Round up #254: the return of Time-Life Books, does any other business like Amazon?

Round up #254: the return of Time-Life Books, does any other business like Amazon?

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later

Is Amazon punishing you?

In the new e-book world, you might think traditional publishers are in trouble. Actually, though, they can survive. Once they figure out how to sell books D2R (Direct To Readers), bypassing retailers like Amazon, it will be a whole different ball game.

Another group which does have a real threat hanging over them?

Literary agents.

An agent, just simplifying things, represents the author to the publisher.

They find a publisher and negotiate the deal.

Independent publishing, where an authors publish books themselves, clearly cuts them out.

Amazon, through its Kindle Direct Publishing, is one of the great independent publishing enablers…perhaps the most important one to date.

If tradpubs become more risk adverse, which is certainly possible, every tradpubbed book arranged by an agent is going to become more valuable.

Tradpubs will, I think, increasingly try to buy indie books which are already selling pretty well…again, potentially reducing the need for an agent to act as the discovery engine.

Right now, tradpubs trust certain agents…if they bring them a book, that gives the author a lot more negotiating power.

So, I found this

Publishers Weekly article

very interesting.

It purports to reproduce a letter from Gail Hochman, the President of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, to Amazon.

The language is…well, blunt is too soft a word.

Hochman uses the term “brutal” and draws an analogy (without specifically saying that Amazon is doing these actions) to hostage-taking.

That is a gamble…and suggests that they are feeling uncertain. People take the biggest risks when all of the options look bad.

And what about brick-and-mortars?

I thought this was a great

The Street article by Rocco Pendola

It’s called, “Physical Retailers Still Have No Answer for Amazon”, and it makes excellent points (mentioning Barnes & Noble, by the way).

For a long time, brick-and-mortars (I used to manage a brick-and-mortar bookstore) were in such a fortified position in the retail segment, that it was as if they were sitting in a castle at the top of the hill.

You know what the difference is between the people in the castle, and the people who want to take over that hill?


The castle-dwellers are good with the status quo. They don’t have to plan…if things stay the same, that’s good for them. For them, change is bad.

For the people outside (Amazon in this story), they have to change things…they have to plan out something that affects the current circumstances.

Then, the castle people might react when they see what is happening…maybe. People are risk adverse: they’d have to be very sure that changing what they have is worth it before they would try anything.

I particularly liked this line:

“…Jeff Bezos has tunneled an unparalleled trajectory of unadulterated greatness at Amazon.”

Time-Life Books returns

I don’t think I’ve told these stories on the blog…stop me if I have. Oh yeah…you can’t. 😉 Actually, I know I sometimes tell the same stories…that’s a habit I have as a trainer. My feeling is that most people don’t remember that you told it before, and if they do, well…it can be like re-reading a favorite book. 🙂

Anyway, many years ago, I worked for Time-Life Books in San Francisco.

Yep…it was a “boiler room” sales situation. A bunch of people cold calling homes to sell them the Time-Life Books series.

You might remember those…Knight of the Air, for example, about World War I fighter pilots. You could examine a book for ten (?) days, and send it back if you didn’t like it.

I started out as a salesperson: everybody did. I wasn’t great at that, and quickly I was moved into being a “verifier”.

I was the good person. 🙂

I would call somebody who ordered the book the next day, and see if they really wanted it.

Lots of people didn’t.

Where I worked, they pretty much would hire anybody who could sign their names and let them try to sell books.

We had people who had plastic grocery bags for shoes, for example…although those folks could be quite erudite and literary, even without homes.

Some salespeople would lie and write up a sale (we would catch them), and some…well, there were some interesting stories.

I always remember calling someone who had ordered the series on animals…a book on monkeys, one on lions, one on tigers…that sort of thing.

The purchaser seemed enthusiastic enough on the phone. Then, the customer said, “I’m going to have to stop after the monkey: I only have a small apartment.”

Me: “The books aren’t that big.”

Customer: “What books?”

