Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our New Website

So you might have noticed our website looks a little different. We decided to change it up to give a cleaner look, make it easier to navigate, and give a little more web space to the most important things in our lives; books. Here’s what’s new.

You can now get to staff picks, our ebooks page, the children’s section, all the other store information, and pretty much everything else from the drop down menus above our snazzy new banner. Right below our banner are three book lists; our staff picks, the IndieBound bestseller list, and our featured ebooks. Our next event is displayed right on the home page, so it’s easy to see what’s happening at the store and the next five events are listed on the left with a link at the bottom to the full calender. You can still sign up for our monthly email newsletter and order gift cards from the homepage.

The homepage also features our Twitter and Facebook feeds and still has the IndieNext List; a list of the 20 best books of the month as selected by independent booksellers around the country.

The biggest difference is that the account login has moved. Now, there is a “Login” link right above the search field on the right side of the page. Just click on that link and you can login or create an account. Then you’ll be taken directly to your account, which makes things a little more convenient if you’re logging in to access your ebooks. You can return to the homepage, use the search field at the top of the page, or navigate the site with the drop down menus.

Let us know what you think of our new online digs. Leave a comment here or send an email to and thank you for all of your support.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best Read City in America

We’ve always known that Cambridge is a great book city. So in some ways, when Amazon released its list of best-read cities in America, it was nice to see our home at the top. We were sure Cambridge loves books, now we had some data to back it up. But the rankings are based on per capita Amazon sales, meaning that Cambridge buys more books, per capita from Amazon than any other city. Even though Cambridge has great bookstores, Cantabridgians are choosing convenience over culture and price over personality. Knowing how much Cambridge buys from Amazon it’s no wonder the city went from dozens of bookstores to a dwindling handful.

Of course, there are some books that can only be bought online, and in this economy it’s hard to chastise anyone for saving some money. But shopping exclusively at Amazon has consequences beyond a dwindling bookstore culture. Some major studies have shown shopping at locally owned businesses has a much more positive impact on the local economy than shopping at a nationally owned chain. One study concluded that for every $100 spent, a locally owned store will recirculate about $45 in the local economy, whereas a nationally owned chain will only recirculate roughly $13. And a little change in your spending can do a lot of good. Another study found that shifting 10% of your spending to local retailers could create 1600 jobs and generate $137 million in new activity. So if you buy all of your books from Amazon now, simply buying every tenth book from one of the local independents will do wonders for Cambridge.

Furthermore, Amazon does not remit Massachusetts sales tax. Not only does the state lose revenue, Amazon gets a 6.25% discount advantage over physical retailers. And they are fighting hard to preserve this advantage, lobbying to prevent legislation that would require them to remit sales tax and sometimes firing their affiliates in states where such legislation is passed.

Of course, I could talk about the quality of service that you get at independent bookstores, but, most people already seem to know about that. 23% of book-buyers prefer to buy books from indie bookstores and yet indie bookstores account for only 5-10% of book purchases. We call this gap between the percentage of books bought in indie bookstores and the percentage of people who “prefer” to shop in them, the “mindshare gap.” So, I could go through the list of things we do that Amazon can’t, and I certainly can’t miss an opportunity to say that Porter Square Books sells ebooks, quite often for the exact same price as Amazon, but it seems like the point has already been made.

Cambridge is a fantastic city to have a book store in. When Porter Square Books opened almost 7 years ago, we were overwhelmed by the support our community showed. Furthermore, selling books in Cambridge isn’t just an issue of scanning barcodes, we get to have fun intelligent conversations with well-read people about the books we love. Most days, working at Porter Square Books feels less like a job and more like being a member of dozens of rolling book clubs. So to everyone who is already making our job so much fun, thank you for your support. And for those of you great readers who only shop at Amazon, stop in once in awhile. You might like what you find.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kids Summer Reading Lists

Our kids books experts have put together some great summer reading lists. Stop by the store, check out the display and grab a list. We have lists for three age ranges, K-2nd Grade, 3rd-5th grade and 6th-8th grade. Check out some of the highlights below.


Bear's Water Picnic, by John Yeoman, Illu. Quentin Blake (Andersen Press) Five forest friends embark on the perfect summer outing, but those noisy frogs won't stop their awrk-awrking. Will the animals find a way to go with the current?

