Review Round-up: Scruples, Sidekick, Outlaw Marshal
Playmakers (2003)

Weirdness Rodeo: Heritage, Waterstones and Adaptations

Darwin and Plarchie, by Deadly KnitshadeWe often feel it is important to preserve what we have inherited, but unless we appreciate we would not even have such an inheritance unless others had been willing to tamper with what they in turn were bequeathed, we cannot understand what is really at stake and what matters. - Julian Baggini, "Razed to Life" (RSA Journal, 2015)

What I find particularly compelling about this statement is that it isn't necessarily espousing 'progress for the sake of progress'. Rather, this about - to be cold - the 'cost/benefit' analysis of change: 'understanding what is at stake and what matters'. 

For me, this is particularly interesting in the realm of - of course - literary awards. The cost/benefit of recognising past accomplishments vs becoming a barrier to future achievements is a delicate calculation, and, as I wholly appreciate, an extremely difficult one to quantify. But, especially given that many awards are named or themed upon those who innovated in or redefined their fields, it is only all the more thematically appropriate that we choose to err in favour of the future.

Below - video stores, Waterstones, and more research into adaptations... and, as always, if you're interested in getting these articles (and ramblings about the articles) in your inbox, sign up here.

Streaming culled the video store

Speaking of the cost/benefit of progress, this personal account of the dying days of video stores is interesting reading. And particularly spine-chilling for those in similar cultural sectors:

Video stores — like bookstores, record stores, and arthouse theaters—have died as the lure of online convenience overcomes even the most stalwart patrons. In the final days of the store, we saw a lot of once-familiar faces as they showed friends the great video store where they used to rent.

This isn't a perfect article. To be frank, there's a lot of rage and taste-narcissism in there, and both should be taken with a grain of salt. But the author tallies the advantages of the video store (personal service, taste curation), accurately nails the experience (an investment of time) and sums it up brutally (...and yet still fails versus the convenience of online shopping/streaming). Kind of harrowing.

But, wait, are bookstores actually... ok?

This laudatory article in the Guardian notes that Waterstones has returned to profit. This is, in fact, pretty awesome - especially if Daunt's assurance that this is a 'robust and proper profit' and not just number-jiggling holds true.

Some of the conclusions drawn make a lot of sense - the Waterstones decision to allow more local stocking decisions, for example, is brilliant. However, the article also hastily glosses over the thousands of job cuts - a single paragraph that notes the casualties include 'half the managers and a third of shopfloor staff'. Similarly, the way that Waterstones bulk-buys and/or returns books to publishers seems to have changed. 

Reading between the lines, the article never specifically mentions that Waterstones has sold more books - which could lead the cynical analyst to believe that the return to profit isn't necessarily around increased revenue, but rather about cost-cutting and operational changes. That's definitely not a bad thing, but also not the herald of a new Golden Age in print.

In fact, the larger conclusion, that the 'heart of the revival of Waterstones' profits is a revival in sales of physical books' is pretty spurious. Yes, 'sales of paperbacks and hardbacks rose 3% in the first half of 2015', but that doesn't take into account that the major source of books is still Amazon. I'm also slightly suspicious that that 'rise' is in revenue, not volume - e.g. the number of books is on the decline, but prices went up to conceal it (I've seen similarly laudatory statistics about the 'revival' of print that seem to deliberately make this mistake).

Similarly, Waterstones choosing to no longer carry the Kindle in shops, is less a symptom of the death of digital than basic business sense. And Daunt's own anecdotal evidence is ridiculous: 'if you go on a plane or a train on holiday, you will see many more people reading a physical book rather than digital'. Possibly because everyone else is on a tablet?

Articles like this make me (slightly irrationally) grumpy. I love the fact that Waterstones is in profit. And I am a huge admirer of James Daunt's ways and beliefs, especially his willingness to challenge Amazon head-on. His approach to bookselling is brave, and I think it has to be. But there's such a pervasive media desperation to 'save books' that the reporting on the industry tends towards the hysteric - either we're doomed or saved over the course of every article. There are some fascinating, possibly draconian, insights here on how to make a bookshop profitable, but the blind quest for salvation obfuscates them to the point of uselessness.

Book vs Film (again)

Apparently 538 were also bemused/annoyed by the Book vs Film adaptation statistics that I flagged up a few weeks ago, and went at it themselves. Here's how the experts do it:

I pulled the Metacritic critic ratings of the top 500 movies on IMDb tagged with the “based on novel” keyword. I then found the average user rating of the source novel for each film on Goodreads, a book rating and review site. In the end, there was complete data for 382 films and source novels.

Unlike the previous work, 538 goes into standard deviations, which takes into account that Goodreads scores and Metacritic scores can't be taken at face value (or compared in a linear way). It also works out that, "studios are not in the business of adapting unbearably bad books", which makes sense.

The results are pretty entertaining. The best 'page-to-screen' adapations are include Up in the Air, Apocalypse Now and There Will be Blood. In general, books with really high Metacritic scores and medium-to-meh book reviews. The worst include Vampire Academy, Mortal Instruments, Divergent and (interestingly) one of the Harry Potter films (Deathly Hallows, Part 1). All of these are really, really highly regarded on Goodreads (Mortal Instruments has an average of 4.1 GR, as opposed to Heart of Darkness and its relatively lowly 3.4). 

(Note: I'm not sure comic books are included. Have asked the author.)

The conclusions are fun, but the process is even better - worth reading for the various notes on how Hickey used the two review sites, and what he learned about them.

Read more.

A cute little behaviour change tool, measuring how much you could be reading in your 'wasted' moments.