"For the foreseeable future, I expect--like most of us--to be running late."--James Greer, Discover magazine.
Changing our clocks last weekend was just a start. Daylight Saving Time is dial-up. We need Future Saving Time. If we're going to keep pace with the light-speed nature of the book business, we have to sync with the future and move the clocks forward every week, every day, every hour, every minute.
Future Saving Time is not so much a proposal as an acceptance of reality. In recent years, many of us have participated in conference and trade show panels that addressed the "future" of the book, of publishing and of bookselling. We will continue to do so, but what we're really discussing isn't the future anymore. It's the present or at least the "immediate" future.
Time,--present, past and future--caught up with me last week. Maybe it happened while I was madly following Twitter updates from the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Tex., through hashtags #sxswi and #futurebooks.
Publishing apparently edged a wee bit closer to the future at this year's event. In an L.A. Times Jacket Copy blog post shortly after SWSXi, Peter Miller wrote: "Flying back to New York from Texas, it dawned on me that devotees of SXSWi never hated publishing or wanted us to roll over and die: They just wanted us to repurpose. This past weekend several publishing experts suggested how that repurposing might look. While last year's future of publishing panel met with hostility, this year the response was generally civil--a major improvement."
Or perhaps the time flux hit me while I stared at rain-delayed Metro North train schedules in New York's Grand Central Terminal Saturday morning. Trains are all about the future, except when they're not. I observed the future slow and then stop for a while.
Or maybe it snuck up on me Saturday night when I had to decide which of my household clocks should be physically changed (stove, radio) and which ones would take care of themselves (computers, iPod, BlackBerry).
Probably it was all of the above. I kept thinking how archaic the word future seems to be and wondered if I'll soon be writing about conference panels on "The Present of the Book," "The Future of the Book Now" or "The Future of the Book Next Week."
"We are moving from a society desirous of instant gratification to a society of instant anticipation," wrote James Greer in that prescient (in that it was written two years ago, which now qualifies as the distant past) Discover piece quoted above. "We no longer want things that can be delivered immediately; we want to move the future forward, toward us, so that the future is no longer a frame of reference for measuring time but a kind of extended present.
"The very notion of 'on time' has been replaced by the notion of 'in sync.' Everyone, everywhere, seems to be ceaselessly scanning RSS feeds or TiVoing their favorite programs so as not to be left behind, or iSyncing their iCalendar with everyone in their iCompany so that everyone always knows where iYou are, sometimes before you do."
The future is so yesterday.
Fortunately, I was rescued from my temporary time crisis by an e-newsletter from Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Ariz. Gayle Shanks wrote that there are "just too many books, too many loads of laundry, too many e-mails to answer, and not enough time in the day. You all experience this every day as well. Our lives have sped up to what sometimes feels like an unlivable pace. That said, I have taken time to notice that the days are lengthening, that my late ripening oranges are perfect for eating now, that the rains in the past few months have greened the deserts and the sunrises and sunsets that I have managed to see have been spectacular. Oh, to be able to slow down and see the sun each day as it sets and the moon as it rises; to feel like I have time for long conversations with friends. But, I am going to have these things in my life. I am. I am...."
Taking time. Sunup, sundown. That's another concept of the future worth considering.
We are in a process. Despite my suggestion at the beginning of this column, I haven't found the secret to Future Saving Time. I suspect that for most of us the answer lies somewhere between SXSWi Twitter feeds and Gayle's orange trees, even if the clock is ticking--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue#1142
In last week's column, Jamie Fiocco shared some of her early impressions as co-owner of three-month-old Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C. This time we'll hear from her partners in business and bookselling, Sarah Carr and Land Arnold.
Describing her experience since the bookshop's November opening, Sarah asked, "Can I say roller coaster? It has certainly had its highs and lows. Opening, the holiday rush, our grand opening event, were all fantastically exciting and invigorating. Temper that with occasional bouts of terror. I've been a small business owner previously, so I am not surprised at the amount of time and energy it takes to tackle the 'business' end of things, i.e., accounting, but thanks to Jamie all of that is going smoothly."
The word community gets a lot of attention in the bookselling world, and all three owners embrace the concept enthusiastically.
"I cannot say enough about the community support we've received," Sarah noted. "Customers have literally grabbed my hand to thank us for opening an independent bookstore. What this really says to me is that independent bookstores can really be considered to be part of a good civic infrastructure, just as libraries are. Local media were also very instrumental in spreading the early word and have continued to do stories on us. Industry support has been strong. Our sales reps were key to our opening on time with the stock we needed."
Land added that "word-of-mouth has been our best advertising--from friends and family, of course, but also from book lovers in the community. Friends tell friends, neighbors tell neighbors--a local hair stylist wanted some bookmarks to let some of her clients know about us. Social networking exists outside of the internet."
Under the category of "best laid plans," I asked whether the size of certain category sections in the bookshop had to be adjusted as they transitioned from the conception stage to the daily reality of customer demands.
"After placing our initial orders, I was a little worried that I focused too much on the kind of books I like," Land observed, "too much literary fiction, too many books in translation, too many cool covers. But they’ve been selling, those midlist authors on their fifth book who have never got a sniff at the bestseller list, but deserve to be read. But that’s our niche, giving Padgett Powell as much or more shelf space as Stephen King."
There were "no huge surprises, but still pleasant ones," Jamie added, "big demand for poetry, Spanish-language literature, cooking (this section was already big), eastern philosophy and used books in general."
As children's department buyer, Sarah hasn't made any section adjustments yet, since "it's playing out pretty much as I expected, but with a bump in interest in bilingual books and perhaps less of a YA audience than I had hoped for."
Appropriately enough, the books lining Flyleaf's shelves were cited by Sarah as her most pleasant surprise thus far: "From my viewpoint, I am extremely proud of our inventory selection. All three of us literally hand-picked almost everything in the store and we really never were caught short or lacking in too much. I was very pleased to have most of what our customers were looking for and have gotten very positive feedback on what a great selection we have."
Land gave high marks to "our patient and knowledgeable staff, especially our first two hires, Anna and Mike. It’s hard to open a store; it must be excruciating to watch it happen. They aren’t yet seasoned booksellers, but they are eager, intelligent and personable and know about a lot of things I don’t. What more can you ask?"
Having attended ABA's Winter Institute earlier in the month for the first time as an owner, he recalled that the "biggest difference was that this time I looked around at all the veteran bookstore owners and asked myself a few questions: How do I get our store as iconic as theirs? Is it still possible? What innovative ways are they facing the future? What am I bringing to the table?"
In summing up Flyleaf's brief history, Land's personal reaction may be representative of his colleagues' impressions as well: "I’m pretty dense at times, so it takes some time for reality to impress upon me. It happened in stages. When I first saw our cash wrap half-finished in a wood shop nearby, my heart leapt. When our logo was finalized, my heart leapt again. After the carpet and paint and bookshelves were installed, I had another moment. But not until a late night after one of our first days, when I walked through the dark store, with some books finally on the shelves, did all the elements come together to make me realize what I had had a part in creating."--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1125.