like it might not make it here this summer season. They are awesome and I am absolutely thrilled and lucky to have such great friends. One of the beers that used to be my brand of choice used the line "good friends you can count on" in one of their ad jingles -- it was a great marketing tie-in because that sense of reliable friendship really spoke to me. That sense of friendship still does speak to me. Interesting, since those ads haven't been on the air in close to 20 years.

But now I can sit back, warm with the comfort of knowing I'm so lucky to have great friends, and when these two cases run out, I can enjoy pop over to The Beer Store or LCBO and enjoy two distinct lime beers made by independent Canadian breweries -- Moosehead and Brick.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

HNT - Web Cam Double Espresso Book Launch

It's interesting enough that it's the busiest time of year for a campus bookstore.

But on top of that, we've got a world first going on Friday at Titles Bookstore McMaster University.

It's being called a Double Espresso Book Launch.

S. Minsos, author of Squire Davis and the Crazy River, will be doing a book launch for Spotted Cow Press at the University of Alberta bookstore (the first location in Canada to get an Espresso Book Machine) -- Spotted Cow Press has been an innovator and using the Espresso Book Machine for their publications. Since we have an Espresso Book Machine and the book is of significant local interest to Brantford and area, we'll also have the book availale via our Espresso Book Machine and will be broadcasting the live event at Titles Bookstore at McMaster and offering our customers a chance to ask questions via a live web cam feed back to the U of A.

The historic event takes place Friday September 18th 5 PM Hamilton time (EST) and 3 PM Edmonton time (MST). Anyone excited about the very recent Google and Espresso Book Machine / On Demand Books announcement should come check it out to see just how good the books that come out of the machine are.

Yesterday, we spent some time nailing down the technology we'll be using to broadcast between U of Alberta bookstore and the campus bookstore at McMaster. I'm pretty delighted to be offering a live feed between the two locations. Our colleagues at the U of Alberta bookstore are always a delight to work with.

When I was printing some required textbooks late into the night last night and working on my laptop near the Espresso Book Machine, I forgot that my laptop web cam was still on.

Thus the following pic was captured. Do I look overworked, tired and frustrated? Don't worry, I tend to get that look on my face every September.

When I realized the camera was still on, I figured I'd reposition the web cam, grab one of the Minsos books we're launching Friday and pose for a HNT photo.

Then I deleted the few dozen shots of my frustrated look while I was trying to play catch up on emails that had come in throughout the day.

A bit more info about our particular location's launch for this event can be found on the following Facebook event page: Double Espresso Book Launch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Doing It Right

[Overheard regularly at Titles Bookstore McMaster University on a daily basis for the past couple of weeks]

Student: "Excuse me, sir. Do you sell this Chemisty textbook on its own?"

Me: "I'm sorry, we only sell it as a package. The textbook on it's own sells for anywhere between $120 and $190."

Student: "Gulp. So how much does this three part package cost?"

Me: "$97.95. You get the hardcover textbook, the paperback solution manual and an interactive software media pack."

Student: "Oh!"

There's a reason the student's reaction is typically a really stunned look or that they eye me suspiciously for a long time and usually back away slowly, careful not to turn their back to me.

It's because by the time they find this package, which is being used in almost all of the first year Chemistry courses being taught at McMaster, they're used to being ripped off. But I think this is a case of an academic institution and a publisher working together and doing it right.

I'll be the first one to admit -- the textbook industry is broken. It's a horrible mess. It's a legacy monopoly environment that keeps spiraling out of control. For the longest time academic publishers sold millions of books because instructors "adopted" them and students had no choice but to buy them. But in the past ten years particularly, sales stopped going up. The price got to a point that students couldn't afford the books and so started looking for other solutions, which include buying used books, using the library, international editions or other illegal methods, or simply opting NOT to purchase the textbook at all.

In fact, unit sales of textbooks have consistently been going downhill for many years now and publishers are spending more and more to try to stay relevant, produce additional value in their course materials and compete with one another for the elusive "textbook adoption" -- but the additional millions upon millions of dollars they are spending to compete with one another is having a negative effect on the textbook price -- it's driving the prices upwards. And thus the frustrating death-spiral.

