Subscribe Now, and Save 50%! Lessons from MoviePass

The woes of MoviePass recently made me reflect on some ideas we’ve been toying with to market and sell even more books. Loyalty programs, subscription models, premium customer tiers, and so on, have all been on our minds in the last few weeks here at CUP. Most of this came around because of our 150th anniversary next year, but when I started reading about MoviePass, it just came into focus even more.

This blog post, and the ongoing series that will follow, is about looking at non-book-world things in business, marketing, sales, pop culture, and anything else really, and seeing how it might tie into the business of marketing and selling scholarly books.

MoviePass, of course, took its business model from other monthly subscription media services like Scribd, that charge a small fee for which the customers get, in return, access to large volumes of media. The model works because many people sign up, pay the monthly fee, but then don’t use the service all that much. It’s like the gym. The most successful startups using the model have mostly focused on visual media (TV, movies, streaming services), but even books have received the treatment, and not just from Amazon. And though I’m not convinced that the “Netflix” model works for books; the latter is an inherently different kind of media, the 700,000 subscribers Scribd has might disagree. But I am intrigued by what possibilities could exist for a subscription model for a unique publisher.

freestocks-org-618080-unsplash

What can I offer my customers, that will entice them to pay a monthly fee, in exchange for becoming a “member” or a premium customer? What incentives would be needed to earn their loyalty over the long term? Does the “insider” content of early ESPN initiatives work? Do they need extra-special (read, bigger) discounts on their purchases? If I offer them a rewards program so that they get a free book after every fifth purchase, will that be enough to make them buy more books? Is free shipping all it takes? Of course, none of these standard marketing and sales concepts are new. So, how can we tweak them so that what we offer is different and powerful and exciting and makes the customer, want to buy and read all our books? Is Cadillac’s exclusive treatment the way to go?!  (“This version of our new book is only available in New York!”)

As we build our premium-loyalty-exclusive-subscription-reward model for the 150th Cornell University Press anniversary, the 1869 Club (work it out!) will be a hybrid. Different aspects from the most successful of the existing models will be included. Different tiers might exist. Different options for discerning customers will be featured on the menu. And one model isn’t going to work. We just don’t have the B2C base needed to sustain it. We don’t have enough new content (or existing content on the back list) to hold enough customers. But our PLEaSeR model might just have enough triggers to create and engender long-term commitments from students, scholars, and others to make it work.

The planning is underway, and I literally just came up with PLESR model (I’m pretty pleased so I hope it’s original), but as this new series of Book Marketing from the Real World continues, we’ll reveal more. (I’m not even hiding this behind an “insider” model. Although, I guess that might just change!)


 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the marketing and sales director at Cornell University Press. Follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny. His blogs are always Premium content. He appreciates your Loyalty in always coming back for more. His posts are Exclusive to this blog. You can Subscribe if you like. And the Reward for reading all the way to the end of this bio is that it ends.

Subscribe Now, and Save 50%! Lessons from MoviePass

Cornell Press BOOK #WorldCUP has kicked off!

The World Cup has kicked off in Russia today and at Cornell University Press we are playing along! To make the best sporting event even better, we’ve created our own Book #WorldCUP bracket, each country who made it to Russia represented by a book of our choice.

As the countries progress through (or are eliminated from) the World Cup, their paired books will, too, until we have a winner.

Each of our selected thirty-two books are discounted 10 percent on our website starting June 20. As each team advances on to the next stage, its corresponding book will earn a better discount. Books making it to the round of sixteen will be 20 percent off. Reach the quarter finals and save 30 percent. Forty percent off the semi-finalists, and fifty percent off the two books that make it to the final on July 15th. And because we love the World Cup so much (well Martyn and I do), we’ll give you 75 percent off the winning book to celebrate!

So, follow along with our Book World Cup bracket, and see which books win you a better discount:

GROUP A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay

GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

GROUP C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

GROUP D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia

GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, S. Korea

GROUP G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

GROUP H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

——

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is obsessed with the World Cup and is convinced that Uruguay, her country of origin, will win the tournament. She is looking forward to getting her copy of Informal Workers and Collective Action with a 75 percent discount.

 

Cornell Press BOOK #WorldCUP has kicked off!

