Indigo: Bookselling as a Cultural Experience

The New York Times: “It may seem strange for a bookstore chain to be developing and selling artisanal soup bowls and organic cotton baby onesies. But … Indigo is experimenting with a new model, positioning itself as a ‘cultural department store’ where customers who wander in to browse through books often end up lingering as they impulsively shop for cashmere slippers and crystal facial rollers, or a knife set to go with a new Paleo cookbook.” Book-industry analyst Peter Hildick-Smith, comments: “Cross-merchandising is Retail 101, and it’s hard to do in a typical bookstore. Indigo found a way to create an extra aura around the book-buying experience, by creating a physical extension of what you’re reading about.”

“The atmosphere is unabashedly intimate, cozy and feminine — an aesthetic choice that also makes commercial sense, given that women account for some 60 percent of book buyers. A section called ‘The Joy of the Table’ stocks Indigo-brand ceramics, glassware and acacia wood serving platters with the cookbooks. The home décor section has pillows and throws, woven baskets, vases and scented candles. There’s a subsection called ‘In Her Words,’ which features idea-driven books and memoirs by women. An area labeled ‘A Room of Her Own’ looks like a lush dressing room, with vegan leather purses, soft gray shawls, a velvet chair, scarves and journals alongside art, design and fashion books.”

“The new approach has proved lucrative: In its 2017 fiscal year, the company’s revenue exceeded $1 billion Canadian for the first time. In its 2018 fiscal year, Indigo reported a revenue increase of nearly $60 million Canadian over the previous year, making it the most profitable year in the chain’s history.”

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Books & Brews: A Community on Tap

The New York Times: “The first thing one notices about Books & Brews is that it’s off the beaten path, tucked into an unassuming strip mall in a cluster of industrial-supply stores and a sprawling outpost of The Home Depot near 96th Street on the far north side of Indianapolis. The second thing you may notice upon entering the shop is how inviting it feels, with its bright, bookshelf-lined walls, clusters of sturdy wooden tables and racks of board games — and that’s before you get to the back of the store with a craft-beer taproom, small stage and even more packed bookshelves.”

Founder Jason Wuerfel comments: “The fundamental flaw of the bookstore is that it’s designed to be quiet and not let people connect to each other. When you encourage people to walk around, and you have books and board games and music that breathes life into spaces, you naturally provide the framework for social engagement.”

The books for sale all around the store are mostly used, taken by donation and sold for $3 each … Ten percent of used-book sales are given to Indy Reads, an area organization that promotes literacy … As for the brews, the company has its own line of craft beers, sporting playful names like Shogun Soba Ale and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout … The Books & Brews mother ship is not alone anymore. Wuerfel expanded and franchised the business over the past few years to eight other locations (so far) around central Indiana and now partners with Flat12 Bierwerks to produce his beer.”

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Store Check: Kitchen Arts and Letters

The New York Times: “Kitchen Arts and Letters doesn’t present as one of the world’s great bookshops. It has no library ladders or espresso bar, no smell of bookworm or brass polish, and nowhere to sit. It has only slightly more bookish allure than the nail salons and hardware stores that surround it on a commercial block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side … What the small storefront does house is a very deep knowledge of a very narrow subject: books about food. And that knowledge is rewarded by the kind of loyalty that induces customers to drop thousands of dollars at a clip, mostly based on the recommendations of Nach Waxman, its founder, and Matt Sartwell, the managing partner.”

“Rarely crowded, the store sees a constant stream of seasoned home cooks who know what they want … Curious culinary novices find their way in, and are tenderly guided through a series of diagnostic questions to a suitable starter book … those who have simple taste and want to cook for sustenance; those who already love to eat but never learned to cook; and those who are recipe-resistant but believe in mastering the kitchen through science.”

“But most of the store’s customers, though not present in the flesh, are the professional and aspiring chefs who routinely order whatever new volumes the owners are stocking, whether from Catalonia or the Carolinas. If they actually use the books, or even read them, is not pertinent; they act as a window into how the world’s most influential chefs are thinking, dreaming and plating … By determining which cookbooks to pull from the torrent of global publishing and send into our kitchens, they might be the most quietly influential figures in American cuisine.”

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Stout Sells Out: How Big Beer ‘Goosed’ Sales

The Wall Street Journal: “The popular image of the brewing industry is of a war between Craft and Big Beer. It’s small, independently owned breweries facing off against multi-billion-dollar corporations hawking bland-tasting beer with outsize control over the global market. These terms are useful for drawing battle lines in the beer world, but as Josh Noel explains in ‘Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out,’ the reality is slightly more complicated … Mr. Noel’s book recounts the rise of Chicago-based Goose Island Brewery, a vanguard name in craft brewing that was purchased in 2011 by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the biggest and baddest beer maker on the planet.”

Goose Island was founded in 1988 by John Hall, a box-company executive with a taste for European beers … Big Beer could not afford to ignore upstarts like Goose. Anheuser responded to the craft-beer boom by developing its own artisanal styles and buying stakes in a number of small breweries. But the threat to Big Beer seemingly abated when craft’s swift advance suddenly skidded to a halt … That downturn was one factor that led it to agree, in 2006, to the sale of a large minority stake—to a brewing company partially owned by Anheuser.”

“Goose sales spiked 60% within a year. In 2004 Goose had produced 50,000 barrels of beer; in 2011 that number had tripled. But its success became its own obstacle: Goose couldn’t brew enough beer to meet insatiable demand. So it ‘sold out’—agreeing in March 2011 to a 100% sale to Anheuser for $38.8 million … There’s a contradiction at play in the relationship between craft beer and big business. On the one hand, as Mr. Noel spells out, craft won the war by forcing the world’s largest brewer to change. On the other, it lost by being commandeered by that very same company.”

