Alex Beckstead is the filmmaker behind Paperback Dreams, a documentary on independent bookstores. The documentary is now touring around the nation and is making appearances on PBS.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Surrendering to hard-boiled journalists.
Guest: Alex Beckstead
Subjects Discussed: Why Beckstead singled out Cody’s and Kepler’s over other Bay Area bookstores, Kepler’s as a prominent fixture on the Menlo Park town square, the Cody’s “hail Mary” play in San Francisco, business location problems in Union Square, the commercial viability of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, the Bay Bridge as the cultural Berlin Wall, the question of why Cody’s didn’t survive in the present age when it survived the seedy environment of the 1960s and the 1970s, economic vs. cultural shifts, passion and independents, the absurdity of buying everything online, Amazon, bookstore proprietors who don’t own their buildings, the graying of bookstore customers, Andy Ross vs. Clark Kepler as successful bookseller, the independent bookstore as cultural space, listening to the customer base, the importance of being an entrepreneur, comparisons between bookstores and movie theaters as glorified snack bars, the two storefront dilemma, the bookseller as philanthropist, an independent bookseller’s responsibility to the community, the conglomeration of publishers and the lack of dangerous books on the market, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the Cody’s firebombing, books vs. music as a medium, whether or not the Internet is bad for books, gatekeepers, the importance of the countercultural movement to independent bookselling, and the ubiquity of Amazon vs. the selection of a bookseller.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Beckstead: I didn’t smell blood in the water. I didn’t go in thinking, “Okay, well this is going to be a failure.” I mean, it was a huge risk. The kind of thing that Andy [Ross] was doing, there was going to be a dramatic outcome one way or the other. Either he wasn’t going to make it and then the losses were going to be catastrophic or he was going to make it and sort of prove that somewhere, somehow, an independent bookstore can still make it. That was the outcome I was still rooting for. But that’s not what happened.
Correspondent: But simultaneously, you do have footage of Andy Ross, as the bookstore is opening. He’s saying very proudly in the streets how banks won’t lend him money, how he’s putting his entire savings into this “hail Mary” — we’ll call it that, I suppose, because it did indeed go belly up. And at the end of the film, he even says, “This was a colossal act of hubris.” I mean, this store was operational at the expense of the Telegraph store.
Beckstead: Well, the Telegraph store wasn’t making money. That’s what people need to understand. You know, the Telegraph store was not going to survive. It might have limped along for another year or two, had Andy not opened San Francisco. But it was losing a lot of money. The kind of books that historically sold were not selling well there. And I think Andy’s reasoning was that, when they opened the second store in Berkeley in ’98 — you know, Cody’s on Fourth Street — that store became very successful very quickly. It was smaller than Telegraph. There’s a whole other thing about Telegraph. It’s always been a little edgy, but it’s kind of got a little bit seedy. There’s a high rate of vacancies along Telegraph Avenue. I was talking at one point, when we were making the film, with the owner of Ameoba Music. He has a very large record store on Haight Street in San Francisco and then also on Telegraph. It’s still not clear to me exactly who’s to blame for the decline of Telegraph. But it’s clear. He was saying that there’s hardly any vacancies on Haight Street. It’s very similar in terms of the kind of people who spend time there. Similar problems with aggressive panhandling. With drug dealing and all those sorts of things. But Haight Street does fine. For some reason, Telegraph does not.
Telegraph was in decline. Fourth Street was really taking off as a shopping district. I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s something like 20 to 30% of the sales tax revenue for the City of Berkeley comes from Fourth Street. And Cody’s was the biggest shop on the block. They were the anchor on Fourth Street. So I think Andy’s logic was: We opened a second store in a more upscale shopping neighborhood. That quickly became profitable. Not quite profitable enough to hold Telegraph as well. But maybe if we did the same thing on a bigger scale, then we’d have two successful stores and one that was kind of slowly dying. But maybe we could subsidize it long enough to figure out what was going to happen. I mean, there’s been talk of turning around Telegraph Avenue for years. So I think that he was really optimistic that you could do that. But, yeah, it wasn’t the right call at the end of the day.
We’ve received a few requests from listeners asking us how they can get DVD-ROMs of the show. And since Christmas shopping has started, and some of you out there may be on the lookout for a literary stocking stuffer, we’ve decided to begin offering DVD-ROMs of the first 250 shows of The Bat Segundo Show at the very affordable price of $50. (Shows #249 and #250 will be coming online very soon.) For just 20 cents per episode, you’ll be able to experience more than 200 hours of the oddest cultural conversations that can be found on the Internet.
This three DVD set features all programs produced from October 2004 to the present day.
Disc One: Includes interviews with Jonathan Ames, Bret Easton Ellis, T.C. Boyle, Octavia Butler, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Elliott, William T. Vollmann, Erica Jong, Tom Tomorrow, Sarah Waters, Colson Whitehead, John Updike, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeff VanderMeer, Robert Birnbaum, Daniel Handler, Alison Bechdel, Tommy Chong, Nora Ephron, Scott Smith, Richard Dawkins, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edward P. Jones, Mary Gaitskill, Kelly Link, Francine Prose, Kate Atkinson, Claire Messud, Simon Winchester, Amy Sedaris, Nina Hartley, Richard Ford, Christopher Moore, Heidi Julavits, Neal Pollack, Tayari Jones, and David Lynch.