And what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations? (My first time @BookExpo)

I attended  BookExpo in NYC, last Thursday, for the first time.  I had no idea of what to expect, so I’m sharing here a recap of everything I took (and didn’t take) from BookExpo 2018:

The variety. People and books everywhere, I felt like Alice in Book Wonderland. Sometimes shrinking within the crowd, sometimes enlarging by book displays, only to find myself chasing The White Rabbit, always late for the next talk that I wanted to attend. What a fascinating conglomeration of publishers, titles, events, and everything that is new in the publishing world!

The networking. Whether in booths or in the long lines for book signings, the atmosphere was electric. I was delighted to talk to other colleagues with different interests and from the most varied backgrounds. The result: I walked out of BookExpo with fresh insights, new marketing tools provided by the speakers from Ingram, and more importantly, a handful of business cards with the contact information of people with whom I will collaborate in the future.

The University Press world. I spent my afternoon visiting the other university presses exhibiting at BookExpo. I met with fellow marketers and exhibitors, and we chatted about catalogue design, the most cost-effective merchandising for publishers, new releases, and last but not least, how to better promote our books on our social media platforms.

The food. More excited than the Hatter at the Mad Tea Party—and forgetting about that article with tips for first time attendees—I ate at the Javits Center’s food court. It had a surprisingly wide array of options, and even a vegetarian selection. Plus, I met a wonderful lady in line and we shared our lunch, talking about the importance of encouraging children to read from a very early age. Priceless.

The giveaways & galleys. My Queen of Hearts, both antagonist and favorite character. Even though I gathered some books and souvenirs, I felt a bit underwhelmed by the few giveaways available at the event. On the bright side, I found everyone at their booths to be very animated, always handing out a catalogue or business card when they didn’t have a galley to offer.

The maze. The King of Hearts. Even though by walking in circles I found exhibits that were not in my loop, I found the layout of the event to be a bit confusing. I spent a fair amount of time looking for the Midtown stage, with no BookExpo volunteers in sight to ask for directions, and a small map not suitable for a short-sighted person like me.

The wandering about. Finally, I just took the time to wander about. During this time, I wrote on the “What is the book that changed your life?” wall, entered a contest to win a book basket, wheeled my little bag around until I got a few children’s titles for my son, and even met a translator that recommended some books in Spanish that I will read in the near future.

All in all, I found BookExpo to be a success. I appreciate the contagious energy, the excitement, and the friendliness that transpired in that place. It reminded me of the magic worlds that open up with every page we read, and the fact that behind every book that is published, there is a story, an author, and a team of dedicated people who are working hard to bring it to life.

——

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is grateful to have attended BookExpo 2018 and more than anything, to the people at Sleeping Bear Press who gave her free cake for dessert!

 

And what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations? (My first time @BookExpo)

#PWYW reflection (a recap of the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history!)

20,000 – number of impressions of first PWYW tweet

12,000 – number of reads of blog posts about PWYW sale

4,700 – number of books sold on PWYW day

1,500 – number of offers made on PWYW day

1,000 – number of views of PWYW mini movie

150 – number of website visitors every minute during PWYW

20 – number of hours team worked on the sale

10 – number of website visitors every minute when it’s not PWYW day

3 – number of pizzas eaten by marketing team

2 – number of videos made for PWYW by marketing team

1 – number of Inside Higher Ed articles written about PWYW sale

 

The dust has settled on PWYW Day so it’s time to take you through the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history.

When I first came up with the basic concept for the sale in February I thought it best to run the idea past our non-marketing colleagues to see what they thought. I didn’t want to run into resistance to the idea or miss something important regarding what was an extremely unusual marketing campaign for a university press. Overall, I received a lukewarm response. Some people raised concerns about logistics, some questioned the message it might send to customers and authors, some thought it gimmicky. I shelved the idea and turned our attention to a more typical end-of-(fiscal) year sale.

But the concept lingered in my mind. When the marketing team went through a strategic planning exercise last year, we created our own vision statement designed to push us to be the best possible marketers we can be. We focused on the words, pioneering and innovative. The pay-what-you-want sale idea seemed exactly that. We chatted again, as a team, and decided to use another of our deeply held mantras: trying and failing is not a bad thing. The PWYW sale was on.