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Kicks: How Sneakers Sneaked Up

The Wall Street Journal: “How on earth have people who make freaking footwear apparently managed to reduce athletic powerhouses like USC and Louisville to the role of glorified money launderers? It all comes down to the outsize importance of sneakers in popular culture. In his expansive, thorough and entertaining book ‘Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers,’ author Nicholas Smith traces the history of this $20 billion industry, arguing that the power and allure of the shoe have shaped American business and fashion for decades.”

“Their manufacturers have thus become economic forces larger than the sports they’re supposedly there to support. In many ways, to hear Mr. Smith tell it, the shoes have been wearing us.’Kicks’ serves as a comprehensive look at how much the sneaker became a signature indicator of cool, from Chuck Taylor and his Converse All-Stars to Clyde Frazier’s Pumas to Run-DMC and their Adidas to, of course, Michael Jordan.”

“Today, the author suggests, sneakers have essentially replaced music as the go-to investment for companies looking at getting into the youth market. They have become so popular that most manufacturers make limited-edition shoes that exist solely to become valuable and are almost never worn. The shoes aren’t for wearing; they’re simply for having.”

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Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Hershey Story: In Chocolate We Trust

The Wall Street Journal: “In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.—a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed ‘sweetest place on earth.’ He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.”

“Hershey and his wife supported the school through a trust, which they established in 1905. By 1918, when he donated his full stake in his chocolate company to the trust, the trust was valued at $60 million. Today it is worth more than $14 billion—ranking it among the largest nonprofit endowments in the nation, on a par with MIT’s—and has maintained a profound commitment to its locale.”

“Peter Kurie’s ‘In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped’ is a study of the town and of its residents’ shifting attitudes toward its institutional trinity of trust, company and school … He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder’s vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.”

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Beijing Surprise: All Sages Bookstore

The New York Times: “All Sages Bookstore, a haven of precisely arranged shelves and display tables, thrives on the low-rent second floor of a nondescript building near Peking University … the store represents an independent political spirit in an authoritarian one-party state … A large image of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and freethinker, stands out among a galaxy of literary posters lining the wall of the entry staircase, a taste of what’s to come.”

“All Sages has the feel of a well-ordered, smaller version of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan … The clientele seems to be as varied as the books. The store is strategically located, within walking distance of China’s premier university campus, but people from all over the country drop by. On a recent weekend, a manager of a chemical company in the southern city of Shenzhen pushed a trolley full of books to the cashier for dispatch home by air courier. High-ranking military officers, party officials, rich society figures and celebrity entrepreneurs are all customers.”

“The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on Mr. Liu’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses. They, in turn, are subject to the Communist Party censors who control what is published by Chinese authors and foreign writers translated into Chinese … Among the steady sellers at All Sages are books on American history and biographies of the early presidents … George Washington’s Farewell Address, which outlines his argument for term limits — have always sold well.”

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Craeft & The Wisdom of Daily Life

The Atlantic: “In his new book Craeft, the archaeologist and BBC presenter Alexander Langlands offers a fascinating and surprisingly relevant dive into a subject that might seem niche to many—the origins of traditional crafts in medieval Europe … For Langlands, the Anglo-Saxon word ‘craeft’ is distinct from our modern word “craft” in spirit and in practice. ‘Craeft’ means having the wisdom of one’s surroundings, understanding nature and the seasons, and knowing one’s materials, as well as how objects and systems fall apart.”

“Apart from its use as a marketing term for, say, microbrews, the word today doesn’t usually connote a skilled trade. Unlike ‘working,’ ‘crafting’ is commonly understood as fun: It can be self-consciously silly, feathered, decoupaged, and brightly colored. It’s fun for kids and meditative for grownups. In most cases, the product of a crafting session is less important than the relaxing process by which it was made … It provides the satisfaction of transforming a stack of materials into a tangible, recognizable finished object, often by way of a therapeutically repetitive process. Craft’s magic trick is that it’s play that’s been designed to look like work.”

“What Langlands is advocating for in his book is more widespread knowledge about the time when craft was integral to daily life. In the era he studies, activities like beekeeping weren’t escapes from reality, but essential to it. He also smartly notes that neither ‘craft’ nor ‘craeft’ is a synonym for ‘working with one’s hands.’ At its root, the word ‘manufacture,’ which is associated with mass production, means ‘to make by hand’ … Langlands calls for living and working with awareness of our environments, materials, and challenges in real time.”

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Late & Great: Fred Bass

Quartz: “Fred Bass, co-owner of New York’s massive used bookstore, fondly known as the Strand, died of heart failure Jan. 3 at 89. Bass transformed his father’s modest store into the four-story bookshop immediately recognizable to New Yorkers and tourists today: The store on Broadway, with its red-and-white awning over $1-book carts lining the southern-facing exterior.”

“There are two basic things a good bookstore can provide: The delightful maze of human-curated shelves, or the satisfaction of efficiently getting the book you’re looking for. Amazon has done its part in taking away business from the bookstore chains that have excelled at the latter, like Borders and Barnes & Noble. The now Everything Store once sold nothing but books, and one way it’s done so successfully is by offering deep discounts. The Strand, though nowhere near as ubiquitous as Amazon.com, has been able to tout dizzying volume at the same time it’s maintained a beloved shopping experience.”

“What Amazon has done well—sell its vast inventory to you for super cheap—Bass did first. And with tote bags. Nearly all the store’s books are sold at a discount, ranging anywhere from a couple dollars off a new title to less than a $1 for a classic or a book that’s run its course … Today clutching one of Strand’s 100 or so bag designs is a proud display of reader identity.”

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