Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and others affected by the devastating storms that have swept through the Midwest, South and Mid-Atlantic states over the past few days. Hopefully the worst is behind us and  we encourage everyone to donate to the appropriate charities and help out any way possible. 

Pollsters disagree on how many Americans read e-books.

Harris Interactive, a division of Neilson, just did a study that showed 53% of all Americans now use e-books, with 6% of that group using e-books exclusively. About 50% of Americans still use print books. Meanwhile, competing Pew Research announced recently that only 28% of Americans use e-books. Either way, we get it, more people use e-books than they did ten minutes ago. Of course if you look at the top-selling titles on Amazon or Barnes & Noble you will find the majority of them feature covers of half-clad, muscular men clutching equally proportioned beautiful women with torn bodices. Pollsters fear being politically incorrect by mentioning gender or species in their reporting, but booksellers and publishers alike might find it helpful to hear more detail than “generic Americans are using generic e-books for generic reading.” Just a generic suggestion.

Like rats off a sinking ship? 

bnBarnes & Noble founder and chairman Leo Riggio just sold off 3.7 million shares in the company but is still the largest shareholder with 20%. This follows a sell off by Liberty Media, which reduced its interest from 17% to just 1.7%. Share prices dropped about 4% after Riggio’s action. It shouldn’t really come as a big surprise that when a general marches to the rear, the rest of the troops are likely to get edgy.

Amazon in the news, again.

floridaAmazon will soon start collecting sales tax from Florida residents. That is expected to bring an extra $80 million a year to the state coffers for politicians to squander on whatever program du jour meets their fancy. Florida residents might remember when gambling was supposed to bring new tax revenue for schools. The new funds did indeed to schools, which suffered matching cuts in funds from other areas for a net gain of about zero. Politicians in the state are quick to justify new revenue schemes by pointing out that the state has no income tax. So how about taking the new tax revenue and putting it toward much-needed books for schools? Maybe the state politicians aren’t aware that Amazon sells books.

searsMeanwhile, rumors abound that Amazon is considering buying Sears and K-Mart. Well rumors at Forbes Magazine anyway. It is suggested that Amazon would benefit from such a move because it would pick up roughly 2,400 stores it could use for distribution and on-site pickup by consumers. Then, like Walmart, it could advertise “free delivery” (to a store they would ship to anyway) and become the darling of the big box stores. The average size of a K-Mart store is between 80-120,000 square feet, Sears stores run up to 225,000 square feet. That’s a lot of square footage (and rent) for a retail operation that was built on keeping overhead low by not having storefronts. Instead, perhaps Jeff Bezos at Amazon would consider buying Barnes & Nobles outlets and running them like bookstores.

untitledAmazon purchased the discovery site GoodReads a while back and basically left it alone until now. It was just announced that a new feature will allow you to automatically roll your Amazon e-book purchases into your GoodReads list. While many people like the idea that no one can tell what they are reading on their daily train or bus commute, this new feature will let everyone you know on GoodReads see every embarrassing title you’ve purchased. One possible solution to this worrisome problem might be to shop at a bookstore and use a protective cover when traveling by public transport. Then again that might be far too simple.

Literature is good for your brain. Well duh! 

brainWhile it has always just been assumed that literature with rich language and metaphors is a good thing, science is now proving that fiction can in fact stimulate the brain and even trigger behavior modification. In 2006, Spanish researchers used an MRI to scan the brain of subjects while they read various types of words. They found that words associated with the senses, such as “coffee” or “perfume,” can trigger a response in the primary olfactory cortex. French and Canadian researchers, using similar methods, have found that reading fiction rich in metaphor stimulates more than just sensory responses. The brain also interprets the social interactions of fictional characters as real-life, which helps explain how and why some readers react emotionally to what they read.

One wonders how long before savvy publishers instruct writers to deliberately load their writing with key words specially chosen to invoke emotional reactions. That tactic would not be new however. Political writers long ago discovered the value of inflammatory words to elicit emotional responses. In the computer world, search engine optimization (SEO), is a method of using key word embedding to elicit higher ranking results from internet search engines. Perhaps one day fiction authors will have corporate sponsors as was done in the early days of radio and television.