Because of the slight delay between original concept and deciding to run with it, we had to push the sale through on a short deadline. All our scholars and academics shut down their computers and flee for vacations or sabbaticals in the summer, after all. Arbitrarily, we chose May 15th.

In the planning phase, I kept repeating to my team that because no other university press had done this before, we could not anticipate everything. We could lay out a solid foundation and project as best we could what might happen, but we could not foresee every eventuality, every odd email request, the reactions of the media, customers, our customer service team, and everyone else. We could though, focus on the promotional campaign. How would we get word out? Drip. Drip. Drip. The tease. A tweet, a video, progressively more detailed emails, more social.

And, obviously, as marketers, we didn’t focus on all the little, tedious details! How would our customer service team deal with the people who made offers, for example? Did we have enough helping hands? Would we use a central phone line? Had we even thought out the potential software glitches we could run into, or how to resolve the snafus of lost shipment?

We also, it turned out, completely underestimated the success of the sale. Prior to May 1 when we kicked things off with our first tweet—the one that got 20,000 impressions—I thought we’d maybe get a couple hundred offers. But once our social and email campaigns kicked in, we began to revise our estimates.

At the last minute we reconfigured the whole sale. Rather than receiving offers and pointing people in the direction of customer service to place their order, we created twenty-five special campaign codes to give to customers depending on what they offered. Those codes would then be used on our website directly. Customer service wouldn’t come into the picture until the aftermath: dealing with errors, issues, and fulfilling orders as quickly as possible. We ordered a gift basket from Zingerman’s for the CSRs.

A week before the sale, we went from thinking we’d maybe need three or four people checking emails on a semi-regular basis throughout the day to bringing the whole team (plus the director) into one room with laptops and desktops, putting all other work to one side, and barely leaving our seats or the room for twelve hours. And then Inside Higher Ed got in touch and published an article online about our no-longer-so-little sale.

On the big day, I arrived at 7:30am, closely followed by a colleague. We set up, sat down, and quickly realized we had no way of accessing the specially created email address for the sale to start responding to offers. We had decided to assign one team member to the email address and she would forward emails as they came in to each team member in rotation. I called and texted. No answer. Thankfully, our email forwarder showed up fairly soon; she had been walking to work and her cell phone was on silent. My mild panic reverted to excitement.

The “war room” quickly filled up and we had to make a little more room at the table as Dean Smith, our director, joined the fray with a perky (it was 8:30am!), “is there room for me?”

After the first hour it was already apparent that we hadn’t even come close to anticipating the response level we would get. We’d hit the 100 emails answered mark, and Adriana (our email comptroller) kept saying things like, “there are so many,” and “I can’t believe it.” Sort of to herself. Each of us, I think, had no idea how many emails she even had in her inbox.

A couple of hours in and we had established a rhythm and a system. What we had planned for went pretty smoothly. What we hadn’t planned for, we dealt with on the fly, creating new systems and procedures as things came up. By lunchtime the banter was quick witted, the music had already gone from jazz to rap to show tunes to big-hair bands and everything in between. I learned a lot about my team’s musical preferences. Four hundred emails had been answered.

By lunchtime it was undeniable that even with nine people working non-stop, we couldn’t keep up with the volume. We were answering emails that had come in four hours earlier in some cases and the sale inbox just kept filling up. This was another unexpected development, but, obviously, a good one. For us. We didn’t want customers to wait and wait and wait but we also didn’t want to conscript other CUP staff because there was a reasonably steep learning curve involved and the team was in a groove.

Many of the emails we received from people making offers included stories or explanations about why they were making this particular offer. Some of these stories were fascinating. Some emails contained profound declarations of appreciation for the sale and the opportunity to acquire some of our books. When a particularly good one came in, we read it out loud. Cheryl, our publicity manager, told us about a priest and his desire to read some of our books. An hour later she exclaimed, “the priest is back.”

The vast majority of people made good and fair offers and we accepted them. The team openly delighted in saying, “yes” to a person’s offer and sometimes felt sad when we could not accept one. A few people made offers that caused incredulity, and every now and then a team member would gasp or chuckle with wry amusement. “Twenty dollars for fifty books!” or something similar would bring a shake of the head and a “sorry, your offer isn’t quite good enough” email was sent.