Disc Two: Includes interviews with Martin Amis, Ron Jeremy, China Mieville, Tao Lin, Lionel Shriver, A.M. Homes, Scarlett Thomas, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Shteyngart, Richard Flanagan, Katie Roiphe, William Gibson, Marianne Wiggins, Gabe Kaplan, Rupert Thomson, George Saunders, Naomi Klein, Chimamanda Adichie, Steven Pinker, Naomi Wolf, James Lipton, Oliver Sacks, Richard Russo, Tom McCarthy, Andrea Barrett, Will Self, Stewart O’Nan, David Rakoff, Sue Miller, Charles Burns, Steve Erickson, Chip Kidd, Bill Plympton, Michio Kaku, Jennifer Weiner, Richard Price, and Nicholson Baker.
Disc Three: Includes interviews with Mark Sarvas, Errol Morris, Sarah Hall, David Hajdu, Tobias Wolff, Sloane Crosley, Cynthia Ozick, Ed Park, Fiona Maazel, Steven Greenhouse, Ralph Bakshi, Mort Walker, Rachel Shukert, Andre Dubus III, Thomas Disch, Grandmaster Flash, Nam Le, Sen. Mike Gravel, Ethan Canin, Jenny Davidson, Paul Auster, Brent Spiner, Bonnie Tyler, Mike Leigh, Marilynne Robinson, Charlie Kaufman, Neal Stephenson, and David Rees.
Episodes will still be available for free download. But with the purchase of this three DVD set, you’ll be helping us tremendously to continue producing the show, and you’ll save yourself a considerable amount of time downloading them all at home. Particularly if you have dial-up.
The price includes shipping. Please note that all shipments are being sent by FedEx Express Saver to ensure a reasonable delivery time that we can track, and, due to costs, we are currently limiting delivery to the United States. If, however, you’re based outside the States, email me and we’ll work something out.
If there’s enough interest, then we’ll be unloading some additional merchandise, including iPods that have the shows already loaded. But for now, we wanted to offer an affordable way for you to get the shows all in one burst. And if you act swiftly, and you foresee a good deal of commuting time for your Thanksgiving holiday, then we can get the DVDs to you before the turkey is carved.
Just in time for Election Day! David Rees is most recently the author of Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror: 2001-2008.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Struggling to cast his vote.
Author: David Rees
Subjects Discussed: Why red was selected for the Get Your War On backgrounds, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable, inverting clip art figures in different panels, the shift from static panels to animated movies, rotoscoping and stock body language as kinetic clip art, the lack of appeal in drawing original art, laziness and being responsive to news headlines, negotiating the personal and the professional, how the weekly strip for Rolling Stone is determined, live readings, worrying about public perception, Berkeley Breathed, using Voltron in Get Your War On, the relationship between Uzbekistan and Bill the Cat, Iraqi Crybaby Theater, Thomas Friedman’s mustache and facial hair, unusual government allotments, journalistic accuracy, the importance of rage in producing comic strips, the standing guy and his wire and binders, and meta gags.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to also ask about the use of white space, and often the lack of white space, with some of the panels that have this extraordinarily long rant that one of the characters is conducting versus using the clip art and shifting it to the right hard edge of the panel or the left hard edge of the panel, or what not. What is your criteria in terms of white space and filling up the panel? Is it contingent upon the words you have to deliver for any particular strip?
Rees: You probably don’t know this, but the U.S. government allots all political cartoonists a given amount of white space in a year, and a lot of budgetary issues. If you don’t use your white space in a year, you don’t get it back the following year. There’s no rollover white space.
Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, it’s the appropriations and the earmarks I’ve heard.
Rees: So you have to really challenge yourself every year to use just enough white space, so that they’ll give you more white space next year. You have to submit this form. A white space form. Form JKL-202. And you submit this form. And they will give you more white space. And so as a political cartoonist — I mean, if you’re registered with the government, which I am, which all political cartoonists are supposed to be, if you find yourself at the end of the year that you haven’t used enough white space, then you go on a big rant. So there isn’t much white space around. You know what I mean?
Correspondent: Sure. Sure.
Rees: Because you don’t want to go over your limit immediately. Because you’ll be penalized.
Correspondent: But with all the “fucks” within the rant, that can be very problematic. I know you’ve gotten into trouble based off of that. Because of the specific requirements of this act.
Rees: Right. You’re referring to the Left Wing Political Cartoonists Profanity Allotment Act of 2003?
Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, I am. The number of “fucks” are quite frenetic. Exactly.
Rees: Well, I trade on the gray market. I trade — you know, cap and trade with carbon emissions? They set up the same thing for cartoonists, where you get a given amount of profanity. Fuck, goddam, asshole, shit, cocksucker, bitch, all that stuff. And then if you want to use more, you buy a set on the International Profanity Market. You buy a certain amount from other cartoonists.
