Bookseller Briefing 35/18 – week ending 31 August

The Bookseller


Lawsuit reveals takeover bid for B&N by rival ‘book retailer’

Barnes & Noble was on the cusp of being sold to another book retailer in June before the deal fell through, it has been revealed.

The information transpired after B&N’s former c.e.o. Demos Parneros filed a lawsuit yesterday (28th August) charging his former employer with breach of contract and defamation of character after he was fired in July.

According to Publishers Weekly, the charge filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York suggests Parneros’ relationship with B&N chairman Len Riggio took a turn for the worst after the book retailer withdrew its offer to buy the chain after completing due diligence. The name of the bidder has not been released.

As well as containing a number of “unflattering” revelations about how the company operates, the suit also alleges Riggio “became hostile to Parneros” after the deal fell through and stopped communicating with him.

Parneros was sacked for “violations of the company’s policies” after just 15 months in role, continuing the trend of fast turnovers of chief executives continues at the beleaguered US chain and Parneros is claiming that the current political and employment environment meant the public assumed he had been fired after allegations of sexual harassment, which he says was not the case.

As well as hoping to clear his name, Parneros is asking for severance of over $4 million for being dismissed without cause, as well damages for loss of potential earnings, mental anguish and other punitive damages.

The B&N board rejecting the charges and calling the suit “nothing but an attempt to extort money from the company by a c.e.o. who was terminated for sexual harassment, bullying behaviour and other violations of company policies after being in the role for approximately one year.”

Buyers back personalised picture book offering different pronouns

A personalised picture book offering buyers seven different pronouns, as well as different skin tones and hair colours, has exceeded its kickstarter funding target within 12 hours.

The Forgotten Forest allows buyers to personalise the character in the book by choosing from a list of pronouns that includes they, ve, ne, ey and ze as well as the usual she and he. There are eight skin tones, six eye colours, 12 hair styles and 25 hair colours available, as well as the option to add in glasses, a wheelchair, hearing aids and ear defenders.

The book is being published by Oh Zoe, a start-up founded by Katharine and Matt Harbord (pictured below), who said they want all children to see themselves star in the story, regardless of gender, race or disability.

“During our competitor research we noticed a curious trend – almost every competitor asks if the child is a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’, almost before asking anything else, and always in that order,” Matt Harbord told The Bookseller. “We just couldn’t understand the logic behind it – what options are they offering that aren’t applicable to girls if you chose ‘boy’?  What about the other way round?

“We decided that there was no need to tell us the sex of your child and that we couldn’t think of a single example of an option that should be available to one sex and not the other.  Once we realised the only reason for this question was to assign the pronoun it was fairly obvious that there was no reason to limit ourselves to ‘she’ or ‘he’. Every single book is created to order and if someone uses the prefered pronoun ‘they’ or ‘ve’, or anything else, how can we possibly say that’s not a valid choice?”

The company hired illustration team Sas and Yosh and held a competition to find an author, eventually choosing freelance journalist Victoria Richards to write the text.

They launched the book on Kickstarter yesterday (28th August) to fund initial printing costs but have already exceeded their £2,000 target; they have currently raised £2,535 from 83 backers, who have bid between £1 (for the online story) and £50 (for the book and a special print).

When researching the project the Harbords talked to the parenting community on Instagram, especially the Make Motherhood Diverse group, to help understand what was missing in the world of personalised picture books.

“These discussions are far from over, and we’re really hoping to engage further with our backers on Kickstarter to see what else we can do to improve,” he said. “There is an almost unlimited amount of personalisation we want to offer, but it’s only through proving that a market exists for our product that we can justify investing the time and effort to add all these options.”