On Twitter, #PWYW got enough attention that for the briefest of moments it trended. Colleagues from other departments made the trek to the third-floor war room to offer encouragement and to see what all the fuss was about and discover why they hadn’t seen a marketer for hours. These delightful interactions – online and in person – gave us more energy and on we pushed.

At 4:30pm EST we started using our social feeds to let people know the end of PWYW approached fast, and that if they didn’t hear back from us on PWYW day, we’d get to their offers as soon as possible. I had set up the special codes to be live for three days rather than one just in case something happened that we couldn’t predict. By this time in the day I may have been pleased with my foresight!

By 7:30pm on the 15th, when the last of us left for the evening, we had responded to approximately 1,000 emails. I spent the rest of the evening emailing the remaining 500 people to let them know we’d get back to them on the 16th. Anecdotally, the team thought that on average people made offers for three books and that most people made offers between $10 and $15 for each book. There didn’t seem to be a clear “leader” in which subject areas interested people or which books had received the most offers.

On the 16th we regrouped and spent another eight hours responding to emails. On the 17th we dealt with those we inadvertently missed.

Within a week, people started receiving their books. I’ve never seen as many pictures of university press books being ripped out of boxes or proudly displayed in a stack with comments such as, “just got my CUP #PWYW books,” “It’s Christmas in May!” or “Yes, they’ve arrived! #PWYW.” In essence we’ve received a second round of social promotion. This we did not foresee!

The Pay What You Want sale was a success. Simple as that.

We haven’t seen engagement with our brand, our books, and our people at such peak levels before. I don’t know, yet, if we can find them again with a marketing campaign, but we’ll certainly try. We know what this kind of success looks and feels like now and we’re all keen to experience it again. I’ve had people ask when we’re doing a PWYW day again. The answer, in all likelihood, is never. Certainly not for a long time. Part of the success came from the unexpected nature of this campaign, from the excitement it generated, from the agency people felt in telling us what they wanted to pay. I don’t want to try to recreate that success using the same formula. Instead, I want my team and I to be innovative and pioneering once again. I don’t want us to walk down the same path, even if it is a freshly trodden one. I want us to blaze a completely new trail.

Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when we put on our hiking boots again.

But what did we learn?

Well, people really liked this whole thing.

Grad students really liked this whole thing. It would seem that grad students want to buy our books but find the high-priced scholarly books they need too expensive.

Authors liked the sale. Perhaps less obvious but, anecdotally, the attention that some authors received went down really well. Yes, their books were purchased for significantly less than retail, but they’re being read!

Individual customers are willing to part with relatively large sums of cash for scholarly books if they believe they are getting a deal.

The act of making a deal is empowering.

Being told “you’re offer isn’t quite good enough” did not put too many people off; most people came back with a better offer.

Some people might have been trying to make a handsome profit off the sale by buying books as cheaply as they could and reselling them!

I’m not sure we learned much about the price points of scholarly books. The average offer was too low to be a sustainable business model for university presses. Perhaps, though, the average offer indicates that rethinking the pricing model used by most university presses is necessary.

You need a flexible and modern team of CSRs that is willing to go above and beyond in order to make this kind of sale work.

And, anecdotally, from the #PWYW team:

“PWYW was a sort of rejuvenation for me. I’ve been reminded, thanks to PWYW, that people still want to buy, and read, books. Given the overwhelming response we received from students, there is a whole new generation to pick up the slack.”—Nathan

“There was something exhilarating about directly interacting with so many ardent fans of our books in such a compressed amount of time. It felt personal and large-scale at the same time. I got into this line of work to help build communities of readers, and PWYW felt like we were doing exactly that.”—Cheryl

“It’s rare that publishers ever interact directly with their customers and I enjoyed hearing back from PWYW buyers who were deeply thankful and touched that we offered our books in this way. Late on the first night, a customer called us back and I helped her with a code and talked about her next book –an ethnographic study of living on the Afghanistan border in the early 2000s. It may end up with us.”—Dean

“My main takeaway is how unique an experience it was and how much fun it was to work together in one central *war room.* it was definitely one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had in 3 years of working at the Press.”—Elizabeth

“My impression of the PWYW sale was a feeling of gratitude from our customers. A positive experience for me and an affirmation of the importance of our books.”—David

“We received so many positive emails from students and professors deeply thanking us for this sale, and it felt really good to be able to help so many people get books they’ve always wanted.“—Jonathan

Recommended playlist (with just some of the classics that played on the afternoon of May 15th):

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press and a freelance consultant charging inordinate amounts per hour to other university presses for advice about running a PWYW sale.