The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow!, by Andy Griffiths, Illu. Terry Denton (Feiwel & Friends)
A laugh-out-loud collection of ten, short, easy-to-read stories. Includes characters like “lumpy-head Fred” and “Mike who rides a bike with a very big spike!” ()


Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke (Kane Miller)
Anna lives in Africa with her dad’s side of the family. Her mom has told Anna of the snow of her own childhood, and now Anna wants to see it.

Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters, by Rachel Vail, Illu. Matthew Cordell (Feiwel & Friends)
Nothings going right for Justin. It’s the beginning of third grade, he has the wrong teacher and he’s lost his favorite stuffed animal. This funny, illustrated diary will appeal to the Wimpy Kid crowd.


Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine (Penguin)
CaitlinAnnSmith has Asperger’s syndrome, and sees the world in black and white. When tragedy strikes her family, however, she is the one who sees the clear path to healing and closure.

Claudette Colvin, by Phillip Hoose (Square Fish)
One year before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, 16-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same, but with very different results. Here is her story.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interview with Two-Dollar Radio

Two Dollar Radio is a boutique publisher who functions on a no-wasted bullets policy. You won’t find jokebooks or bathroom readers camouflaged in their lists. In the work they publish, they value ambition above all, and believe that none of their books crimp to convention when it comes to storytelling or voice. Ideally, that contributes to a liberating reading experience. Their primary interest lies with what they would characterize as bold literary fiction: subversive, original, and highly creative.

The name has its origins in a San Diego bar, when the bartender/publisher was ignoring a belligerent old man who blurted out, “Don’t mind me, I make more noise than a two-dollar radio.”

Below is an interview with Eric Obenauf, Publisher and Editor in Chief.

Why did you decide to get into publishing?

I studied dramatic writing in college, but the more I learned about the film industry the less I wanted anything to do with it. I got into fiction writing because I believed it was pure – an art produced by one person and in turn consumed by one person – that could provide this incredible personal connection that you feel in the grip of your favorite authors. My wife and I took a road trip to Big Sur and picked up a copy of Andre Schiffrin’s The Business of Books at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, which burst my bubble about the publishing industry. I was definitely inspired enough to act.

What are some of the challenges specific to being a small publisher?

It’s probably most difficult to deal with the long-lead sales seasons that are dictated by the large publishers. As a small press, it’s hard to fork over an advance for a book that won’t earn money for another two years.

In a recent Boston Review article a number of publishers, small and large, talked about the pressure Amazon puts on them. What has your experience with Amazon been like?

Ummm... We don’t have any direct interaction with Amazon as that all takes place through our distributor, but you still feel the squeeze. It’s also knowing how they conduct themselves as a business, as well as the impact they have on our society that is especially disturbing. In the recent past it seemed as though we may have been entering a new age of corporate responsibility, which has proven to be a stupidly optimistic pipe-dream. Clearly change won’t happen thanks to any sort of responsible accounting enacted on our behalf by our state or federal governments (although, big ups to California!), so we try to let people know – visitors to our website, friends, family, acquaintances – about what goes on. As an outfit that sports its idealism on its sleeve, I’m genuinely embarrassed by our interaction with Amazon.

How about some of the advantages to being a small publisher?

Oh man, I love everything about the position we’re in, it makes me giddy. It’s easier to establish credibility with readers and reviewers as a small press because you have a carefully curated list, especially starting out as it’s organized by just one editor. I had this conversation with Gavin Grant of Small Beer at BEA, where at a small press you’re never publishing anything that you would classify as good – it has to be great. And hopefully that passion for your work translates and is evident to readers and booksellers.

There are a lot of restrictions to being a small press, but then that forces you to get creative with your problem solving, which can be really thrilling. A good example of that is Featherproof, who publishes three or so books a year, but they’re super-creative and have things like Storygami, their mini-books, and I’ve heard a really stunning app. That’s how you stand out with little-to-no budget.

There’s also an incredibly strong support group in the indie publishing community. First and foremost, support from indie bookstores, which provides the very backbone of our existence as most of our sales go through them. In starting out, a number of individuals, such as Johnny Temple, Richard Nash, and Pat Walsh, as well as the truly kind people at Consortium (our distributor), have given us invaluable advice.