CCRA (Canadian Campus Retail Associates) stores across Canada launched a great promotion last year called WeirdBlame. With the phrase "Don't blame the bookstore, we didn't pick your roommate either" the site attempts to use humour to help educate frustrated students on where things went wrong.

CCRA and other campus stores are doing their best to work with student groups and publishers on solutions to help fix this broken market. Titles Bookstore at McMaster is a member of many such groups and we are constantly looking for new solutions to these problems before the textbook industry goes the way of the auto industry. The writing should be on the wall -- it's too bad so many intelligent people who DO know how to read aren't seeing it.

But in the meantime, rather than point out the obvious negatives, I wanted to return to spotlighting one particular approach taken done by a faculty at McMaster which I think created a win-win situation for students, the publisher and the bookstore.

Three years ago, the Chemistry Department at McMaster negotiated a deal with Pearson Education Canada. As I understand it, it was done after a lengthy RFP-type plan put out to a number of publishers. But, in a nutshell, McMaster's Chemistry department agreed to "lock in" the same textbook package for the majority of their first year Chemistry classes provided that the publisher whose textbook was chosen locked in the textbook package at a reasonable price.

The result is that first year Chemistry students at McMaster for the past three years have been able to purchase the Petrucci Package for a fantastic and very reasonable price.

The package includes the 9th edition of the Petrucci General Chemistry textbook (which normally retails on its own for between $120 and $190 -- if you don't believe me, check out Amazon's listing for the book, which at the time of me writing this, lists the book for $140 US), plus the paperback Solution Manual (which I've seen listed for between $60 and $90), plus a software Media pack (a kind of interactive "Study Guide" to assist students, which usually retails for under $30 on its own) for the price of $97.95.

I applaud the wonderful efforts made by McMaster's Department of Chemistry as well as the folks at Pearson who made this possible. When I think of the millions of dollars that both parties have helped to save students over the past three years at McMaster it makes me proud to have been a part of it.

But what, business-wise, is the end result?

From the bookstore's perspective, I can tell that in the past three years we have sold thousands upon thousands of units of this package. Having personally unpacked thousands of boxes and broken down dozens of skids of the textbook (that were selling like Cabbage Patch Dolls or the lastest iPhone release from Apple), I have continually witnessed the effect of a reasonably priced textbook package.

And even though our bookstore is admittedly aggressive in the pursuit of used books in order to save students money, and we did sell a lot of used packages for about $73, more than 90% of our sales in this case were for the NEW BOOK PACKAGE.

Simply put, this is a textbook package that the students can easily see the value in and which most are willing to purchase new. (Value is tough to nail because it's weighed on two elusive tiers. On one side, the price needs to be "reasonable" and on the other, the students need to actually use MOST of the material in the book. When both things are true, the students tends to find "value" in their purchase. If you ask the average student to define what a good priced book should be, most are likely to say "it depends" because of these elusive factors -- that is one of the things that makes the business of creating textbooks at a reasonable price so frustrating for publishers. There are no hard numbers to rely on.)

I don't know the figures at Pearson with respect to this package and sales at McMaster, but I'd like to believe that they did okay and actually made some money on this deal. Despite all the arguments I often get into with publishers over outrageous textbook prices, I respect the money they invest into their products and recognize that they are businesses and need to generate a profit in order to stay in business. I just prefer that the profits are made from making smart business decisions and when expenditures aren't placed onto the backs of the students.

So I really would like to believe that Pearson also saw this as a worthwhile return on their investment. I'd like to believe that because I think that THIS is one of many solutions that can help publishers and help students at the same time. And if a publisher can make money while students can spend less and get a good deal, then that's a good thing that can last and break the vicious cycle of what the textbook industry has devolved into.

Since we're at the end of the 3 year commitment for this package at McMaster, I am eagerly awaiting to see what the Chemistry Department does next and which publisher will step up to the plate this time around -- but I truly hope that a similar deal can be struck for the next three years.