 

#PWYW reflection (a recap of the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history!)

Hot Take from #PWYW

Last week, the marketing team chatted about the forthcoming Pay What You Want sale. Last-minute logistics were discussed. I threw out the idea that maybe only three or four of us would be sufficient to handle the email offers on PWYW day. My team pushed back and said it would be best to start with everyone on board and see what happened. I listened. And now I pat myself on the back.

Still a little bit hesitant about our PWYW experiment, we used a mini movie, blog posts, emails, social media, word-of-mouth, and our website, to promote the campaign. We cross-promoted, we coordinated. Ahead of the big day, more than 24,000 emails went out with an open rate of 33%. Our first tweet hit 15,000 impressions. Our first blog blew past 2,500 reads. Before Tuesday, I already considered PWYW day a success. Now, I consider it simply amazing. The outreach, the branding, the goodwill, the communication, the media attention, and the buzz have been beyond my expectations; the number of offers made exceeded anything I could have foreseen.

mkt team PWYW
CUP Marketing team minus Marketing Designer Elizabeth Kim (from left to right): David Mitchell (Exhibits/Awards Coorinator), Nathan Gemignani (Metadata & Special Sales Rep.), Cheryl Quimba (Publicity Manager), Adriana Ferreira (Social Media Coordinator), Martyn Beeny (Marketing Director), Carmen Torrado (Marketing Assistant), and Jonathan Hall (Digital Marketing Manager)

Two days after the sale, I’m just floored by the response on the day. My team were right. We needed every marketing hand available, plus the boss. Nine of us spent twelve hours on May 15th, and another nine hours the next day responding to all the amazing people who made their PWYW offers. I don’t yet have the specifics, but I want to get my initial thoughts down on “paper,” in the immediate aftermath of what I believe was a truly innovative and pioneering marketing campaign in our little university press world.

Anecdotally, 1,500 people made offers to us. In 10 hours. They WANTED our books.

I can’t wait to dig into the metrics, to analyze the data from the day, to draw conclusions about what we do and how we do it. I’ll write in more depth about the sale and what we learned in due time, but for now, just know that I am proud of my team, proud of the books we sold far and wide, and so incredibly grateful to all those who thought highly enough of PWYW and our books to take a chance and make us an offer.

——

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press. He had a dream for PWYW; his team made it a reality.

Hot Take from #PWYW

May 15th PAY WHAT YOU WANT day is already a hit!

We announced it a few weeks ago and our PAY WHAT YOU WANT sale that is happening next Tuesday, May 15th, is already rocking the Sage House! So far, our first blog post has 1,631 views, our announcing Tweet made 10,498 impressions, and our promotional YouTube video follows with 385 views.

So don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to get your Cornell Press wishlist books, at the price you name:

TUESDAY MAY 15*U.S.A. only

 

Recommended watch – featuring all Cornell Press actors & film crew:

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She has been at the job for one month and is delighted to have directed a movie and helped orchestrate the most successful university press book sale ever, in such a short time!

May 15th PAY WHAT YOU WANT day is already a hit!

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

In February, Publishers Weekly released data indicating that print book sales dropped 4 percent in 2017. The early-warning doomsdayers are looking skywards and believing they see an asteroid making its way towards the book publishing world. Perhaps. Although I don’t believe so. What I do believe, though, is that we’ve entered a new paradigm for book sales, particularly for sales of scholarly books.

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplash
Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

If we consider recent data, it quickly becomes apparent that what was once true is no longer. Sales of individual titles are just not the same as they were five or ten years ago. The reasons for the drop are myriad, of course, and have been discussed over and over. To list just a few, libraries no longer purchase as many books, new types of courses that use non-traditional materials emerged, there’s a perceived aversion to print books from both students and younger scholars (although I’m not truly buying that one), and, of course, there’s the internet. And so on. Regardless of the foundational reasons, the reality is that what we all thought to be our baseline for sales on any given type of scholarly book has changed.