What’s the most exciting thing about the work that you do? What keeps you getting up and going to the office?

Most days I work from home, so I can’t really avoid it. In all seriousness, it’s immensely gratifying work, especially now that we’re solvent. You can probably sense my enthusiasm from some of my other responses, but I never want to do anything else. Eliza and I tattooed our logo on our wrists, so it’s very much embedded in who we are. And now, one of our authors, Joshua Mohr, tattooed the radio on his arm, as did Emily Pullen, who started working with us. The other night we were walking down our street and my daughter was riding her bike, when out of nowhere she turns to us and says, ‘when I grow up I want to work on Two Dollar Radio,’ and it choked me up.

Did you feel a sense of validation when Grace Krilanovich, author of The Orange Eats Creeps, was named to the 5 under 35, list? What was your reaction to that?

It has been really satisfying to witness such a bold and brave artistic statement being rewarded, and not just by the fringe but by the mainstream. It was all Grace. She wrote the most courageous book that I’ve read in years. Most first novels that are submitted to us read like they’ve been workshopped to death, where they’re formulaic and conventional. It was evident that Grace held herself to her own very high creative standards. Eliza and I spent many summer nights sitting on our front porch talking about the book, peeling back the layers. It has that pull for readers, that you want to talk about it, debate it, tell your friends to read it, and it became apparent early on, even before the book came out that it had a special glow about it.

Steve Erickson’s intro still gives me goosebumps. I think to have a writer of Steve’s stature flattering Grace and her writing in the way that he did definitely piqued interest. There were some places like HTML Giant that started singing its praises very early on that helped it to gather steam. But the ‘5 Under 35’ thing, it wasn’t a committee decision, but one very esteemed writer, Scott Spencer, singling the book out. I’m sure he didn’t make the most obvious choice. And I’m fairly certain he received a cocked eyebrow or two when he proposed going to bat for a book that mentioned slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies in the synopsis. Which is a testament to the power of Grace’s writing.

I like to imagine that in a lot of ways it’s what readers nowadays are seeking. I know I am. I was asked recently by a reporter what the appeal of an artist like Rudy Wurlitzer has for our generation, so this has been on my mind a lot. I don’t think it’s generational in any way but emblematic of where we are as a culture. Rudy and Grace, I believe to be singular. As artists, as writers, they have remained true to their own voice and vision, while also not caving to the commercial demands of the economy. There’s a purity and authenticity to the approach that feels absolutely vital. It’s what we’re lacking with our medication, sleek gadgets, and everything-on-demand. There’s a swagger to it that feels too rare in our lemonade-stand culture of literature. What’s really inspiring to me both as a publisher and a reader is witnessing a new crop of young writers, some of whom I’ve had the good fortune to publish, and others like Joshua Cohen and Blake Butler, who appear beholden solely to themselves. They never compromised their voice in order to be published or to succeed, which marks them in my mind as the torchbearers who will impart a renewed sense of value upon our future literary world.

What does it mean for a book to be “subversive, original, and highly creative?”

Ideally that’s identifiable in some or all of our books.

What are a publisher’s responsibilities to the world of readers?

As someone with a platform in the arts, however limited, I believe you have a responsibility to contribute something to our culture. Which may sound self-righteous, but whatevs. This was actually a big point of Schiffrin’s book, where he talked about corporate publishing becoming homogenized, with five publishers essentially dominating eighty percent of book sales in the country, which is dangerous for any self-proclaimed democracy in addition to being exceptionally boring. It appears to be cyclical, so I’m actually indebted to the corporate takeover which has enabled this incredibly vibrant and fertile time that we’re living in now. It has enabled our very existence and that of countless other indie presses. It’s a new golden age.

Hopefully we’re providing a service for readers that they wouldn’t find elsewhere; that’s our goal and we know it’s not for everybody. Our families, for instance, have gotten pretty good at feigning interest. But the last thing the world needs is a small press releasing books about a boy’s relationship with his dog.

What are you reading now?

We just returned from Book Expo America in New York, so I have a stack that I picked up in stores and at the show that I’m excited about and am reading simultaneously: Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, and The Ask by Sam Lipsyte.

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