This customer (and this was not the salesperson’s fault) thought we were sending them the actual animals! Yes, we’ll send you a monkey to try for fourteen days, and then if you keep the monkey, we’ll send you a bear…then a lion…then a…

I guess we should have realized that you need at least a two-bedroom condo to make that practical. 😉

Then, there was the time that one of our best sales people (very honest, very nice…that’s how the best ones tended to be) had sold somebody a series.

I call the next day, and as always, identify myself.

The voice on the other end says, “What time was that?”

I explain the time, and the voice says, “This is the Sheriff. I need to talk to your salesperson.”

It turned out the house was robbed…and the burglar answered the phone!

Not only answered the phone…but stayed on long enough to have the conversation…and to say “yes” to the books!

The owner of the house was in Europe…the salesperson had to describe the voice.

Anyway, according to this

Seattle Times article

the brand is returning…but not as series of books, just individual titles.

Oh, and not digitally…physical books to be sold in stores.

Looks like it might be only brick-and-mortar stores.

I could see them working in places like Costco, but this does seem like an…interesting business plan.

Children’s Book Week: Writers on Writers

Here’s a fun

YouTube video

from Open Road Media.

Just as you would expect…writers tend to be readers, too.

What do you think? Do any other businesses like Amazon? Do you remember Time-Life Books? Did you ever buy an encyclopedia…one volume at a time? Did you ever work on the phone? Can you be a good writer without being a reader? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

New! Try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


12 Responses to “Round up #254: the return of Time-Life Books, does any other business like Amazon?”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I do remember Time Life Books quite fondly. I bought a partial set of the Life Nature Library at the local Goodwill store many years ago. I purchased the complete set of “The Emergence of Man,” one at a time. I don’t remember now if it was from an ad I saw in a magazine or an ad I received via snail mail back in the days when it was just the mail. After I purchased that series, I kept getting phone calls to buy additional series, but I declined. Eventually, I needed to free up some space on the book shelf, so I took them to a used book store to sell. They offered me 10¢ per book! I wasn’t satisfied with that price, so I brought them back home. Eventually, I gave them to my uncle who was also a book lover. When my uncle died, my cousins donated them to the hospice that had taken such good care of my uncle during his final days.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Sounds like a good disposition for those books!

      A dime a book certainly isn’t much!

      By the way, the use of “snail mail” (a new modifier or term created to differentiate an older version from a newer version) is called a “retronym”. There are a lot of them: “rotary phone”, for example…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Interesting. I’ve always been fascinated by words and etymology. I always wanted to own all the volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, but the cost is over $1000, so I’ll have to settle for the one that came with my Kindle.

        One of the Kindle Daily Deals today is a book about words, The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins [Kindle Edition]. You can use the “look inside” feature to see a list of the words featured. Text to speech is enabled. Needless to say, I downloaded it!

        You also mentioned buying encyclopedias one volume at a time. When I was a kid, they offered a set of children’s encyclopedias at the grocery store. They were published by Little Golden Books. I just googled it to make sure. I found a set on E-Bay, but I’m sitting on my hands not to bid. Apparently I had the 1959 edition.

  2. D. Knight Says:

    Just wanted to let you know: Amazon is offering 9 camera related apps today as the Free App of the Day. In addition to being free, you get 100 free coins with each app you download. Thought you might want to pass this information on.

  3. Becky from Iowa Says:

    My parents–both former professionals (journalists, Episcopal priest, city administrator)–worked for a while at Time-Life after they retired, for extra income. They were lowly phone sales, but they went into the job with cheerful, honest, curious minds. Oh, the stories they would tell! They loved to share the conversations they had with friendly, voracious readers (and firmly believed that North Dakota had the most readers per capita:”it must be all the snow and cold..” 😉 and the not-so-admirable tales of what their less ethical co-workers’ dishonest or lazy job tricks.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Becky!

      Certainly, there were good, intellectual people who worked at Time-Life Books…although I think you have to picture that as a Venn diagram with a somewhat small intersection. 😉

      Here’s a great dishonest one that I would catch people doing at another place I worked with phones. There are a lot variations on it: I refer to it as the “hijacked toner truck story”, because that’s what was sold at that other place.