My study of books published in the last twenty-four months shows a drop of between ten and twenty percent in expected first-year sales (XFS) over books published in the previous twenty-four months. It’s a relatively small sample size, but it’s still indicative in a way, and will cause us to evaluate how best to approach sales projections in the next couple of years. What this little bit of analysis doesn’t show, is the three-year projected sales (or beyond). I’ll look at trends there in a coming blog post, but my hope is that we can overcome the drop in XFS over the longer haul through focused marketing and new techniques and technologies.

This reality check isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, we’d all love sales to be ticking upwards at the same rate as they fall, but that isn’t happening. But the end of the (book publishing) world isn’t yet here and I have cause for optimism. These new real numbers will, if anything, push us to find efficiencies across the Press, and to look for the very best of all projects that have the biggest upside and show an XFS of n+25% (or some other wonderfully optimistic number). We’ll be forced to innovate, finding new and creative (and inexpensive or collaborative) platforms to use to help us boost sales. To borrow an oft-used phrase of a few years ago, we’re going to have to “git ‘r done.”

Having reworked the marketing team over the past six months, hired three new people, and developed a nascent marketing strategic plan, we’re well positioned to face the threat of diminishing sales. Our invigorated team is constantly brainstorming and experimenting. We’ve even invited our colleagues to sit in on open marketing meetings to see how we’re attempting to meet our challenges. New technology, integrated marketing approaches, and an openness to ideas from outside are all ways in which we will address the drop in sales of print books. We refuse to stick our heads in the sand like marketing ostriches. And though it’s no use pretending sales are what they were five years ago, it’s also not an excuse for sitting back and waiting for the asteroid to come crashing from the sky.

 

Related article on the topic: “Three experts share publisher expectations for 2018”

Recommended watch:

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the Marketing Director at Cornell University Press. He has the crazy idea that we’re here to sell books. You can follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

Spring Burial: The Legend of the Service Tree

We grew up thinking that if there wasn’t pavement under our feet, we were lost,” Marc Kaminsky said, as he sat with his longtime friend George Getzel, who lay dying in a hospital bed at Calvary Hospital, talking about spring. They were two Bronx kids who morphed into two aging, brilliant intellectuals. Struck by George’s tranquility in the face of mortality, Marc asked his friend, filmmaker Menacham Daum to videotape their conversation, and sent a copy to me.

In his better days, George told Marc, he’d loved to visit the New York Botanical Garden in all four seasons. Each time it would be a totally different world: the garden was a symbol of nature and birth and growth and decay.

“I was especially close to the service tree,” George explained. “It’s an indigenous tree in northeast America. It’s a tree that may be considered a bush—but it’s a tree. It actually fruits, and a sweet little fruit comes out of it when the weather warms up. It’s also the first tree to blossom in the woods. It has soft, large flower petals, light pinkish-white, and if you can reach out and smell it, it has the most delicate perfume.”

“Our ancestors had a real problem when people died during the winter, because they couldn’t bury them; the ground was too hard. So what they did was wait till the service tree bloomed, and then they knew that the ground was soft enough.”

That touched me deeply.

Picture1
The serviceberry tree in bloom, courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden.

“So for the last few years, when I could still walk, I would go into the Bronx botanical garden to walk on a trail through fifty acres of virgin forest, and there was the service tree. And I tried—it has a life of flowering of, like, three days— to imagine, ‘Is the ground soft?’ ‘Will I make it?’ And sometimes I made it and sometimes I didn’t, but I think that it is emblematic of my notion of immortality in life: a brief time, a beautiful fragrance, and then passing, disintegrating, falling to the ground, and renewal.”

Alone with his mortality in the hospital late one night, George spontaneously texted Marc some of his spiritual musings. It ended:

 

 

 

Humankind calls out for compassion

For one’s self and then the other

The spent perfume of the petals

Of the service tree

Fall to the forest bottom

When earth loses its chill

Back in the hospital room, George continued to express his deep and thoughtful perspective on life in the face of imminent mortality.“I remember holding my wife’s hand when she was dying,” George told Marc, “and having a great sense of intimacy, the same as when I held my hand over her belly when she was pregnant. There’s this mixture. Even in the face of the grim realities of life that nauseate you and shatter your dreams, I’ve found—with difficulty—deeper meaning.”