Correspondent: They come in 200 units, I think.
Rees: Right. Well, it’s 200 syllables. You don’t actually buy the profanity by the word. You buy it by the syllable. So “motherfucker” is four syllables. You can use those four syllables to deploy one “motherfucker” or four “asses.” So I usually just buy them from cartoonists like Bil Keane, who does The Family Circus. He never uses his allotment. In a year, he never says “fuck” in The Family Circus more than ten times. So I will buy him out usually at the beginning of the year, so that I have enough to get me through a season.
Alec Foege is most recently the author of Right of the Dial.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Defying the maker of rules and dealing with fools.
Author: Alec Foege
Subjects Discussed: WINZ switching to Air America because of Fahrenheit 9/11‘s success, Jesse Jackson and Keep Hope Alive, profitability vs. integrity, Clear Channel’s Republican viewpoint, conservative talk radio and profitability, Rush Limbaugh, Clear Channel executives as better money managers, the Mays family approaching radio from a profit standpoint, the apolitical realities of financial mismanagement, voice tracking as a cost-cutting measure, the public radio bailout, pre-scripted radio conversation and the lack of spontaneity, Clear Channel’s Walmart approach to radio, the decline in radio advertising courtesy of the economic downturn, Clear Channel selling off stations in 2008 to survive, the self-correcting market impulse, how radio caused a San Francisco Franz Ferdinand concert with only a few hundred people showed up, Girl Talk and the Internet as an alternative marketing device, the few slots on radio playlists, Gnarls Barkley and Internet-based rock stars, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and the “pay what you what” mentality, satellite radio, the online advantages of local radio, payola, record labels paying radio stations, free market opportunities opened up by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Howard Stern on David Letterman, Clear Channel buying Inside Radio and thus buying criticism, the FCC, and the future of radio.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about the subject of payola, which comes up multiple times in this book. Eliot Spitzer is, of course, unfortunately now out of the game. But he did do some good things, such as investigating the relationship between the promoters and the radio conglomerates. One of the most condemning documents revealing Clear Channel’s “pay for play” policy was when an email from Sony’s Epic label basically asked, “What do I have to do to get Audioslave on WKSS this week? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen.” Now there was extraordinary payola in all these instances. Sometimes as much as $400,000. But if you are a promoter, you are always going to have to deal with payola on some level. Whether it’s a fruit basket. Whether it’s a free CD. I mean, what is the maximum level of what we might call payola? Inarguably, I bought you this coffee that you’re enjoying right now. So are you perhaps — is this payola? I don’t know.
Foege: Well, it’s good that you just disclosed it.
Foege: That’s a step in the right direction. And I guess I didn’t explicitly state that I wouldn’t talk with you if you didn’t buy me a cup of coffee. And I did offer to pay for the cup of coffee as well. You know, the funny thing about payola is that it’s existed since the beginning of radio. I mean, radio has traditionally been a pretty dirty business. It was before Clear Channel existed. It continues to be. A lot of people in the business that I spoke to said payola always exists in some form. Every once in a while, it emerges into the public sphere. And somebody like Eliot Spitzer comes along and tries to have some effect on it. But for whatever reason, people trend back to their bad habits again. And the corruption begins again. The interesting thing about payola is that I think, particularly in the modern era, it’s had a very insidious effect on radio. Because one could argue that it’s not good for radio stations and radio companies. Sure, there are payments involved. But as Clear Channel was wont to argue, when it was sort of caught up in all this, even with the large sums that you mentioned, if you look at the total revenue that Clear Channel now brings in, those are hardly numbers that would matter to them overall.
But the insidiousness comes in the fact that, first of all, ostensibly radio stations are attracting listeners with songs and music that they want to hear. Of course, payola tips that scale and simply has people at record labels paying to get particular artists and songs on the air, whether people want to hear them or not. Or whether there’s any criteria other than the payment to get them on. So arguably, you could say that radio stations can lose listeners if they’re embroiled in payola. And it’s just crappy music that nobody likes. Which certainly has come up in the past.
The other thing is, obviously, payola hurts artists. And in combination with all the other tactics that Clear Channel employed, as it got larger, to cut costs and to streamline their overall operation, payola was yet another part of the equation that essentially cut out most emerging artists. Because how could they compete against songs that were simply on the air because people were getting paid off.
The only interesting thing about this is that payola is a very difficult crime to explain to the average person. Because, of course, some variations on what payola is exist in different kinds of venues. A classic example is when you walk into a supermarket, and you see a big pile of Rice Krispies up at the front of the row.
Correspondent: Yeah. Co-op.
Foege: Few people realize that Kellogg’s paid to have that stack put there. And that also happens to not be illegal. The reason that it’s illegal when it comes to radio is because radio, through the FCC, has a federal mandate. The airwaves are owned by the public. So this is a corruption of the public’s airwaves when these payments are made. And so that’s where the crime is involved. Because there’s an acknowledgment there that mass media, because of its power and influence, is different from boxes of Rice Krispies at the supermarket.