For the sake of students and for the sake of the death spiral this industry is so desperately trying to avoid.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Good Problem For Brick To Have

Last week in a rambling blog post about lime beer, I rambled on about how I hate it when the mega-breweries push around the independent, Canadian-owned smaller brewers.

But yesterday, when I went to buy more of the Red Baron Lime beer, I discovered that The Beer Store was out of stock.

While a bit disappointed, I was delighted to learn that local Brick Brewing Co. is doing so well with sales of their locally produced, better priced light lime beer.

Rock on, Brick! Good for you.

I celebrated the fact that they were out of Red Baron Lime by purchasing Brick's Waterloo Dark.

I mean, if I can't get my extra serving of fruit in a beer, then at least I can drink a dark beer which is better for me - right?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Da Count - Project 2,996

It has been 8 years since September 11, 2001.

For several years now, on the anniversary of the tragic day where 2996 people lost their lives, blogger D. Challenger Roe has headed up Project 2,996 -- an exercise in bringing bloggers together to remember the victims of Sept 11, 2001. The main purpose was for bloggers to take the time to get to know one of the victims and to celebrate and remember their lives rather than focus on the tragedy that befell them that fateful day.

Though I had participated in the past, this year I failed to properly research and celebrate a different person who I hadn't known or researched before who'd been lost that day. But I still believe Project 2,996 is a worthwhile cause and wanted to link back to some of the people who I have remembered in previous years.

In 2006, I remembered Raymond Meisenheimer. Click on his name or picture below to read about Raymond.

In 2007, I remembered Deora Francis Bodley. Click on her name or picture below to read about Deora.

In 2008, I remembered David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst. Click on his name or picture below to read more about David.

This year, as I mentioned, I haven't done the proper research into remembering another person. But I still couldn't let this day pass without spotlighting the people whose lives I learned a little bit about -- enough to remember them and pause to celebrate all those things they were before they were taken away.

So I'm counting the fact that there are bloggers out there like Dale Challenger Roe and the many people who participated in Project 2,996 this year and in previous years. So far there are 1080 tributes assigned this year. I'd like to encourage any bloggers reading this to take the time and either read a few of the existing tributes or perhaps write your own.

What I absolutely love about this project is that it brings bloggers together to celebrate something important -- lives lived; and that it demonstrates the fact that social networking activities like blogging really can bring people together to share and connect. That's definitely something worth counting.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


I recently posted the latest episode of my "Prelude To A Scream" podcast.

I figured a web-cam picture of me reading the story from that episode, complete with goofy headset on, might be fitting for this week's HNT picture. I think it's fitting to post a picture of me recording my podcast on HNT because HNT is a celebration of exposure. And every time I record a new episode of fiction combined with commentary on the writing of the story, it feels like I'm exposing myself. My friend Julie E. Czerneda said it best when I'd interviewed her several years ago for a feature on the website. Julie said having her first novel published was like standing naked on the front lawn. Putting up podcasts of my fiction is almost like that -- but instead, it feels more like I'm standing half-nekkid on my front lawn.

The latest episode of PTAS features a story that I wrote with Michael Kelly and Carol Weekes back in 2007. "Relic" which is a story about an ancient evil book discovered on the shelves of the oldest science fiction bookstore in Canada was written specifically for a signing the three of us were doing that summer at Bakka-Phoenix bookstore in Toronto.

Also featured in the podcast is an excellent review of Michael and Carol's forthcoming novel Ouroboros by Norm Rubenstein and is from the Pod of Horror podcast. I have already pre-ordered my copy of the book. I can't imagine anyone hearing Norm's glowing review not wanting to rush out and get a copy of this novel. Michael and Carol are both phenomenally talented writers and I simply can't wait to read this novel.

Download MP3 by right-clicking here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mr. Man's First Day Of School

This morning was Alexander's first day of school. He is entering Senior Kindergarten.

Wow, what an exciting day for all of us. Francine and I both went with him for his first day. We'll be alternating days bringing him in the rest of the year.

