Low-Hanging Fruit


We went apple-picking in Tesuque yesterday.

Some friends live on a fairly large property in Tesuque canyon, filled with apple trees. They invited a bunch of us to bring containers and fill them with apples. We shared a potluck dinner. Lovely activity for a golden fall afternoon.

Except apple-picking is hard work.

Lots of bending over to pick up windfall apples, ones shaken from the trees and ones cut off by the pickers. Lots of stretching up to reach the low-hanging fruit – a phrase that has entirely new meaning for me now – and getting tangled in the snarly branches. We only picked for a couple of hours, but it left me a bit tired and sore.

If anyone had asked me how I liked apple-picking, I was ready to say, “this is why my farming grandparents were so hot for all of us to get good educations.”

You guys do this, too, right? Prepare the witty remark, just in case someone asks. The only is, people rarely give you the correct set-up line and instead ask you something else completely unexpected that leaves you floundering for a response.

At any rate, I was thinking of my ancestors and how they spent their days. How apple-picking was probably a cake job for them. It kind of throws the whole writing and publishing business into a different light. There the labor is mostly mental and emotional. And yet, still strenuous for all that.

Last Friday I was chatting with Laura Bickle, whose really excellent book Sparks recently appeared here. We were talking about marketing books and publicity, what’s the most effective approach to spreading the word about your book, and whether the traditional publishers are falling behind. I told Laura about this, that I’d been meaning to post here, apparently since last January:

Tim O’Reilly, the founder and C.E.O. of O’Reilly Media, which publishes about two hundred e-books per year, thinks that the old publishers’ model is fundamentally flawed. “They think their customer is the bookstore,” he says. “Publishers never built the infrastructure to respond to customers.” Without bookstores, it would take years for publishers to learn how to sell books directly to consumers. They do no market research, have little data on their customers, and have no experience in direct retailing. With the possible exception of Harlequin Romance and Penguin paperbacks, readers have no particular association with any given publisher; in books, the author is the brand name. To attract consumers, publishers would have to build a single, collaborative Web site to sell e-books, an idea that Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House, pushed for years without success.

It’s from this New Yorker article, if you care to read the whole thing. The article is on the long side (did I mention it was in the New Yorker?), but very interesting. What grabbed my attention in this bit is the idea that the traditional publishers think their customers are bookstores. I can see how that’s the case. Bookstores, and to a lesser extent, libraries, ordered the books and made all of the purchasing and return decisions. It was up to the bookstores to connect with the actual readers.

Now, however, I can vouch that I now buy almost all of my books electronically, from Amazon or directly from the epublisher or the author. As much as I love bookstores, I rarely go into one anymore. When I do, I usually don’t see what I’m looking for. I follow the recommendations of friends, book bloggers and other authors. Laura mentioned that Wal-Mart no longer will shelve books in the urban fantasy genre, which is what she writes. The big chain bookstores are failing as we see in the news.

It’s a new era. Which is not a bad thing.

Things change. I imagine a lot of us come from farming backgrounds, yet very few of us spend the day laboring to pull our food from the earth. We don’t need to. Why am I not going into bookstores anymore? I don’t need to.

In reality, the customers for books have always been the readers. Bookstores are the middle-man, taking a piece of the profit for the service they provide. As that service declined – you know what I mean, when you could walk into a bookstore and say “I don’t remember the author or the title, but it’s about an autistic kid who thinks he witnesses a murder…” and the lovely bookseller could hand you exactly the thing and recommend six others – we have less need for that middle-man.

The one thing I really miss is the fun of it. I loved spending an hour or two browsing the shelves. The smell of leather armchairs and fresh print. That’s the point of apple-picking, too, to spend an hour or two in the sunshine pulling fruit from the tree.

But the fastest, cheapest way for me to get an apple? Buy one from the store.

8 Replies to “Low-Hanging Fruit”

  1. Insightful post, Jeffe. Farming is my family heritage and this hit home with me. I think maybe it's having the opposite effect on me than intended though. I want to go pick apples and sit in a bookstore and hold on to it all while I can. Somehow the passing of something makes it all the more sweet.

  2. I suspect you're right about the convenience factor, but I'm with Johanna–your post makes me want to go wander around in a brick and mortar bookstore while I still can. 🙂

  3. I have a reading addiction (as I'm sure most writers do). Every week, I was either at the bookstore or ordering books online because I couldn't go without having something to read! Then I bought my e-reader and the only time I go to the bookstore is when I want to write. I still see a lot of people in there, but I don't think the e-reader craze has really caught down here yet. My hometown is always a few years behind the rest of the country and part of that gives me hope for the continued survival of that bookstore.

  4. My most witty remarks are always created in retrospect, never ahead of time, so they have even less chance of seeing the light of day.

  5. Your right about people not giving you the right setup. So I've learned not to prep in advance.
    My grand father was a farmer and my grandmother a seamstress.Sometimes I like to take things slow. I love to walk through the bookstores, and occasionally do something with my hands like knit or embroider but most often I go for convenience.

  6. I miss bookstores too. I remember going in and plunking myself down in the romance section and leaving with eight or ten books. Was that really only two years ago. Now I, like you, order everything electronically. Not because I don't love the idea of holding a book, e-reading is just quicker, easier and I can actually make the font larger on my books in order to read. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that part, but hey. It is what it is. Change can be good.

  7. Linda – the nostalgia factor can never be denied!

    Danica, that's so funny, that the bookstore is now where you go to write. I should get out more, it's true.

    Ah, but Kev, you're a legend in your own mind.

    It does come down to convenience, doesn't it, Chudney? Or energy. I used to quilt, but I had to stop because I tended to do that instead of write. Maybe once I quit the day job?

    Kelly – I did the same thing. And I used to discover a lot of new authors that way, just by perusing the shelves. But that put me at the mercy of the bookstore buyers. A different model now.

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