      They would cold call someone, and it would go something like this:

      “Hi, I need to talk to the person who orders your toner. Yes, this is [insert honest sounding name here]…you usually buy your toner from us. Well, we had the weirdest thing happen. Some kids took one of our trucks for a joyride! The police found it a couple of blocks from your office. The toner is still in there, but the police won’t let us move the truck. I have a client who is a doctor near you who usually takes two bottles from us. I was telling him, and he said he’d take twice as much if I gave him a discount…just so we could get it out of the truck. I checked with my boss, and given the circumstances, I got the okay. Then, I realized where the truck was, and thought you might be interested, too. Can I send you four bottles this time, instead of two? I’ll give you a twenty percent discount…”

  4. Becky from Iowa Says:

    Oh, also wanted to say: I have such fond memories of browsing those oddball “book sets” such as Time-Life, Childcraft, etc., as a child, that I collect them from used book sales and can’t bear to part with them–despite the fact that my homeschooled children are grown. I have two editions of the 1948 Childcraft series for children, a lot of different Time-Life editions (dinosaurs! disasters! fairies and elves! western days!), My Bookhouse series, Foods of the World, Audubon Encyclopedia of Nature, the Encyclopedia of the Natural World, the Library of America, and several sets of standard encyclopedias (Britannica, World Book, etc.). Although my house is slowly sinking under the weight of all these sets, they’re just something that never can be duplicated on a Kindle–as much as I adore mine, The “sit and browse and see what we find” serendipitous attraction of these collections puts them in a unique, irreplaceable category, in my opinion…

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      I always wanted a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. My dad bought a set of encyclopedias from a door to door salesman. The salesman had originally come to the front door where my mom told him we weren’t interested, but the salesman encountered my dad in the garage and told him my mother wanted them, so dad bought them. I don’t remember the company’s name, but it wasn’t one of the well known ones. The encyclopedias came with a companion set of anthologies of classic stories and fairy tales. He also bought a set of “The Book of Knowledge,” from a second hand bookshop. There was a set of medical encyclopedias that we also got one volume a week at the grocery store and an unabridged dictionary where we bought the binder first, then a section of pages to put in the binder each week until we had the whole dictionary.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I remember those binders!

        We have a couple of general encyclopedia sets around the house: our kid actually won a set of Compton’s, as I recall.

        One of the specialized encyclopedias I got one at a time in a store was Man, Myth, and Magic…still have those. 🙂

  5. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Well, I’ll take a stab at other businesses that “like” Amazon 😀 — at least until recently Federal Express, UPS, and USPS would fall into that category. It’s also helpful to remember that 40% of Amazon’s revenue is 3P (from 3rd party sellers) — I’d guess that a lot of them look upon Amazon favorably as well.

    Amazon’s business model is “Something New” (a PG Wodehouse novel I’ve just finished rereading :grin). It relies on free cash flow to continue in business with near zero profits — a process it can continue using indefinitely — something that is driving more traditional competitors nuts (to say nothing of investors 😀 ).

    Given this model it may be wrong to see them as a “retailer” — they are more of a universal “distributor” — it is there that they have the technology and innovations that few others have.

    Another factoid to keep in mind: as large as their revenues may be, Walmart’s are still 8-10 times larger FWIW ;-(

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I appreciate you taking on the challenge!

      We’ll see how the package delivery companies feel as Amazon begins to do two things. One is to further expand its own in-house delivery systems (which, yes, may eventually involve drones). I think that AmazonFresh may involve their own trucks, for one. The other is this intriguing partnership with the US Postal Service on Sunday delivery. I know you listed USPS as one of yours, but I suspect that FedEx and UPS aren’t happy about the Sunday thing…it makes the USPS look good, when I would assume the others like them to look bureaucratic, inefficient, and bloated.

      You are right about small sellers likely loving Amazon, in a way similar to small indie publishers. I was thinking more of large businesses, but what you say is certainly a good counterpoint to the way I phrased it.

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