The first interesting thing I noticed when I was making everyone's lunch this morning was that Alexander's lunch was bigger and had more fun stuff than mine. I'll try not to be jealous.

Alexander standing outside the front door

Alexander and Francine getting ready to head out to the first day of school.

Heading off the school with his Wall-E backpack

Francine and Alexander heading across the parking lot toward the school.

Wow. Time sure flies. I hope he has a great day at school today. He was pretty excited and though a little shy when he first met his teacher, he didn't seem nervous at all. He was really looking forward to everything. I can't wait to hear stories from him about all the fun things he did.

I always loved school, though I did have a nervous stomach, so often had a bad case of butterflies or nausea on my first day of school. I'm glad to see he hasn't inherited that from me. (Let's hope he doesn't get the baldness thing either)

Sigh. My little boy is growing up so fast. I'm telling myself NOT to sneak over to the school and pop in to visit to see how he's doing.

The next thing I know, we'll be shipping him off to University.

We have to treasure these moments while they happen. Treasure each and every one of them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Don't Buy That Book

The September Rush starts today. That's a term used in academic bookselling to describe the busiest time of year for campus bookstores -- the time when the new fall term starts and thousands of students will be coming into the bookstore looking for their course materials.

And because the "Rush" starts today, I'll be uttering a phrase quite regularly: "Don't buy that book."

It seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

I mean, I'm a bookseller. That's where my main stream of income comes from -- selling books. My job is to oversee all book related operations of the campus bookstore at McMaster University. Like most retail operations, we have particular sales goals to meet on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. However, owned by the university and run from the Department of Student Affairs our mission is to assist in the academic process. Thus, the needs of students and faculty are often our FIRST concern.

And that's why, repeatedly, I will advise students not to buy a particular book for a first year course.

I'll be spending most of my time in the next several weeks out on the sales floor not to ensure that we meet our sales targets, but rather to ensure that me and my staff are informing students to the best of our ability -- that customers are getting information that allows them to make an informed decision on their academic purchases.

Let me go back to a particular book that I'm going to advise students NOT to purchase.

First, there's nothing wrong with the book. It's a great book -- it does an excellent job of introducing students at a first year level to their subject of study. It is priced of $113.25 for a new copy or $84.95 for a used copy, which, while expensive, is comparable to the other books like it on the market for that subject area. (Our textbook operation carries both new and used books and place them right beside each other on the shelves allowing students to decide which they would rather purchase.)

But there are two factors students need to know about this particular book in question that aren't at first apparent.

One, the book is listed for the course in question as OPTIONAL. Optional means that the faculty member teaching the course doesn't require the students to read the material contained within it. A book can be listed as optional for number of different reasons -- the professor might suggest it to some students in the class who want to read further on particular topics covered in class, or that it could be used by those having trouble and need the extra reading, or perhaps there are particular chapters or items within it that might assist students with one or more assignments, tests or exams that will come up in the student year.

In THIS particular case, based on two previous years of feedback from students who have taken the class with the same instructor and same optional textbook, I know that most students who have purchased the book are sorely disappointed that they bought the book and consider it a huge waste of their money.

Here's why. The faculty member in question never requires the students to open this particular optional book once during the course of the class. And he does such a good job of covering the topic area he is teaching that he doesn't need to refer to the textbook. Any readings assigned are all contained within a custom coursepack that the professor and the department put together themselves. It sells for $45.95. If a student purchases that and reads it and goes to all their classes, they'll have all the content they need to succeed in the course.

Which makes this optional textbook un-necessary.

Which is why I strongly urge students NOT to purchase it.

(When there's time, or when the students press for more reasoning, I sometimes add a caveat. I tell them that if they plan on skipping a lot of their classes and thus missing out on the content provided by the professor, this particular textbook does an excellent job of providing them with the basics they'll need to succeed in the class. So if they plan on skipping classes, I suggest they buy the textbook and read it cover to cover. But then I remind them that they paid a lot of money to be enrolled in university, so why would they choose to skip a class and spend more money?)

Sometimes, the students actually listen to what I'm telling them. And, hopefully, I helped them make an informed decision that is right for them.