“We all hold down to something that we would hope would have permanence,” he continued. “Something that would lead us beyond our grave and have something of eternity tied to it. We discover that the idol—be it money, position, your own children, the neighborhood you live in—it’s not forever and it falls apart and isn’t what you thought it was when you were a young man. It becomes moth-eaten and dissipates, and then with that it’s followed by new growth, new possibilities.”

George Getzel died on January 7, 2018. The serviceberry tree he loved so well will bloom again this spring.

 

Related event: Spring Writes Literary Festival – May 3 to May 6, 2018

POETRYOF

About the author of this blog post: Steve Zeitlin is the founding director of City Lore, and the author or co-author of ten books on America’s folk culture. He has documented, recorded and fallen in love with carnival pitches, children’s rhymes, family stories, subway stories, ancient cosmologies, and oral poetry traditions from around the world.

You can purchase his latest book: The Poetry of Everyday Life, here

 

 

Spring Burial: The Legend of the Service Tree

This May 15th . . . Pay What You Want for Our Books!

On Tuesday May 15th, we’re going all out. And for one day only, you can put a price on our books.

Why are we doing this?!

One, we love books as much as you do. Two, we want to help spread knowledge. Three, we trust you!

How does it work?

  1. Visit our website
  2. Choose your book(s)
  3. Decide how much you can pay
  4. Email us with your offer at cupress-sales@cornell.edu
  5. Enjoy your new book(s)!

Simple.

Is my offer good enough?

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Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know

Backyard Birds of NewYork by Kate Dolamore
Original watercolor courtesy of Kate Dolamore Art

A recent 1869 Cornell University Podcast revealed that an astonishing one third to a half of the homes in Northwestern Europe, the United States, and Australia are feeding wild birds. We get it, bird feeding is a huge trend. And yet . . . should we do it? Well here’s some food for thought:

Birds of a feather flock together. Or not. When it comes to feeding wild birds, different species that would not necessarily mingle, come together in an unnaturally small area to share food. The dangers of such unique turnout include the spreading of diseases, the attracting of predators, and the consuming of rare foods.

Food for thought. According to the author of The Birds at My Table Darryl Jones, birds are much like humans, and will jump at the opportunity to indulge in sugary or salty foods. In Australia, for example, people often feed birds meat. The Australian Broadcast Corporation asked Jones about this practice, which can lead to obstruction in the bird’s beak and ultimately to bacterial infection. And it gets worse. Birds eating at feeders are now exposed to foods that are intended for human consumption; such as cereals and stock foods, pumpkin seeds, chicken eggs and eggshells, fat, rind, lard, marrow, and table scraps. With an increasing demand for more convenient products and ready-made feed mixes, an entire corporate business dedicated to bird feeding is growing to the detriment of the actual well-being of the birds.

The sky is the limit. Jones roots himself in the idea that mindfulness is key when it comes to bird feeding: “Your feeder is one link in a gigantic chain . . . Your private, personal action of providing food for birds changes the structure of an entire, interconnected ecosystem.” The Conversation joined this debate and posted an article including simple rules to follow when taking part in an activity that “has become acceptable, widespread, and even a sign of moral expression.”

Two birds with one stone. People may think that by putting up a bird feeder they are both helping the birds while undertaking an enjoyable activity, but Jones concludes that the feeders are actually for us. In providing information on how to feed birds responsibly, he is getting the discussion on the table. And he’s not alone. The Sydney Morning Herald featured an article on bird feeding that focuses on doing so with care.

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All things considered, The Birds at My Table conveys the idea that bird-feeding, done conscientiously, can be a valuable experience. On a human level, it provides with pleasure and personal fulfillment. It allows the average person to connect with nature within the confinements of their own garden and in a sense, bond with the birds. Jones’s book helps fill in the information gaps on how to feed the birds and challenges us to do so with awareness, and to become good hosts.

Find more information on the author or to purchase The Birds at My Table, here.

 

As the American Ornithology Meeting 2018 #AOS18AZ and the Northeast Natural History Conference #NENHC18 are happening, discover more ornithology titles from the press:

 

 

 

Recommended song for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Sierra Grazia is a senior writing major at Ithaca College with minors in comparative literature and writing for film, television, and emerging media. When Sierra is not writing or reading, she enjoys spending her time running for her college cross country and track team, taking photographs, and traveling.

 

Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know