But it still seems counter-intuitive for me to do such a thing, doesn't it? I mean, if I tell people not to buy something from me, doesn't that jeopardize my livelihood?

I don't honesty think so.

Yes, I'm a bookseller. Yes, selling books is how I make a living.

But the key, in my mind is selling the right books to the right customer. And this works not just for selling academic books that are required for courses, but also for general interest books that people are looking for whether they are doing research, wanting to know more about something, or just for the sheer pleasure of reading (ie, enjoying a great novel).

I don't want someone to buy a book and be disappointed. I want them to be satisfied with their purchase. I want them to buy a book and find it interesting, useful or a good read.

And that's where the real pleasure of bookselling comes from.

Selling the right book to the right person at the right time.

Hopefully, the customers who I advise not to buy a particular book because I don't feel they are going to find it useful will remember that. Hopefully, they'll remember the honesty and integrity with which I advised them. And THAT will bring them back in to my store the next time they are looking for a book.

And on that next visit, my job isn't to sell them a book, it's to sell them the right book for them. And, if it's the right book, I'll gladly sell it to them.

If I believe it's the wrong book for them, well, you already know what I'll do, won't you?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Living In The Lime Light

I started off this long weekend hopeful that I would be able to get my hands on Moose Light Lime, a product which was introduced in Eastern Canada earlier this summer by Moosehead, but has yet to make it's way to Ontario.

On Friday morning, I caught some info that Moose Light Lime was supposed to be introduced into Ontario in time for Labour Day weekend.

Many phone calls and visits to LCBO and The Beer Store later, I still haven't been able to locate this brew.

However, I was able to locate a locally brewed lime beer. Produced by Brick Breweries in Waterloo, ON, Red Baron Lime was available at my local beer store and I picked up a case of it.

Yes, Bud Light Lime has been available in Canada for most of the summer. Or, I could drive across the border and buy a case of Miller Chill. But I didn't want a foreign produced lime beer. I wanted to enjoy a Canadian brewed version, knowing I was supporting an actual Canadian brewery.

During my investigation into finding a genuine Canadian lime beer, I discovered some news articles covering the fact that Brick Breweries is being sued by Anheuser-Busch, foreign owners of Labatt Brewing Company and producers of Bud Light Lime. These mega giants are part of "AB In-Bev", the world's largest brewer.

In the same aggresive manner that Labatt swept into Hamilton as part of a marketing blitz to do their best to crush then local Hamilton brewer Lakeport and take over the "honey" beer market that Lakeport was dominant in with Lakeport Honey, Labatt is suing this small Waterloo company. (Additional Note on that: When Labatt couldn't properly dominate the honey-beer market, they bought out Lakeport Breweries and absorbed them into the Labatt Brewery line -- more evidence of the mantra: "If you can't beat them, BUY them!" That seems to be the popular plan for chain booksellers and beer companies here in Canada)

In any case, among other claims, the lawsuit objects to the use of limes and the colour green as well as use of young people wearing swimsuits in advertisements promoting Red Baron Lime.

Er, excuse me?

First of all, young people wearing swimsuits or scantily clad is virtually a staple of advertising for beer products. Since when does AB own the use of young people in swimsuits?

Second, since when does a single brewer own the use of a piece of fruit? (If anything, shouldn't the makers of Corona, traditionally the beer often associated with lime, be offended that everyone else is trying to get in on their game? And if "green" is the objection, shouldn't the good people at Moosehead be the first ones objecting?)

Here are the two "looks" of the beers in question.

Bud Light Lime's main webpage "look"

Red Baron Lime's main website "look"

Admittedly, I really like the look of the BL logo. I think it's really snazzy. The young people in the Red Baron picture look to me like they're having more fun. But the only real similarities between the two beers seem to be the use of a clear bottle and some green on the label.

But I tend not to buy beer based on how cool the logo is or how hot the people in the ads are. More and more often, I have been buying beer in support of local and Canadian brewers. I used to be a huge Molson Export fan until they sold out to an international company. Lakeport, from my home town of Hamilton was my beer of choice for many years, until Labatt bought them out. Lately, my beer tastes tend to roam around, as I like trying out new suds, with Moosehead Lager and Waterloo Dark (both produced by independent Canadian brewers) being my default brands of choice.

Let's be honest for a moment here on the "taste" of beer -- as passionate as I am about beer, I'm aware that most of the brews and tastes from the major brewers and many of the larger independents are very similar -- preference isn't necessarily based on taste but rather on something else within the product's branding that a person associates with -- ME, I like associating with independent Canadian brewers -- perhaps as the manager of an independent bookstore I think of them as like me.

But back to the whole lawsuit thing.

It looks to me like Mr. Largest Brewery in the world is worried. Worried that a small, independent and local brewery like Brick is going to kick their ass in the beer market the same way that Lakeport kicked their ass when it came to honey beer. How? By putting out a similar, perhaps even superior product at a more affordable price.

Perhaps one of the other reasons why AB is launching a lawsuit might be because they had the hold on the Canadian lime beer market and seemed to be sucking it for all it was worth. Many a week went by this summer when everyone was scrambling for Bud Light Lime and it was sold out. It looked to me like a marketing ploy where they were purposely keeping Bud Light Lime in short supply and thus often in the media and minds of consumers. But lo and behold, now that Red Baron Lime is available, I haven't heard a single story about Bud Light Lime being out of stock -- if fact, I've never seen it merchandised so powerfully at The Beer Store and LCBO. Interesting how that happened in time with them no longer holding a monopoly, isn't it?

In any case, hearing about this ridiculous law suit makes me glad that I have not yet spent a dime on Bud Light Lime and makes me more adamant that when purchasing lime beer, I'll make a definite point of purchasing either Red Baron Lime or Moose Light Lime (whenever I can finally find it) -- after all, I want to show my support for the smaller independent brewer.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Unlucky Thirteen

My five year old, who is becoming quite adept at counting as well as doing basic adding and subtracting (unlike his father, he CAN do simple math in his head) startled me earlier this week when he repeatedly skipped the number thirteen when counting.

His numbering system goes like this:

" . . . nine, ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen . . ."

So it's not that he doesn't know there's a numerical placeholder for thirteen -- he has just substituted thirteen for fourteen.

I mean, why not? Triskaidekaphobia (or fear of the number 13th) isn't uncommon.

Building planners have been skipping the number 13 for decades -- only, instead of allowing a placeholder for the thirteenth floor, they simply pretend that the number doesn't exist and skip right from twelve to fourteen. Like anybody is that dumb not to know they're on the thirteenth floor when they get to 14.

I wonder how many poor kids struggling in math were further confused by this "bury your head in the sand" numbering system.

So, unlike the building planners, my son's system actually works when you do the basic math. When you get to fifteen you actually know you're at the fifteenth unit of measure. And, for the record, he does pronounce the two fourteens slightly differently so he can distinguish the two of them from one another.

See, there's more than one way to eliminate an unlucky number rather than just pretending it doesn't exist.

Yet again, the logic of my five year old son makes me pause and reconsider things I've simply assumed or taken for granted. He has allowed me to see things in a whole new light.

Are there things in your life that you'd rather didn't exist?

Do you try to ignore them or do you come up with a system that incorporates them into your life in a manner that is less disruptive?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Da Count - Playing Games Is Fun

Okay, perhaps I've counted this before, but it's so important to me that it bears repeating.

I love my job. I love working. I think work is fun and I'm delighted to be fortunate enough to have the job and the career that I do.

This week that's what I'm counting.

I mean, I spend MOST of my time, most of my life working, I should take the time to regularly count the fact that I'm so lucky to enjoy it so much.

And I'm always delighted to learn that I'm not the only one.

And so rather than use my own words, this time I'll use the words of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, authors of the new book TRUST AGENTS - Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.

I first discovered Chris and Julien in Mitch Joel's Media Hacks or Six Pixels of Separation podcast -- always insightful, always entertaining. Then I heard them speaking about their forthcoming book on the Book Expo America podcast. That made me want to read this book as soon as it came out. I started it this week.

"Playing Games Is Fun. Okay, business is business and work is work. But truly, if you don't accept this detail, that games are meant to be fun, you're probably reading the wrong book. Try Jim Collins's Good to Great instead. Excellent book. The rest of us, let's agree that if we can figure out a way that work can be fun, it just goes better for everyone involved. In learning how to be trust agents, we spend most of our time looking for ways to do business and make it fun. Why? Well, why would you want to do the opposite? That doesn't mean we don't like hard work. We love hard work. But finding a way to make it fun? That's the gold."
- From page 46 of TRUST AGENTS by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith

I couldn't have said it better myself. Okay, I like to believe that I could say it better, particularly since this is something I regularly say.

But dammit, these guys said it really well, don't you think?


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Innovate Me

I was recently interviewed by Morgan Cowie of BookNet Canada for the BookNet Canada TV series of interviews with industry innovators. The video was posted today.

For the introduction to their videos, BNC states:

The book industry is at a stage of rapid evolution and here at BNC, we're intrigued by the innovators who are finding ways to take challenges and turn them into opportunities. We want to know what shapes their decisions, what they think is most important now and where they see the industry headed.

Because we didn't think we would be the only ones interested, we've created BNC TV - Interviews with Industry Innovators. Thanks to the expertise of Mark Bertils, our BNC TV producer, we'll be sharing short conversations with fascinating thinkers and doers.

I'm flattered to be considered an innovator -- all it feels like I'm doing is paying attention to some trends and technologies that booksellers could and should be taking advantage of and doing my best to dip my toes into the water. (Okay, in some cases, I'm doing a cannon-ball right into the deep end and yelling "Cowabunga!") But I'm really fortunate that my boss and so many of my colleagues at campus stores across Canada are supportive of change and open minded enough to try things that are a little different than the way it has always been done. It's when we open our eyes and our minds that we'll find new solutions.

In any case, here is the video interview in which Morgan Cowie asks me about the following topics: 1) The Espresso Book Machine 2) Past Innovation 3) A Hero or Mentor in the Industry 4) The Future.

And just in case it doesn't come through in the video, I hope it's obvious that I'm proud of the ability of my bookstore (Titles Bookstore McMaster University) to work with publishers to bring more content to more readers quickly as well as provide a cost-effective way of saving students money on their required textbooks.



Oh, and since most everything reminds me of some sort of lyrics (often Rush lyrics since Neil Peart is so well read and inspirational), the title for this blog post was derived by the Rush song "Animate" -- when I was remembering the lyrics, I seemed to have substituted "innovate me" in there somewhere . . . upon double-checking, I see I was mistaken. Oh well, it's still a great song.

Polarize me, sensitize me
Criticize me, civilize me
Compensate me, animate me
Complicate me, elevate me
- Rush, Animate from Counterparts (Lyrics by Neil Peart), 1993

HNT - Technophobia

This week's HNT is a picture of me overlooking an article in the recent issue of Canadian Bookseller magazine.

The article, written by Joy Ferguson, very nicely covers a CBA Summer Conference session I hosted with Christopher Smith, co-owner of Collected Works bookstore in Ottawa.

In the session, Christopher and I helped booksellers overcome their fear and trepidation related to social media, discussed why we thought it was important to use these technologies, walked them through some of the basics of getting started, and tried to illustrate how they could get started in that area.

The session was a blast. Christopher and I had a good time working on it (we used Skype several times while doing our planning rather than just email or the phone -- being able to see each other while discussing concepts was a lot easier) and an even better time in the packed room with booksellers from across Canada. (A small selection of pictures from the CBA Summer Conference can be found here.)

My only regret is that we didn't record the session so we could later release it as a podcast and allow booksellers who weren't there a chance to catch the session. However, Joy Ferguson's wonderful article in Canadian Bookseller magazine does an excellent job of capturing details from that session, proving that while social media is useful and powerful, traditional media (like print), still serves a strong purpose that we shouldn't overlook.